After securing New Jersey Senate nomination, Andy Kim calls for permanent cease-fire

The Senate candidate had previously rejected such calls as he courted support from Jewish and pro-Israel voters, many of whom favored Bob Menendez and Tammy Murphy

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Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) speaks during a rally and news conference ahead of a House vote on health care and prescription drug legislation in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) said that he supports an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas, days after effectively securing the Democratic nomination for New Jersey’s Senate seat and putting himself on a glide path to the Senate.

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy exited the race last week, eliminating Kim’s main obstacle to the Senate seat. Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has also announced he won’t run in the Democratic primary, but said he may run as an independent in November if the criminal case against him is resolved by the summer.

As recently as February, Kim had remained supportive of Israel’s efforts to defend itself while pushing for greater humanitarian aid and rejecting calls for an immediate and permanent cease-fire. But he announced a shift in his views in an interview on CBS New York on Sunday.

“I believe we need to be able to bring this violence to a close,” Kim said. “We need to make sure that it’s immediate, that it’s permanent, that we have that bilateral cease-fire that’s able to push this forward and allow for the hostages to get out and surge humanitarian support getting in to save as many lives as possible.”

He said that “we’re seeing a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza “unlike anything I’ve seen in my life,” warning of an impending famine that would significantly worsen the humanitarian situation in the enclave.

At the same time, Kim stopped short of fully endorsing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) recent speech calling for elections and a change in leadership in Israel, saying that it’s “up to the Israelis in terms of when and how they conduct their elections,” even though he is concerned and frustrated by the current Israeli government.

He added that “the top priority I keep hearing from everyone,” including Israeli officials and Jewish Americans in his state, is the need to prioritize the release of hostages.

The Senate race had divided some in New Jersey’s sizable Jewish community. Menendez had been a powerful, longtime ally on Israel-related issues, and some in the community had backed Murphy as Menendez’s chances of reelection looked unlikely. Murphy’s father is Jewish and she has expressed strong pro-Israel positions.

Kim had largely kept his distance from some of his progressive backers on Israel, espousing a more pro-Israel line, while attacking Murphy as unprepared and uninformed on foreign policy. 

Murphy’s withdrawal from the race and Menendez’s minimal chances of reelection are leaving some in the pro-Israel community “highly depressed,” in the words of Ben Chouake, the president of NORPAC, a grassroots pro-Israel group that had been backing Menendez.

“We’re going from one of the best senators in the history of U.S.-Israel relations to one of the worst,” Chouake told Jewish Insider.

He said that NORPAC would back Menendez if he does ultimately rejoin the Senate race. He was skeptical that any Republican could offer a serious challenge to Kim.

Chouake also accused the Department of Justice of trying to torpedo Menendez’s chances of reelection in its approach to the senator’s indictment.

Karin Elkis, a co-chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission who had praised Murphy’s stance on Israel, told JI, “Congressman Kim, through his work in national security and his trips to Israel, is someone who values peace and values facts. He understands the history of the Jewish people and he knows that peace in Israel is central to achiev[ing] peace in the Middle East.”

A pro-Israel leader in New Jersey told JI that Kim has support from the local Jewish community in Southern New Jersey, as well as being endorsed by J Street and having the backing of more progressive-leaning Jews aligned with the group, but that AIPAC and AIPAC-aligned voters had been moving toward supporting Murphy, and would likely have backed her had she stayed in the race.

The pro-Israel leader said that Kim can likely count on support from most Democratic Jewish voters in November over his eventual Republican opponent. The leader described Kim as walking a fine line on Israel policy, like many politicians across the country.

But the leader also noted that some in the pro-Israel and Jewish communal establishment in New Jersey have been taken aback by Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent comments calling for a cease-fire — a call that came shortly after his wife exited the Senate race.

A group of Jewish organizations in the state released a statement last week saying they “feel betrayed” by Gov. Murphy’s “surprising and completely tone-deaf” statement, saying his language fuels antisemitism and division.

Publicly, national pro-Israel groups have been keeping some distance from the Senate race, after having initially backed Menendez, a longtime ally.

Democratic Majority for Israel had endorsed Menendez, but he no longer appears on the PAC’s endorsement page. Rachel Rosen, a DMFI spokesperson, told JI the group hasn’t made an endorsement in the race. 

DMFI had previously lent support to Kim in his House races.

Menendez still appears on AIPAC PAC’s website, but without any buttons to donate to his campaign. Spokesperson Marshall Wittmann said he had no comment on the status of its endorsement of the embattled senator or its plans for the Senate race.

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