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    Israel-Hamas war a thorny issue for Southern California Democrats
    • May 2, 2024

    Want to make a Democrat running for office squirm? Ask about Gaza.

    The Israel-Hamas war and the related campus unrest, including the Tuesday night, April 30, violent clash between protesters and counterprotesters at UCLA, are delicate issues for Southern California Democrats on the November ballot.

    Side with Israel and risk alienating young voters and far-left activists. Sympathize with Palestinians and student protesters and risk the wrath of Jewish voters and the deep-pocketed American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

    RELATED: UCLA resumes ‘limited’ operations after police dismantle pro-Palestinian encampment; Dozens detained

    “It’s obviously a polarizing issue within the Democratic Party right now,” Derek Humphrey, a Riverside-based Democratic political consultant, said via email.

    “Most candidates for state or municipal office have tried to avoid the subject publicly in order to focus on local issues. But candidates are certainly getting asked about it. It’s anyone’s guess as to how prominent the issue will be or where public opinion will be when voting begins in the fall.”

    There are few places in California where the war looms larger than in the open 47th Congressional District in Orange County.

    In Irvine, the largest city in the district where protests against the Israel-Hamas war have sprung up on the UC Irvine campus, large Jewish and Muslim communities coexist.

    For example, nowhere else in Orange County is there an eruv, an area in which people of the Jewish faith can do things that are otherwise usually forbidden on the Sabbath in public areas.

    In Irvine, a 100-pound fishing line, a berm and walls create the eruv, which runs along the side of the 405 Freeway, to University Drive, to Harvard Avenue and back up to near the freeway. Also in the district is the Islamic Center of Irvine, known to be one of the largest Muslim congregations in California.

    The anger that has risen locally since Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel has shown itself through the hours of residents’ comments at Irvine City Council meetings and now the protest at UCI, where demonstrators are calling for the university to divest itself from businesses with ties to Israeli and weapon manufacturers.

    RELATED: Violence breaks out at UCLA after counter-protesters storm pro-Palestinian encampment

    It has already played out in the congressional primary in the district.

    Pro-Palestinian voters have expressed distaste over the millions of dollars funneled into the race by a pro-Israel lobbying group, and Jewish voters have said they are voting for the candidate who is the strongest supporter of Israel.

    Scott Baugh, the Republican candidate who will face Democratic state Sen. Dave Min in the November runoff in the 47th, said he has no idea whether the war in Gaza will become an issue in his campaign, but that “there will always be a place for peaceful protests in America, even for those with whom we disagree.”

    “However, there is no room for the antisemitism, hate, violence, vandalism and promotion of terrorist activity that is taking place on many of these campuses,” Baugh said on X Tuesday.

    “I want to restate my unequivocal support of Israel and the right of Israel to take action against terrorists who state as their goal the destruction of the Jewish State and death to all Jewish people.”

    Min could not immediately be reached.

    Politically, Gaza is a much simpler issue for Republicans, most if not all of whom, support Israel. Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, said via email that he was “proud to be a co-sponsor and lead the effort on the House floor to provide critical security funding for Israel last month.”

    Calvert, who faces a tough reelection fight against Democrat Will Rollins in a swing district in Riverside County, added: “It is shameful that Rollins would align himself with those calling for a ceasefire while Hamas still holds 129 hostages, including Americans.

    “The abhorrent, antisemitic demonstrations we’ve seen at UCLA and across the country are an egregious violation of the Civil Rights Act and need to be shut down immediately.”

    Rollins wrote in an email that he understands “Israel’s need to dismantle Hamas, the importance of standing with our ally in their efforts to return hostages after the horrors of October 7, and the critical necessity to minimize the human toll of this war. To insinuate anything otherwise is not only untrue and offensive, but hypocritical.”

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    Last week, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Garvey stood before Israeli flags waving in the breeze —  part of a Beverly Hills art installation memorializing victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack — and decried what he sees as antisemitism at colleges.

    The student encampments, Garvey said, are “organized support of terrorism” and “a moment where terrorism is disguised as free speech.”

    “Now it’s the campuses, great institutions, that all of a sudden are lacking leadership, where all of a sudden (they’re) saying one group, under the disguise of free speech, can attack another,” he added.

    Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, Garvey’s foe in the Senate race, announced Wednesday, May 1, his vote for the Antisemitism Awareness Act, “which strengthens the administration’s ability to combat antisemitism on college campuses,” according to a Schiff news release.

    “Free speech and passionate disagreement are fundamental to our democracy, and college campuses must be places where those values are both taught and exemplified,” Schiff, who is Jewish, said in the release.

    “But violence, vandalism, and antisemitic harassment and intimidation are not free speech and those engaging in this behavior should be held accountable.”

    In deep blue L.A., two Los Angeles City Council candidates have no qualms about supporting Palestinians.

    Ysabel Jurado, who has undergraduate and law degrees from UCLA, said in a statement that seeing students “peacefully exercising their right to free speech” makes her proud.

    “I stand with UCLA students who continue to demand a divestment from the weapons manufacturing companies that are facilitating the unspeakable horrors in Gaza,” Jurado said.

    Another L.A. council candidate, Jillian Burgos, said in an Instagram post she was “disturbed” by reports of counter-protesters being allowed “to terrorize student protesters.”

    “Protests are the actions of those who feel their voices are not being heard,” Burgos wrote. “Rather than using violence to further silence them, we need to ask ourselves what we’re so afraid to hear.”

    But in another L.A. council race, candidate Grace Yoo said the conflict won’t enter her campaign, which focuses on safe streets, city services and carrying residents’ voices to City Hall.

    “It does however lift up the fact that Angelenos are passionate about what they believe,” she said. “And I hope through my campaign I’m able to promote understanding rather than division.”

    Republican Tony Rodriguez, who is running for the Assembly’s District 44 seat representing parts of L.A. County, plans to address the violent campus clashes during his campaign.

    ‘We can’t keep running away from issues,” he said. “It’s out there and it’s affecting our schools. It’s affecting our friends and relationships. It’s affecting even going to work because people are blocking traffic.” 

    Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, said via email that the timing of elections affected the issue’s impact on races.

    Related links

    UCLA cancels classes, condemnations roll in, after night of violence at pro-Palestinian encampment
    Violent clashes break out at UCLA after counter-protesters storm pro-Palestinian encampment
    UCLA faculty walk out as pro-Palestine demonstrations, counterprotests grow across SoCal campuses
    UCLA declares Palestine encampment unlawful, USC president in talks with protesters
    Will more graduations get canceled? Southern California colleges grapple with safety amid Gaza protests

    California’s early March primary “meant that foreign policy largely came up in the U.S. Senate race and not as much in other campaigns,” Godwin wrote in an email.

    That said, “all candidates for public office should expect questions on Israel, Hamas, and Gaza for the foreseeable future,” she said.

    “The recent campus protests have added more ideological dimensions to what is a very complex situation. Republican congressional candidates may have an opportunity to campaign even more on law-and-order issues and to criticize certain colleges, somewhat echoing themes from decades past when Ronald Reagan was elected governor and S.I. Hayakawa was elected to the Senate.”

    If there’s a positive for Democrats, “the recent protests may very well increase turnout amongst younger voters, which has been more of a concern for Democrats,” Godwin added.

    ​ Orange County Register