Protesters call for a cease-fire outside John Fetterman's Philadelphia office.

Jewish activists and allies protest outside Sen. John Fetterman's office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 19, 2023, asking him to call for a cease-fire in Israel's war with Hamas.

(Photo: Arielle Cohen/Twitter)

Progressive Jews to Fetterman: Back a Cease-Fire, Now

The activists from Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow who gathered outside the senator's Philadelphia office Thursday said that they were disappointed by his hawkish stance on the conflict.

Progressive Jewish organizations led a protest at Sen. John Fetterman's Philadelphia office Thursday, calling on the first-term lawmaker to back a cease-fire in Gaza and Israel as the latter continues its massive bombing campaign and blockade.

The demonstration, which drew around 100 people, came a day after hundreds of Jewish Americans and supporters were arrested during a sit-in at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., also demanding a cease-fire. More than 800 international law experts have warned that Israel may be perpetrating genocide in Gaza with its relentless airstrikes and the blocking of water, electricity, and fuel.

"Fetterman, for shame! No genocide in our name," the protesters, gathered by Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, chanted Thursday, as The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Since his election in 2022, Fetterman has been an outspoken progressive on many domestic issues from labor rights to anti-poverty measures. Yet, since Hamas' October 7 attack on southern Israel, the senator has been an equally vocal supporter of Israel's violent reprisal, which has already killed more than 4,100 in Gaza and injured more than 13,000, as Democracy Now! reported Friday.

"Now is not the time to talk about a cease-fire," he tweeted Wednesday. "We must support Israel in efforts to eliminate the Hamas terrorists who slaughtered innocent men, women, and children. Hamas does not want peace, they want to destroy Israel. We can talk about a cease-fire after Hamas is neutralized."

Fetterman has backed a letter initiated by Sen. John Ossoff (D-Ga.) to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

"We refuse to let our grief be weaponized to justify the murder of more Palestinians."

The activists who demonstrated outside his office Thursday told The Philadelphia Inquirer they were disappointed by his hawkish stance on the conflict.

"I don't think it's a partisan issue. It's about the value of life," Arielle Cohen of IfNotNow told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "In both Israel and Gaza, no one is safer when there is an active war. It puts us all at risk."

Many activists have family in Israel and said they were grieving for the dead on both sides of the conflict. Hamas fighters killed around 1,400 in Israel.

"We are mourning our Israeli and Palestinian friends and loved ones, but we refuse to let our grief be weaponized to justify the murder of more Palestinians," IfNotNow organizer Miryam Coppersmith told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

At one point during the protest, around 12 demonstrators entered the U.S. Custom House, where Fetterman's office is located, until officers with the Department of Homeland Security threatened them with arrest, demonstrators told the Inquirer.

"We were just expelled from Sen. Fetterman's Philadelphia office with no warning for calling for cease-fire now," Cohen tweeted.

In another tweet, Fetterman's chief of staff Adam Jentleson disputed Cohen's account.

"Sorry if this does not fit the narrative but our state director heard these folks out until they had nothing more to say. then they hung out in the lobby for a while until other tenants complained (we share a building) and they were asked to leave by security," he wrote, "but hey you do you."

Cohen then pushed back, calling Jentleson's response "cynical and offensive."

"Reading this, it feels like Sen. Fetterman's staff wants to paint us as cowards," Cohen continued in a social media post. "It is about more than narratives. It's about stopping genocide. The office is in a U.S. Customs Building, which DHS was guarding. They threatened us with federal charges."

Jentleson has repeatedly backed Fetterman's pro-Israel stance on social media. When one poster asked him if Fetterman would call for a cease-fire, he answered curtly, "No."

When Fetterman first ran for Senate, his views on Israel were unknown, but some thought his domestic politics meant he would be more critical of the country's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"He's never come out and said that he’s not a supporter of Israel, but the perception is that he aligns with the Squad more than anything else," Democratic activist Brett Goldman toldJewish Insider in 2022.

In the same article, however, Fetterman came out strongly in support of Israel, arguing against both limiting U.S. aid and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

"I would also respectfully say that I'm not really a progressive in that sense,” he said in the article. "Our campaign is based on core Democratic values and principles, and always has been, and there is no daylight between myself and these kinds of unwavering commitments to Israel's security."

Writing for The Intercept, Ryan Grim suggested that part of Fetterman's stance might have been intended to keep the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) and AIPAC from donating to his primary opponent, former Rep. Conor Lamb. During the race, Fetterman allowed DMFI to make some edits to his Israel-Palestine platform.

In the end, Grim wrote, "DMFI and AIPAC stayed out of the race."

In a tweet, Cohen argued that it wasn't possible to remain a progressive on domestic issues while funding war abroad.

"How can you make good on a single progressive policy while allowing our pain to be weaponized to invest deeply in a budget for horrific cruelty on an unimaginable scale?" Cohen asked.

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