Gov. Gavin Newsom calls for a ceasefire in Gaza

BY SAMEEA KAMAL | CalMatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom said today he supports President Biden’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza, citing the “ongoing and horrific loss of innocent civilian life.”

“I support President Biden’s call for an immediate ceasefire as part of a deal to secure desperately needed relief for Gazan civilians and the release of hostages,” he wrote in a letter addressed to California’s Muslim, Palestinian American, and Arab American communities. “I also unequivocally denounce Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel. It is time to work in earnest toward an enduring peace that will furnish the lasting security, autonomy, and freedom that the Palestinians and the Israeli people both deserve.”

Newsom’s statement comes one day before the U.S. plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to back a ceasefire resolution, and follows other leaders shifting to more forceful calls for Israel to change its conduct of the war.

On March 3, Vice President Kamala Harris, the former U.S. senator from California, called for an immediate, but temporary ceasefire — the strongest statement from the Biden administration to that point.

Following his State of the Union address on March 7, when he announced a new effort to bring in humanitarian aid by sea, President Biden called for a six-week ceasefire and a hostage-prisoner exchange. And in a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the president expressed concerns about the civilian death toll and Israel’s blockade of aid delivery, according to a White House summary.

And on March 14, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official, called for new elections in Israel, saying on the Senate floor that Netanyahu is an “obstacle to peace” and “has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

The governor’s statement today, sent during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, comes after months of criticism by pro-ceasefire supporters that he wasn’t even-handed in his stance on the Gaza war.

But in California, views have been more mixed.

More than 60% of likely voters in California supported an immediate ceasefire in a poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California. But they’re more divided on whether to increase, decrease or maintain military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Although the state’s Jewish Democrats have been split over calls for a ceasefire, Newsom’s move puts him at odds with those who have opposed the idea — including U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who has advanced to the November election for U.S. Senate. Schiff said earlier this month that a ceasefire must be contingent on Hamas releasing hostages it kidnapped from Israel, and that “the obstacle to getting that temporary ceasefire is Hamas.”

Assembly Republicans have called for a resolution condemning Hamas. And in response to Newsom’s letter, Jim Stanley, Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher’s spokesperson, accused the governor of treating Israeli hostages as “an afterthought.”

In the letter, Newsom acknowledged the suffering of the Muslim community — particularly those who had lost family and friends in Gaza.

“The scale of suffering in Gaza is so vast that it seems few Palestinians across the world have been spared personal loss,” he said. “And now burgeoning disease and starvation threaten to deepen the devastation, especially among children. This is unacceptable.”

Newsom added that he will “always defend your right to take part in the California tradition of peaceful protest — to publicly express your opposition to any war or government decision you oppose, including the war in Gaza.”

Officials from California chapters of the Council on American Islamic Relations and other groups have been pushing the governor for months — including at a meeting in December, where community leaders and organizers from around the state asked the governor to call for a permanent ceasefire.

“We’re pleased to share that after many months of advocacy by various groups, including a meeting CAIR-CA convened with the Governor and Muslim leaders, this afternoon, Governor Newsom joined the resounding global call for ceasefire,” said CAIR California CEO Hussam Ayloush.