There’s a good chance no U.S. senator has made more news this year than John Fetterman (D-PA). In his first year in the Senate, Fetterman was sworn in while still recovering from a stroke; was hospitalized for several weeks for clinical depression; dealt with ridiculous conspiracy theories that he was replaced by a body double; and then came his dress-code controversy.
He also was the first Democrat to call for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to resign after being indicted, and later the first to call for Menendez to be expelled from the Senate. Throughout, Fetterman has regularly engaged in aggressive social media posting.
Fetterman has often been a focus of scorn from those on the right, but now has perturbed his left flank with his position on Israel’s war with Hamas.
Ever since Hamas attacked Israel and killed over 1,000 civilians on Oct. 7, Fetterman has been solidly, vocally supportive of Israel. This puts some distance between him and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has been calling for a ceasefire or even expressing more overt sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
“We now know this was a wide-scale, premeditated, cowardly, terrorist campaign against Israeli civilians that also claimed the lives of American citizens,” Fetterman said in a statement shortly after the attack. “I unequivocally support any necessary military, intelligence, and humanitarian aid to Israel. The United States has a moral obligation to be in lockstep with our ally as they confront this threat… I also fully support Israel neutralizing the terrorists responsible for this barbarism.”
This has upset some supporters and even staffers of Fetterman, who was never known to feel particularly strongly about Israel before now. The Middle East did not come up much during Fetterman’s election campaign for the Senate in 2022.
Slate this week looked into what may be behind Fetterman’s position.
“In the wake of one of the most horrific flare-ups of violence in the Middle East in decades, Fetterman has cemented himself as a Zionist hard-liner, with rhetoric that is downright hawkish compared with his fellow progressives in office,” the Slate story says. “His position has confounded supporters, many of whom believed that Fetterman’s adjacency to other notable Israel critics in Congress—like his longtime ally Bernie Sanders—meant that he too was skeptical of the status quo in the region. But the more you zoom out, the more it becomes clear that Fetterman’s views on Israel have been no secret since his run to Capitol Hill; they just haven’t been in the spotlight until now.”
The Slate story did show that Fetterman expressed pro-Israel positions while running, although the issue was never prominent in his campaigns. Fetterman ran against TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is Muslim, but the Democrat’s campaign was adamant about not ever appearing to use that against him, instead heavily mocking Oz for not really living in Pennsylvania.
The Intercept reported this week that some former campaign staffers have called on Fetterman to support a cease-fire. The ad-hoc group is called Fetterman Alumni for Peace.
“On the trail,” the staffers wrote, “your overarching promise was to ‘Forgotten Communities’ – people and places that get overlooked, written off, and left behind. You can’t be a champion of forgotten communities if you cheerlead this war and the consequent destruction of Palestinian communities at home and abroad.”
Fetterman endorsed Sanders for president in 2016 — and Sanders, like Fetterman, has had some past staffers come forward and call for Sanders to back a cease-fire. In the case of Sanders, who has been in politics for decades and has mounted two presidential campaigns, nearly 300 staffers participated in the statement. While the Fetterman letter was written anonymously, the Sanders staffers made a video in which they showed their faces and sought to appeal to the Vermont senator directly.
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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.
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