Jewish U.S. Congresswoman, more unions join Gaza ceasefire campaign
Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., is the first Jewish member of the U.S. Congress to call for a ceasefire. | Francis Chung / POLITICO via AP

WASHINGTON—The first Jewish House member to break ranks with President Joe Biden, Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., says Israel cannot and should not bomb heavily populated areas of Gaza, but also that Hamas must be ousted from power.

“What is needed right now is an immediate break in violence to allow for a true negotiated ceasefire,” Balint declared in an op-ed published in VTdigger, a Vermont newspaper.  That would see “both sides stop the bloodshed, allow critical access to humanitarian aid, and move towards negotiating a sustainable and lasting peace.”

It would also “stop the deaths of innocent Gazans and lead to a near future where Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have true self-governance and economic security.” Such a ceasefire, she said, must “return all hostages safely and protect Israelis from continued terror from Hamas.”

When it comes to the debate over whether Hamas intentionally places militants or weapons in civilian areas, Balint said regardless of that, “Israel cannot bomb targets in densely populated areas” and “the United States must demand it.”

Balint’s call is a signal of the widening gap between the position of the Biden administration, which gives lockstep support to Netanyahu, and a growing national movement for ceasefire. The ceasefire resolution filed by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., already has 34 co-sponsors in Congress, stretching across 21 states. Biden goes only so far as to demand pauses in the fighting for humanitarian aid to get through.

Several new unions and labor locals have also issued statements in support of a ceasefire. They join a call by the board of the 20,000-member Service Employees Local 509 in Boston and prior strong ceasefire demands by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and the independent United Electrical Workers.

All are further indications—along with opinion polls—that Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza, following Hamas’s coordinated Oct. 7 attacks in nearby southwestern Israel, is producing a backlash in the U.S.

All the statements condemn the Oct. 7 attacks, too, and Hamas’s holding of almost 240 hostages it took that day. Several have since lost their lives, including, reportedly, in Israeli bombing raids. There are backchannel negotiations in which both Israel and Hamas are involved regarding the hostages. The Palestinian side also raises concerns about the thousands of Palestinians held since long before the current war without charge in Israeli jails, demanding the release of some of them.

The families of the Hamas-held hostages, both in Israel and the U.S., have denounced the nationalist-dominated Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not caring about what happens to the hostages, as long as it can pulverize Gaza.

The statements from the SEIU local in Massachusetts and the United Electrical Workers were blunter. So was Vermont Rep. Ballint’s op-ed, notable because her parents were Holocaust survivors.

Hitler’s extermination of six million Jews, because of their religion, led the U.N. to divide the British mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian territory in 1948—and to subsequent wars following the forced removal of close to one million Palestinians from their ancestral homelands.

The unions demanded the ceasefire and resumption of humanitarian aid, while denouncing the hostage-taking. Unlike Balint, they did not discuss future governance of the Palestinians. Hamas rules the two million Palestinians in Gaza, while the longtime Fatah government administers the four million in the Israeli occupied and subdivided West Bank.

“We express our solidarity with all workers and our common desire for peace in Palestine and Israel, and we call on President Joe Biden and Congress to push for an immediate ceasefire and end to the siege of Gaza. We cannot bomb our way to peace. We also condemn any hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, or anyone else,” the United Electrical Workers said. Its statement is being circulated to other unions.

Thousands of multi-faith and multi-racial leaders, including a large contingent of Palestinians and their allies, march on the National Mall to demand an immediate ceasefire and an end to U.S. military funding to Israel, Oct. 20, 2023 in Washington. | Larry French / AP for Center for Popular Democracy Action and Mobilization Team

The “Biden administration and Congress” must “take immediate action for a ceasefire to prevent further loss of life in Palestine and Israel, where over 10,000 people in Gaza and 1,400 Israelis have been killed as of November 6,” SEIU Local 509 said. “We also condemn all acts of antisemitism and islamophobia at work and in our communities.

The local demanded Israel “stop any military action that will result in further loss of life, including the ground invasion, bombing, and use of other weapons on civilians, restore access to basic services and humanitarian aid for the Gazans, “immediate” release of all hostages—including “Palestinians detained in Israel without due process” and protection of health care workers.

Workday Magazine, the successor to Workday Minnesota, quoted Marcia Howard, acting President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers/AFT Local  59, as saying their resolution demanded a cease fire and supported the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement aimed at stopping U.S. purchases of products from Israeli firms in Palestinian territories, particularly the West Bank.

It also “condemned the role our government plays in supporting the system of Israeli occupation and apartheid, which lies at the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Workday editor Sarah Lazare reported.

The Chicago Teachers Union has taken no official position on the conflict, but its Vice President, Jackson Potter, joined and spoke at a blockade of the Israeli consulate in Chicago on November 13. A cease-fire was the demonstration’s key demand.

“As a union of educators dedicated to empowering the next generation, we are deeply concerned by the loss of civilian life and indiscriminate bombing throughout Gaza, where half the Palestinians living there are children,” Potter said then.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.