CA Senate Candidates Discuss Israel-Hamas War, Antisemitism at USC Debate

March 5th primary will send top two candidates onto the general election.
January 23, 2024
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The top four candidates in the race for California’s open senate seat sparred on the Israel-Hamas war and discussed the recent surge antisemitism in Monday’s debate at USC.

The candidates featured in the debate were three Democratic U.S. House members, Adam Schiff (Burbank), Barbara Lee (Oakland) and Katie Porter (Irvine), and former Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey, a Republican before a full house at Bovard Auditorium, which can hold up to 1,235 people. The debate was contentious throughout the night, but the differences between the candidates became particularly pronounced when it came to their views on whether or not there should be a ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

FOX 11 Los Angeles anchor Elex Michaelson, who co-moderated the debate with Politico reporter Melanie Mason, kicked off the discussion by pointing out to Lee that she called for a ceasefire shortly after the Oct. 7 massacre occurred. “If that happens now … what’s to stop Hamas from retaking control and launching another Oct. 7?” Michaelson asked.

Lee replied: “Israel deserves to live in peace with security, free from Hamas and all terrorist attacks and I’m going to continue to condemn the horrific terror attacks of Oct. 7.” But she argued that the ongoing war is “counterproductive to Israel’s security.” “The only way Israel is going to be secure is through a permanent ceasefire,” Lee continued. “The only way that is going to happen is with a political and diplomatic solution… killing 25,000 civilians, it’s catastrophic and it will never lead to peace for the Israelis or the Palestinians.”

Michaelson then turned to Schiff, pointing out that the congressman has not called for ceasefire. “The magnitude of that horror is still shocking to me,” Schiff said regarding Oct. 7. “No country, after being attacked like Israel was Oct. 7 … could refuse to defend itself. It has a duty to defend itself, and I think the United States should support Israel in defending itself.”

He did, however, call for the U.S. to help Israel reduce the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. “It’s not, in my view, incompatible with human nature to grieve the loss of both innocent Palestinians as well as innocent Israelis,” Schiff contended.

Schiff voiced support for a two-state solution, but argued that Hamas cannot remain in power in Gaza. “They are still holding over 100 hostages, including Americans,” he said. “I don’t know how you can ask any nation to ceasefire when their people are being held by a terror organization.”

Lee’s rebuttal: she voted against congressional authorization for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I said then, and I’m saying now: it can spiral out of control,” Lee said. “You see what’s happening, it’s escalating in the region. We have to make sure that our national security is also protected and in fact, as this war escalates, as the Arab nations pull back … we do not have a path to Israel’s security, nor do we have a path to a Palestinian state. It will spiral out of control like I said it would after 2001, and it did.”

Michaelson proceeded to ask Porter for her view on the matter, pointing out that she has faced criticism for trying “to have it both ways on this.” Porter replied that she has mourned “the loss of Israeli lives and the loss of Palestinian lives” and that she believes that the U.S. needs to create the conditions for a “bilateral, durable peace.” Porter’s proposed solution involves “a permanent ceasefire” along with releasing “for all the hostages, resources to rebuild Gaza, making sure Israel is secure and a free state for Palestinians where they can thrive.”

Michaelson followed up by saying that Lee is calling for a ceasefire now, whereas Porter is calling for other conditions to happen before a ceasefire. “The parties to this conflict are Israel and Hamas,” Porter replied. “Ceasefire is not a magic word. You can’t say it and make it so. But we have to push — as the United States, as a world leader — for us to get to a ceasefire and to avoid another forever war.”

Lee then interjected that unless a permanent ceasefire happens right away, “more people are going to get killed and there will be less security that is even possible for Israelis and Israel in the future.”

It was then Garvey’s turn, as Michaelson asked the former Dodgers star if he is “troubled” by the amount of innocent Palestinians killed in the current war and if that means “the U.S. should pull back its support for Israel, militarily, financially.”

“I stand with Israel, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, for whatever their needs are,” Garvey replied. “One of our greatest allies, and our greatest ally in the East.” He called the Oct. 7 massacre “atrocious.” “We have to give Israel the opportunity to fulfill their sovereignty, to fight back,” Garvey added. “I think it’s naïve to think that we can ask our government to influence them or try and tell them to ceasefire. If 9/11 became 9/12 and one of our allies came to us and said, ‘We want you to ceasefire,’ what we would have done? We would have looked at them [and said], ‘Thank you for being our ally, but we must control our destiny and our sovereignty.’”

Garvey also pointed out that Israel has had “short ceasefires, that makes a statement for how they feel about the compassion.”

Porter interjected by declaring that voters should know if Garvey supports a two-state solution. Garvey called it “naïve” to think that a two-state solution could happen this generation. “Know that if peace was broken — and it was broken on the 7th — it won’t be until the next generation when we will be able to talk about that again,” he contended.

Lee concluded the discussion by declaring that those who don’t believe in a two-state solution don’t believe in “peace and security” for the region.

Toward the end of the debate, USC student Jacob Wheeler asked the candidates how they would address the spike in antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses since the Oct. 7 massacre. Garvey called for a return to “faith and belief in each other” and ask those who run campuses “what do they really stand for. They’re supposed to stand for unilateral commitment to equality.”

Porter said that campuses “should never become places of hate, and so I think it’s really, really important that we continue to encourage young people to learn and to be in dialogue with each other.” She touted her work in fostering dialogue with “the interfaith community in Orange County” and the fact that she is the lead sponsor of a bill “to keep our places of worship safe during this difficult time.”

Schiff, who is Jewish, said that he has dealt with a ton of antisemitism, such as being told on social media to “go back to Auschwitz with your family.” “What’s happening on college campuses I think is terrifying,” Schiff said. “Students don’t feel safe. I’m the only member of congress here that’s voted on each of the antisemitism resolutions that have come up this year. We need to speak out forcefully and condemnation of this. We need to fight online hate, because the online hate seldom stays in the online world, as we saw in the Tree of Life shooting.”

Lee pledged to combat antisemitism “until we dismantle it totally” and also vowed to fight all other forms of hate, warning that “hate speech can lead to hate violence.” As a Black woman, she said, “I know what hate is,” and added “believe you me, fighting against antisemitism, I’m bringing together right now Muslim communities, communities of color, all who are experiencing hate. And it’s important as a United States Senator and as a member of Congress we bring people together and fight against hate.”

Ultimately, the discussion about Israel and antisemitism only consisted of a fraction of the debate Other issues discussed in the debate included climate change, immigration, Donald Trump and abortion. The three Democratic candidates did take shots at each other, which notably included Porter lampooning at Lee and Schiff over their support for earmarks; additionally, Porter and Schiff traded barbs over campaign contributions, as Porter hit Schiff for taking money from “from companies like BP, from fossil fuel companies.” This prompted Schiff to retort: “I gave that money to you, Katie Porter. The only response I got was ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

“I didn’t realize how much dirty money you took until I was running against you,” Porter fired back.

But the three candidates frequently focused their ire on Garvey, the lone Republican on the debate stage, particularly trying to press him on if he supports Trump. Garvey would not say if he would vote for Trump this time around, prompting Porter to say: “Once a Dodger, always a dodger.”

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