Since it unfolded, people have been struggling to put the Hamas-led assault on Israel in perspective.
Reaction to the attack, which some have called Israel's 9/11, has also elicited fierce debate, globally and locally. Amid the calls for support, some attacked Israel. One example happened just across the river at Harvard University. Over three dozen university-affiliated groups at Harvard released a statement blaming the conflict entirely on the Israeli government, calling them the “apartheid regime.”
Fierce backlash ensued, and the university’s president issued a statement Wednesday that condemned the violence, acknowledged students’ right to speak out, but said that no student groups speak for the university.
Congressman Jake Auchincloss, who represents Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district, joined GBH’s All Things Considered to discuss the conflict, his alma mater’s response and what lies ahead. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: First, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I would like to get your reaction to Harvard President Claudine Gay’s statement issued yesterday.
Cong. Jake Auchincloss: Insufficient. First of all, the word salad that was issued by the deans and the president on October 9thwas moral cowardice. It failed to condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas, and it failed to condemn the student groups that celebrated the murder of innocents in their own homes.
The [Harvard] president’s follow-on statement—while it belatedly and with some equivocation condemned Hamas—still failed to condemn the student groups. Nobody is disputing the right of students or faculty or, frankly, any American citizen to say and rally around abhorrent beliefs. That is the First Amendment that we have. What we do ask for, though, is moral leadership from people in positions of influence.
The Harvard president, faculty and deans should condemn these student groups, condemn the antisemitism that is threaded through their statement, and also rally to the side of Jewish students on Harvard’s campus and those with connections to Israel.
Rath: Some companies are now vowing to essentially blacklist any student who signed on to the letter from positions in their company. Some students are actually also reporting being doxxed, and now, a few student groups have withdrawn their signatures. How do you feel about that? Should these students face dire consequences?
Auchincloss: Doxxing is not acceptable. Every individual has a right to privacy, and cyber harassment or physical intimidation and harassment is never acceptable.
Actions do have real-world consequences, though, and employers are fully within their rights to take into account the previous behavior of those they might employ.
Rath: Can I ask you personally about the conflict—because I know we’ve just felt a lot in the Jewish community lately. I’m not Jewish, but my family is. We go to temple and over the last few years with everything that’s been going on with antisemitism, we’ve had a lot of family conversations.
A lot of people are feeling really shaken up, and after this weekend, it feels like everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. I’m just wondering what you would like to say to your constituents here in Massachusetts.
Auchincloss: I represent one of the densest concentrations of the Israeli diaspora in the Jewish community of any of the 435 congressional districts. I grew up in the Jewish faith, and the events of October 7th are the most painful for me in my lifetime as a Jew, and I know that is true for so many of my constituents.
This is not a geopolitical challenge. This is not just another dimension of an increasingly dangerous world. This is deeply personal. The Jews, the Israelis I represent, almost all of them have friends or family who are being called up to the reserves. Some of them knew the victims or the hostages. The pain is raw and the rage is real.
I think what is so alarming to so many of us is not actually the depravity of the celebrations of Hamas, because, while unacceptable, it is still a small minority of Americans who are doing that. What is so alarming is the moral equivalency that we are hearing from people who should know better.
Rath: We know President Biden is increasing aid to Israel. At what point will the White House need to turn to Congress to authorize additional support? I guess what I’m getting at is, at what point does the disarray in the leadership of the House Republicans become a problem?
Auchincloss: President Biden has given the most steadfast, effective pro-Israel speech in American history. Only Harry Truman, I think, is in the same league now as Joe Biden in terms of standing with Israel in their moment of need.
I think it is being underappreciated in the United States how important Joe Biden’s leadership is to Israel right now and, in particular, how he has—without equivocation and with certitude—offered support, both military and diplomatically, and how he also positioned this carrier strike group in the eastern Mediterranean to try to prevent a second or even a third front from opening up from Hezbollah or Iran itself.
I don’t want to divulge timelines because that’s sensitive. The administration and the Israeli Defense Forces have what they need right now at the moment, in terms of materials and munitions. But Congress is going to have to replenish the stocks and authorize and appropriate more support.
The votes are there—there’s no question about that. Already, 400 members of Congress have co-sponsored a resolution in strong support of Israel. That’s a big number when there are 435 members. The problem, as you say, is that the House is paralyzed right now. We have no speaker.
The House Republican conference is now holding hostage three separate nations: Ukraine, Israel and the United States itself, because we cannot fund support for Ukraine. We cannot fund support for Israel, and we cannot fund our own government here in America until the Republicans grow up and govern.
Rath: Something that we just saw happen today with Israel—something rather extraordinary—is that Israel has formed a unity government which, considering the political divisions in Israel, is just, again, kind of remarkable.
I guess the question I would have out of that is, why couldn’t we? There’s clearly a majority of people in Congress, as we saw with the vote for the continuing resolution for funding. Why couldn’t we have something like that happen with our Congress? It’s not a radical idea in other countries.
Auchincloss: It’s the right question to be asking. I would note that Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, has more votes to become Speaker of the House right now than any other member of Congress. And that’s not even close—he has 212. You need 217 right now. The runners-up to him would be Jim Jordan or Steve Scalise. Neither one of them is probably scraping 130 votes right now.
There are 18 Republicans who represent districts won by Joe Biden in 2020. So, your question of why couldn’t five Republicans, out of those 18, vote for Hakeem Jeffries, understanding that it’s going to have to be bipartisan governance in the House—Democrats are not blind to the fact that we’re in the minority; we get it—but at least we have our act together.
Republicans need to put the good of the United States, the good of Israel, the good of Ukraine and the good of democracy ahead of their own internecine political infighting.