NEEDHAM — Representative Jake Auchincloss said the United States has a continued responsibility to support Israel in its war against Hamas, and he said calls for immediate de-escalation are “premature and counterproductive.”
Speaking to more than 60 at a town hall held at Temple Beth Shalom Sunday afternoon Auchincloss said Hamas’s attack earlier this month “sickens the soul” and repeated claims that Oct. 7 marked “the worst day for Jews since the Holocaust.”
Auchincloss, a second-term Democrat, represents the state’s 4th congressional district, which spans Brookline, to Newton, to Fall River and hosts a large Jewish population. Like many who attended, Auchincloss wore blue pins and ribbons signifying his support for Israel.
“Israel is at war,” Auchincloss began his remarks before opening the floor to questions. “For so many of us in the Jewish community, that’s not just a geopolitical earthquake, that’s a deeply personal reality.”
Auchincloss emphasized the need to distinguish between military operatives and civilians in Gaza, and he cautioned that “Israel’s iron fist should be paired with an outstretched hand to the Palestinian people.”
He said a complete blockage of Gaza “falls short” of respecting that principle of distinction, and Israel must continue holding itself to a higher standard than Hamas in terms of minimizing civilian casualties.
“Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are internationally recognized terrorist organizations that are executing civilians and using their own denizens as human shields,” he said. “Despite disinformation to the contrary, there is every indication that Israel is [defending itself] in accord with the law of armed conflict.”
In an interview after the event, Auchincloss said there is only one viable way in or out of Gaza: the Rafah crossing at its border with Egypt. He declined to comment on the state of negotiations, but said allowing aid to pass through is a top priority.
“Egypt has really got the key on that door,” he said.
Any aid to Israel would need to pass through the House of Representatives, which remains locked in Republican chaos following the ouster of Kevin McCarthy as House speaker two weeks ago, the congressman said.
Auchincloss repeatedly called for House Republicans to “jettison their extremists” and reach across the aisle, even temporarily, to help push through funding for Israel. He said a viable speaker candidate would be someone who voted to certify the election of Joe Biden and who will vote for aid to Israel and Ukraine.
One attendee asked whether Auchincloss would support giving temporary speaker Patrick McHenry additional power to help pass a budget and funds for Israel and Ukraine.
“The short answer is yes,” Auchincloss said. “The more complicated answer is we’ve got to see what the deal is. Democrats have been very clear this whole Congress: We want to work together with Republicans.”
Needham Heights resident Dave Sherman, 64, sat in the second row, wearing a tan baseball cap that read “LET ISRAEL WIN” — the first and final words were hand-painted. In an interview, he said the Democratic Party has long been divided over the conflict, and he praised Auchincloss’ support of the Jewish state.
Sherman said he was worried the Biden administration would call for a cease fire in Israel “before her legitimate military needs are met,” including the complete destruction of Hamas. Sherman asked Auchincloss whether he would break party lines and oppose such calls.
In response, the congressman said Biden has given “no indication that he is anything other than a strong and stalwart ally of Israel.”
Auchincloss characterized Biden as the country’s most supportive president since Harry S. Truman — who first recognized its sovereignty in 1948 — and said his party is “strongly pro-Israel,” despite some representatives’ calls for an end to Israeli aid following the attack.
The event concluded with a prayer for Israel.