Maryland politicians weighed in on the Israeli-Hamas war over the weekend, appearing on major talk shows as concerns seem to be growing about a humanitarian crisis facing Palestinians.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen spoke in support of a mutual ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and a return of all Israeli hostages on “Face the Nation” Sunday morning — doubling down on a message he has been pushing for months.

In speaking with The Baltimore Banner later Sunday, Van Hollen said: “My belief is that the United States should be using all the levers of its influence to, first of all, get a ceasefire and return all the hostages, but again, in the meantime, to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

Also on Sunday morning, Van Hollen’s counterpart, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, spoke about the crisis on “Meet the Press.” Cardin was asked about recent scathing remarks Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made on the Senate floor about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him “an obstacle to peace,” because he rejects a two-party state solution. Coming from the most senior Jewish politician in the country and an ally to Israel, Schumer’s speech was a surprise to many, including Cardin.

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“Sen. Schumer’s speech came from his heart, what he believes is necessary for peace. He is very clear about Hamas needs to be eliminated, that there can be no peace in the Middle East for either Palestinians or the Israelis with Hamas,” Cardin said on “Meet the Press.”

Schumer is calling for new elections in Israel. In response, Cardin said it is up to Israelis to decide their leaders.

Although Cardin, who is Jewish, did not use the word “ceasefire” during his on-air appearance, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the conflict. “We need to be much more aggressive in dealing with this crisis. Innocent people are dying, and we can’t let that happen,” Cardin said.

Cardin was not available for an interview Sunday.

Van Hollen said in talking to The Banner that Schumer gave a timely and important speech and that he agreed with Schumer calling Netanyahu an obstacle to peace.

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Schumer’s speech and the increasing number of fellow Democrats who are speaking more outwardly about the crisis point to the boiling over of frustrations from some in Congress. In recent weeks, President Joe Biden has ramped up pressures on Netanyahu, saying the prime minister is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.” In Biden’s State of the Union address written remarks, it reads: “We’ve been working non-stop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for at least six weeks. It would get the hostages home, ease the intolerable humanitarian crisis, and build toward something more enduring.” Biden has faced mounting pressures from progressives and Democrats to call for a ceasefire.

The Oct. 7 attack, orchestrated by the militant group Hamas, killed roughly 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and about another 250 were kidnapped. Israel has since responded with airstrikes and an offensive in the Gaza strip that has left more than 31,500 Palestinians dead and over 73,500 injured, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The conflict has also driven 85% of the Palestinian population out of their homes.

More than 100 Israeli hostages were released during a seven-day ceasefire in November.

In recent months, Van Hollen has ramped up his call for actions regarding the conflict. In February, he, alongside Senate colleagues, signed a letter to Biden in support of releasing the remaining Israeli hostages and restoring a mutual ceasefire agreement. Roughly a month later, in a March 11 letter to Biden, Van Hollen, Sen. Bernie Sanders and other senators urged the president to stop providing offensive military assistance to Israel until the restriction on U.S.-backed humanitarian aid going into Gaza is lifted.

Van Hollen’s stance has not come without criticism. More than 70 rabbis in Maryland and Washington, D.C., penned an open letter to the senator on March 11, urging him to walk back his statements about Israel and the conflict.

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The rabbis asked Van Hollen to change his “rhetoric and actions that we believe mischaracterize the current war and undermine America’s support for the Jewish state.”

“... [T]o our dismay, rather than standing with us, your efforts in the Senate have only stoked deeper divisions and further isolated Israel and our Jewish community,” the letter reads.

The rabbis also expressed their “deep pain” to those suffering and dying in Gaza.

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, weighed in on the Maryland senators’ recent talking points in an email to The Baltimore Banner on Sunday.

Speaking for the council, Libit said Van Hollen’s approach to condition or limit United States assistance to Israel is wrong. The relationship between the countries “is too important.”

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“Senator Van Hollen’s statements that blame Israel and accuse Israel of committing a ‘textbook war crime’ are allowing Hamas to escape responsibility for its horrific October 7th attack,” Libit wrote. “The loss of civilian lives in Gaza is tragic, but it is the direct responsibility of the actions of Hamas.”

“Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food,” Van Hollen said on the Senate floor Feb. 12. “That is a war crime. It is a textbook war crime. And that makes those who orchestrate it war criminals.”

Van Hollen urged Biden to demand that Netanyahu allow more food, water and other lifesaving supplies into Gaza — and that those supplies reach the children and others who are starving.

On the other hand, the Baltimore Jewish Council supports Cardin’s recent remarks. “Senator Cardin is a leader of Maryland’s Jewish community, and his remarks this morning on Meet The Press speak for what we see as the consensus position of the state’s Jewish community,” Libit said.

“… [W]e agree with Senator Cardin that it is up to the Israeli people to make their own democratic decisions about their leadership, without the interference of America’s elected leaders,” Libit said.

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Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is running for the Senate, spoke to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington last week, extending his support, adding “Maryland needs a pro-Israel champion” in the Senate.

“This is not about the differences between the right and the left. It’s about the difference between right and wrong,” Hogan said, adding he commends Cardin for his consistent and strong support of Israel.

Hogan threw shade to Van Hollen, calling the letter he signed urging Biden to pump the brakes on providing aid to Israel “outrageous.”

Van Hollen, Hogan said, “has become one of the most hostile voices against Israel in the entire U.S. Senate.”

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore extended support to both the state of Israel and Palestinian people during Friday’s “The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi” radio show.

“The ongoing conflict in the Middle East, it’s hurting everyone … so make no mistake, we need a ceasefire now,” Moore said. “We need to get humanitarian aid in, we need to get food and medical supplies in, [and] we need to make sure that we’re returning all the hostages back to their families and returning them home.”

Baltimore City Council and the Howard County Council have voted down ceasefire resolutions since the conflict began.

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