Photo courtesy of HRW

When CBS News’s Ed O’Keefe asked White House spokesman John Kirby how many more charred corpses it would take for the US President to change his policy on Israel, Kirby’s reply was that he “kind of” took “a little offense at the question.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inadvertently called his supporters’ bluff when he described the Rafah explosions as a “tragic accident.” The statement came hours after pro-Israeli commentators justified the attacks as a campaign against Hamas. The Prime Minister’s remarks shows that the Israeli government and its most fervent supporters are running out of both options and excuses.

The world, minus a vast chunk of the West, woke up a long time ago to all this. One by one politicians, celebrities, influencers and political analysts who went on justifying Israeli excesses are waking up now. The Canadian Foreign Ministry condemned Rafah. The European Union has considered sanctions. The French President has issued a red card to Israel. Norway has joined Ireland and Spain in recognising Palestine.

The US and UK remain committed to Israel’s defence and are getting their knickers in a twist to contort every rule in the book to suit themselves. Weeks ago, US President Joe Biden drew a red line and warned Israel not to cross it. Unfortunately, he never properly defined that line. The impression was that any incursion into Rafah would constitute a violation. Yet here we have Rafah taking place before our eyes, and all the White House can say is a) that they are not certain whether it constitutes a “major military offensive” and b) that sensitive questions like the one Ed O’Keefe asked Kirby offend them.

What we are seeing now is a strange reversal of roles in which the world’s undisputed superpower, whose political establishment prides itself on its moral clarity, has become anything but clear in the face of an ongoing genocide and war crimes. As Stephen Walt points out in a series of brilliant essays to Foreign Policy, superpowers, by definition, have the power to coerce allies into doing their bidding. The US has done anything but that, effectively letting its number one strategic ally in West Asia do what it can whenever it can and wherever it wants to without as much as a by your leave.

There is a moral dimension to all this, of course. In the interests of humanity, it is essential to put an end to the carnage. As Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, put it bluntly, the only way Israel will stop this campaign is if it is made to stop. But there are strategic implications as well. The US is led by a Democratic government and historically, especially since the Obama presidency, the Democrats have touted themselves as protectors and preservers of a rules-based order in opposition to the Republicans. The Republicans, by contrast, have morphed into a party of racist rednecks, tough on crime and lax on hate crime.

When in power the Democrats have done all they can to shatter that clean cut image of themselves. But over time, there was an acknowledgement of mistakes, even if that acknowledgement came a little too late in the day. Barack Obama’s response to the Libyan crisis is a case in point. Measured against that standard, the Biden administration’s silence and complicity in the ongoing genocide seems unconscionable. The only way one can explain its inaction is the power that the pro-Israeli lobby, prominently the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wields in the country. In the UK, the Labour Party finds itself in a similar dilemma as disclosures about the Labour Friends of Israel, an influential lobby group, come to light.

The problem is that none of this makes sense strategically. What strategic gains has the US or for that matter the UK and Canada gained from being silent in the face of the biggest breach of international law since God knows when? Obama’s security advisor Ben Rhodes put it all in perspective when he tweeted that it would be unwise, foolish and dangerous for a Democratic administration to question and undermine, if not threaten, institutions such as the International Criminal Court. Yet few Democrats seem to be listening. If they are not justifying the excesses of Netanyahu, they have chosen to go silent: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, for instance, have yet to tweet against the Rafah carnage.

Donald Trump’s appointee to the UN, Nikki Haley, who went on record calling the UN Human Rights Council a “cesspool” before the US exited that organisation, has gone to Israel and signed “FINISH THEM” on an IDF artillery shell. This is the kind of gesture one typically expects of Republicans. Trump himself, barely a month after he went on record calling President Biden “Genocide Joe”, has promised to beat up pro-Palestine protesters should he win elections. Yet as images of police officers arresting, harassing and handcuffing students and lecturers stream in, one wonders whether there is any real difference between Trump’s would-be and Biden’s actual governments.

In the US, comedians and talk show hosts are doing what the political establishment and media should be doing – calling a spade a spade. Comedians, in this scheme, have become journalists. This is of course nothing new. When the US illegally invaded Iraq in 2003, the mainstream media almost unanimously sided with Washington. The likes of the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart became part of an articulate minority, ridiculing US president George Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair, depicting them as the warmongers they were. By the time the mainstream media came to its senses and admitted they had been wrong – as the New York Times did in 2004 – more than 20,000 civilians had died, according to the Iraq Body Count (IBC) Project.

It was too little too late then and it is too little too late now. Manufactured consent was the order of the day then and it remains so now. As mainstream media and politicians erase Gaza from their memories, it thus behoves us to make sure Gaza does not become a distant memory. After Rafah, our responsibility has become more vital than ever: to ensure that we do not forget and to not forget those who chose to forget.