Candidates vying to be the next United States senator from California were divided over support for an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war during a debate Monday.
Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Katie Porter staked positions to the left of Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Republican Steve Garvey, a former baseball player and political newcomer, with Schiff and Garvey refusing to call for a cease-fire.
Lee said the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has claimed thousands of lives, is “counterproductive to Israel’s security.”
“The only way Israel is going to be secure is through a permanent cease-fire. The only way that is going to happen is with a political and diplomatic solution,” Lee said.
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Rep. Katie Porter, left, and Rep. Adam Schiff, center, participate in a debate on stage with other democrats who are running to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein at Westing Bonaventure Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Israel went to war against Hamas in response to the Oct. 7 terror attack orchestrated by the Palestinian terrorist group, in which 1,200 Israelis were killed. The Hamas-led Palestinian health ministry in Gaza has claimed Israel has killed more than 25,000 people since the war started, although Hamas does not distinguish between civilian and military casualties, and its reported figures cannot be independently verified.
Referring to the Palestinian casualty count, Lee said Israel’s offensive has been “catastrophic” and said “it will never lead to peace for the Israelis nor the Palestinians.”
The topic of Israel highlighted strong differences between the four candidates. Schiff, who has led recent polls, would not call for a cease-fire. He reminded the audience that Hamas did not just murder Israelis but committed “rape and torture.”
“The magnitude of that horror is still shocking to me,” he said. “No country, after having been attacked by terrorists like Israel was on October 7, no country could refuse to defend itself. It has a duty to defend itself.”
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Rep. Katie Porter and Rep. Adam Schiff participate in a debate on stage with other democrats who are running to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein at Westing Bonaventure Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
After stating it is not “incompatible with human nature” to grieve for losses on both sides, Schiff said Hamas cannot remain in power in Gaza. “They are still holding over 100 hostages, including Americans. I don’t know how you can ask any nation to cease-fire when their people are being held by a terrorist organization,” he said.
In rebuttal, Lee warned that the Israel-Hamas conflict may “spiral out of control” into a larger regional conflict if there is not an immediate cease-fire.
“We have to make sure that our national security is also protected,” Lee said. “And in fact, as this war escalates, as Arab nations pull back, then what do we have? We do not have a path to Israel’s security, nor do we have a path to a Palestinian state.”
Porter, who has also called for a permanent cease-fire, said there are conditions that must be met for the war to end, including the release of all hostages.
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From left to right: Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Katie Porter, Republican Candidate Steve Garvey, and Rep. Adam Schiff. (Getty Images)
“The parties to this conflict are Israel and Hamas. Cease-fire is not a magic word, you can’t just say it and make it so,” Porter said. “We have to push as the United States, as a world leader, for us to get to a cease-fire and to avoid another forever-war.”
Garvey, the lone Republican on stage, said it was “naive” to think the United States government can force Israel into a cease-fire.
“If 9/11 became 9/12, and one of our allies came to us and said, ‘we want you to cease-fire,’ what would we have done? We would have looked at them like, thank you for being our ally, but we must control our destiny and our sovereignty,” Garvey said.
California has a blanket primary system where the top two vote-getters in March will advance to a runoff in November’s general election.
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The four candidates are looking to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who passed away last year after serving in the Senate for three decades.
Voting in California’s primary closes on March 5, with voting centers opening for early in-person voting on Feb. 24. California residents can also vote by mail, with ballot drop-off locations opening on Feb. 6.
Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.
Fox News Digital’s Michael Lee contributed to this report.