First Jewish Member of Congress Backs Cease-Fire (No, It’s Not Bernie)

“What is needed right now is an immediate break in violence to allow for a true negotiated cease-fire,” said Rep. Becca Balint.

By Julia Conley

Progressives in Congress and Jewish advocates for Palestinian rights were among those applauding Thursday as U.S. Rep. Becca Balint became the first Jewish federal lawmaker—and the first representing Vermont—to support a cease-fire in Gaza.

Balint (D-Vt.) reversed her earlier position, writing in the VTDigger that the anguish she has felt since Hamas killed about 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped 240 people “has only grown” in the past month as Israel’s “ensuing siege has killed thousands of civilians in Gaza who were already struggling under Hamas rule and Israeli blockade.”

Echoing 31 other members of Congress who have demanded the Biden administration call for a cease-fire—an action that would likely put a swift end to the deadly bombing of hospitals, refugee shelters, and homes in Gaza—Balint strongly condemned Hamas and said stopping the bombardment could facilitate the return of hostages.

“I’m one generation removed from the horrific trauma of the Holocaust, which impacted my family and reshaped the world,” wrote Balint. “Like me, there are thousands of American Jews that share a deep emotional connection to Israel because of what it meant for the survival of the Jewish people in the face of extermination. This same history also drives so many of us to fight for the protection of Palestinian lives. I do not claim to know how to solve every aspect of this decadeslong conflict. But what I do know is that killing civilians, and killing children, is an abomination and categorically unacceptable—no matter who the civilians are, and no matter who the children are.”

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“What is needed right now is an immediate break in violence to allow for a true negotiated cease-fire,” she continued. “One in which both sides stop the bloodshed, allow critical access to humanitarian aid, and move towards negotiating a sustainable and lasting peace.”

The congresswoman added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current strategy “does not make Israel safer” and in addition to killing at least 11,470 Palestinian civilians, Israel is likely fueling “recruitment for terrorist groups like Hamas.”

“This pattern further undermines the security of both Palestinians and Israelis,” wrote Balint. “The aerial bombing must end.”

IfNotNow, the Jewish-led Palestinian rights group, praised the congresswoman for “bravely joining tens of thousands of Jews for cease-fire across the country.”

“Time for other Jewish members of Congress to follow her lead,” the group added.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a longtime anti-war advocate and critic of Israel’s violent policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, has been notably absent among the members of Congress who have called for a cease-fire in the past month. He advocated for a humanitarian pause earlier this month.

Jennifer Tierney, executive director of Doctors Without Borders Australia, explained last week on the Australian television show Q+A why a humanitarian pause is insufficient to protect civilian lives.

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“What you are asking us to do in a humanitarian pause is to bring in the equipment necessary to stitch people up and repair them and then to start the bombing again and for us to then fix them,” said Tierney. “That is not enough. We need a cease-fire.”

Balint’s reversal came less than a week after protesters with Jewish Voice for Peace interrupted a rally in Burlington, Vermont where the lawmaker was speaking. The campaigners demanded Balint back a cease-fire.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who led a renewed push this week demanding that U.S. President Joe Biden support a cease-fire, said Thursday that Balint was “incredibly brave, taking a stance rooted in her commitment to human rights and protection of the innocent.”

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