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STRAIGHT TALK

Fetterman says progressives need ‘reckoning’ over tepid antisemitism response

The Pennsylvania Democrat said he welcomes Netanyahu’s speech before Congress next month: ‘It’s our responsibility [to listen]’

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Sen. John Fetterman shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister during a meeting on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM – Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) vowed to remain a steadfast ally of Israel during his first-ever visit this week, warning that those in his party who didn’t support the country should face a “reckoning” at the ballot box.

“There is a reckoning necessary in the political left with antisemitism and [how] certain factions have responded after Oct. 7, whether it’s some somebody in a pup tent on a campus or blocking worshippers in Los Angeles getting into their synagogue. It’s vile, and I don’t hear a lot of people on that side really [focused on condemning that],” he told reporters in Jerusalem at the conclusion of his three-day visit on Thursday. 

The Pennsylvania senator, who has emerged as one Israel’s leading defenders in the Democratic Party, braved the scorching heat in his signature hoodie and shorts for meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, former war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, Labor Party leader Yair Golan and Foreign Affairs Minister Israel Katz. He also met with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and families of hostages.

Fetterman opted against seeing the massacre sites, saying he did not want to make anyone relive their trauma, though he visited with students and faculty at Hebrew University and took a tour of Yad Vashem, the nation’s Holocaust memorial and museum.

“I’m not some idiot that’s going to sign bombs,” Fetterman told Jewish Insider in an apparent reference to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signing an Israeli artillery shell with the phrase “finish them” during her visit late last month.

“I’m here to have conversations with people, whether it’s students or IDF soldiers or leadership or experts in financing with respect to terrorism,” he added. “And we’ve learned a lot from them.”

The trip marks Fetterman’s second congressional delegation out of the United States, his first being a brief visit to Turks and Caicos last month as part of a bipartisan delegation that facilitated the release of five detained Americans. Fetterman, who suffered a stroke during his 2022 Senate campaign, has spent most of his time between Washington and Pennsylvania since being elected.

Fetterman has eschewed his progressive associations since Oct. 7 amid far-left criticisms of Israel’s war in Gaza. He has also led on legislation combating antisemitism on college campuses alongside Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the lead Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Israeli leaders heralded Fetterman during their meetings for his advocacy on behalf of Israel since the war against Hamas in Gaza began. Herzog wrote on X that the senator is “a beacon of moral clarity as we fight to defend the free world against true evil.” Netanyahu said that “Israel has had no better friend” than Fetterman, thanking him for his “courageous statements that show moral clarity and moral courage.”

Fetterman’s meeting with Netanyahuis in itself significant given the prime minister’s low standing in the Democratic Party. The summit comes one month before Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. for his address to a joint meeting of Congress, a speech that a number of Democrats plan to boycott. 

Asked about the criticism Netanyahu has faced from the Democratic Party, Fetterman said he was committed to supporting whoever leads Israel because of the strong U.S.-Israel alliance. “The truth is that [my] devotion is going to be with Israel through that, and that’s going to endure. I’m not going to criticize your leader,” he said. 

Speaking to JI about the Netanyahu meeting, Fetterman said that the prime minister “has real kinds of resolve” and  is “prepared that there could be any kinds of situations that emerge” in the region in the coming months. 

The Pennsylvania senator added that he welcomes the idea of Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of Congress next month. The four leaders of Congress invited Netanyahu to address a joint session earlier this month at the invitation of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA). Some progressive Democrats have indicated they plan on boycotting the speech.

“I don’t know why you would not allow the leader of our dear ally [to speak]” when the U.S. Congress “just voted billions of aid [to Israel],” Fetterman said. “Let’s hear from him. That’s important. I mean, that’s his right, and it’s our responsibility [to listen to] that.”

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