From left: Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Katie Porter and former L.A. Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey share the stage at a California senatorial campaign debate, Jan. 22, 2023. (Screenshot/FOX 11)
From left: Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Katie Porter and former L.A. Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey share the stage at a California senatorial campaign debate, Jan. 22, 2023. (Screenshot/FOX 11)

What California’s Senate candidates said about Israel and Gaza in their first debate

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Voters may have a hard time choosing among the three veteran House members vying to win the seat held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died in September.

All three —Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff — have been described as progressive Democrats and have staked out similar positions on health care, the economy and housing. But debating for the first time Monday, they showed some distinct differences — on Israel.

They shared the stage at the University of Southern California with a fourth candidate, retired Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey, who is running in deep blue California as a self-described moderate Republican.

FOX 11 Los Angeles anchor Elex Michaelson, who co-moderated the debate with Politico’s Melanie Mason, asked each candidate for their views on the Israel-Hamas war, which began after the terror group attacked on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking 240 hostage. More than 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the conflict.

Outside the debate, scores protested in favor of a cease-fire.

Each of the candidates was also asked about campus antisemitism, which the Anti-Defamation League says has spiked in the months since Oct. 7.

Voters go to the polls on March 5. The top two vote-getters, no matter their party, will face off on Election Day.

Here is what the candidates said.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Lee, who voted in 2019 against condemning the BDS movement, and who backed a permanent cease-fire on Oct. 8, was asked what, if there were a cease-fire, would prevent Hamas from rearming and launching another attack

“The only way Israel is going to be secure is through a permanent cease-fire,” said Lee, who condemned the “horrific” attack. “The only way that is going to happen is with a political and diplomatic solution.”

She called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and said the current conflict “could spiral out of control.”

She later criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Our government’s policy is to support a two-state solution. And Benjamin Netanyahu has totally said no, that that is not possible.”

On campus antisemitism Lee said, “Hate speech can lead to hate violence. So antisemitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, hate against the LGBTQ+ community, as a Black woman, I know what hate is.”

Adam Schiff

Schiff, from Burbank, has positioned himself as a firm supporter of Israel, and rejected calls for a cease-fire. 

He said Hamas’ rape, torture and murder of Israeli civilians “is still shocking to me.”

“No country after having been attacked by terrorists like Israel on Oct. 7 could refuse to defend itself,” Schiff said. “It has a duty to defend itself and I think the United States should support Israel in defending itself.”

He said the U.S. should work with Israel to reduce casualties in Gaza and that “my heart breaks for all the Palestinians who have lost life.”

Schiff said he supports a two-state solution to the conflict and that Hamas can’t be left to govern Gaza, and notes that it still holds more than 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.

Addressing antisemitism on campus, Schiff said he has been the target of antisemitism. “People have posted on my social media things like ‘I hope you go back to Auschwitz with your family.’ What’s happening on college campuses I think is terrifying. Students don’t feel safe.”

Katie Porter

Porter, who originally sided with President Joe Biden in refusing to call for a cease-fire, changed her position last month, calling for a “bilateral” ceasefire. Michaelson asked if she was trying to please all sides.

Porter said she mourns the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives, and that “conditions on the ground in Gaza have changed as the conflict has evolved.”

“I’ve pushed and identified with specificity what needs to happen to bring the people of Gaza to a better future and to make sure that Israel can stay secure.” She said that means a release of all hostages, resources for Gaza to rebuild and an independent Palestinian state.

“Cease-fire is not a magic word — you can’t say it and make it so,” she added. But it’s necessary “to avoid another ‘forever war.’”

On campus antisemitism, she said, “Campuses should be places of debate, but they should never be places of hate.” 

Steve Garvey

The former first baseman called Israel “one of our greatest allies” and said that Hamas had “performed atrocities” on Oct. 7.

“With common sense and compassion, we realize that we have to give Israel the opportunity to fulfill their sovereignty to fight back,” he said.

The day after 9/11, if “one of our allies came to us and said we want you to cease fire, what would we have done?” he said. 

On campus antisemitism, he said: “We have to start getting back toward what really matters, which is faith, and belief in each other” and that campus leaders are “supposed to stand for a unilateral commitment to equality.”

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Louis Keene
Louis Keene

Louis Keene is a staff reporter at the Forward. He can be reached at or on Twitter @thislouis.