While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that Israel has "a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defense," U.S. officials have not called on their Israeli counterparts to alter or halt their response to Palestinian rocket fire.
That puts the administration at odds with the growing set of Democratic voters and elected officials who are casting a critical eye — and harsh language — at Israel. Those voices reflect a gradual but noticeable shift in the willingness of Democrats to challenge Israeli policy over the last dozen years.
"There is a desire for a more even-handed approach," said Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications for J-Street, a progressive group that wants the U.S. government to call for an immediate cease-fire and to place new regulations on the nearly $4 billion in aid the U.S. sends each year to Israel. "The Biden administration, at this point in time, does not seem to have gotten that message."
Hostilities have killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians, over the last week, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Sunday that they should be ready for an extended military campaign.
Netanyahu is a political flashpoint within the Democratic Party. During the last Democratic administration, Netanyahu repeatedly thumbed his nose at President Barack Obama — going so far as to rail against the Iran nuclear deal from the House floor.
Then, when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Netanyahu locked arms with his American counterpart. The two men shared an affinity for nationalist policies and rhetoric, and Trump encouraged Netanyahu to extend Israeli settlements into Palestinian-held territory.
Some progressives want Biden to step in and stop Netanyahu now, and to restrict his ability to use American cash and weapons to fight Palestinians.
"The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing," Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement to NBC News. "It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians."
That sale, first reported by The Washington Post, was approved by Biden this month.
"If this goes through, this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a cease-fire," Omar said.
Omar, elected in 2018, is among a relatively junior set of frequent Israel critics in Congress. What concerns veteran Israel hawks in the Democratic Party is that more moderate lawmakers are publicly questioning Israel's actions.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of Israel's strongest supporters on Capitol Hill, said in a statement over the weekend that there must be a "full accounting" of strikes that led to civilian deaths.
"I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets," Menendez said.
"In response to thousands of rocket attacks fired by Hamas aimed at civilians, Israel has every right to self-defense from terrorists committed to wipe her off the face of the map," he added. "But no matter how dangerous and real that threat may be, I have always believed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship flourishes when it is based on the shared values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights and the rule of law."
A group of Jewish House Democrats last week released a letter to Biden in which they wrote "the United States cannot simply hope and wait for the situation to improve" with "more lives being lost each day."
Jeremy Bash, a Democrat who served as chief of staff to the defense secretary during the Obama administration, said his party is still fundamentally pro-Israel. He noted that the basic outlines of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians have not changed much in recent years, even as the issue has become more politically fraught within Democratic circles.
"It shouldn’t be, and it’s wrong," Bash said. "I do worry that it has become that."
But while the Biden administration has stopped the U.N. Security Council from adopting any policy or statement about the conflict, one former Obama administration national security official said the White House's effort to at least placate fellow Democrats was evident in Blinken's remark about Israel's burden of adhering to a higher standard of protecting civilians.
"You don’t have to parse the language," the former Obama aide said. "It’s the fact that he said it about Israel, period."