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Murphy cautions Israel to show restraint in Gaza, citing lessons of Afghanistan

Jewish community members and friends stopped traffic in New Haven as they marched from city hall to deliver letters to US Representative Rosa DeLauro calling on her to stop supporting the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Jewish community members and friends stopped traffic in New Haven as they marched from city hall to deliver letters to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro calling on her to stop supporting the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said residents feel the effects of the Israel-Hamas conflict personally for both Palestinians and the Israelis, as advocates across the state held several rallies in response to the war.

The U.S. government is staunchly pro-Israel, but Murphy told Connecticut Public’s "All Things Considered" how he sees his role to represent constituents with varied opinions.

John Henry Smith: How do you and your colleagues walk that fine line?

Sen. Chris Murphy: Well, I mean, this is deeply personal to the people in Connecticut. I, over the last week, have spoken with a woman whose sister is likely held hostage inside Gaza — potentially dead. I spoke to a gentleman whose uncle and his nephew were killed by a bomb inside Gaza, though they had nothing to do with Hamas. The scope of this tragedy is so enormous that it impacts every state, including Connecticut.

Hamas needs to be held accountable, and I'm not shy about my belief that Israel has a right to defend itself, just like we had a right to defend ourselves and take out the Taliban after September 11th. But Israel has to be very careful about the number of civilian casualties, and you've seen those numbers rise to pretty disturbing levels in the last few days, not just because there's a moral requirement to keep civilians free of harm, but because Hamas in the long run and extremist groups in the long run get stronger if civilians ultimately are the casualty of these military operations. That's what we saw in Afghanistan. That's why the Taliban got stronger over the time, didn't get weaker, and we've got to be clear with Israel about the consequences if they are too permissive of civilian casualties inside Gaza.

With your support of Israel, how do you strike the balance of supporting them while at the same time trying to keep things from escalating [more broadly]?

A really important question ... and probably in some ways the most (important) for U.S. national security concerns because we have a lot of troops in the Middle East. Many of them are actually getting targeted right now by Iranian-affiliated groups in the region.

One, we want to support the more moderate Palestinian leadership. So this is a time to get funding into the West Bank to try to stabilize the West Bank to make sure that it doesn't explode. Second, we want to send a deterrent message to Iran and that's why you've seen these carrier battle groups move into the region.

Third, we just want to engage in good old fashioned diplomacy. So, you've seen [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken essentially be in the region non-stop. I have been on the phone with my colleagues in the Middle East, whether it be the Jordanians or the Qataris, trying to send messages about how we can de-escalate in Lebanon … in the West Bank. So, it's an all-above strategy to try to make sure that this conflict stays limited to the conflict in Gaza.

There are 2 billion Muslims worldwide, and we've seen so many protesting in the streets here and abroad about what they see as decades-long, American-funded disenfranchisement against Muslims in Gaza and in the West Bank. To what degree are you and your colleagues supporting a historically reliable ally while keeping an eye towards trying not to create the next generation of Muslim people with a grudge against the West?

I have probably been one of the most vocal members of the Senate pushing for a Palestinian state next to Israel. I have been, you know, critical of Democratic administrations and Republican administrations. I think it should be a priority of U.S. foreign policy.

Just days before this conflict erupted, I led a letter from 20 of my colleagues to President Biden telling him that if he was going to lead diplomacy around a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a component of that agreement had to be steps taken by Israel to guarantee a Palestinian state. So, I'm willing to sort of tell the truth to Democrats and Republicans on the importance of having a Palestinian state.

That being said, there is no justification for terrorist violence. Yes, the progress towards a two-state solution has been far too slow, but under no circumstances does that provide license to Hamas to round up women and children inside Israel and murder them in cold blood.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.
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