As Face of Biden’s Israel Policy, Blinken Draws Wrath of Gaza War Protesters - The World News

As Face of Biden’s Israel Policy, Blinken Draws Wrath of Gaza War Protesters

For Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the conflict in Gaza has come home.

Protesters angry over Israel’s assault on Gaza have become a regular presence outside Mr. Blinken’s residence in Northern Virginia, with some camping out for days in roadside tents. Palestinian flags and handmade signs express their fury at a diplomat who has become the face of President Biden’s policy toward the conflict.

“Bloody Blinken lives here,” read one this week. “Caution: War Criminal Inside,” read another. Passing cars drove over the words “Secretary of genocide” scrawled along the road in pastel chalk colors.

And when Mr. Blinken’s official motorcade pulled out of his driveway one day in early January, protesters splashed fake blood on the armored black Suburban in which he was riding.

Organizers of the protests have even given their effort a name, “Occupy Blinken,” and said in a statement that their encampment has held more than 100 people. (On Thursday afternoon perhaps two dozen were visible, along with numerous police officers and vehicles.) They have “braved cold temperatures, winds and rain, 24 hours a day, to plead with Blinken” to support an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, the statement said.

Some neighbors are unhappy about the commotion on their typically serene street, according to one. A digital traffic sign imported by police warns drivers to slow down and instructs “NO HORN BLOWING,” suggesting that expressions of support have created unwelcome noise in an area that is also home to at least two ambassadors from Persian Gulf countries.

For Mr. Blinken, it is surely a startling turn of events. For much of the past two years he has been a hero in many quarters of the United States and Europe for championing the defense of Ukraine and demanding accountability for Russian war atrocities. Now he is condemned by protesters who are furious that the Biden administration has provided military hardware and political cover for what they call a morally outrageous and even criminal Israeli response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, which has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

Mr. Blinken is not the only one: Protesters have gathered outside the homes of the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and the secretary of defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, including on Christmas morning. They have also dogged Mr. Biden’s recent public appearances, with hecklers in some cases interrupting his remarks at events.

But Mr. Blinken appears to be suffering the brunt, perhaps because of his diplomatic role — he plans to depart this weekend for his fifth trip to the Middle East since Oct. 7 — and his frequent on-camera appearances.

Outside the State Department, several lamp posts are plastered with posters featuring his smiling face superimposed over the rubble of Gaza. “We charge you with genocide for financing and assisting in Israel’s genocide of Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza,” they read. (Israel furiously rejects the accusation that its military campaign against Hamas constitutes a genocidal effort to wipe out Palestinians, and the Biden administration says the charge of genocide is meritless, although the International Court of Justice recently issued an interim ruling suggesting the accusation was “plausible.”)

Mr. Blinken often speaks of “Israel’s right to defend itself” and repeatedly stresses that Hamas bears responsibility for triggering the catastrophe in Gaza by attacking Israel and killing about 1,200 people. But he also says in public that the civilian toll in Gaza has been “gut-wrenching” for him and argues that U.S. diplomacy has achieved more than any other country to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies reach Gaza.

In a statement, Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman, said that Mr. Blinken was attuned to the criticism.

“He understands that people care deeply about this issue — so does he,” Mr. Miller said. “That’s why he is working so hard to bring about an end to this conflict as soon as possible in a way that ensures the tragic loss of life by both Israelis and Palestinians since Oct. 7 doesn’t happen again.” The statement raised no objection to the presence of protesters within view of his front door.

On Thursday, Mr. Miller separately explained to reporters that Mr. Blinken had met that day with members of the Palestinian American community. Mr. Miller said it was the latest in a series of meetings Mr. Blinken has had with people, both in and out of government, with “a wide range of views” about the conflict. (Some invitees said in a statement that they had refused to meet with Mr. Blinken, dismissing the meeting as “performative.”)

“Every interaction that we have enters into the secretary’s thinking,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Blinken is hardly the first secretary of state to suffer personal animus over a foreign conflict, although he may be experiencing more intensely than any of his predecessors since Condoleezza Rice, who held the position in the second term of the Bush administration. During a House hearing in 2007, a woman opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq approached Ms. Rice and held hands covered in red paint within inches of her face.

During a visit to Britain the previous year, Ms. Rice was confronted by protesters — “Hey, Condi, hey, how many kids did you kill today?” some chanted — and was forced to cancel a planned stop at a mosque. In June 2004, as many as 1,300 people marched to the home of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood.

Benjamin J. Rhodes, who was a national security adviser in the Obama administration, recalled that protesters angry about U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists knocked on the front door of John Brennan, then the White House director of counterterrorism.

“Anything at your home does make you feel like you’re never really off work or away from controversy,” and exposes family members, Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Rhodes said he doubted that individual protests over Gaza would shape U.S. policy but added that the number and variety of demonstrations underway might have an effect “because it’s a sign of the depth of hostility to the policy.”

The vitriol may be especially jarring for Mr. Blinken, who spent most of his career as a behind-the-scenes staffer before Mr. Biden tapped him to be his chief diplomat three years ago. He has joked in the past about his anonymity, particularly as measured against predecessors like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, both of whom became Democratic presidential nominees.

Early in his tenure as secretary of state, Mr. Blinken could slip into a European cafe with light security while on an official trip and not be recognized, or at least approached. Those days appear to be long gone.

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