Sen. Dick Durbin

U.S. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 16, 2023.

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Dick Durbin Becomes First US Senator to Call for Cease-Fire in Gaza

"Thank you for listening to tens of thousands of Jews calling for peace," wrote the Jewish-American advocacy group IfNotNow.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin on Thursday became the first U.S. senator to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and Israel, joining the head of the United Nations, human rights organizations, and nearly two dozen House progressives.

Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Senate Democrat, said during a CNN appearance that he supports a cease-fire agreement that includes the "immediate release" of all hostages.

"An effort should be made to engage in conversation between the Israelis and the Palestinians," said Durbin, who was first elected to Congress with AIPAC support in 1982. "Let's face it, this has gone on for decades. Whatever the rationale from the beginning, it has now reached an intolerable level. We need to have a resolution in the Middle East that gives some promise for the future."

Durbin said he has not communicated his position directly to the Biden White House, which has thus far vocally opposed a cease-fire, claiming it would benefit Hamas. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden expressed support for a "pause" after his campaign speech in Minnesota was interrupted by a demonstrator calling for a cease-fire.

The New York Timesreported that when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Israel on Friday, he "will urge the Israeli government to agree to a series of brief cessations of military operations in Gaza to allow for hostages to be released safely and for humanitarian aid to be distributed."

IfNotNow, a Jewish-American advocacy group that has organized protests against U.S. support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza, welcomed Durbin's cease-fire call, writing on social media, "Thank you for listening to tens of thousands of Jews calling for peace."

"We appreciate and hope your colleagues in the Senate follow your leadership," the group added.

Durbin's support for a cease-fire came a day after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took to the Senate floor to demand a "humanitarian pause" to allow the delivery of aid to Gaza, where more than 9,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces in less than a month of bombing.

The United Nations defines a humanitarian pause as "a temporary cessation of hostilities purely for humanitarian purposes" that is "usually for a defined period and specific geographic area where the humanitarian activities are to be carried out."

A cease-fire, by contrast, entails "a suspension of fighting agreed upon by the parties to a conflict, typically as part of a political process," the U.N. says. "It is intended to be long-term and often covers the entire geographic area of the conflict. Its aim is usually to allow parties to engage in dialogue, including the possibility of reaching a permanent political settlement."

Including Durbin, 23 members of Congress have expressed support for a cease-fire, according to a tally by The Intercept's Prem Thakker. Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.), and other progressives are leading a cease-fire resolution in the House.

A recent survey conducted by Data for Progress showed that two-thirds of U.S. voters want the Biden administration to "call for a cease-fire and a deescalation of violence in Gaza" and "leverage its close diplomatic relationship with Israel to prevent further violence and civilian deaths."

A separate poll released last month found that 53% of U.S. voters oppose sending additional weaponry to Israel. On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on legislation that includes roughly $14 billion of unconditional military aid for Israel.

"Instead of working toward peace, this bill would enable the conflict's expansion," Natalia Salgado, director of federal affairs for the Working Families Party, said in a statement ahead of Thursday's vote. "Far from contributing to the safety and security of Israel and Israelis, this funding will lead to an even more destructive and deadly war that will deprive Palestinians and Israelis of the possibility of living in peace, security, and dignity for generations to come."

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