Kansas history offers a warning on Gaza: Bipartisan consensus is often wrong

November 16, 2023 3:33 am
Palestinians injured in Israeli raids arrive Nov. 14, 2023, at Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza

Palestinians injured in Israeli raids arrive Nov. 14, 2023, at Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza. Heavy fighting rages in the northern Gaza Strip as Israel encircles the area, despite increasingly pressing calls for a ceasefire. Due to a lack of fuel needed to operate the generators, hospitals are deprived of electricity. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people took shelter in hospital facilities, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. The WHO, once again in contact with the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, considers “the situation disastrous and perilous.” (Getty Images)

During my undergraduate years at the University of Kansas I had the privilege of working as an archival assistant in the Robert and Elizabeth Dole Archives and Special Collections. The downside of learning history from primary source material is seeing the worst instincts of humanity repeated over and over and over again. Countless words have been written already about the conflict in Gaza, but I have yet to see any that harken back to Kansas history and the warning it provides regarding the siren song of retribution and the downsides of consensus.

Our political leaders have done a more than sufficient job of mourning Israeli lives lost in the conflict. In fact, Gov. Laura Kelly and her former opponent in the 2018 election, Attorney General Kris Kobach, even released a rare joint statement condemning the attacks.

Who the statement was sympathetic for and who it was not reminded me of a 1987 press release I read in Bob Dole’s archive. In it, Dole describes the African National Congress, the political party that would later be led by Nelson Mandela, as an “organization that practices, condones and refuses to disavow the use of terrorism.” Later in the press release, Dole at least acknowledged the evil of apartheid, even as he criticized those who fought against it.

Calling the South African anti-apartheid movement terrorism was not a fringe position in 1987. Dole was the Senate minority leader at the time of his statement. The fact that many would be shocked today in reading the release is a reflection of how often America’s political center is on the wrong side of international affairs while they happen.

One day we will view the unconditional, bipartisan support for Israel the same way we now view Dole’s statements calling the ANC terrorists: a mistake.

The Israeli government is using the Hamas attack as pretext to forcibly displace and kill the Palestinians left in Gaza in order to complete the region’s annexation. One former government minister, Galit Distel Atbaryan, used explicitly genocidal language in saying Israel should “erase all of Gaza from the face of the earth.” Current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the country was at war with “human animals,” employing dehumanizing rhetoric that precedes nearly every genocide.

At different times this past month, the Israeli government has turned off Gaza’s internet access, electricity and water. The Israeli Defense Force has bombed apartments, United Nations buildings and refugee camps. You can be horrified at deaths caused by airstrikes from Hamas, but the asymmetric nature of Israel’s response shows which side truly has power here. Israelis were at music festivals when the attacks began. Gazans were in an open air prison.

Israel’s actions in Gaza have been called “a textbook case of genocide” by Raz Segal, associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University. Craig Mokhiber, the former director of the New York office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, noted that it’s usually difficult to prove genocide in international prosecutions as intent is a requirement in the International Criminal Courts. He said, “in this case, the intent by Israeli leaders has been so explicitly stated and publicly stated by the prime minister, by the President, by senior cabinet ministers, by military leaders, that that is an easy case to make.”

Concerns over Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians are also held by civil servants within our government. Diplomats have reportedly sent an internal dissent cable to the secretary of state. Josh Paul, the State Department official responsible for distributing U.S. weapons to America’s allies, publicly resigned in protest of our support for Israel’s actions. He called the Biden administration’s policy “shortsighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory to the very values we publicly espouse.

We should all ask ourselves why we repeat a history we’re all too familiar with. One doesn’t have to believe in “deep state” conspiracy theories to know how often our political leaders have lied to us to justify war. Our current president was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 20 years ago, which was the last time we fell for the lies used to begin the war in Iraq. When will we finally accept that any bipartisan consensus on foreign affairs should make us deeply skeptical?

In his farewell address to the nation, Kansan and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the potential for weapons manufacturers to capture American foreign policymaking. If Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and so many others haven’t convinced you of Eisenhower’s insight maybe nothing will. But as a student of Kansas history I refuse to let the lessons of our past go unspoken.

I will not be counted among the Bob Doles of the world who were more concerned with the wellbeing of the oppressors than that of the oppressed. I will not be counted among those who were silent in the face of ethnic cleansing. Empathy for the Israelis who died understandably tempt us to seek revenge, but why does our empathy end where Palestinian territory begins?

It’s not too late to tell our elected officials to stop financing retribution with our tax dollars. You’re a part of Kansas history now. To support the Israeli government — which, like all governments, does not represent all of its people — is to support the genocide of the Palestinians. Choose your side.

Vince Munoz is a writer and tenant organizer in northeast Kansas. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Vince Munoz
Vince Munoz

Vince Munoz is housing justice organizer with Rent Zero Kansas. He lives in Mission, Kansas.