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Here’s Where Bay Area Electeds Stand on Israel’s Siege of Gaza

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Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

View the full episode transcript.

With thousands of people taking to the streets on either side of the issue of Israel’s siege of Gaza, how are the Bay Area’s representatives in Congress weighing their position on the issue?


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Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra:  Hey, it’s Ericka and it’s deadline day. If you want to be our intern here at the bay and help us make this show, you better get your application in. It’s 16 hours a week. Yes, it is paid. And you get to work with me. So get that app in. Check out the link in our show notes for that. All right. Here’s the show.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra and welcome to the bay. Local news to keep you rooted. Hamas’s attack on Israel and Israel’s siege of Gaza in response has drawn thousands of people to the streets in protest. You’ll hear demands for a ceasefire and calls to bring home the Israeli hostages. You’ll also hear cries to call your reps. So amidst the protests and public outrage, how exactly are our Bay Area representatives weighing their stance in Congress?

Marisa Lagos: It’s not just what is my sort of emotional reaction to what’s happening in Gaza. It’s the broader diplomatic, political, economic and military picture.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Today I talk with KQED political correspondent Marisa Lagos about where the Bay Area’s representatives in Congress stand on the situation in Gaza. So, Marisa, we sent you on a little journey to see where the Bay Area’s elected leaders and our congressional delegation stands on Israel and Palestine and what’s happening in Gaza. And one person that you wanted to talk to to sort of get inside the minds of these electeds was Congressman Ro Khanna. Remind us who he is and why did you want to talk to him?

Marisa Lagos: Well, one, because he’s willing to talk honestly. He is one of our most accessible public officials in the Bay Area. And it’s not just that he’ll jump on the phone with you. It’s that he’s unusually sort of willing to be open about his thought processes and like answer tough questions, I would say. When he started his career, he was very much aligned with the sort of Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

Marisa Lagos: But over the years in Congress, we’ve seen him become a pragmatic progressive. There’s thoughts that he might want to run for president one day. He represents Silicon Valley, and I think he often is taking a little bit of a less sort of reflexive, progressive stance, one that’s more nuanced and one that at times might sort of alienate some of his constituencies, quite frankly.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, how does he describe the politics around this particular issue in this moment? This seems to be one of those thornier ones.

Marisa Lagos: Yeah, we talked a couple of days ago, right after he had actually talked to the head of the United Nations agency that assist Palestinian refugees.

Ro Khanna: Well, it’s one of the most morally complex issues I’ve had to deal with in my seven years in Congress.

Marisa Lagos: You know, he described the October 7th attack by Hamas against Israeli citizens as brutal.

Ro Khanna: And hostages were take it said, what had to be some response to that, to hold that Israel perpetrated that act of terror accountable.

Marisa Lagos: And I think that, you know, he was very clear in his feeling that while Israel has a right to, you know, defend itself, you cannot rationalize 500 civilian casualties in order to get to one Hamas fighter.

Ro Khanna: It’s just heartbreaking to watch that devastation. I’m fighting in Gaza, 1.5 million people displaced. Today I hosted a member’s briefing with the commissioner general open where he said 60 squirrels had been hit with bombs.

Marisa Lagos: So I do think that he, you know, is starting this needle and is definitely, on a personal level, very empathetic and and sort of watching very closely what is happening in Gaza to civilians there. You know, I think pretty strong language from a member of Congress. That.

Ro Khanna: They shouldn’t be bombing on their schools. They shouldn’t be bombing mosques, churches, hospitals. And if they married Hamas terrorists, they’re off with 500 civilians.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Strong language. But that being said, what has his official position been on this issue?

Marisa Lagos: He opposes a cease fire like most members of Congress. He says that he cannot make that argument.

Ro Khanna: That’s the biggest trauma for the state of Israel since its founding.

Marisa Lagos: You know, he says that Israel needs to be responding in a way that does protect civilian life. But he has pretty much rejected flatly outright calls for an actual cease fire.

Ro Khanna: I mean, the United States may have agreed to a cease fire after 911.

Marisa Lagos: So what we’re hearing from folks who are protesting is that they want a cease fire now. They want an end to the shelling, the fighting. They want Israel to essentially withdraw and engage in diplomatic talks. The argument, obviously, from folks who want a cease fire is that you have more than 11,000 civilians who have been collateral damage in this horrific assault and that that is sort of the only option for actually saving lives. On the other side, you have a lot of politicians like Ro Khanna saying, no, that’s not reasonable.

Ro Khanna: They’re starting to understand that. Just psychologically, Pat And I told her, Sam said I spoke with them. It is just very. You can’t take any action against this terrorism that just happened to you.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Why is that? Marisa, like, how does someone like Ro Khanna, who is seeing what’s happening in Gaza and is pretty horrified by it, then how does he come to that sort of political calculation? Like what are all the things that he’s weighing here?

Marisa Lagos: Well, I think he’s thinking about. Both his sort of personal beliefs around this. I think he’s thinking about what a cease fire means. Obviously thinking about, you know, what’s happening in Gaza, but also from the perspective of the Israeli government and the citizens there. And, you know, how horrifying what happened on October 7th was. And so I think that he is thinking about this, you know, in the context of like how we might respond to a terror attack at home here in the U.S..

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And I imagine he’s also thinking about his constituents and the needs of his particular district. How does he talk about that?

Marisa Lagos: Yeah, I mean, I think he’s definitely. Listening both to constituents who are calling and writing and protesting in the streets. I think to be clear, it’s not to say that for someone like him, he’s only hearing from constituents calling for a cease fire. Right.

Ro Khanna: And certainly a constituent feedback has an impact.

Marisa Lagos: He also, as we mentioned, represents Silicon Valley. I think that there are business, tech, military interests that align here.

Ro Khanna: There’s obviously play a role that the army military ties with Israel and it certainly has ties to Silicon Valley. Intel in my district is the largest private sector employer in Israel.

Marisa Lagos: He sits on committees. He’s getting briefings that we’re not privy to likely like, those are the things that I think a lot of members of Congress are talking about that goes into this. It’s not just what is my sort of emotional reaction to what’s happening in Gaza. It’s the broader diplomatic, political, economic and military picture.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, zooming out here, how does Roxana’s stance on this issue, which is to oppose a ceasefire, how does that square with the rest of the Bay Area’s congressional delegation? Are most Bay Area representatives pretty much on the same page on this?

Marisa Lagos: We’ve actually seen a number of joint statements from folks like Nancy Pelosi, zoe lofgren, from the peninsula, Anna Eshoo, who also represents, you know, parts of San Jose, Silicon Valley. Many of them have made comments similar to Khanna’s, talking about the need to protect civilian life. They all have called for some sort of humanitarian pause or pauses in order to allow civilians to escape Gaza. But they almost entirely and in unity, have spoken very powerfully and strongly in support for Israel and, you know, its ability to defend itself. In some cases, it’s sort of obligation to defend itself.

Marisa Lagos: And I was sort of surprised. I mean, we do live in one of the most progressive regions in the United States. We have, compared to many parts of the country, a much larger both Jewish and Arab Muslim populations. And so this is definitely something that people here care about and are thinking about. We’ve seen protests there. There’s one going on as we tape this Thursday morning blocking the entire Bay Bridge. But there is not a lot of daylight between what our representatives are saying or our senators, for that matter, and the position, the official position of the United States.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Coming up, why most Bay area congressmembers oppose a ceasefire in Gaza. All except for one. We’ll be right back.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, can you maybe tick through some of the notable folks and the range of their stances on this, Marisa? And especially like the folks who are opposed to a cease fire. Why? Why is that?

Marisa Lagos: I mean, Nancy Pelosi called a cease fire a gift to Hamas. Other than Joe Biden, I feel like she has spoken most personally about this issue. They’re both Catholic. They’ve spent time in the region.

Nancy Pelosi: Mike Pappas was their head of interfaith council. And he said that that Christians, Catholics, everyone, every religion was mourning for the Israelis and sending their support.

Marisa Lagos: She was on stage with us in October here at KQED and has been just absolute in her support for Israel.

Nancy Pelosi: I mean, I’m not a big fan of the current government of of Israel. And all that you say is a concern. But none of it none of it makes any difference when when military force comes in and starts killing civilians and kidnaping and the rest.

Marisa Lagos: Other members of Congress are maybe sort of less personally attached to this or just don’t have the kind of history that somebody like Nancy Pelosi does. Kevin Mullane, for example, on the peninsula, a relatively new member of Congress, he has also supported Israel defending itself. He has called for Unitarian pause. These members, whatever they’re doing, and they are steadfast in their support for the Israeli position at this point, or at least Israel’s, you know, ability to defend itself are definitely getting their own sort of incoming from their constituents. And I think, yeah, I think it’s a tough one. I think it’s a tough one for all of them.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Okay. So for the most part, California’s congressional delegation is pretty lockstep on this, as you say. But there is one huge exception, and that’s Representative Barbara Lee, who represents parts of the East Bay, including Oakland. And she’s kind of a lone wolf in terms of her position on the conflict compared to the rest of the California delegation. Right. Tell me about that.

Marisa Lagos: She is the one member of our delegation from the Bay Area who has called for a cease fire and actually co-sponsored a resolution in Congress calling for that. You know, this fits with not just her district, but Barbara Lee is sort of historic positioning when it comes to conflict.

Barbara Lee: Mr. Speaker, members, I rise today really with a very heavy heart.

Marisa Lagos: She is probably best known as the only member of Congress who voted against military authorized resolution right after 911.

Barbara Lee: September 11th changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex…

Marisa Lagos: You know, she explicitly said that what happened was horrific, but she did not believe that our action was going to make it less likely that somebody would attack us again. You could sort of superimpose that argument on to what is happening now that folks who support a cease fire believe that what the Israeli military is doing in Gaza is actually sort of making the situation more dynamic, more likely to cause harm to civilians, and that she just does not, you know, see that as the right call from a military diplomatic perspective.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, it’s so interesting to sort of get a sense of all the different ways our representatives are sort of weighing their decisions and how they’re making them and how they’re navigating it. But one thing I find really interesting is that there are so many things, Marissa, that I feel like divide Democrats and Republicans, but this issue doesn’t seem to divide them all that much at all. But the divide that I feel like I am seeing is happening within the Democratic Party specifically. Is that an accurate way to think about this?

Marisa Lagos: 100%, I mean, when you look at the actual voters, if you look at the public, Democrats are pretty split. So NPR, PBS actually put out a poll just this week. When you just ask about their sympathies in the conflict, it was evenly split between Israel and Palestinian groups. Even more striking is that you have more than half of Democrats saying that Israel’s response so far has been too much.

Marisa Lagos: That’s 56%. And Democrats, meanwhile, around 52% of Republicans say it’s been about right. I think that in general policy in the U.S. since essentially Israel’s founding, has been in support of Israel. I mean, since essentially 1948, we have seen in general a pretty strong sort of American policy towards not just supporting Israel from a diplomatic perspective, but giving it money.

Janine Zacharia: When I was in Washington and long before that, that Israel pretty much enjoyed bipartisan support for sure.

Marisa Lagos: I talked to Janine Zacharia. She’s a Stanford lecturer. She is a former Washington Post Jerusalem bureau chief. And she talked about the fact that there is a real sea change, particularly among Democrats, when we talk about this issue.

Janine Zacharia: And she didn’t have anybody so forcefully or really at all saying that this was a kind of a legitimate resistance the way that you had after the October 7th massacres.

Marisa Lagos: Young people, people who are not white people who are under the age of 45 are far more likely to say that Israel’s response has been too much.

Janine Zacharia: On the Democratic side, there has become a splintering on this issue. That feels new.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, what is this all going to mean moving forward, Marissa, that we are seeing some of these fissures and these splits among Democrats on this issue, especially with the election?

Marisa Lagos: You know, I don’t see that this issue is going to threaten any individual member of Congress in the Bay Area. Like everything in politics, these folks are going to be defending their record on a wide variety of issues from the economy, how they’re dealing with issues here at home, homelessness and affordability, all those things. In general, people are not one issue voters for, you know, that type of office. That’s not to say nobody will take this into account and choose to change their vote.

Marisa Lagos: But I haven’t seen any like, you know, real, you know, challenging from sort of well-funded, serious candidates to any of these people. I think for Joe Biden, it’s an open question. And I think this gets back to sort of this question of like, does it all matter? Does the protests matter? Does the calling of your representative matter? We have seen the language of even President Biden shift significantly over recent weeks as Israel’s response has gotten more intense and has caused so many civilian casualties.

Joe Biden: You have a circumstance where the first war crimes being committed by Hamas, by having their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital. And that’s a fact. That’s what’s happened.

Marisa Lagos: Just Wednesday night in the Bay Area. The president defended Israel’s assault on a hospital in Gaza. But he’s also talking very forcefully about, in the long run, a two state solution.

Joe Biden: But I can tell you, I don’t think it all ends until there’s a two state solution. I made it clear to the Israelis, I think it’s a big mistake for them to think they’re going to occupy Gaza and maintain Gaza. I don’t think that works. And so I think you’re going to see first.

Marisa Lagos: Everyone I talked to from, you know, the congressmen to these experts at Stanford said that is in part because of what the public is saying and doing. Right. Like, I don’t think they’re going to change the American position towards Israel overnight. But I do think that if you are in elected office, you are looking around and seeing where the public is. And you’re going to, if not switch your position immediately, at least be taking that into account as things moves forward.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Marissa, thank you so much.

Marisa Lagos: My pleasure.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: That was Marisa Lagos, a political correspondent for KQED and co-host of the Political Breakdown podcast. By the way, KQED has got a whole guide on how to call your representative. You can find it at kqed.org/explainers. This 35 minute conversation with Marisa was cut down, edited and produced by Maria Esquinca. I pitched this episode, scored it, and added all the tape. Guy Marzorati was our editor.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: The rest of our podcast team at KQED includes Jen Chien, art director of podcasts. Katie Sprenger, our podcast operations manager, Cesar Saldana, our podcast engagement producer, Maha Sanad, our podcast Engagement Intern. And Holly Kernan, our Chief Content Officer. And I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thank you so much for listening this week. Hope you all have a restful weekend. Peace.

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