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‘Get the hostages freed, crush Hamas,’ Gottheimer tells Qatar, Egypt

“I believe we should be leading every discussion with two major factors: Americans were killed and Americans remain hostage,” the N.J. congressman told JNS.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) speaks during the annual Jerusalem Post conference at Gotham Hall on Sept. 12, 2022. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) speaks during the annual Jerusalem Post conference at Gotham Hall on Sept. 12, 2022. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) returned on April 5 from a House Select Committee on Intelligence trip to Qatar and Egypt, where he met with lead negotiators and the U.S. embassy teams that are working on a ceasefire-for-hostages deal between Israel and Hamas.

The staunchly pro-Israel congressman told JNS that he aimed to pressure Qatar and Egypt to achieve a breakthrough in negotiations, in the face of repeated Hamas rejections. 

“My attention was very focused on figuring out how to get the hostages freed, crush Hamas and get them to stop firing rockets into Israel, get humanitarian aid into the region and also get to this temporary pause,” Gottheimer said. “Both sides are going to have to give something in order to get an agreement.”

Qatar’s role as a mediator has been controversial given that Hamas’s political leadership is headquartered in Doha and that the gas-rich monarchy provided hundreds of millions of dollars in cash injections to the Gaza Strip, effectively funding Hamas. 

The Qatari Embassy in Washington denied that characterization in recent days, saying that it transferred the money, with the coordination and support of Israel and the United States, for humanitarian purposes.

Shortly after Oct. 7, Gottheimer led 109 of his House colleagues in a letter calling on the Biden administration to urge Qatar to expel Hamas’s leadership and cease funding the terror group. On Tuesday, Gottheimer told JNS that, for now, Qatar remains a key player in securing the release of the hostages.

“I’ve historically been tough on the Qataris and put a lot of public pressure on them, given that the political leadership of Hamas is in Qatar,” he said. “Obviously, they along with the Egyptians right now are the go-between between Israel, the United States and the other parties.”

Gottheimer is one of the most vocal and active pro-Israel Democrats in Congress, at a time when many Democratic party leaders, including those who describe themselves as Israel supporters, have become increasingly critical of the Jewish state. 

In March, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right-wing as “obstacles to peace,” alongside Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. 

On Friday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signed a letter, along with 39 House Democrats including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), calling on the Biden administration to halt arms transfers to Israel.

The Biden administration has sent mixed signals. On the one hand, it has said that “U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action” on demands that U.S. President Joe Biden conveyed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call Thursday. But it has also continued to approve arms transfers to the Israeli military without conditions.

Gottheimer told JNS that he strongly disagrees with Democrats who want to condition U.S. aid to Israel.

“I think all that does is actually empower Hamas and sends the signal to Hamas that America does not stand up to terrorists and stand by our allies,” he said. “I think it hurts the process toward a temporary pause and freeing of the hostages. I think it’s a mistake.” 

“I believe this is still a very small voice in the party—a loud but small voice,” he added. “You’re gonna have people in pockets of the party that we disagree with.”

‘These are our enemies’

Six months after Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Oct. 7, Gottheimer said not enough attention is paid in the United States to the terror group’s threat to Americans.

“I believe we should be leading every discussion with two major factors,” he said. “Americans were killed and Americans remain hostage, and Hamas and other Iranian proxies like them hate America as much or more than they hate Israel.”

“As Hamas uses innocent Palestinians as human shields, we see Iranian proxies going after our bases. They’ve killed Americans. They are disrupting the commercial activity in the Red Sea but also firing on our ships,” he added. “Their proxies in Iraq and Syria, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis—these are our enemies, not just Israel’s enemies.”

What Hamas is doing to the hostages and the crimes that it has committed have to remain at the center of the discussion, according to Gottheimer.

“The emotionally exhausting reality is that this has been going on for six months, which as a reminder means that these hostages, including Americans, including my constituent, Edan Alexander, has been a hostage for six months, with no access to the Red Cross, with no updates,” he said.

“We know that women have been sexually assaulted and abused,” he added. “It’s up to us to constantly remind people what’s at stake here, what the reality of facts are.”

Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and “mutilated and beheaded and sexually assaulted and raped and burned alive babies and took them out of wombs,” the congressman said.

“Let’s not lose sight of how this all started and the fact that they have hostages,” he added. “They are committing a war crime by keeping these hostages. They could today surrender and free the hostages if they wanted to.”

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