Members of the small group sang songs and read poetry as they gathered under candlelight outside U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume’s Baltimore district office.
It was a prayer service, not a protest, but it aimed to send a sharp political message that Congress — and the Baltimore Democrat in particular — should seek a ceasefire in the Gaza fighting.
“Let Gaza Live,” read one participant’s sign.
The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people and Israel’s continuing response in Gaza, where officials said Friday the Palestinian death toll has surpassed 11,000 people, have generated passionate responses among Marylanders and put the state’s congressional delegation on the spot.
Nationally, Congress is divided over how best to support Israel while trying to minimize civilian casualties and maximize the delivery of humanitarian aid. There are divisions among Maryland’s federal lawmakers, too, although the Democrats generally support President Joe Biden’s efforts and the lone Republican — Rep. Andy Harris — is opposed.
“We’re hearing from people from across the state of Maryland who are very focused on this issue and who are horrified, as I was, by the Hamas attacks on Israel,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen said Friday in an interview. “Around the state, people also want to make sure that the 2 million innocent civilians in Gaza are protected and are not the ones facing the brunt of the war.”
Van Hollen said he was encouraged that Israel agreed to daily four-hour humanitarian pauses in its offensive against Hamas in northern Gaza. The senator said he also supports Biden’s proposal for a three-day pause to help deliver “desperately needed aid” to civilians and provide a window for hostage negotiations.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, also endorsed a 72-hour pause, while Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County joined a letter signed Tuesday by dozens of House Democrats that calls for a “humanitarian pause of limited space and time” along with the release of 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and plans to retire after his third term ends in 2025, visited Saudi Arabia and then Israel during the third week of October. He said Thursday in an interview that he favors a three-day pause, but only if Hamas is at the table with Israel and permits the release of hostages and the delivery of more aid.
At a minimum, the senator said, the goal must be the “taking out the command and control of Hamas and the tunneling system.” He said that can be accomplished while being “as strategic as possible” regarding civilian casualties.
“The initial reaction in Israel was one of tremendous anger and just wanting to do everything they could to destroy Hamas,” Cardin said. “I think it has become much more focused as time has gone on, and I think the United States has played an important role in that regard.”
But Harris, the Republican who represents Harford County, part of Baltimore County and the Eastern Shore, said in an interview Friday that Biden shouldn’t be “interfering” with Israel’s handling of the war.
“I think the United States shouldn’t second-guess Israel and what’s the best way to win this war against Hamas,” Harris said. “I think the Israelis understand how to win this war, and I think President Biden doesn’t. I think he’s bending to the political will of some of the Democrat Party and I think that’s dangerous to Israel.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
No Maryland representative has joined the 18 House Democrats endorsing legislation sponsored by Democratic Missouri Rep. Cori Bush that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine.
The pursuit of a ceasefire is why Myoshi Smith went to Mfume’s Mount Vernon office Wednesday with about 20 other members of the Baltimore branch of If Not Now, which calls itself “a movement of American Jews organizing our community to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system.”
Mfume was unavailable Friday for an interview, but issued a statement saying he supported a ceasefire.
“I have continued to call for the opening of humanitarian corridors to facilitate hostage negotiations; along with allowing for food and medical supplies into Gaza to care for the children, the innocent, the wounded and the dying,” Mfume said in the statement.
But Mfume said he did not co-sponsor the ceasefire bill because it didn’t “call out by name the Hamas terrorist organization for the death and destruction they initiated on October 7.”
While Mfume is not endorsing the bill, Smith, the spokesperson for If Not Now, said Friday that she was “very encouraged by his steps. It shows he is listening to his constituents.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Dillon Mullan contributed to this article.