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Adam Schiff: ‘Going to continue to defend Israel’s right to defend itself’

The frontrunner in the California Senate race for Dianne Feinstein’s former seat spoke with JNS exclusively days before the primary.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Credit: Courtesy of Schiff for Senate.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Credit: Courtesy of Schiff for Senate.

In an address to the nation on Feb. 6, 2020, the day after he was acquitted in what would be his first U.S. Senate impeachment trial, then-president Donald Trump accused Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), “a corrupt politician,” of making up “my statement to the Ukrainian president.”

“He brought it out of thin air. Just made it up,” Trump said. “They say he’s a screenwriter—a failed screenwriter. He tried to go into—unfortunately, he went into politics after that.”

Angry at Schiff’s prosecutorial role in the impeachment trial against him, Trump perhaps didn’t realize the would-be insult just made the congressman, a once-aspiring screenwriter, more relatable to those back home in his district, which includes Burbank, Glendale and Hollywood.

“I told my friends and staff he doesn’t realize what a great favor he’s doing me,” Schiff told JNS in a recent phone interview. “Half of my constituents are failed screenwriters.”

“They’re going to think, ‘He’s just like us!’” Schiff added.

Schiff spoke with JNS days before the March 5 primary for the state’s Senate seat, previously held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat. Laphonza Butler was appointed to the seat on Oct. 1, after Feinstein’s death on Sept. 29.

The two candidates that get the most votes, irrespective of party, advance to the general election. Schiff is considered one of the top candidates, along with fellow Democratic Reps. Katie Porter (Orange County) and Barbara Lee (Oakland) and Republican candidate Steve Garvey, a former Major League Baseball player.

Schiff leads with 24% of likely voters, and Porter and Garvey trail with 19% and 18% respectively, per a recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. The latter two are essentially tied, given that the survey’s margin for error exceeds 3%.

Adam Schiff
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) I.A.T.S.E. Local 80 on Feb. 11, 2023. Photo by Alli Peters/Schiff for Senate.

Support for Israel

Schiff’s campaign has secured the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC’s endorsement, as well as the support of several members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

Although Schiff has made national headlines more frequently for angering Trump in recent years, the Jewish politician has been known more quietly, and locally, as a staunch supporter of Israel.

Throughout 12 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Schiff has distinguished himself from far-left members of his party by consistently voicing support for Israel’s security. Most recently, he’s spoken against a ceasefire in Gaza.

“I was just shocked and horrified by the barbarism of the attack of Oct. 7,” Schiff told JNS. “The scale of it, the mass murder and rape and torture, the kidnapping of Israelis and kidnapping of Americans.”

“I think many in the Jewish community have also been really shocked by the wave of antisemitism that’s been unleashed around the world, including on college campuses here in the United States,” he said. “Israel has the right to defend itself, has the duty to defend itself.”

“I don’t see how people can call on Israel to permanently ceasefire while a terrorist organization is controlling Gaza and threatening to attack them in the manner of Oct. 7 over and over and over again,” he added.

Leading up to the primary, all four of the leading candidates for the Senate seat have weighed in on Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Porter issued a Dec. 18 statement calling for a “lasting bilateral ceasefire in Gaza,” which drew praise from the greater Los Angeles area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Lee, whose identity as a public servant was shaped largely by her opposition to the Iraq War during the presidency of George W. Bush, has more forcefully criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza. Citing the humanitarian toll taken on the Palestinians, the Oakland congresswoman has called for an immediate ceasefire.

Garvey, a former player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, has strongly supported Israel. His campaign website states that “Israel’s right to self-defense is paramount.”

“This conflict is not just complex; it’s about the fundamental security of a nation. I stand firmly in support of Israel and believe that any lasting peace solution hinges on this principle,” it adds. “This is an area where my view diverges sharply from those of my opponents.”

Garvey has raised $2.16 million per U.S. Federal Election Commission data, compared to $31.4 million for Schiff, $28 million for Porter and $5 million for Lee.

Adam Schiff
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) at the annual Lunar New Year Parade in Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2024. Photo by Malcolm Johnson/Schiff for Senate.

‘Combat this rising tide of antisemitism’

Among the three Democrats in the race, Schiff’s support for Israel appears to be the most unwavering, and he has even distanced himself from his party’s leader when it comes to the Jewish state.

When U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this month that Israel’s response in Gaza has been “over the top,” Schiff said in a debate he would not have phrased it that way.

“I certainly agree with the president that we have to do everything to reduce civilian casualties,” Schiff said during the debate. “I don’t know that I express it the way the president has. But I think he is right to try to bring about this negotiated deal, where we’ll have an extended pause, so we can get the hostages out and more aid in.”

“I want the Jewish community to know that I’m going to continue to defend Israel’s right to defend itself and to be the home for the Jewish people,” he told JNS.

Schiff added that he will continue to “do everything in my power to combat this rising tide of antisemitism.”

Jew-hatred after Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack has hit close to home for Schiff. A man spray-painted swastikas and other antisemitic symbols in November on the Conservative synagogue, Burbank Temple Emanu El, where Schiff’s daughter attended preschool.

Asked how he would address the unprecedented surge in Jew-hatred, Schiff cited his track record supporting resolutions condemning antisemitism on college campuses, as well as his role on a task force designed to combat antisemitism and strengthen the FBI and law enforcement.

Adam Schiff
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), holding his daughter when she was a baby, in front of a Chanukah menorah. Credit: Courtesy of Schiff for Senate.

Schiff has spoken on the campaign trail about his father, “who was in the shmatte business” and, he said, was able to support the family with his income alone. His campaign has largely been about addressing economic issues for California families, Schiff said.

He told JNS that he was raised in a house with Jewish values that informed his approach throughout his political career, as well as his service as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. “I was really raised with an ethic of tikkun olam,” he said, “of giving back, of service.”

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