Annie Karnie, in the New York Times, puts an immediate lie to the idea that Sen. John Fetterman has betrayed anyone in his support for Israel.
In April 2022, during his Senate primary campaign in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman spoke enthusiastically about his unqualified support for Israel and said he did not consider himself a “progressive” when it came to his views on the Jewish state.
“Whenever I’m in a situation to be called on to take up the cause of strengthening and enhancing the security of Israel or deepening our relationship between the United States and Israel, I’m going to lean in,” Mr. Fetterman, then the lieutenant governor, told Jewish Insider at the time. When it came to far-left Democrats who harshly criticized Israel, he added, “I would also respectfully say that I’m not really a progressive in that sense.”
If you’re a progressive who is disappointed in Fetterman’s position on the war in Gaza, I definitely understand, but if you think he misrepresented himself during the campaign, you’re simply wrong. It’s much more accurate to say that he’s keeping a promise he made to the pro-Israel Jewish community in Pennsylvania.
That’s why this kind of criticism is off-base:
Melissa Byrne, who worked on Mr. Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign and is now an organizer for liberal causes, accused Mr. Fetterman of “trying to have it both ways,” claiming to be a progressive only when it helped him electorally.
“He’s here for the vibes,” she said. “You should at least be honest and say, ‘Hey, I called myself a progressive because we wanted to raise more money. We needed to win.’”
And I’d say Fetterman isn’t exactly taking the criticism in stride.
“What I have found out over the last couple years is that the right, and now the left, are hoping that I die,” Mr. Fetterman, who suffered a near-fatal stroke during his campaign, said in an interview on Wednesday. “There are ones that are rooting for another blood clot. They have both now been wishing that I die.”
He’s also taking a rash of shit for encouraging talks with Republicans on a border bill. If you don’t know, the Biden administration screwed up and allowed funding for Ukraine to get tied up with changes in immigration policy, a mistake the Republicans are not going to let slip sway. Fetterman’s position in no kind of outlier, either politically or strategically.
He has also publicly encouraged Democrats in recent days to engage in border negotiations with Republicans, talks that have outraged progressives who object to efforts to clamp down on migration through the United States border with Mexico.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a secured border,” Mr. Fetterman said in the interview, conducted over Zoom. “I would never put Dreamers in harm’s way, or support any kind of cruelty or mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people. But it’s a reasonable conversation to talk about the border.”
Neither of these issues are legitimate litmus tests of progressivism, but Fetterman seems to have accepted the charge and no longer self-identifies as progressive.
It is what it is. If I have a problem with Fetterman, it’s less with him forcefully defending Israel’s right to defend itself after the October 7 massacres than in how he’s being needlessly pugnacious about it.
Mr. Fetterman has rejected calls for a cease-fire, filled the walls of the hallway outside his Senate office with photos of the hostages taken by Hamas, draped himself in an Israeli flag and even waved one provocatively in the face of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. A large Israeli flag even hangs on the wall behind his desk, positioned to be visible in his Zoom shots.
I understand why he doesn’t support a cease fire while Hamas is still holding hostages and firing rockets at Israel. I have no problem with him putting up photos of the hostages or even displaying Israel’s flag in a show of solidarity. But I don’t think he should provoke or disrespect pro-Palestinian demonstrators. And I say that knowing full well how viciously the pro-Palestine faction has been attacking him. I want him to be a bigger man and take that criticism with some grace.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how I feel about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the indiscriminate destruction of the Gaza Strip. Fetterman doesn’t like to talk about these things, but he doesn’t flatter Netanyahu either: ““I’m not suggesting that he is ideal any more than someone might think Trump is ideal,” Mr. Fetterman said. “But that’s the leader that we have.”
It looks like Fetterman is going to stick to his guns and remained positioned as an uncritical supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself. Personally, that’s not a stance I could adopt from a moral perspective, because it absolutely matters how Israel defends itself, and that’s true whether you’re looking at it from a legal perspective, a strategic perspective or simply for Israel’s moral standing.
Now, if Fetterman wants to play good cop, bad cop, and use the gratitude he’s gained from Israel’s government to have a restraining and positive influence on their conduct, then I might see the value in it. If he’s just making excuses for them and talking shit to their critics, then I think that’s going to be a lost opportunity to show some character and some genuine leadership.
This is my effort to use any good will my support has gained with Fetterman to exercise some influence. I hope he listens.