WASHINGTON (JTA) — The number of Jewish Democrats calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war now numbers three, with Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Sara Jacobs of California joining Vermont’s Becca Balint.
The calls signal a growing shift in how Jewish Democrats are approaching the war as it enters its sixth week, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip intensifies and the Palestinian death toll climbs. Other Jewish Democrats, including Rep. Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have ratcheted up their criticism of Israel in recent days while stopping short of calling for a ceasefire.
As recently as Oct. 22, all 24 Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed onto a statement backing President Joe Biden’s wholehearted backing for Israel in the war Hamas launched on Oct. 7. Raskin was one of three Jewish Democrats spearheading that statement.
Biden steadfastly opposes a ceasefire, which would leave Hamas in power in Gaza, reiterating his position in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Saturday.
“As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a ceasefire is not peace,” Biden wrote. “To Hamas’s members, every ceasefire is time they exploit to rebuild their stockpile of rockets, reposition fighters and restart the killing by attacking innocents again. An outcome that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would once more perpetuate its hate and deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves.”
The Jewish lawmakers’ shifted positions follow extensive advocacy by critics of Israel, including hundreds of Biden administration staffers and Jewish anti-Israel groups that have held high-profile demonstrations at lawmakers’ offices and the headquarters of the Democratic Party, among other sites.
While those groups call for an immediate ceasefire, most of the Jewish lawmakers have so far outlined conditions they would like to see in a cessation of hostilities.
In his statement, Raskin called for “American strategic, diplomatic and political leadership to press for a breakthrough change in the relentless and dangerous dynamics of war and violence.”
He called for “a mutually agreed-upon bilateral humanitarian pause or mutually agreed-upon ceasefire to provide for a ‘global humanitarian surge’ of aid to hundreds of thousands of displaced and suffering innocent civilians throughout Gaza.”
Raskin outlined a number of components he wanted, including the release of some 240 hostages Hamas abducted on Oct. 7, removal of Hamas from governing the Gaza Strip and the prosecution of the Hamas officials who organized the mass slaughter. In her statement on Thursday, Balint also called for Hamas’ removal.
Jacobs made no such call in her statement on Saturday, although she said the Oct. 7 attack was “gruesome, horrifying and inexcusable” and that Israel had the “right to respond to protect its citizens, and hold Hamas accountable.”
She said she was concerned that after warning Gaza civilians to move to the south of the strip while Israel attacked Hamas’ infrastructure in the north, spurring a massive migration southward, Israel appears ready to pursue Hamas in the south.
“It is time for a bilateral ceasefire — to immediately release the hostages; to establish humanitarian access and allow fuel, food, water and medical care into Gaza; and to end the bombardment of millions of Palestinian civilians,” she said.
Other Jewish Democrats have also been outspoken. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota on Friday said that there should be a ceasefire of “large-scale military operations,” albeit only after the release of hostages, and Ossoff said Israel’s conduct has been a “moral failure.”
Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, on Oct. 7 and abducted some 240 people. Since Israel launched counterstrikes, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said that 11,000 Palestinians, including thousands of children, have been killed. It is not known what portion of that number are combatants and how many were killed by rockets aimed at Israel that misfired.
Independent reporting has increasingly documented a steep toll on Palestinian civilians, particularly on children, and the Israeli government nodded at worsening conditions on Saturday when it authorized the delivery of fuel it said was needed to prevent the spread of disease.
The number of Democrats in the House now calling for a ceasefire has doubled in recent days from 18 to 37, according to a count by The Intercept, a publication that backs a ceasefire.
Separately, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Vermonter who is the unofficial leader of progressives in Congress, on Saturday called for conditioning aid to Israel unless it hews to strictures on its conduct of the war.
Sanders has resisted urging from fellow progressives to call for a ceasefire but said he wanted a “significant pause” in the fighting.
Among his conditions were “an end to the indiscriminate bombing which has taken thousands of civilian lives and a significant pause in military operations so that massive humanitarian assistance can come into the region; the right of displaced Gazans to return to their homes.”
In addition to the $3.8 billion Israel gets annually from the United States, Biden has asked Congress to authorize $14 billion in emergency aid.
Biden in his op-ed outlined the humanitarian assistance his administration has facilitated in negotiations with Israel and Egypt but suggested he wanted to see more from Israel, particularly related to increased settler violence against West Bank Palestinians since the war’s start. For the first time, he said his administration would bar Israeli extremists from entering the United States.
“The United States is prepared to take our own steps, including issuing visa bans against extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank,” he said.
Biden also said that once Hamas is ousted he sees Gaza as being governed by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, an outcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted endorsing.
A number of Jewish Democrats in the House immediately rejected Sanders’ call for conditioning aid, among them Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Brad Schneider of Illinois.
Schneider linked Sanders’ proposal to a bill that the new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana, advanced recently conditioning Biden’s $14 billion request to cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.
“Conditioning aid to Israel is misguided and dangerous,” Schneider said in an emailed statement. “Plans such as those offered by Speaker Johnson and Senator Sanders serve only the interests of those opposed to Israel and to peace.”