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Why Vermont's U.S. Rep. Becca Balint is now calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war

A photo of a woman at a microphone
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Associated Press File
In this Nov. 13, 2022 file photo, Rep. Becca Balint speaks during a news conference. Vermont's lone U.S. representative recently published an opinion piece in VTDigger calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On Thursday, Vermont’s lone representative in Congress, Becca Balint, called for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

The stance, announced in an opinion piece for VTDigger, marks a shift for Balint. She previously stood with the rest of Vermont's congressional delegation in asking for a "humanitarian pause" to the fighting.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont’s Congressional delegation calls for humanitarian aid for Palestinians, urgent stop to civilian casualties

While the terms aren't strictly defined, a humanitarian pause is typically described as a short break in fighting to get supplies like water and fuel into an area. In contrast, a cease-fire is often longer, potentially paving the way for a diplomatic agreement.

Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke to Rep. Becca Balint about how she came to support a cease-fire. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: My first question out of the gate is, why are you in favor now of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas?

Becca Balint: I see this as an extension of what I've said over the past month. The horrific violence has to stop. All hostages must be released. Hamas cannot stay in power in Gaza. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve safety and security.

And what has become increasingly clear to me is that it's excruciatingly difficult for us to hold complexity, especially when it comes to the Middle East. We all want easy answers, and there are none. And with my op-ed, I'm trying to create space to have a much more complex and nuanced conversation about this war. And it's really not easy.

Mitch Wertlieb: I want to give you the chance to do that now as well. In recent days, you have spoken about the human cost of this war. So far, more than an estimated 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of them women and children.

I am wondering if there was a kind of tipping point, a particular piece of news that struck you in a way that had you make this call for a cease-fire.

Becca Balint: There was no particular piece of news, because it's all horrific. Palestinians are suffering terribly. Israelis also are suffering terribly. There are still hostages that are — we have no idea what state that they're in. And so, we don't like to hold all these tough things at once.

Israel has a right to defend itself. And its security cannot come at any cost. So just like Hamas needs to be held accountable to international law, so must Israel.

Mitch Wertlieb: There are those who will say that a cease-fire would merely give Hamas a chance to regroup and plan for more attacks, on top of already killing an estimated 1,200 Israelis. And as you've alluded to, taking more than 200 people hostage. So how would you respond to that?

Becca Balint: I absolutely understand that argument and that concern. I share that concern, too. Which is why I was very clear that I know that a cease-fire cannot hold if Hamas continues to rule Gaza. I believe Hamas is holding Palestinians hostage as well. And that is where we need to be working with our partners and allies in the region: Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, to make that part of the next steps.

"I see this as an extension of what I've said over the past month. The horrific violence has to stop. All hostages must be released. Hamas cannot stay in power in Gaza. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve safety and security."
U.S. Rep. Becca Balint

Mitch Wertlieb: Rep. Balint, nationally when you came out with this call for the cease-fire, a lot of media outlets picked up on the fact that you are Jewish. I don't know how many people know that. But probably in the state of Vermont many do. But what is your message to Jewish Vermonters who are opposed to a cease-fire?

Becca Balint: That I understand. That I understand. And I am trying to do my level best to take in all of the information, both classified and unclassified, and make my decision based on that.

And I want to be really clear — because, something that is part of this, Mitch, that I think a lot of people don't want to accept, there is so much antisemitism that has been unmasked in the last four weeks. And I'm not talking about criticism of the Israeli government — something that I have never shied away from. I am talking about horrible anti-Jewish statements being wrapped up in some perverse claim, that what Hamas did, that somehow this was justified. Hamas are not freedom fighters. They are terrorists who want to destroy Israel.

And I think any continuing conversation, both in Vermont and nationally, needs to hold that truth. So I understand how, you know, how people have seized onto my family's history in all of this, having my grandfather murdered in the Holocaust. But what I want people to understand is: I do not want to be used as a tool for any faction that is demanding that members of Congress say something in a particular way. Because I'm going to say it again, if I haven't made it clear: we all want the same things. Where we may differ is strategy.
Mitch Wertlieb: How do you feel your message will be received, especially in Vermont, among local Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities?

Becca Balint: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. And I know that we all are holding so much complexity and pain right now. And one of the things that I said to a group the other day that I was meeting with, is that I would hope that even if I don't say things in the exact right way, that folks would understand that I do my homework. And I take this responsibility so seriously, and that I'm willing to talk to anyone or listen to anyone to help me wrestle with the complexity.

Mitch Wertlieb: I wonder if you think the United States should continue to provide aid to Israel, either military equipment or funding for the military.

Becca Balint: I think the Biden administration and Congress have to be clear, on two fronts: That Israel has a right to defend itself and a right to root out Hamas terrorism. And: It also has a responsibility to take as much care as possible to reduce civilian deaths and suffering.

And what I have said repeatedly, is that I will plan to review any aid package that comes before me very carefully, to ensure that it supports stability and peace in the region. And it has to include robust humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, and significant amount of aid and support to rebuild after the war.

Mitch Wertlieb: How realistic do you think a cease-fire really is? I mean, given [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu's pretty adamant stance that he doesn't want to see that happen at all.

Becca Balint: This has been my struggle for weeks. Not only has Netanyahu said that he's not interested in a cease-fire. Hamas has said repeatedly what we did, on Oct. 7, we will do again, and again and again, until we annihilate the State of Israel.

So that, you know, I am a realist. But I'm also somebody looking for possibility to open up a space, and I'm very keen to see what will happen. We're hearing word that there will be some temporary cease-fire in the next few days or weeks to allow the release of some of the hostages. I'm curious to see what base that opens up in a larger conversation, you know, towards towards a cease-fire.

But this is not going to be — this is not going to be solved by members of Congress making any kind of statement. This is going to take really tough and hard negotiations with our partners in the region to help us to get there.

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A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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