Jewish activists and supporters gathered in Atlantic Station to ask Sen. Jon Ossoff to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
As Israel’s campaign in Gaza – and U.S. support for it – comes under increased scrutiny, Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. senator is facing calls to support a cease-fire in a conflict that has ended more than 10,000 lives so far.
Several dozen Jewish peace activists gathered outside the Atlanta office of Sen. Jon Ossoff with shirts reading “Jews Say Cease Fire Now” and holding signs with slogans like “Our Grief is not Your Weapon.”
The Israel-Hamas War began Oct. 7 when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack into Israeli territory, killing about 1,400 people, including civilians and children. Israel has responded with overwhelming force. As of Wednesday, the death toll in the Palestinian enclave reportedly exceeded 10,000, 4,000 of whom were children.
In a New York press conference Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in the conflict.
“Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children,” he said. “Hundreds of girls and boys are reportedly being killed or injured every day. More journalists have reportedly been killed over a four-week period than in any conflict in at least three decades. More United Nations aid workers have been killed than in any comparable period in the history of our organization.”
The UN was founded in October 1945.
Marissa Pyle, an organizer for Jewish Voices for Peace Atlanta, said she was hoping to speak with Ossoff or his staff about how he might be able to help end the violence.
“A coalition of folks spoke with a staffer from Sen. Ossoff’s office last week about our support for a cease-fire and the need for a cease-fire,” she said as marchers chanted “Ossoff, shame on you.”
“We requested a follow-up meeting with the senator,” she added. “We were told that he would just be unavailable in general to meet with us. Our hope today was to meet with staff to convey that we are very serious about the need for a cease-fire, but since the building’s locked, since we were told that we’d be subject to arrest if we stayed on the property, it seems unlikely that we’re going to be able to talk to staff.”
An Ossoff staffer told the Recorder before the protesters showed up that they were always willing to hear from constituents, but they did not unlock the doors or step outside to speak with the demonstrators. Staffers asked that further requests for comment be sent to Ossoff’s press team. Ossoff’s press team did not answer questions or provide information on the record.
On Wednesday, Ossoff was one of 26 senators signed on to a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to ensure that Israel’s actions are successful and align with international law.
Ossoff has also urged more access to humanitarian aid inside Gaza, but Pyle said that is not sufficient.
“The truth is, if there are bombs still falling, the humanitarian aid cannot reach the people that need it,” she said. “What we need is a cease-fire because what we are seeing is an incredible and horrific loss of life.”
Israel is a key ally to the United States and the U.S.’ largest foreign aid recipient, and criticism of its treatment of Palestinians has been – and often still is – off limits in government circles. And while Americans in general largely support Israel, an October Data for Progress poll suggests they also support an end to the violence in Gaza, with 66% saying the U.S. should call for a cease-fire, 25% disagreeing and 10% unsure.
Ossoff is not the first Democratic senator to come under criticism for not taking a stronger stance.
Several people outside Ossoff’s office Wednesday said they volunteered to help get him elected in 2021 and were now feeling disappointed.
Community organizer Isabel Hidalgo said she debriefed 650,000 phone calls for Ossoff and was part of a team that knocked on 30,000 doors.
She didn’t much care for his predecessor, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, calling him a “monster,” but she said his staff would at least listen when constituents held weekly rallies opposing his position on health care.
“The staff received us, they took notes, they even cried with us at times, and we left,” she said. “We were never expelled, never asked to leave, never not received, until the rallies ended, and this is where we are. And all of us went out in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of winter, without a vaccine, to elect Jon Ossoff, and now we’re not allowed into his building.”
For many Jews around the world, Israel is a symbolic safe haven and representation of their faith, but Jewish opinion is far from monolithic, said Kennesaw State University professor Sig Giordano, whose grandparents met in a Nazi concentration camp and were the sole survivors from their families.
“I feel that intergenerational trauma in my body and my being, and I learned that lesson of never again because I know that my family was murdered because of the Nazi genocide of Jews, people with disabilities, queers,” Giordano said. “It is disgusting to use the pain and the murder of my family members to murder other people, who are my people too. Palestinians are our people. We’re one people, and oppressed people should always stand together.”
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