Israel defender

Fetterman emerges as progressive pro-Israel pugilist

The senator’s outspoken support for Israel has earned the ire of many on the left, as concern about Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza is growing

Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) arrives for the “AI Insight Forum” at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on September 13, 2023, in Washington, DC.

In the first three weeks of the Israel-Hamas war, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) —  among the more left-leaning members of the Senate — has emerged as one of the most aggressive defenders of Israel in the progressive movement.

Early in his Senate campaign, Fetterman faced concern from some in the pro-Israel community that he might align with far-left Israel critics in Congress, given his progressive positioning on a range of domestic policy issues. But his response to the Israel-Hamas has dispelled any questions about where he stands. 

Fetterman has placed the blame for the conflict squarely on Hamas, writing on X, “If not for the horrific attacks by Hamas terrorists, thousands of innocent Israelis and Palestinians would still be alive today.” He also argued that “Now is not the time to talk about a ceasefire,” saying that such a scenario should not happen until Hamas is “neutralized.”

He denounced fellow Democrats who had incorrectly blamed Israel for the explosion at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, calling their statements “truly disturbing.”

“Who would take the word of a group that just massacred innocent Israeli civilians over our key ally?” he continued. “I will always stand with Israel and look forward to supporting any military, intelligence, or humanitarian aid to get the job done.”

The Pennsylvania senator displayed posters on the wall outside his Senate office of every hostage taken from Israel to Gaza, after meeting with the families of several of the hostages. He also met with Israeli antisemitism envoy Michal Cotler-Wunsh.

“My office will display every last one of the innocent Israelis kidnapped by Hamas until they are safely returned home,” Fetterman said on Twitter. “We won’t stop sharing their stories until then.”

Responding to a report that “Free Palestine” had been graffitied on the wall of a high school in Pittsburgh’s predominantly Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood, Fetterman called the graffiti “reprehensible” adding that the missing posters are “the only thing that belongs on a wall right now.”

The weekend after the Hamas attack, Fetterman attended Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the site of the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

Fetterman has also pushed back against efforts to split Ukraine and Israel aid in an upcoming supplemental package, responding to a memo circulated by a Republican colleague with “F*ck that.”

Fetterman’s pro-Israel activism has earned him praise from some surprised members of the pro-Israel community, as well as the ire of the anti-Israel left. He’s faced down a wave of criticism online, a critical letter from former campaign staffers and multiple protests outside of his Philadelphia office, one of them featuring an effigy of the former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor.

Fetterman’s chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, who has been critical of AIPAC in the past, has been echoing his boss’ staunch pro-Israel line.

Jentleson excoriated one of the protestors who visited Fetterman’s office on X, refuting claims that the group had been kicked out by security.

“[S]orry if this does not fit the narrative but our state director heard these folks out until they had nothing more to say,” Jentleson said. “[T]hen 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. but hey you do you.”

“[W]hat gets me here is the deception. a hostile reception is sexier, which is why protestors seek to get arrested when they don’t need to,” he added in a subsequent post. “[C]ontrary to that, these folks were listened to by our staff, but then tried to say we “expelled” them. protest all you want, but don’t lie.

Jentleson said that “folks ignored [J]ohn’s position on israel during the campaign and are now mad at him for it.” 

In a campaign interview last year with Jewish Insider, Fetterman distanced himself from far-left Israel critics, emphasizing, “I want to go out of my way to make sure that it’s absolutely clear that the views that I hold in no way go along the lines of some of the more fringe or extreme wings of our party,” and, “We have to be committed to strengthening Israel’s security and reject any attempts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. That’s non-negotiable.”

Jentleson added that those accusing U.S. politicians of supporting genocide for opposing a cease-fire are “unserious [organizations] that exist primarily to bilk donors” and that “there are no easy answers here. Pretending there are and then telling everyone else they support genocide is reductionist in the extreme, not to mention wildly ineffective and unpersuasive.”

Fetterman isn’t the only progressive coming under attack from the left for his response to the war with Hamas. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who appeared to call for a cease-fire more than a week ago and is supporting humanitarian pauses in the war, was bombarded with negative comments — including from a Chinese state media editor — on an X post on Friday mourning the Tree of Life massacre, which made no mention of Israel.

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