Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Unmasked

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For more than two decades, we have followed the political career of Chris Van Hollen, the junior U.S. senator from Mayland. From 2003 to 2017, Van Hollen served as the representative for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District — home to the largest Jewish population in the state. Since 2017, he has represented the entire state of Maryland in the Senate.

Maryland is a blue state. And with only minor exceptions over the past several decades, Maryland has elected Democrats to federal public office. Van Hollen is a progressive Democrat, with political views that are largely reflective of his constituency. But on the issues about the state of Israel, the Hamas war and how or whether the United States should leverage its military, financial and political support for Israel, Van Hollen has taken a sharp left lurch in tone and substance that is largely inconsistent with the views of his constituency — and decidedly wrong.

Van Hollen has never been an “easy sell” on many issues of concern to the pro-Israel community. Although it was well known that Van Hollen would make advocates work hard for his support of Israel on legislative and administrative matters, he could largely be counted on to land on the pro-Israel side of most issues. That has changed.

Now, while mouthing the words of support for Israel’s right to defend herself, confirming the necessity of ridding the world of Hamas and others sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state and for Israel to do what is necessary to free the hostages held in Gaza, he vilifies Israel for taking steps to do those very things.

Since Oct. 7, we have seen an increasingly strident and confrontational tone in Van Hollen’s words as he has tried to convince the Biden administration to withhold new support or to condition already promised aid for Israel, accused Israel of “textbook war crimes” in Gaza by “deliberately withholding food for children,” labeled Israel’s leaders as “war criminals,” demeaned criticism of UNRWA and its documented relationship with Hamas, and sought to tie Israel’s hands in making judgments about how to prosecute its war effort in Gaza. In the process, Van Hollen has become one of the Senate’s most outspoken critics of Israel, its leadership and its war effort.

Van Hollen’s relentless attacks against Israel have been so offensive that they recently prompted an unprecedented public letter of reprimand from nearly 80 Maryland rabbis from across the state and denominational affiliations expressing deep concern about Van Hollen and his pronouncements. In the rabbis’ words, they are “aghast” at Van Hollen’s anti-Israel rhetoric.

There is much speculation about what it is that has driven Van Hollen to his self-righteous spewing of anti-Israel accusations and positions. We won’t join in that prognostication. But we know the ugly result and are deeply disappointed.

There was a time when we counted Van Hollen as a challenging but reliable friend of the Jewish community and the state of Israel. Those days are gone. We face the uncomfortable reality that Chris Van Hollen is not our friend.

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