Mass. Pols Stand With Israel As New War Unfolds

Photo: Kim Tunnicliffe/WBZ NewsRadio

BOSTON (State House News Service) — Massachusetts public officials and interest groups have come out in a massive show of support for Israel after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas following a surprise attack last weekend.

As of Wednesday morning, the death toll continued to climb as the conflict entered its fifth day. Israeli authorities said 1,200 were killed during attacks by Hamas militants and the Palestinian Health Ministry reported 1,055 people were killed from Israeli retaliatory strikes on Gaza, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In the days since the first strikes on Saturday, elected officials in Massachusetts have been issuing statements and making speeches in support of Israel.

At Wednesday's session, Rep. Sean Garballey asked people in the House Chamber to "please stand in a moment of silent tribute to the lives lost during this weekend's terrorist attack in Israel." He said it was at the request of Speaker Ron Mariano and Reps. Ruth Balser of Newton, Tommy Vitolo of Brookline, Brad Jones of North Reading and Steven Howitt of Seekonk.

"We join people from across Massachusetts and around the world in standing with Israeli citizens and our Jewish neighbors against the ongoing violence. We also reflect on the rising antisemitism here in the commonwealth and recommit ourselves to standing against hatred and bigotry," Garballey said from the House rostrum. "We pray for those killed and the safe return of those in harm's way."

Massachusetts has the third highest percentage of Jewish residents in the U.S., behind New Jersey and New York, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. The Jewish encyclopedia site says 4.3 percent of Bay State residents are Jewish.

Gov. Maura Healey, members of the state's congressional delegation and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg spoke at a demonstration in Boston on Monday in support of Israel.

"To all our dear friends in the Israeli and Jewish communities in this time of unimaginable terror, grief and anxiety, and absolute anguish, we stand with you, our hearts ache with you," Healey said. "I also want you to know that our support is unwavering. Massachusetts stands with Israel now, and always. Today and on all the days ahead."

The governor said she stood with President Joe Biden in condemning "these acts of terror" as "a matter of fundamental human decency."

Members of the state's congressional delegation continued to make statements about the conflict into Wednesday afternoon.

"I strongly condemn this weekend's vicious terrorist attack by Hamas against innocent civilians in Israel. The violence is appalling, and I grieve with the families in mourning and communities under siege," Congresswoman Katherine Clark said in a statement. "I know this horrifying attack has touched many in our community. I have received calls from constituents worried about loved ones in Israel, and I'm actively engaged with the State Department. As of right now, Americans are not being evacuated."

Clark encouraged Americans in Israel to monitor the U.S. Embassy's website and social media for updates, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and use the State Department's crisis intake form if in need of assistance.

Major airlines have suspended service to Israel, with the exception of Israeli airlines, the New York Times reported. American Airlines canceled all flights to and from Tel Aviv through Dec. 4, Delta Air Lines said it would suspend all flights in and out of the country through the remainder of October, and United Airlines discontinued service indefinitely.

The Consul General of Israel to New England, Ambassador Meron Reuben, told the News Service his office was working to help members of the Israeli military who are in New England to get back to the country, though many airlines have closed service. 

In an interview with the News Service on Wednesday, Congressman Seth Moulton called the Hamas strike on Saturday "unprecedented."

A member of the House Armed Services Committee in D.C., Moulton said, "I had no indication that this might be in the works."

"Israel is in an extraordinarily difficult military situation where they have just had a massive national security failure, intelligence failure, national security failure, on an unprecedented scale. Never before has the Israeli state been invaded successfully like this by a group of terrorists. And now they've got to figure out what to do about it, they've got to figure out how to navigate and how to respond and, perhaps most importantly, they have to come up with a long-term strategy that's going to be more successful than what they've been doing today," Moulton, a Marine veteran of Iraq, told the News Service.

The congressman said Israel will need to develop a new strategy for Gaza and coordinate "with old allies like the U.S., but also new allies or potential allies like Saudi Arabia."

Moulton was among those who criticized a group of Harvard students who released a statement to "lament the role of Israeli colonial occupation in creating these conditions of violence."

"The apartheid regime is the only one to blame," the statement from Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee said. "Israeli violence has structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years. From systematized land seizures to routine airstrikes, arbitrary detentions to military checkpoints, and enforced family separations to targeted killings, Palestinians have been forced to live in a state of death, both slow and sudden. Today, the Palestinian ordeal enters into uncharted territory. The coming days will require a firm stand against colonial retaliation. We call on the Harvard community to take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians."

Moulton issued his own statement in response to the letter.

"Terrorism is never justified nor someone else’s fault," he said. "As hundreds of Israelis and others, including several Americans, remain kidnapped, injured, or dead, the 31 Harvard organizations that signed a letter holding Israel 'entirely responsible' for Hamas' barbarous terrorism should be condemned, as should Harvard leadership for whom silence is complicity. I cannot recall a moment when I've been more embarrassed by my alma mater."

He was joined by U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, who is also a veteran and Harvard alumnus, and has been one of the most vocal supporters of Israel. Auchincloss urged the university leaders to condemn the students' statement.

"Harvard's leadership has failed. The president and deans refuse to denounce the antisemitism of Harvard student groups. Instead of moral clarity and courage, they offer word salad approved by committee. I am ashamed of my alma mater," the congressman tweeted.

Harvard President Claudine Gay received criticism for her first statement about the war for not condemning the students' letter. She released another statement Tuesday more specifically addressing the joint letter from over 30 student groups.

"As the events of recent days continue to reverberate, let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas. Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region. Let me also state, on this matter as on others, that while our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership," Gay wrote.

Auchincloss also seemed to push back against remarks U.S. Sen. Ed Markey made at Monday's rally.

Markey condemned the Hamas attack, and called for the return of hostages, saying civilian casualties were "reprehensible."

He then called for a de-escalation of violence, which was met with boos from the crowd gathered on the Common.

"Hamas wants continued instability," Markey said. "They are violent extremists. They gain support when there is a crisis. That is why the United States and the international community must keep pushing for diplomacy and the ending of civilian casualties on all sides. There must be a de-escalation of the current violence, and the United States should --"

The senator was cut off by disapproving calls from the crowd, before continuing his remarks saying that Massachusetts will not condone antisemitism, and that he believes in peace.

When Auchincloss made his remarks a few minutes later, the congressman said de-escalation is not possible.

"Now is not the time for equivocation. Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization that is executing and raping civilians. ... De-escalation is not possible when they are taking hostages and Israel did not ask America to de-escalate on September 12, 2001," Auchincloss said, to cheers.

Treasurer Goldberg, who is Jewish, also heard feedback from the attendees at Monday's rally.

"Those out there who went on CNN yesterday and said, 'Well, what do you expect? What do you expect after 75 years of occupation and apartheid?' I don't expect a woman with dementia at 82 years old to be dragged into the Gaza Strip. I don't expect a child's cellphone to be used to videotape the murder and slaughter of the entire family and uploaded to the internet," Goldberg said.

She continued, "My family and I have always stood for a two state solution."

When some in the crowd began to boo, the treasurer said, "Don't boo me ... I am a Zionist and I defend Israel at all costs. And anti-Israel is anti-Jews worldwide ... The Israelis for years have tried and prayed for a solution. And when you boo me about a two-state solution, you're booing my Israeli friends."

Goldberg thanked Healey, who she said was the first person outside the Jewish faith who reached out to her on Saturday.

Senate President Karen Spilka issued one of the earliest declarations of support for Israel last weekend.

"What has unfolded overnight in Israel is both unspeakable and unconscionable," she said in a statement on Sunday. "We cannot stand by and be silent while acts of terrorism and hatred are taking innocent Israeli lives and tearing families apart. We must all stand in solidarity with Israel and its people."

Her counterpart in the House, Speaker Mariano, tweeted the next morning.

"The MA House condemns the horrific terrorist attacks that took place over the weekend in Israel. We join people from across Massachusetts, and around the world, in standing with Israeli citizens against the ongoing violence that has taken innocent lives and torn families apart," Mariano's post said.

Other statements have followed.

The House Republican Caucus sent out its condemnation of Hamas on Tuesday.

"The members of the Massachusetts House Republican Caucus stand in solidarity with the citizens of Israel as the country defends itself against the unprovoked terrorist attacks by Hamas that began during the Jewish Sabbath," the statement says. "We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, these horrific terrorist acts which have already killed or injured thousands of innocent civilians, including many women and children. We also condemn the indiscriminate abduction of individuals and Hamas’ threat to execute these hostages. Today, we call on all state and federal officials across the nation to join us in denouncing Hamas' appalling actions and to confirm our unwavering support for the citizens of Israel."

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce similarly sent out a statement of support for Israel on Tuesday evening.

"As the United States continues to support Israel with military intelligence and resources, we urge continued support for Jewish families and community members in Massachusetts and throughout our country. We, the business community, are grieving with the Jewish community, and we will continue to speak out against the horrific acts against Israel and the rampant antisemitism around the world," said Jim Rooney, president and CEO of the Boston Chamber.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said he "watched with horror and despair as the violence across Israel and Palestinian territories erupted this weekend," and encouraged "civil and respectful dialogue" on campus between those with opposing views on the conflict.

"At this challenging moment, our primary focus is to support our students, faculty and staff affected by these tragic events, regardless of their views on the underlying conflict. The effects of this violence reach beyond any border, nationality or identity, and I want to ensure that every member of our community knows that UMass Amherst is here to support them," Reyes wrote, saying the university has "a responsibility to resist the call of polarization."

The Harvard Kennedy School also acknowledged and weighed in about the war.

"Many of you are probably reacting to the unfolding tragedy with fear, anger, sadness, frustration, or other emotions -- as we are. We encourage members of our community to draw strength and comfort from their families, friends, colleagues, and others at the Kennedy School. Because different people are affected by these events in different ways, we do not think that a single School-wide gathering would be effective for support and comfort," Dean Doug Elmendorf wrote.

Reuben, the Israeli ambassador, said he was grateful for state and regional leaders' support. 

"I would like to thank all the thousands and thousands of people who have shown solidarity and stand with the state of Israel. I think many many people were absolutely horrified and shocked by what they saw, and to thank the leadership of the region for coming out and being very forceful about standing shoulder to shoulder," Reuben said in an interview with the News Service. "And the important thing was that this solidarity continue."

Written by Sam Drysdale/SHNS

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