PROVIDENCE — The state’s congressional delegation on Monday received a letter signed by 88 Rhode Island Jews and Israelis urging them to press for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
The letter was signed by state Senator Samuel W. Bell, a Providence Democrat; Senator Meghan E. Kallman, a Pawtucket Democrat; former state representative and congressional candidate J. Aaron Regunburg, as well as professors, doctors, and six rabbis.
The letter comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is wrapping up a Middle East diplomatic tour after only limited success in forging a regional consensus on how best to ease civilian suffering in Gaza as Israel intensifies its war against Hamas. Israeli forces have severed northern Gaza from the rest of the besieged territory and pounded it with airstrikes, setting the stage for an expected push into Gaza City and an even bloodier phase of the month-old war.
The letter reflects a divide among Democrats over the Israeli response to the attack. Last week, the all-Democratic Providence City Council passed a resolution urging the Biden administration to “immediately call for and facilitate de-escalation and a ceasefire.” The vote was not unanimous, but the tally is unclear because it was a voice vote.
Meanwhile, one Providence City Council member, Miguel Sanchez, was fired from his day job working for Rhode Island Governor Daniel J. McKee after posting pro-Palestinian political opinions online. And state Representative Evan P. Shanley, a Warwick Democrat, posted a message last week, saying, “Israel can and must defend itself by eliminating Hamas once and for all.”
Monday’s letter begins by saying the signatories are “grieving the brutal October 7 attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists,” and many have family members and friends in Israel. They say they recognize Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism, but they say the assault on Gaza endangers 240 hostages held by Hamas and the situation will grow worse if the humanitarian needs of Gaza’s residents are not immediately addressed.
“We are extremely fearful that Israel has no endgame,” it says, “and that its current military assault on Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are under the age of 18, will only serve the extremists who wish to sabotage political and diplomatic efforts that would ensure justice, dignity, and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The signatories said they were appalled by antisemitic responses after the Hamas attack, and they are also appalled to see Israel cutting off water, electricity, food, communications, and medicine to millions of civilians.
“Such acts are incompatible with our Jewish values,” the letter says. “Violence begets violence. The decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved on the battlefield and cannot be managed without a political resolution.”
On Monday, Kallman said, “As a legislator and as a Jew, it’s especially important for me to be vocal about the need for peace and security for everyone caught in the crosshairs of this conflict. Most of the loss of life sustained has been of civilians — particularly women and children. The lack of availability of humanitarian aid is appalling. Civilians are not combatants, and do not deserve this. Our federal delegation has a platform, and they must use it to reduce death and suffering, and to save lives.”
Rabbi Lex Rofeberg, senior Jewish educator at Judaism Unbound, signed the letter, and in a statement, he cited a story from the Torah about Abraham’s argument with God.
“In the face of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argued vociferously and repeatedly that we must hold in our hearts those who are innocent, and that we must do absolutely everything in our power to prevent the needless loss of life,” he wrote. “Abraham lost his argument with God, but his impassioned plea for human solidarity has served as a model for our people for millennia. It is with this same spirit that I am adding my voice to the call for a ceasefire in Gaza.”
Ruth Ben-Artzi, a Providence College political science professor and an Israeli, signed the letter, and said the assault on Gaza is undermining Israel’s interests.’
“This extremist right-wing Israeli government – that up until the atrocities of Oct. 7 was criticized by the Biden administration and many members of Congress for being anti-democratic – is still dangerous and should not be trusted in wartime,” Ben-Artzi wrote. “What my country’s government is doing is playing into Hamas’s hands by isolating Israel in the international community and arming extremists with more motivation and more support to use force.”
On Monday afternoon, US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, both Rhode Island Democrats, issued a joint statement urging Israel to pause military operations against Hamas in Gaza to allow more humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinian people.
“We support President Biden’s call for a humanitarian pause,” they said. “Pauses in military operations should be for specific purposes like providing additional humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people or releasing the innocent hostages kidnapped by Hamas. The US is taking action to help save innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives and prevent the conflict from spreading.”
And Representative Seth Magaziner, a Rhode Island Democrat, has signed onto a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging a pause to allow humanitarian aid. “Israel has the right to defend itself and eliminate the threat from Hamas, but how Israel conducts its war matters,” he wrote. “I am joining many of my colleagues in encouraging Israel to take concrete steps to minimize civilian harm.”
This story has been updated with a statement from US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and US Representative Seth Magaziner.