The war between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian Gaza Strip has exposed divisions among Democrats on Capitol Hill, including among those running for California’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2024.
“I understand and believe in Israel's right to its security and condemn the Hamas attacks — it was a terrible, horrific attack — early on. I condemn that,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told Spectrum News Thursday. “But that does not mean that I believe that civilians should be in harm's way as a result of trying to dismantle and disrupt the terrorist organization. And so a ceasefire is something that I've called for in the long term.”
Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against authorizating military force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, is one of the progressive members calling for a ceasefire. She’s the only major candidate for California's Senate seat next year to do so — and she’s publicly criticized her opponents for not doing the same.
“We have to remember that we've got to get to — and some disagree, some agree — that two state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side. Peace, security, and justice is the goal,” Lee said.
Democratic Congress Members from California Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, also candidates for the Golden State’s open U.S. Senate seat, have both publicly stated their support for humanitarian pauses to help get aid to innocent civilians in both Israel and Gaza. Schiff went further Thursday, telling Spectrum News that a ceasefire is not a viable option.
“Hamas violated the ceasefire, they continue to hold 244 hostages. I don't know how you can ask Israel to stop its effort to get those hostages back, given that Hamas is saying they're going to attack and butcher Israelis again and again and again,” Schiff said. “I do want to see pauses so that we can get supplies into people in Gaza and we can help evacuate people but Israel has a right to defend itself.”
Schiff has made several strong statements in defense of Israel in the month, including at a House judiciary hearing this week on free speech and the rise of antisemitism in the U.S.
“What I see happening on college campuses with the glorification, with people talking about how empowered they felt at seeing women butchered, peace activists mowed down. The fact that many Jewish students don't feel comfortable expressing their Jewish identity at a time of their lives when they should be free to discuss whatever issues they want, free to be themselves, is just horrifying,” Schiff said.
Both Schiff and Porter signed on to a letter this week condemning the use of the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a Palestinian rallying cry that is also used by Hamas, which some see as rejecting Israel’s right to exist. Lee did not sign that letter.
Porter declined an interview, but pointed to a statement released last week encouraging humanitarian pauses.
“As the United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself, we must show leadership to reduce harm, including civilian casualties, to Palestinians and facilitate the immediate delivery of sufficient humanitarian aid. Hamas has wrought terrible pain on innocent people in Israel and Gaza, and the United States should continue working to secure the release of hostages, eliminate the threats of Hamas’ terrorism, and lay the foundation for enduring peace,” Porter said in the statement. “Consistent with these goals, the United States should work with our allies on a humanitarian pause to allow civilians to receive necessary aid.”
All three voted against the House GOP's $14.3 billion aid package for Israel. Democrats criticized the aid package as partisan, as it would have paid for the aid by stripping that $14.3 billion from the Internal Revenue Service. Though the package passed the House, it was dead on arrival in the Senate.
While the war is a hot button topic, it’s unclear how it could play into the race for Senate.
“I think it can be a problem for candidates, if they get tripped up supporting a particular view that ends up not being popular,” said Todd Belt, director of the Political Management program at The George Washington University. “But a year out from an election, it is a long way. And in foreign policy issues, U.S. voters actually have a very short attention span. So if this isn't really in the news this time next year, it may not actually be that important.”
But Belt cautioned that the calls for a ceasefire may have a more damaging repercussion on another 2024 candidate: President Joe Biden.
“He does have a very close relationship with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, and he is very conscious about not looking like the United States is forcing Netanyahu’s hand. And so because of that, calling for a ceasefire really sort of undermines the President's position,” explained Belt.
When asked Thursday about the chances for a ceasefire, Biden was succinct: “None. No possibility.”