Fetterman, Breaking With the Left on Israel, Rejects ‘Progressive’ Label

Dec 24, 2023 | Trending, Voices

In April 2022, during his Senate primary campaign in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman spoke enthusiastically about his unqualified support for Israel and said he did not consider himself a “progressive” when it came to his views on the Jewish state.

“Whenever I’m in a situation to be called on to take up the cause of strengthening and enhancing the security of Israel or deepening our relationship between the United States and Israel, I’m going to lean in,” Mr. Fetterman, then the lieutenant governor, told Jewish Insider at the time. When it came to far-left Democrats who harshly criticized Israel, he added, “I would also respectfully say that I’m not really a progressive in that sense.”

So as the left has turned against Mr. Fetterman in recent weeks, branding him #GenocideJohn for his unequivocal support of Israel’s fierce retaliation against Hamas in response to the group’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, the senator has dug in.

[The New York Times Report continues]

It all marks a shift in Mr. Fetterman’s image, even if the “progressive” label was never a perfect fit for him. In 2018, Mr. Sanders called Mr. Fetterman an “outstanding progressive” as he endorsed his campaign for lieutenant governor. Mr. Fetterman, an early backer of Mr. Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid, used to introduce himself at political events as “a Democrat and a progressive.”

The Pennsylvania senator said he still aligns with many progressive goals, including a $15 minimum wage, universal health care, legalizing marijuana and abolishing the Senate filibuster.

But he said he no longer relates to the overarching label of “progressive” — especially as the left has become more interested in demanding what he described as “purity tests.”

“It’s just a place where I’m not,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve left the label; it’s just more that it’s left me.

“I’m not critical if someone is a progressive,” he added. “I believe different things.”

[The New York Times Report continues]

Still, the backlash has been blistering. Demonstrators have shuttered streets in front of his district offices demanding his support for a cease-fire. A group of former campaign staff members wrote an anonymous letter calling his support for Israel a “gutting betrayal” of what they had believed to be his values. And progressives have expressed frustration that Mr. Fetterman, of all people, has rallied to support Israel rather than the Palestinians whose plight they have made their cause.

Melissa Byrne, who worked on Mr. Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign and is now an organizer for liberal causes, accused Mr. Fetterman of “trying to have it both ways,” claiming to be a progressive only when it helped him electorally.

“He’s here for the vibes,” she said. “You should at least be honest and say, ‘Hey, I called myself a progressive because we wanted to raise more money. We needed to win.’”

[The New York Times Report continues]

Mr. Fetterman, for his part, said he has always prided himself on passing his own internal common sense test before bowing to the demands of his party or his base. Outside his Senate office, for instance, he displays a flag honoring American prisoners of war and another proclaiming L.G.B.T.Q. pride. “I’m pretty sure I’m the only senator that has both,” he said. “Can’t it be possible that it’s really appropriate to stand for both?”

But it is on the issue of Israel where Mr. Fetterman is as flummoxed by members of the left as they are by him.
“I do find it confusing where the very left progressives in America don’t seem to want to support really the only progressive nation in the region that really embraces the same kind of values I would expect we would want as a society,” he said of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

As for the gripes of anonymous former members of his campaign staff, Mr. Fetterman said that “it’s difficult to respect somebody’s opinion if they’re not going to attach their name to it.” None of his current Senate aides have raised concerns about his political stances, he said.

Still, Mr. Fetterman said he is not completely surprised that he is not satisfying the same Democratic voters who were outraged in 2016 when he endorsed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy after Mr. Sanders left the race.

“This bizarre purity thing, where people were offended that I was embracing Secretary Clinton when we have Trump on the other side?” Mr. Fetterman said. “How did that work out for you?”

View this New York times report from December 24th