WASHINGTON ― Democratic angst over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has grown steadily in recent weeks even before the death of seven aid workers killed by an Israeli air strike this week, in what could be a turning point in the U.S. approach to the conflict.

But Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) isn’t backing off his staunch support for Israel, which has drawn the ire of some progressives and won him applause in corners of the Republican Party, including one member of Donald Trump’s family.

On Thursday, after President Joe Biden appeared to threaten Israel with a change in U.S. policy if it doesn’t alter its tactics and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, Fetterman rejected the idea of conditioning support for Israel, as some of his colleagues have been pressing for months.

“In this war against Hamas ― no conditions for Israel,” Fetterman wrote on X, formerly Twitter. The post was accompanied by a photo of a story from The New York Times summing up Biden’s “tense” phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he called the killing of aid workers earlier this week “unacceptable” and demanded Israel immediately implement “a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps” to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The hoodie-wearing Pennsylvania Democrat has been one of the most vocal defenders of Israel throughout its six-month military campaign in Gaza, which it launched in response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. He’s steadfastly defended its right to go after Hamas, even as the civilian death toll has climbed into the thousands in Gaza, including in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. He wallpapered his office with posters of dozens of hostages Hamas took from Israel, waved an Israeli flag from the roof of his house after anti-Israel protesters gathered outside, and even sought to attend a private Republican lunch on Capitol Hill to hear Netanyahu speak via video.

Earlier this week, Fetterman called the death of World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza “a tragedy” and said that civilian deaths should be minimized in Gaza. But he largely stuck to his position that Hamas was ultimately responsible for the suffering there.

“It’s important to minimize the kind of collateral damage and I would hope that Hamas decides to not hide behind civilians and create those circumstances as well,” Fetterman said during an interview with CBS News.

Celebrity chef José Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen, said Wednesday that Israel targeted his colleagues “systematically, car by car” despite signs on the convoy identifying it as a humanitarian mission.

“This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” Andrés said after Netanyahu expressed sorrow for the strike and called it unintentional.

“We are disappointed to see Senator Fetterman’s criticism of Biden’s approach,” said Tali deGroot, national political director for J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel group that supports additional U.S. pressure on Israel to change its government’s policies.

“Like the Senator, we too care deeply about the state of Israel. We hope to have an ongoing dialogue with him about why it is that these kinds of steps are actually pro-Israel, and in the best long-term interest of both countries.”

Fetterman’s unvarnished support for Israel has drawn the ire of progressive Jews who oppose its military campaign in Gaza. Eva Borgwardt, a spokesperson for the group IfNotNow, whose members protested at Fetterman’s home, said in a statement: “Apparently the only thing that will satisfy Senator Fetterman is more massacres, more starvation, more ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) walks to vote in the U.S. Capitol.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) walks to vote in the U.S. Capitol.

Bill Clark via Getty Images

Fetterman, however, has been unbending on Israel. He’s also rejected being labeled as a progressive despite standing firmly with the left on other key issues, including support for unions, LGBTQ rights, economic justice and marijuana legalization.

“I would just call myself a Democrat,” he told CNN. “And I believe that I’m on the right side of issues, whether that’s being very pro-choice, maybe that I believe that is being pro-union, and if I believe that’s pro-Israel as well, too.”

Still, he’s looking more and more like an outlier in the Democratic Party when it comes to Israel. This week, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another centrist, pro-Israel Democrat, opened the door for leveraging aid if Israel expands its campaign into Rafah, where more than a million Gazans have taken refuge in makeshift shelters.

“If Benjamin Netanyahu were to order the IDF into Rafah at scale … and make no provision for civilians or for humanitarian aid, I would vote to condition aid to Israel,” Coons said in a Thursday interview on CNN.

He added: “I’ve never said that before, I’ve never been here before.”

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), another staunchly pro-Israel Democrat and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., called for new elections in Israel and sharply criticized Netanyahu for blocking the way toward peace with Palestinians.

Biden’s more aggressive approach to Israel yielded a change in policy on Thursday, when, within just a few hours of his call with Netanyahu, the Israeli government announced it was opening more aid routes into Gaza. But his administration has also continued to authorize transfers of military equipment to Israel, including more bombs, despite growing concerns over its conduct in Gaza.

“What has got to be made clear to Israel ― you can go to war against Hamas, but you cannot continue these horrific actions, which are causing literally the worst humanitarian disaster that we have seen in a very long time,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a vocal proponent of conditioning aid to Israel, said Thursday during an interview with CNN.


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