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California candidates

Porter’s call for cease-fire clears pro-Israel lane in California primary for Schiff

Barbara Lee, the farthest-left Democrat in the race, criticized Porter’s call for a ‘lasting bilateral cease-fire’ as insufficient

Apu Gomes/Getty Images

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) speaks to supporters, volunteers, and staff at an election night watch party at the Hilton Orange County Hotel on November 8, 2022 in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Rep. Katie Porter’s (D-CA) announcement this week of her support for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas likely opens a lane for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to lock down California’s pro-Israel vote in the three-way Senate primary between Porter, Schiff and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Porter released a statement earlier this week calling for a “lasting bilateral ceasefire,” in part citing concerns about comments from Israeli leaders rejecting the U.S.’ post-war vision for Gaza.

Porter said a cease-fire must involve the return of hostages and remove Hamas from “operational control” of Gaza, while also criticizing Hamas’ long-standing deprivation of innocent Palestinians.

The statement brings Porter closer in line with the growing consensus among progressives, although it’s less sweeping than the calls for an immediate and unilateral Israeli ceasefire endorsed by some on the far left. Porter’s shift comes amid growing hostility toward Israel among progressive Democrats, a sizable constituency in deep-blue California.

Earlier in the current war, Porter had taken a more hawkish approach, blaming the Hamas attack partially on the U.S. for taking too soft a line on Iran; Porter has established a record as more of an Iran hardliner than many of her progressive counterparts.

A Porter campaign aide denied political motivations influenced her shifting views on a cease-fire, describing it as a response to the changing situation in Israel and Gaza, but said she’s been consistent in calling for the release of hostages and for the end of Hamas’ rule over Gaza. The aide also said Porter has consistently polled in first or second place in the race.

Schiff, for his part, is sticking to his pro-Israel positions, a posture helping him rack up support among Jewish and moderate voters in the state — and fueling his growing lead in early polling. A new POLITICO/Morning Consult survey shows Schiff with a comfortable lead over Porter and Lee, winning 28% of likely voters in the all-party primary, compared to 17% for Porter and 14% for Lee.

“Adam supports Israel’s right to defend itself, and the Biden Administration’s efforts to urge Israel to make every effort to limit civilian casualties and facilitate humanitarian pauses that allow hostages to be released and critical humanitarian aid to get to civilians in Gaza,” a Schiff spokesperson told JI in response to Porter’s comments.

“With Hamas promising to attack Israel again and again, he has not supported calls for a permanent ceasefire that would preserve Hamas terrorist governance in Gaza and the continued detention of over a hundred hostages, including Americans.”

Schiff has also carved out the most pro-Israel voting record of the top three candidates in recent weeks, including voting in favor of resolutions declaring that anti-Zionism is antisemitism and calling for the resignations of the Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that split the Democratic caucus.

Schiff has also spoken up in favor of additional humanitarian aid for Palestinians, and rejected a Republican Israel aid bill that paired the funding with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and excluded humanitarian aid.

Lee was among the first lawmakers to call for a cease-fire, just 10 days after the Hamas attack. She appeared to reject Porter’s call for a cease-fire as too weak and as politically motivated.

“A conditional ceasefire is not a ceasefire at all. We need leaders who set the pace for change—not half-heartedly follow along when it’s politically expedient,” Lee said in an X post. “I’ve always shown up for the side of peace & I’ll take urgent, unwavering action for peace & security in the Senate.”

Her campaign added in a statement to Politico that she views the conditions Porter laid out for a cease-fire as “unlikely to ever be achieved.” Lee’s team did not respond to questions from JI about what, specifically, she believes is unrealistic, or the path forward if Hamas is not removed from power in Gaza and the hostages are not freed.

The Porter campaign aide accused her opponents of using the war to score political points. They noted that calls for a ceasefire conditioned on the release of hostages have been common among Democrats in recent weeks, and said her focus is on lasting peace and security.

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