Amid the ongoing violence, destruction and loss of life between Israel and the militant group Hamas, some members of the Bay State’s congressional delegation weighed in on the conflict, with a mix of criticism and support of Israel and calls for an immediate cease fire.
On Sunday, Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren were among 28 senators – 26 Democrats and two independents – led by Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff urging an immediate ceasefire “to prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.” Ossoff is a Jewish member of Congress.
Historically, members of the state’s congressional delegation have voiced strong public support for Israel. But in one of the sharpest attacks by an elected official, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Boston, took to the House floor last week to decry what she saw as human rights violations by Israel as a result not only of recent tensions but “of years of military occupation.” She also questioned U.S. military financial assistance to Israel.
Pressley drew a through line of “systems of oppression” from police brutality in America that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, the Capitol insurrection that included white supremacists and antisemites, and violence around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem earlier this month.
“Last summer, when Black Lives Matter protestors took to the streets to demand justice, they were met with force. They faced tear gas, rubber bullets, and a militarized police just as our Palestinian brothers and sisters are facing in Jerusalem today,” Pressley said.
“We cannot remain silent when our government sends $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel that is used to demolish Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children, and displace Palestinian families,” she said.
“We agree with Representative Pressley that everyone deserves to live free from fear and to know peace, and we are troubled that her speech did not reflect a belief that these conditions apply to Israeli citizens being indiscriminately targeted by rocket fire from a U.S.-recognized terrorist organization,” the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Newton Democrat and a Jewish member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, said in an interview: “Israel has not only the right but indeed the obligation to defend itself against rocket attacks from a terrorist organization.”
“The ethnic violence in Israel’s mixed cities is a tragedy,” added Auchincloss, who has visited Israel in the past. “Those who are shouting ‘Death to Jews!’ and those who are shouting ‘Death to Arabs!’ are both poor reflections on the character of what we all hope to be, and what we hope will be a two-state solution.”
When asked what were his emotions about the conflict, Auchincloss said: “Sorrow for the deceased and the innocent who have died and their loved ones. Conviction that Israel must and will defend itself and that America’s security commitment to Israel is inviolable.”
“And, although it can feel despairing at a moment like this, still hope that we can achieve a two-state solution and that the ethnic violence we have seen in Israel’s mixed cities in the last week will be but a dark moment in otherwise trying to drive toward a two-state solution.”
Salem Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton, whose district includes the North Shore, urged both sides to broker a ceasefire.
“I am clear-eyed and united with Israel in the belief that Hamas is a terrorist organization,” said the Marblehead native. “Israel has the right to defend itself, and Hamas’s rocket attacks deserve a response. Israel must make every effort to avoid civilian deaths.”
Moulton called himself “a friend of Israel,” but was critical of Israel’s policy of building in Palestinian neighborhoods.
“The hard truth is this: the decision to relocate Palestinian families for settlements is morally wrong. The policy of settlements is designed to take territory that the world – including Israel – has agreed belongs to Palestinians. It is a home-by-home invasion, spread over years. I deeply oppose it, and anyone who wants to see peace in the region should as well.”
Markey, a Malden Democrat, tweeted on May 11: “Palestinians and Israelis deserve peace and safety. The violence must stop and all sides must protect innocent civilians. The Biden Administration should continue being fully engaged to help de-escalate this moment.”
He said the proposed evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque have led to spiraling violence that must be de-escalated.
“Israel has the right to defend itself from indiscriminate rocket attacks and no one should fear being forcefully evicted from their homes. We need peace,” Markey tweeted.
However, his “both sides” stance drew criticism from young progressives and progressive groups who supported his reelection bid last year.
“Senator Markey told us that young people would lead the way, and now it is time for him to listen to us and stand up for Palestinian lives,” said the statement urging Markey to “stand up for Palestine.” More than 650 people signed on to the statement.
Groups signing on include included IfNotNow Boston and Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston.
On Friday, May 14, Markey again called for Israel to “seek an immediate ceasefire,” and that the Biden administration must “make it clear” a ground invasion of Gaza would not have U.S. support, but also that the Hamas bombardment of Israelis was without justification.
Markey said it would be “unconscionable” for Israel to mount an overwhelming ground attack, and given its disproportionate military power, Israel has a responsibility to de-escalate the crisis.
“Secretary of State (Tony) Blinken was right when he said earlier this week, Israel holds an ‘extra burden’ on it to prevent the loss of innocent Palestinian lives,” Markey said.
Markey condemned Hamas’s rocket bombardment, but said actions taken by Israel helped lead to the crisis. He called for a two-state solution to create a lasting peace.
“We cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people who lack a viable government or leadership to represent their interests,” Markey said.
Warren also took to Twitter to say: “The US must immediately work with our partners to stop Hamas’s rocket attacks and Israel’s airstrikes, then get to work on ending the illegal settlement expansion and impending forced removal of
Palestinian families from E. Jerusalem and bringing about a two-state solution.”
Westford Democrat Rep. Lori Trahan said on Twitter that: “Innocent Palestinian and Israeli families are sheltering in fear from rocket attacks and airstrikes. The US has an obligation to help broker an immediate ceasefire.”
“Israeli and Palestinian mothers alike lie awake tonight in fear for their children’s safety,” said U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Melrose, in a tweet. “We must work to end this horrific escalation in violence and toward a lasting and just peace.”