Disturbing the peace

Moral authority on Gaza discourse shifts from White House to college campuses

Students hold a demonstration at CU Boulder on Wednesday, May 1 to protest the war in Gaza. Credit: Will Matuska

By Sean Bodhivajra Scanlan

President Biden went on camera recently  to wag his finger at all those naughty schoolchildren throughout the country, who, instead of staying home to do their homework, were attending sleepovers at encampments set up on college campuses all over the United States, and have thereby been disturbing the peace and quiet of the nation’s adults.  

This seems to be the impression that he and many other tiers of U.S. authorities are apparently at pains to communicate to the public at large. That they are the adults in the room, and the college students should behave themselves and go home.  

 What the global public is apprehending, however, is that the people who are truly showing moral authority and leadership are the college students willing to put themselves on the line to uphold the value of the lives of the two million people in the Gaza Strip who are daily subjected to the killing onslaught of multitudes of deadly munitions that continue to be supplied to the Israeli forces by the U.S. government. 

 What the global public also see is a U.S. president behaving as the very epitome of a badly behaved child who continues to tell fib after fib, long after they have been found out, in the blythe expectation that a persistently repeated lie or misdirection is as good as or better than the truth.   

 On March 18, President Biden affirmed the need to facilitate the safe and unhindered delivery of assistance throughout Gaza, and to protect the civilian population. Five days later, he signed into law a budget bill that included a ban on funding for the United Nations Relief and Works  Agency (UNRWA),and thus cuts off badly needed financial support for UNRWA’s humanitarian aid to Gaza

On April 4, President Biden reprimanded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel needed to “implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers.” On April 24, he authorized $14 billion in taxpayer money to fund further munitions and military supplies for Israeli forces that are daily killing scores of children, women and men in the Gaza strip.

As of this writing, more than 35,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip. Based on identities confirmed by Gaza’s Ministry of Health so far, the U.N. estimates that more than half of those killed have been women and children, according to NPR reporting.

Biden’s prevarication is a childhood trope with which we must all be familiar — if you put your hand behind your back and cross your fingers, you are not really telling a lie, because you do not really mean it.  

How is this even possible? There was a time when public representatives of the United States were taken seriously as a source of global leadership and authority — and even on occasion moral authority, although that now seems evermore like some distant and uncertain memory.  

The elected and appointed authorities in the U.S. today seem entirely at sea. Instead, the world looks to the youth on U.S. campuses for moral leadership and inspiration. College students on campuses around the globe have followed their example by taking up the defense of Palestinian lives with encampments of their own, challenging their own authorities to boycott, divest from and sanction the State of Israel.   

On May 8, Biden told CNN that, should the Israeli forces make an all-out assault on Rafah, he is prepared to temporarily withhold from Israel the transfer of certain select munitions among those the U.S. has promised them.  

On May 9, Netanyahu announced that Israel is prepared to invade Rafah regardless of President Biden’s threatened slap on the wrist; already, Reuters reports, tanks have reached residential districts. Israel has made a tally of the military ordinance and weaponry already supplied to them by the U.S., Germany and other allies, and has determined that the military hardware presently at Israel’s disposal is more than adequate to the task of crushing Rafah. 

If President Biden truly wished to protect the people in Rafah, it would be the simplest thing in the world for him to accomplish. All he needs to do is to withhold from the State of Israel, not just the minor handful of the larger bombs for which Netanyahu has already expressed his open disdain, but the weaponry that Israel truly cares about — the missiles that make up its Iron Dome defense and Iron Arrow defense systems against such threats as the recent missile and drone attacks by Iran

In so doing, Biden could force the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 2728 (2024), adopted on March 25. It demands an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages and safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid. With a stroke of the pen, he could bring cessation to the violence being waged on the desperate people of Gaza. 

Should he find the courage to act, the president could halt the endless flow of lethal military ordinance to Israel, reauthorize funds for UNRWA’s humanitarian aid and endorse the United Nations’ multilateral resolution for full nation state membership for Palestine, bringing peace and blessed relief to the starving, maimed and besieged people of Gaza, and to the many millions of U.S. and global citizens longing to ease these unfortunate people’s pain and suffering.   

Sean Bodhivajra Scanlan is a retired philosophy instructor living in Boulder.

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

Editor’s note: This op-ed has been updated to include revised death tolls from the UN.


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