By Khury Petersen-Smith, YES Magazine

When U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar decried Israel’s 11-day aerial bombardment of Gaza this May and declared that “Palestinians deserve protection,” Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio responded by saying that Israeli violence and U.S. support for it were justified because Israelis “live in a very tough neighborhood.”

Rubio did not invent that phrase or its use in describing Israel’s place in the region where it sits. In 2016, 82 hawkish senators signed onto a letter to President Barack Obama advocating greater guarantees of military aid to Israel, saying that “members of Congress from both parties have been proud to work with you and previous administrations to provide Israel the essential resources it needs to survive in a very tough neighborhood.”

Conservative think tank analysts also use the term, such as Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace—who calls Israel “a tiny state in a tough neighborhood”—as do critics of U.S. policy toward Israel. For example, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has used the phrase, “a challenging neighborhood” and progressive U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has said, “I think Israel is in a really tough neighborhood.”

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