Some Politicians Calling for a “Ceasefire” Are Not Actually Calling for a Ceasefire

As the word “ceasefire” gains currency in Congress, some lawmakers are coupling their calls for peace in Gaza with conditions that cannot be met.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 02: Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) speaks during a press conference at the entrance of the migrant relief center at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on February 02, 2023 in New York City. Dan Goldman (D-NY) spoke during a press conference after he and various elected officials took a tour of the temporary migrant relief center for adult men at the terminal. The center has been taking in migrants from the Watson Hotel after they were evicted from the premises in order to be relocated to the center. On Wednesday night, NYPD and DSNY cleared a group of migrants who refused relocatiing to the center citing inhumane conditions.  (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., speaks during a press conference in New York City on Feb. 2, 2023. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The list of members of Congress calling for a ceasefire in Gaza has grown to about four dozen, with several members joining the chorus over the last week, amid a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas and sustained protests across the United States. Yet as the word “ceasefire” gains currency, a closer look at some lawmakers’ statements raises questions about whether they are truly pushing for an end to the violence. 

Some members of Congress are coupling their calls for a ceasefire with conditions like the removal of Hamas, which is ostensibly Israel’s justification for its brutal campaign against Gaza, while others are using the word in vague statements that leave room for interpretation. 

“Calls from members of Congress that demand regime change before there is an end to Israel’s bombardment are calls to extend and prolong a situation in which Israel is killing Palestinian children every single hour,” said Beth Miller of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, an organization that has co-led massive pro-peace demonstrations across the country. 

The push for a ceasefire began about a week into Israel’s assault on Gaza, when Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., led a 13-member resolution for an “immediate deescalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.” (The resolution now has 18 co-sponsors.) As people across the country have inundated their representatives with demands for a ceasefire — Yasmine Taeb, political director for Muslim-led justice group MPower Change Action Fund, said an effort by her organization and the Adalah Justice Project has generated more than 429,000 letters to the House — the number has slowly climbed to 49 across both chambers of Congress.

A poll from left-leaning outfit Data for Progress in October found 66 percent of voters in favor of a ceasefire. A Reuters poll conducted nearly a month later found 68 percent of respondents in favor of one, while a YouGov poll released days later found only 20 percent of respondents opposed to a ceasefire.

On Monday, four days into the ongoing humanitarian pause, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Israel Defense Force soldiers that when Israel re-ups the fighting, its “strength will be greater, and it will take place throughout the entire Strip. … We will use the same amount of power and more.”

The pledge comes while the World Health Organization warns that more Palestinians may die from disease than the 15,000 who have already been killed by Israel’s bombardment campaign since October 7 — and that’s if conditions remain as they are, not if they worsen.

There’s no way the conflict ends other than a permanent ceasefire, said Yousef Munayyer, a political analyst and senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC. “How much do you actually need to see before you decide to see enough?”

As most of Congress remains mum on stopping the violence — with no Republican calling for a definitive end to the hostilities and beginning of a peace process — some members are invoking the word “ceasefire” but are hedging.

On November 19, as the Gaza death toll eclipsed 11,000, California Democratic Reps. Judy Chu and Jared Huffman both called for a ceasefire. Like other members of Congress, they conditioned their demand on Hamas’s release of every hostage, but they placed a new demand as well: that Hamas be removed from power.

Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., who has faced ongoing protests from Jewish peace groups and their allies, took to Twitter on Monday to thank Joe Biden for securing a pause in the fighting. He went on to invoke a “mutual and unconditional ceasefire” dating back to May 2021 (the last war between Israel and Hamas) that he said Hamas violated on October 7. Unless a call for a ceasefire includes the removal of Hamas, Goldman wrote, the U.S. “must continue to support Israel’s just and legitimate defense of its borders and its people.”

“What it amounts to is a way for members to kind of hide in a safe spot or safer spot to not really take a position.”

This requirement mirrors Israel’s justification for the violence: to weed out Hamas. Even for those who do see that as a necessary pathway to peace, Munayyer argued, it couldn’t be accomplished without a permanent ceasefire. “How does that happen? You know, it doesn’t happen unless you have a ceasefire,” he said. “What it amounts to is a way for members to kind of hide in a safe spot or safer spot to not really take a position.”

For Munayyer, the reluctance and ambivalence around the word “ceasefire” in Congress is about politics, not policy. “We’re talking about thousands of people dying and you’re wordsmithing ‘ceasefire,’” he said. “The interests that are shaping those decisions are wildly different than the stakes that actually matter here. And it’s quite stunning.”

KHAN YUNIS, GAZA -  NOVEMBER 29:  Children collect any available wood for their needs due to the absence of gas as Palestinians continue to live under difficult conditions amid humanitarian pause in Khan Yunis, Gaza on November 29, 2023. (Photo by Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Children collect any available wood to burn in the absence of gas as Palestinians continue to live under difficult conditions amid humanitarian pause in Khan Yunis, Gaza on November 29, 2023.

Photo: Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., for her part, expressed support for the Biden administration’s work toward the temporary ceasefire and added that she supports “such a ceasefire and additional actions to release all the hostages, address the humanitarian crisis, and protect all civilians from violence — Palestinian and Israeli,” but did not call for a total end to the war. 

Other members of Congress, meanwhile, have used the word “ceasefire” in ambiguous statements that don’t make it readily clear where they fall.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, tweeted that he urges “a more comprehensive ceasefire to stop the killing of innocent Palestinians and free all hostages.” He added that “we need Hamas accountability without the continued devastation and siege of Gaza, with clear red lines for Netanyahu.” His office did not respond to The Intercept’s request for clarification. 

Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., reportedly called for a ceasefire on November 12 during a radio talk show. “There needs to be a pause, if not a cessation, to let aid and medical supplies, food, get to these individuals who are maimed, shot up, bombed up,” Davis said. “There needs to be at least enough stoppage to let these kinds of items get through. I join with anybody who says let’s do that. Let’s make it happen.” He has not released any subsequent statements about the issue, and his office did not respond to a request for more information on his position.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., urged a “pause in hostilities” but refused to say what exactly that means. “I am not interested in playing semantics, call it what you want: a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause,” he said in a statement. “The fact of the matter is the violence must stop.” His office did not respond to a request for clarification on the length of time he wants the violence to stop.

Some members, meanwhile, like Reps. Troy Carter, D-La., and Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, “pray” for a permanent ceasefire. Carter’s office did not respond to an inquiry about whether his prayers amount to a firm policy position, while Garcia’s office said that she has nothing else to add.

“One of the reasons folks are now using the word more is because they’ve been seeing all the polls from the majority of the American people, the majority of Democrats,” said a staffer for a progressive member of Congress, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the subject of ongoing congressional deliberations. Some members of Congress are only using the word “ceasefire” at all because they can equivocate the temporary pause with a full ceasefire while giving credit to Biden, the staffer said. “They have clearance to say, ‘I agree that we should extend this ceasefire,’ but it’s really like not taking any courageous stance at all.”

While using the word “ceasefire” itself is not necessarily indicative of a lawmaker’s position, the same is true of a politician’s failure to use the word too. For instance, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., issued a statement on November 17, before the temporary pause was announced, declaring that both Hamas and Israel must stop the violence. “The US government must use all of its influence and leverage to bring a lasting peace to a bleeding, traumatized Middle East,” he said. He did not use the word “ceasefire” but seemed to call for such an outcome. His office did not respond to repeated requests for clarification.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) speaks at a news conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol building on November 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. House Democrats held the news conference alongside rabbis with the activist group Jewish Voices for Peace. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., speaks at a news conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13, 2023.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

In the Senate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said last week that she urges “all parties to extend this agreement and work to achieve an enduring end to this fighting.” She added that things should not “return to the status quo” and that the “Israeli government should not resume bombing in Gaza, which would be a grave strategic and moral mistake.” 

Her statement was followed by Vermont Democratic Sen. Peter Welch, who said Tuesday that the ceasefire expiring “would be a grave mistake” and called for it to continue “indefinitely.” 


Bernie Sanders May Push Vote on Conditioning Aid to Israel in Coming Weeks

Welch’s counterpart from Vermont, meanwhile, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, has called for an end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing, unconditional aid, and settler violence in the West Bank and on Tuesday told The Intercept he may push a vote on placing conditions on U.S. military aid to Israel, but he has stopped short of calling for a total cessation of hostilities.

“You can look at this war that Israel has waged on the Palestinians in Gaza, which has set all kinds of records for brutality … and come to the conclusion that this is somehow contributing to a better outcome for Israelis and Palestinians,” said Munayyer of the Arab Center. “Or you could look at this and come to the far more reasonable conclusion that it’s not.”

“It seems like Welsh and Warren are indeed much more in line with that latter conclusion and that Sanders is not quite there yet,” Munayyer continued. “He still seems to be trying to, you know, split the difference here. And I’m not sure how that can be helpful.”

As the Israeli government plans to resume its bombing of Gaza after the temporary pause in fighting, Congress is preparing to send another $14.3 billion in military aid to Israel, per Biden’s request. “Biden and Congress need to do everything possible to pressure the Israeli government to permanently stop this genocide,” said Miller of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, “and that should include refusing to send Israel more military funds and weapons.”

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