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Cori Bush’s Ceasefire Plea
Duration
0:00 / 25:46
Published
November 9, 2023

Since October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel and Israel began its ongoing bombardment of Gaza, almost every member of Congress has denounced the killings of Israelis and proclaimed support for Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Far fewer have expressed sorrow for the more than 10,500 Palestinians killed in the bombing, and only 23 have called for a ceasefire and an end to the collective punishment of civilians in Gaza. Among the few dissenting voices in Washington is Cori Bush, the representative for Missouri’s 1st congressional district, which spans the cities of St. Louis and Ferguson and some of their suburbs. Bush responded to the events of October 7th by mourning the Israeli and Palestinian lives lost that day and calling for an immediate ceasefire. She also urged the US government to “do our part to stop this violence and trauma” by ending US support for Israeli apartheid. Nine days later, Bush—alongside Reps. Rashida Tlaib, André Carson, Summer Lee, and Delia C. Ramirez—introduced a “Ceasefire Now” resolution, which demands that the Biden administration call for an end to hostilities in Israel/Palestine and send humanitarian aid to Gaza.

In this episode of On the Nose, senior reporter Alex Kane interviews Rep. Bush about her call for a ceasefire, the role of race and racism in shaping reaction to Israel’s bombing campaign, and the political consequences of anti-war dissent.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles Mentioned and Further Reading:

“Anti-Defamation League calls Congresswoman Bush’s comments on Israel ‘tone deaf,’” Stuart McMillian, KMOX News

“Calls for a Ceasefire Get Little Traction in Congress,” Alex Kane, Jewish Currents

“House censures Rep. Rashida Tlaib over Israel remarks,” Scott Wong, Kyle Stewart and Zoë Richards, NBC News

“St. Louis Jewish community says Cori Bush made ‘incendiary’ Israel comments, she says that’s ‘unfair and simply untrue,’” Sam Clancy and Justina Coronel, KSDK

“Democrat drops out of Missouri Senate race, challenges Cori Bush for House seat,” Olafimihan Oshin, The Hill

“How ‘Pro-Israel’ Orthodoxy Keeps US Foreign Policymaking White,” Peter Beinart, Jewish Currents


Transcript

Alex Kane: Hello, and welcome to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents Podcast. I’m Alex Kane, your host today, and I’m the senior reporter for Jewish Currents. In the immediate aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, the vast majority of members of Congress focused solely on the killings of Israelis and Israel’s “right to defend itself.” But among the few dissenting voices in Washington was Cori Bush, the representative for Missouri’s first congressional district, located in the cities of St. Louis and Ferguson and some of their suburbs. Bush responded to the events of October 7 by mourning both the Israeli and Palestinian lives lost that day, calling for immediate ceasefire, and then urging the US government to “do our part to stop this violence and trauma by ending US support for Israeli apartheid.” Nine days later, Bush, alongside four other colleagues, introduced the Ceasefire Now Resolution in the House of Representatives, which demands that the Biden administration call for an end to hostilities in Israel/Palestine and send humanitarian aid to Gaza. To talk more about the call for a ceasefire, the Biden administration’s policy on Israel and its war on Gaza, and the political consequences of anti-war dissent, I’m interviewing Representative Bush herself.

Representative Bush, thank you so much for joining On the Nose. Your first statement on October 7 was very different from the vast majority of other congressional responses in that it called for the US government to end diplomatic and military support for Israeli apartheid. The Anti-Defamation League said in response that the idea that the US should cut off funding for a military ally, right as it is in a state of war, is just unthinkable. So, what made you decide to include such a far-reaching call in your first statement in reaction to the Hamas attacks and Israel’s bombing of Gaza?

Cori Bush: Let me be clear: I don’t believe that it was a far-reaching call. I believe that was the necessary and timely call, because I condemn Hamas for their actions on October 7, and they must be held accountable. But I knew that the reaction of my colleagues in Congress would be to send blank checks to Israel for weapons, and I knew that the Israeli government’s response would be to disproportionately and collectively punish Palestinian civilians for the actions of Hamas. And indeed, now we’ve seen over 10,000 Palestinians, including over 4,000 children, killed by the Israeli government. So, we saw this coming, and we could have stopped this. Accountability does not mean military interventions. Our number-one goal should be to protect and to save lives, not a knee-jerk reaction or knee-jerk response to provide Israel with more weapons—we must rethink that. If weapons were the answer, we would have solved this issue decades ago. More weapons only means more children dead, more families murdered, more war crimes, and more human rights violations.

AK: Your Ceasefire Now resolution has the support of 17 other Democrats. At least four other representatives have also called for a ceasefire without supporting the resolution. But as I reported on for Jewish Currents, that’s only about 10% of the House of Representatives now calling for a ceasefire. Why do you think more people haven’t joined your call?

CB: Congress and the administration, I would say, have not learned their lesson from the inhumane, decades-long war on terror that led to more devastation and hate than stability. We’re a country that is far too comfortable with war and the dehumanization of people in military conflict. And sadly, even many so-called progressives are caving to the status quo. But across this country, we are seeing waves of courageous people in the streets calling for peace and not war, calling for liberation, calling for the ceasefire. And so, what we’re also seeing is our push is working. Senator Dick Durbin came out very recently, a call for a ceasefire. When the Pope has come out for a ceasefire—when the Carter Center, the United Nations, Amnesty International and then so many governments across the world nations are calling for a ceasefire, major relief organizations—we know that we are the majority. So even though it does not look like we are the majority in Congress, we are not the minority. We are the majority of the people who want an end to the mass deaths of Palestinians and who want to see peace and want to see safety in the region.

AK: Progressive Democrats like yourself immediately calling for a ceasefire have sparked a number of responses from the Biden administration. For instance, the National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby says that a ceasefire is a gift to Hamas, which is something that Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated during his recent tour of the Middle East. What’s your response to that?

CB: Let’s be clear about what a ceasefire is: an indefinite suspension of fighting to allow for humanitarian aid, to allow for the safe release of hostages, and to allow for diplomatic negotiations aimed at securing a broader pre-peace agreement. It, on its own, doesn’t remove the existence of either party. We know that, and what comes next depends entirely on what comes after the ceasefire. But we need diplomacy. Diplomacy is the only way to resolve this. Israel, backed by the United States government, has completely failed in its military approach to defeating Hamas. Instead, it has pursued policies that have emboldened Hamas, so there’s no military solution to the security threat that Hamas poses to Israel. Military solutions favor terrorists. Diplomatic solutions favor democracies.

AK: There’s been a lot of hair-splitting, I guess, between these two phrases: humanitarian pause—which has garnered more support from Democrats, including those like Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as Biden administration officials—and those who are calling for a ceasefire. Is there a fundamental difference between the two?

CB: Yes, there’s a difference, because a humanitarian pause—it’s a decision that can be made unilaterally, and it’s a decision that is a pause for a certain amount of time. And what people have said, that have called for humanitarian pauses, is to allow for the aid to actually flow, to allow for there to be food, to make it in, and all of the humanitarian aid to actually reach people—to give that some time. But I don’t want to say, “Let’s pause to get food in to people and to get water in to people—and then we can continue the bombs.” We need an end to them, we need diplomacy, we don’t need to just give aid and then start bombing a whole people. Again, there’s nothing humanitarian about that.

AK: I want to dig in to some of the congressional votes that have gone on over the past week or so. So, the first is: Last week, the House of Representatives voted to send $14.3 billion in military aid to Israel. Before the vote, you and many of your progressive colleagues tried to introduce some amendments to that bill, to place conditions on the military assistance to Israel. Could you talk more about what those efforts were and your reaction to that request from the Biden administration to send $14 billion in military assistance to Israel at this time?

CB: Several of us made decisions to try to offer amendments. Amendments on dealing with the white phosphorus, amendments speaking to—can we get to a place where we acknowledge the humanity of Palestinians? Can we start there? We knew that we couldn’t just sign off on this money to Israel without any conditions. Not while they’re killing so many civilians, specifically children. We wouldn’t send military aid to any other country that would be killing over 4,000 children. And let me be clear: People try to make this about, “Oh, it’s because it’s Israel.” No, we have spoken out against military abuses that happen all over the world, even in our own country, human rights abuses, so we won’t compromise our humanity. The other thing about that is when our constituents are saying, “I’m sleeping on the street with my four kids, I was just told that I gotta restart paying my student loan debt, and I don’t have the money for that. I was just evicted from my home. I don’t have money for transportation. My car was repossessed.” You know, when our communities are reaching out saying that we have these needs, and then our government tells us we don’t have money for our communities. Our government tells us that we don’t have the money to make sure that we add more people to the SNAP rolls, that we add more people to the Medicaid rolls—they cut them. But all of a sudden, we have billions of dollars out of nowhere, on top of the billions we’ve already sent to fuel wars, to fuel the killing of children.

AK: The other vote that I wanted to talk about was the vote last night. Congresswoman Rashida Talib had said “Palestine should be free, from the river to the sea.” For that, she was censured, which is the most serious rebuke the House of Representatives can give short of actually expelling her. What was it like for you to sit through that debate? How do you explain it? I mean, what’s going on here?

CB: So it was tough sitting through that debate, but not tough because of what was being said about my sister in service Rashida Tlaib. Because up to now, we’ve heard the things, you know, people have been on television, and on radio, and on social media saying things about her. It was tough sitting there because I’m sitting next to someone that loves humanity. I was sitting next to someone who I know for a fact (because I’ve worked alongside them) has over and over again pushed to save people. She champions water as a human right and the dignity of our unhoused, ending police brutality, standing with me when others would not. And you know that’s an issue that I’ve been working on since before 2014. Fair wages for workers—she’s always out there standing for our workers. Protections for our mamas, she started a mama’s caucus. Rashida Tlaib has given herself—she’s put her pain out there to help others not have to go through what she has. And so, it was hard for me to sit there because I’m sitting there with someone who wants to save lives. And for her, saving lives means all lives; it means everyone, she does not push anyone up or down. There is no superiority, there is no hierarchy, there is no protocol in saving lives for her other than saving all of them.

And so, most of my colleagues are more interested in silencing the only Palestinian American in Congress than stopping the mass killing of the children. And I think it’s shameful. It is disgusting. And that’s what was hard. I can’t believe that our government has their priorities so backwards. We have so many problems to solve, so many serious issues we can be working on, but instead, a bunch of people who are silent about our enabling crimes against humanity, they want to rebuke Rashida Tlaib, someone that they sit and talk to, someone that they know, someone that they didn’t feel the day before was so dangerous, that she needed to be put out of Congress? Let’s be real about it. Because if she was so dangerous, if they really thought that she believed that a whole group of people should no longer exist, why didn’t they say anything or do anything up until now? Why do they converse with her? I think most people watching this circus realize that our government is distracting from its own failures. And we’re scapegoating Rashida Tlaib for that. It is depraved. But ultimately, we know we are in the moral majority, nationwide and worldwide, and we will not back down regardless of the hate that we are receiving. And we will persevere in the name of peace, and justice, and liberation for all. And let me lastly say this: She broke down during that speech, and it took everything in me to hold back my own tears. Palestinians also deserved to exist, and to have life, and to thrive, to feel safe, just like anybody else in this world, and Rashida belongs here.

AK: I want to give our listeners an opportunity to learn from you about how you came to this issue. How did you learn about Palestine? And what motivates you to speak about it?

CB: Thank you for asking me that. Because some, I think, think that I just came to this issue to be oppositional or—I think people have the wrong idea. But during the Ferguson protests—August 2014, Michael Brown, 18-year-old young Black man, was killed by a police officer. And we took to the streets. And this is not something that was usual in our community, for folks to go and protest. But we took to the streets because this 18-year-old laid in the street for four and a half hours, most of that time uncovered, laying on the hot asphalt in the beginning of August. And we were just trying to figure out what happened. So we were out there protesting, and we started to get tear gassed. I had never seen tear gas before. And it took a group of Palestinians, who came to the United States, came to Ferguson and sat on the ground with us not far from where his body laid, and sat there and taught us about tear gas. Taught us about how to handle it, what to do, taught us about how to take care of one another, and so many other things. And it helped to save us. And they also stood out there with us, day and night, when the tear gas was flying, and the rubber bullets, and the real bullets, when the dogs were out there, they were out there with us.

But Jews and Muslims alike, that was no different. Our Jewish community was out there alongside our Palestinian community, our Muslim community—we were all out there together. Our Latino community, Hispanic community, we were all out there together. And our Palestinian community were talking about: We understand this because we experienced this ourselves. We understand this because this is what’s happened to our family members who are living in Gaza, our family members who are living in the West Bank. They talked about how they understand state-sanctioned violence. And so, we were able to make a connection.

And as a Black woman, who, for most of my life (at least my adult life), have made the decision that I had to get through life, trying to make sure that I kept my son alive, and my daughter alive, I wanted to make sure that my son and my daughter did not become the next hashtag, because some police officer killed them. I wanted to make sure that I was fighting for them. And so, I lived in this bubble of just trying to survive every single day, trying to keep the lights on, trying not to get evicted, trying not to get my car repossessed, just trying to live this life. I was in this bubble that I didn’t see other people’s oppression, that I didn’t know what they were going through. But when we met up during Ferguson, I learned what other folks were going through. And when we learned that we had such similar situations of oppression happening, we stood together, and we stood strong. We marched together. There’s so much history when we talk about the Black and Palestinian movements working together; that solidarity that I saw in Ferguson, it stays with me, and it drives me to this moment. We continued that work. And let me say: We didn’t let go of each other. We are still connected to this day; our Jewish community that were out there, we are still connected to this day. Our commitment to ending the violence and oppression is not conditional. It’s universal. And so, because I’ve seen that happen in my own community, where the Jewish community and the Palestinian community, the Muslim community as a whole, were able to come together with the Black community, I want to see that happen across not only this country, but the world.

AK: So the role of race in talking about this—I mean, all the people who sign onto your ceasefire resolution are people of color. At the same time, it’s not as if there is a monolithic Black and Latino opinion on Israel’s assault on Gaza in Congress. People like Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic Minority Leader, Ritchie Torres, are close allies of AIPAC. Ritchie Torres, of course, voted to censure Rashida Tlaib. In what ways does race and racism shape Congress’s reaction to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza?

CB: Well, I think there is a specific recognition by Black and brown folks, folks of color, who care about justice for all and what’s happening in Gaza. Living through the oppression that we’ve gone through, that shared struggle, I think, is what has gotten us to where we are right now. We are coming from this from the standpoint of humanity first, and humanity has to include everyone. Some of us, we come from movements. We come from where we fight for folk while other people are sitting back. I come from a movement where people said: You can’t say Black Lives Matter, it’s all lives matter. And we said: No, it’s Black Lives Matter. And then a few years later, after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others were killed, people are like: Oh, yes, Black Lives Matter. You know what? You were right, actually, you were right. And they put these big signs up on buildings, these billboards: Black Lives Matter. We are those same people.

And yes, as you said, not all Black and brown members are supporting a ceasefire, because money and power play a huge role in all of this. AIPAC plays a huge role. Not wanting to be perceived as crossing the Biden administration, that plays a huge role. You know, some folks know what’s happening, they know it’s wrong, but they don’t want to take on the risk of speaking out. And I get that. Some folks don’t want to speak out because they don’t want to look up and have a challenger. They don’t want to look up and have colleagues turn on them. They don’t want to be smeared on social media. They don’t want to be talked about on the networks. We know that those are the risks. But we were putting ourselves on the line because this matters. Being consistent on human rights—that matters. Caring about Israelis and Palestinians alike—that matters. And seeing them equally? It matters. Why would you be here if you couldn’t stand against the mass killing of children in this moment, when you have a chance to stop the violence now, when people who look like you are being massacred?

We can’t have cowardice—and I’m not calling my colleagues cowards—but the idea that that takes a second seat—that those 4,000 children, they take a second seat. That 10,000 Palestinians take a second seat, that the possibility of those hostages, their lives take a second seat because of the indiscriminate bombing. Takes a second seat to my comfortability. It takes a second seat to whether I want a primary challenge. It takes a second seat to whether I get that $100,000 to my campaign account or not. For us, what comes first is making sure our people are taken care of, and I said this on the floor yesterday. It’s a model that I live by, and Rashida Tlaib I know lives by too. That we’re going to stand up for our people, we’re going to push and fight for every single one of them, and our work has to be to save lives, even in the face of all the threats and the criticism that we have to go through. Saving lives for us is more important than any fear of what someone can do to us. So, we give humanity a front seat.

AK: I wanted to ask you about some of the potential electoral ramifications of your stance on Gaza. Your criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses has created some controversy back home in in Missouri. Some local Jewish community leaders issued a letter decrying you saying that Israel is engaging in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in Gaza, claiming that you are fanning the flames of antisemitism. Meanwhile, Wesley Bell, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, has dropped his bid for Senate in order to enter the Democratic primaries to challenge you next year. He said your comments on Israel contributed to his decision to enter the race. It is not hard to imagine AIPAC hopping into the race soon and dropping gobs of money to attack you and support your opponent. How are you thinking right now about the political ramifications of your stance on Gaza?

CB: If I don’t believe in it, I won’t say it. If I don’t believe in it wholeheartedly, I won’t move on it. So, my stance is my stance. I don’t tiptoe around policy, and legislation, and my values based upon who’s gonna like me and who’s not. I’m going to stand on the right side of the issue, which means whatever is going to bring the resources, whatever is going to keep people safe, whatever is going to make people feel heard and seen, whatever is going to make our most marginalized community members feel like they are represented. That’s the side that I’m going to be on. I want to hear from all of my constituents, and I understand not everyone will agree with me. But whether or not we support the Government of Israel, we must not smear each other. We must not dehumanize each other. We got to stand together, and me speaking about ethnic cleansing was something that the people say was an issue. Well, when one ethnic group or religious group acts to remove a civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from a certain geographic area, by violent or by terror-inspiring means, that is defined by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing. So, displacement and deportation, forcible removal, robbery of personal property, destruction of property, delivering military attacks or threats, attacking hospitals and medical personnel—that is all part of ethnic cleansing.

And I’ll say this: The polling data shows that 66% of all voters support a ceasefire, including 80% of Dems, 57% of Independents, and 56% of Republicans. And so let me say this: I am not bothered by a challenge when I know that I’m doing the right thing for my community. I don’t move because of money. See, some folks are motivated by money, some folks move because somebody flashed some dollar signs in front of them. No, I move when people need help. I move when there are calls, when people are crying out for something or when people are not receiving what they need. I was elected to Congress to take care of my people, and I promised my constituents I would never turn a blind eye to injustice wherever it resides. And that’s why I’m speaking out: My mandate is clear. And it’s disheartening to see Attorney Bell abandon his US Senate campaign to push a pro-war, pro state-sanctioned violence agenda.

And so look, let me say this: AIPAC is this racist, bigoted right-wing PAC that has funded over 100 insurrectionist Republicans, and how was that okay? Why are we being smeared because we’re saying: Save everybody? We’re saying: I love my Israeli folks as well as I love my Palestinians, as well as I love my Latino folk, as well as I love my LGBTQ, my Asian folks. I love everybody the same. But these folks say: You know what, we love folk who want to take over the US Capitol, who cause death and destruction. We want to stand with those folks, and we want to give them money. And so that’s what AIPAC is. They target progressive candidates of color, especially folk like me. It’s a smear campaign. They twist our words, they distort the truth, and they purposely mislead and spread misinformation on anyone it perceives to be overly-critical of Israel. They are a single-issue group. And that’s sad, because our people live complex lives. But I’ll say this: AIPAC does not scare me. My people voted for me. I have been this person since 2014 ‚and my people voted me in anyway. One thing my people know about me is that, if brought to the table, they know how Cori is going to stand on it. Everybody may not agree, but I won’t waver.

AK: Thank you so much for that, Congresswoman Bush. Really, really powerful. Thank you so much for joining our show.


And that was our show. Thank you so much for joining us. I hope you enjoyed my interview with Congresswoman Cori Bush. As always, for more content like this, listen to past episodes of On the Nose, and go to JewishCurrents.org for articles. And of course, subscribe to the magazine and rate our show if you like it. We’ll see you next time.

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