Maryland moment

Top MD-03 congressional candidates suggest support for Van Hollen’s efforts against Israel

At a forum, Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth and former Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn responded affirmatively to a question about the senator’s efforts to curb Israel’s access to U.S. aid.

Harry Dunn for Congress/Sarah Elfreth Democrat for Congress

Harry Dunn/Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth

Former Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, the AIPAC-endorsed candidate running in the Democratic primary for the state’s 3rd Congressional District, appeared to suggest that they support Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) efforts to curtail Israel aid at an event this week. 

The incident occurred at a candidate forum hosted by the District 30 Democratic Club on Wednesday night in Annapolis. D30’s president, Fish Stark, asked the 16 House hopefuls to stand if they backed Van Hollen’s amendment to the Israel and Ukraine aid package conditioning future assistance on whether the war in Gaza is conducted in accordance with international law. 

Elfreth and Dunn joined 13 others in rising from their chairs, with Gary Schuman, who has polled toward the bottom of the pack, being the only candidate who remained seated. The Democrats are vying to succeed Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), who in October announced his retirement from Congress at the end of 2024.

Reached by JI about why she stood up alongside competitors backing a conditioning of aid, a spokesman for Elfreth’s campaign said that she was responding affirmatively to a question “about requiring aid to be used in accordance with U.S. law, international law and the law of armed conflict.” 

“Based on this framing of the question, and Sen. Elfreth’s understanding that Israel is acting in accordance with these laws, she believed she was expressing support for a position that would not affect aid to Israel,” the campaign said. 

Dunn’s campaign echoed that characterization of the Van Hollen amendment. “Harry strongly supports military aid to Israel and does not believe language requiring all countries receiving US aid to comply with US or International law places any additional restrictions or requirements on Israel,” a Dunn spokesperson said.

An AIPAC spokesman told JI that putting conditions on Israel aid “is contrary to American interests…as it confronts aggression from the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies.” 

Stark told JI in a statement that he didn’t think it was “fair or accurate to characterize the Van Hollen amendment as a push to restrict U.S. aid to Israel.” 

“The amendment requires that all countries that receive U.S. military aid – not just Israel – use it in accordance with U.S. law and international law,” Stark said. “And it doesn’t do a thing to restrict aid to Israel so long as Israel is following international law and not obstructing U.S. efforts to provide humanitarian aid. It’s a pretty common-sense policy, which is why 15 of the 16 candidates at the forum – not just Sen. Elfreth but every major candidate – stood in support of it.”

Van Hollen has emerged as a leading critic of Israel’s war effort while representing a state with a sizable Jewish constituency. He maintains that his positions are not anti-Israel, though a group of over 70 Maryland rabbis wrote to him last month warning that his efforts to target Israel aid “in the Senate have only stoked deeper divisions and further isolated Israel and our Jewish community.”

Van Hollen said in response to that letter that, “I always welcome feedback from my constituents, and I appreciate these rabbis sharing the views they expressed in this letter,” adding, “I look forward to continuing these conversations.”

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