Schiff’s response contrasted with Rep. Katie Porter, who condemned the loss of lives on both sides, expressed concern about Islamophobia and put some blame for the attack on the U.S. government, and Rep. Barbara Lee, who called for a ceasefire and prayers for both Israelis and Palestinians killed in the weekend attack.
It marked one of the few areas of disagreement among three candidates who all identify as progressive Democrats during a candidate forum sponsored by the National Union of Healthcare Workers that otherwise focused largely on domestic issues.
Schiff, who represents Burbank and has the endorsement of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, hewed to a more traditional Democratic response. He noted that the U.S.-Israel relationship is “based on our own national security and shared values” even as the two governments disagree over West Bank settlements and other issues.
Both Porter and Lee’s response reflect the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has grown more hostile to the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians.
Porter, a former law professor who represents a swing district in Orange County, appeared to straddle that intra-party divide by expressing support for Israel but then veering into more progressive territory.
“It is important to remember, as we stand with Israel, as we stand against terror, as we mourn, that we learn the lessons of our own 9/11, which gave rise to hateful Muslim-phobia and civil rights violations,” Porter said at the forum.
The attack, launched by land, air and sea at dawn on Saturday, has killed an estimated 700 Israelis and at least 400 people in Gaza as a result of the response by Israeli forces. In their responses to a question about the situation, Lee and Porter both sought to focus on the losses on both sides.
Porter also blamed the U.S. for failing to take a “strong enough” stand against Iran, which supports Hamas as well as the Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and elsewhere, though she provided no specifics about that position and it wasn’t clear if she was criticizing the Biden administration or previous administrations.
“There are lost lives in Gaza and there are lost lives in Israel, and it’s because the United States has allowed terrorism to flourish, and it’s refused to take a strong enough stance against Iran, who is backing Hamas and Hezbollah,” she added.
Lee, who was the only member of Congress to oppose the Authorized Use of Military Force following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said the U.S. has a responsibility to call for a ceasefire.
Lee, who represents Oakland, said she has “always stood for Israel not having to deal with terrorist attacks.” She also said she was praying for people killed on both sides of the conflict.
“I think it’s important also to understand that right now, in this current crisis, our country has a responsibility, I believe, to call for a ceasefire and to call for the whole world to come together to try to stop the escalation of what is taking place in the Middle East,” she said.
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) have faced backlash for their own calls for a ceasefire, which stands in contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration of war.
The comments were a notable moment of difference in an otherwise low-key forum where three Democrats with similar records worked to distinguish themselves. The campaign event, hosted by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, Roll Call and Courage California, was the first since the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the appointment of Sen. Laphonza Butler.