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Now-senator John Fetterman speaks at Temple University's Liacouras Center on Nov. 5, 2022.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil , Jesse Zhang

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) has expressed staunch support for Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attacks and subsequent war — eliciting mixed reactions from Penn and Philadelphia community members.

Fetterman, who campaigned on progressive issues and was endorsed by progressive groups during his 2022 United States Senate bid, has gained recent attention for his support for Israel. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with Penn community members about their thoughts on Fetterman's stance. 

When Fetterman ran for senator of Pennsylvania in 2022, both Penn's chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America and Penn Democrats endorsed his campaign. However, College sophomore and Penn YDSA Mutual Aid Chair Marco Amaral said that Fetterman has established a pattern of being “way further right than expected on his campaign trail.”

“This is not the first nor will it be the last issue where he finds himself to the right of the Democratic Party, let alone right to where the people that voted for him would have expected,” Amaral said to the DP.

In January, Fetterman declined to sign onto a two-state solution measure as part of a military aid package that would send support to Israel. Fetterman was one of two Democratic senators, alongside Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), to do so. 

Business Insider reported that — while Fetterman supports a two-state solution — he wanted “language stipulating the destruction of Hamas as a precondition to peace” included in the amendment, in line with previous statements the senator has made on the subject. 

Wharton junior and Penn Hillel Vice President of Israel Engagement Sadie Waldbaum agreed with Fetterman's stance. 

"I think he made the right decision. I think a two-state solution in the long term is the only solution to the issue," Waldbaum said. "But as the current issue stands right now, I think he made the right call and that wording change, I think, is really important and would add a lot to the addendum."

College sophomore and Penn College Republicans Co-Political Director Jennifer Mesa told the DP that Fetterman’s stance may have benefits. 

“I think that Fetterman’s take on this and disapproval of the two-state solution will help foster genuine conversations and thoughtful discussions amongst congressmen and women to help formulate policies that actually contribute to sustainable and enduring peace in the Middle East,” Mesa said.

“Now is not the time to talk about a ceasefire,” Fetterman said in an Oct. 18, 2023, statement. “Hamas does not want peace, they want to destroy Israel. We can talk about a ceasefire after Hamas is neutralized.”

Waldbaum said that she thought Fetterman’s decision was “strong [and] powerful and supportive of the pro-Israel community.”

“I do think it's really important to recognize that for the safety and security of Israel, Hamas needs to be eradicated before a two-state solution is feasible,” Waldbaum said. “So I think it was a really strong and important stance to take right now.”

In October 2023, the Philadelphia chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace — a Jewish anti-Zionist organization — hosted a sit-in and rally at Fetterman’s office calling for a ceasefire. Hilah Kohen, a Ph.D. student in Penn's Comparative Literature & Literary Theory program, attended and denounced Fetterman's stance on the issue. 

“Fetterman, why won’t you listen to your Palestinian constituents whose families are being slaughtered in our name with your money and with your approval? For shame,” Kohen said at the Oct. 26, 2023 rally. 

In a Jan. 26 video that has been viewed 8.9 million times on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Fetterman was seen waving an Israeli flag from the roof of his Braddock, Pa. home while protestors were present outside his house — receiving praise and criticism from some sources as a result.

Fetterman's stance on Israel and his calls for stricter border policies have yielded positive responses from Republicans in the Senate, who have recently described him as “open-minded” and “independent” — a shift from previous characterizations of him as a “radical socialist.”   

“It certainly makes it more appealing to want to work with him on things if you see this independent streak,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said to POLITICO.

2024 Republican Senate candidate Dave McCormick, who is challenging Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), said that he has been "surprised" by Fetterman's stance and that Fetterman has "moral clarity" on topics such as Israel, according to POLITICO.

Mesa said that disagreement — such as that propagated by Fetterman — is necessary for policy and democracy. 

“I think that conversation is just important in general for good policy solutions. If we’re not able to disagree on things and talk things through, then we have a very flawed system of democracy,” Mesa said.

Amaral said Fetterman’s stance was not surprising, despite his past alignment with the progressive label. He cited a pattern politicians follow, where “it is less about truly caring for the voters or for what the people who elected them want.”

“Frankly, I don’t think he cares for his voters, and I don’t think he ever cared for his voters,” Amaral said. “And I think his strategy that he’s going for right now is not necessarily one of hoping to gain popularity. It’s one of the continued cash flows that he can spend on the campaign trail yet again.”