As the face of Biden’s Israel policy, Blinken is drawing the ire of Gaza war protesters

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

Protesters angry about Israel’s attack 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 anger at the diplomat who has become the face of President Biden’s policy toward the conflict.

“Bloody Blinken lives here,” read one this week. “Caution: The War Criminal Inside,” read another. Passing cars were driving across the road with the words “Secretary of Genocide” painted in pastel colors.

And when the official procession of Mr. After Blinken was pulled from his driveway one day in early January, protesters sprayed the armored black Suburban he was riding in with fake blood.

Organizers of the protest even named their effort “Occupy Blinken” and said in a statement that their camp received more than 100 people. (Perhaps two dozen of them were visible Thursday afternoon, along with scores of police and vehicles.) They “braved freezing temperatures, winds and rain, 24 hours a day, to plead with Blinken” to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, it said. in the announcement.

Some neighbors are unhappy with the commotion on their typically quiet street, one says. A digital traffic sign imported by police warns drivers to slow down and instructs “NO CHEESE”, suggesting the expressions of support have created unwanted noise in the area, which also hosts at least two ambassadors from Gulf countries.

For Mr. Blinken, it must be a startling development. For much of the past two years, he has been a hero in many parts of the United States and Europe for advocating for the defense of Ukraine and demanding accountability for Russian war crimes. Now he is being condemned by protesters who are furious that the Biden administration provided military equipment and political cover for what they call Israel’s morally outrageous and even criminal response to the October 7 attacks by Hamas, which killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to Health Gaza officials.

Mr. Blinken is not alone: ​​Protesters gathered outside the homes of national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, including Christmas morning. They have also followed Mr. Biden’s recent public appearances, with hecklers in some cases interrupting his comments at events.

But Mr Blinken appears to be bearing the brunt, perhaps because of his diplomatic role – he had planned to leave at the weekend for his fifth trip to the Middle East since October 7 – and his frequent appearances in front of the cameras.

Outside the State Department, several lampposts are plastered with posters of his smiling face above the ruins of Gaza. “We charge you with genocide for financing and aiding Israel’s genocide of Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza,” they write. (Israel furiously rejects accusations that its military campaign against Hamas is a genocidal effort to wipe out Palestinians, and the Biden administration says the genocide charge is baseless, though the International Court of Justice recently issued an interim ruling suggesting the charge is “persuasive .”) )

Mr. Blinken often speaks of “Israel’s right to defend itself” and repeatedly emphasizes that Hamas bears responsibility for causing the disaster in Gaza by attacking Israel and killing about 1,200 people. But he also says publicly that the civilian toll in Gaza has been “appalling” to him and claims that US diplomacy has done more than any other country to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

In a statement, Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said Mr. Blinken was prepared for the criticism.

“He understands that people care deeply about this issue — and he does,” Mr. Miller said. “That is why he is working so hard to end this conflict as quickly as possible in a way that ensures the tragic loss of life of both Israelis and Palestinians since October 7 does not happen again.” In the statement, there was no objection to the presence of protesters in front of his front door.

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

“Every interaction we have feeds into the thinking of the secretary,” Mr. Miller said.

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

During a visit to Britain the previous year, Mrs. Rice was faced with protesters — “Hey, Condi, hey, how many kids have you killed 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 served as national security adviser in the Obama administration, recalled that protesters were angry about US drone strikes against suspected terrorists. knocked on the front door John Brennan, then White House Director of Counterterrorism.

“Anything in your home makes you feel like you’re never really out of work or away from controversy,” and exposes family members, Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr Rhodes said he doubted that individual protests over Gaza would shape US policy, but added that the number and variety of ongoing demonstrations could have an effect “because it is a sign of the depth of hostility towards politics”.

Blinken, who spent most of his career as a behind-the-scenes official before Biden tapped him to be his secretary of state three years ago. In the past, he has joked about his anonymity, especially in relation to predecessors such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, both of whom became Democratic presidential nominees.

At the start of his tenure as Secretary of State, Mr Blinken could walk into a low-security European cafe while on a business trip and not be recognised, or at least approached. Those days seem long gone.

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