U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions in the Israel-Hamas Conflict: Part 2

As part of our ongoing series centered on the Israel-Hamas conflict, this post will review the U.S. foreign policy decisions. Part 1 of the series focused on the effects of the conflict within U.S. borders and the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia. To complete the series, Part 3 in the coming week will review how the conflict may impact the interests of the United States in the Middle East more broadly.

What Has the United States Already Done in the Israel-Hamas Conflict?

There is a long history of the U.S. supporting Israel through foreign aid. In fact, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. This has included between $3 billion and $5 billion in annual funding for military and missile defense spending since 2000.1

On October 20, 2023, President Joe Biden addressed the nation affirming the country’s commitment to its alliance with Israel. President Biden connected U.S. support for Israel in the fight against Hamas to support for Ukraine in repelling Russia’s invasion. In addition to accusing Iran of aiding both Hamas and Russia, President Biden argued that both conflicts represent struggles to preserve democracy. He also emphasized that Hamas must be destroyed, making a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people as a whole.2

Since the start of the conflict, the United States has positioned two Navy carrier groups in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel and the Biden administration has sought $14 billion in military aid for Israel. The administration has also helped negotiate the release of Israeli hostages during temporary truces and secured humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.3

At present, there is a ceasefire: Gaza is receiving some humanitarian aid, Hamas is releasing some of the hostages it holds, and Israel is releasing some Palestinian prisoners. This ceasefire was negotiated through Qatari intermediaries with support from the United States and other nations. The ceasefire is not permanent; it is currently scheduled to end by November 30.4

WATCH: President Biden Remarks on Temporary Truces to Exchange Prisoners

Strongly Supporting Israel’s Response

The standing policy of every U.S. administration since Israel’s founding in 1948 has been a commitment to Israel’s right to exist. The United States has provided billions of dollars in aid and sales of military equipment to Israel as well as engaged in mutually beneficial joint operations and strategic coordination between militaries and intelligence agencies. Hamas’ attack on Israel, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis, represents one of the most significant terror attacks in Israel’s history and U.S. support for Israel shows no signs of wavering. Both countries have aligned on two primary goals for the conflict: the release of all 240 Israeli hostages and the elimination of Hamas.5

While some officials in Congress and the Biden administration have called for a ceasefire, the majority of Congress and the White House have remained in alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by publicly opposing any formal ceasefire.

Those who argue against a formal ceasefire lay out several reasons for their opposition. They argue that such a policy would hinder the efforts to destroy Hamas and simply provide the organization time to recover and rearm, ultimately prolonging the conflict. They note that Hamas continues to be dedicated to the death and destruction of Israel; thus, Israel should not be expected to agree to a ceasefire after the brutal attack on its citizens. They argue that a ceasefire would delay the return of the rest of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas, as Hamas would no longer feel the pressure of military raids coming from Israel. Underscoring the need to secure the release of all hostages, freed Israeli prisoners have given accounts of their time in Hamas captivity and suffering or witnessing inhumane treatment, including starvation, family separation, torture, and execution. And Israeli officials have voiced their suspicions of any ceasefire agreement, given Hamas’ history of violating past ceasefires.6

READ: A History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Conditional U.S. Support for Israel

While current levels of support for Israel among U.S. officials and the American public is high, there is a growing push for the United States to use its influence to bring the conflict to an end.7 Since the start of the conflict, nearly 15,000 Palestinians have died in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza have been forced from their homes. Conditions in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated significantly, with many lacking adequate shelter, electricity, health care, food, and water.8 Additionally, as many of 1.7 million of the 2.3 million residents of Gaza have been displaced.9

Israel has come under increasing scrutiny from the international community, with some characterizing its tactics as indiscriminate or even accusing the country of war crimes. While these accusations are heavily politicized, international support for Israel has lessened as the conflict continues. Some 120 member countries of the United Nations have called for an immediate truce; notably, the United States and most of its European allies did not join this call.10

Criticism of U.S. support for Israel has even come under scrutiny within the State Department. The State Department makes a “dissent channel” available for staff to express their disagreement with official U.S. foreign policy. Normally, this channel is infrequently used, but it has seen significant volume since the start of the conflict, with participants questioning whether U.S. support for Israel is helping to create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Most prominently, Josh Paul, director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, resigned in protest, publicly stating that he found the administration’s approach to the conflict to be “short-sighted, destructive, unjust,” and contrary to American values.11

Critics of the U.S. foreign policy decisions have pointed to the lack of a clear end goal beyond destroying Hamas. They question the absence of a plan for what will become of Gaza and its Palestinian population when the conflict resolves.12 Some suggestions for how the administration might alter its policies have included:

  • Calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire;
  • A commitment to increase support for Israel’s defense;
  • Prioritizing humanitarian aid for both Palestinians and Israelis;
  • Only endorsing and supporting tactics which protect civilians and human rights; and,
  • Having the United States act as a third-party to advance a political solution which will avoid future conflict.13

At present, while the Biden administration continues to caution Israel against unnecessary civilian casualties in Gaza, it has not significantly altered its policy of support for Israel.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree or disagree with calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict?
  2. Does the United States have the right to impose conditions on its support for its allies or is it important for allies to remain fully committed to each other’s policies?
  3. President Biden has argued that the conflict between Israel and Hamas represents similar stakes for democracy as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Do you agree or disagree?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

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Featured Image Credit: Dave Decker/Creative Loafing/Axios
[1] https://www.axios.com/2023/11/04/us-israel-aid-military-funding-chart; https://sgp.fas.org/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf
[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/10/20/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-unites-states-response-to-hamass-terrorist-attacks-against-israel-and-russias-ongoing-brutal-war-against-ukraine/
[3] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/bidens-dangerous-stance-on-the-war-in-israel-and-gaza/
[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2023/11/28/israel-hamas-war-live-updates-news-on-gaza-conflict.html
[5] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-revises-death-toll-oct-7-hamas-attack-around-1200-2023-11-10/; https://apnews.com/article/israel-hamas-11-1-2023-blinken-netanyahu-d57766fd8e55500ff6f16b78b3560d51
[6] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/israel-hamas-ceasefire-hostages-gaza/; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67556006
[7] https://www.reuters.com/world/us-public-support-israel-drops-majority-backs-ceasefire-reutersipsos-2023-11-15/#:~:text=Some%2032%25%20of%20respondents%20in,conducted%20Oct.%2012%2D13.
[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/us-public-support-israel-drops-majority-backs-ceasefire-reutersipsos-2023-11-15/#:~:text=Some%2032%25%20of%20respondents%20in,conducted%20Oct.%2012%2D13.
[9] https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/11/1143762
[10] https://www.gmfus.org/news/whose-ground-zero-competing-perspectives-israel-hamas-war
[11] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gaza-war-growing-outcry-us-diplomats-administrations-handling/
[12] https://apnews.com/article/israel-hamas-11-1-2023-blinken-netanyahu-d57766fd8e55500ff6f16b78b3560d51
[13] https://www.americanprogress.org/article/israel-hamas-conflict-5-actions-washington-should-prioritize-now/


U.S. Politics and Policy During the Israel-Hamas Conflict: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts that will explore complex domestic policy, foreign policy, and global issues connected to the Israel-Hamas conflict. In the United States, there has been significant discussion and debate about what to do, both in terms of foreign policy and on the domestic front. In this series, we will examine rising antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate in the U.S., evaluate what the United States could and should do in the Middle East from multiple perspectives, and examine the impact the conflict is having on the United States as it navigates issues in the region and around the world.


It has been over a month since Hamas executed a terrorist attack in Israel that killed over 1,200 people.1 (Initial reports put the death toll at over 1,400, but in early November, the Israeli government revised “the official number of people” killed by Hamas.2) In addition to those killed, Hamas took at least 150 hostages whom they are now holding in Gaza.3 Footage and reporting from October 7—including footage shot by Hamas itself—shows that Hamas militants committed rape and other acts of sexual violence during the attack.4 In the weeks since the terrorist attack, Israel has conducted a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza that has included bombing; blockading the city to cut off food, medical supplies, power, and communication; and sending ground troops to raid suspected Hamas strongholds.5 Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, claims that over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, with the majority of those killed being women and children.6

The conflict has spurred antisemitic and anti-Muslim responses in the United States and many other nations around the globe. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, antisemitism is defined as prejudice against or hatred of Jews.7

For more resources that explain and explore antisemitism, see:

Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim hate, is “an extreme fear of and hostility toward Islam and Muslims which often leads to hate speech, hate crimes, as well as social and political discrimination,” according to Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative.

For more resources that explain and explore Islamophobia, see:

Both antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate speech have been on the rise on social media platforms since the October 7 terrorist attacks. According to the New York Times, “Antisemitic content soared more than 919 percent on X and 28 percent on Facebook in the month since Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group. Anti-Muslim hate speech on X jumped 422 percent on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8, and rose 297 percent over the next five days, said the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based political advocacy group.”

In addition to the online hate and incivility, biased anti-Muslim and Jewish incidents are also increasing in the United States. It is difficult to track bias incidents and hate crimes at the national level because of the ways that local law enforcement agencies gather and share such information. However, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, organizations that track antisemitic and anti-Muslim bias respectively, both report significant increases.9 Additionally, major police departments, such as the New York Police Department, have reported substantial increases.10

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning that hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, and Arabs are likely to increase in “the near-to-medium term.”11 DHS warned that houses of worship, political demonstrations, and memorial services are all potential targets.12

WATCH: “Antisemitic and Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes on the Rise in the U.S.,” from NBC News

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you seen or heard about the Israel-Hamas conflict in your community? On your social media accounts?
  2. Have you seen or heard incidents of hate speech or bias in your community or online?
  3. How do you think institutions like schools and universities should respond to antisemitic or anti-Muslim speech and behaviors?
  4. How, if at all, do you think social media companies should respond?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press
[1] Close Up Current Issues Blog: https://www.closeup.org/the-israel-hamas-war/
[2] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2023/11/11/1212458974/israel-revises-death-toll-hamas-attacks-oct-7
[3] Washington Institute for Near East Policy: https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/international-reactions-hamas-attack-israel
[4] Times of Israel: https://www.timesofisrael.com/police-start-building-oct-7-rape-cases-focusing-on-footage-and-testimonies/; Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/podcasts/2023-11-14/ty-article-podcast/why-is-the-cruel-sexual-violence-of-the-october-7-hamas-attack-being-ignored/0000018b-cdbe-d423-affb-ffbfe0d20000
[5] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/israel-gaza-hamas-what-we-know.html
[6] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2023/gaza-rising-death-toll-civilians/
[7] U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: https://www.ushmm.org/antisemitism/what-is-antisemitism
[8] Bridge Initiative, Georgetown University: https://bridge.georgetown.edu/about-us/what-is-islamophobia/; New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/15/technology/hate-speech-israel-gaza-internet.html
[9] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/US/anti-muslim-anti-jewish-incidents-rise/story?id=104760450
[10] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-antisemitic-islamophobic-incidents-surge-with-war-advocates-say-2023-10-25/
[11] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/US/department-homeland-security-warns-spike-hate-crimes-israel/story?id=104208227
[12] Ibid.