Republicans and one Democrat join ‘A Day for Israel’ at the Roundhouse

Protesters note lack of Palestinian voices at event held in New Mexico State Capitol

By: - February 8, 2024 3:01 am

Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) said he met Santa Fe Jewish Center Rabbi Berel Levertov “a couple of months ago” but they are now very good friends. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

On the 123rd day of the War in Gaza, anti-Zionist protesters rallied outside the New Mexico State Capitol at noon as they have every Wednesday since shortly after the war started.

At the same time, a group of New Mexico state lawmakers gathered to express their support for Israel and Zionism.

Gathered in the Rotunda, they prayed for the Israeli hostages held in Gaza, sang songs and heard via Zoom from an Israeli soldier and a recorded message from a deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Sens. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) and David Gallegos (R-Eunice) along with Rep. Rod Montoya (R-Farmington) invited the Santa Fe Jewish Center to the event, billed as “A Day for Israel.”

Santa Fe Jewish Center Rabbi Berel Levertov said the event marked “exactly four months since the horrific attacks on the Holy Land of Israel on October 7.” He condemned the protesters outside.

“There are calls, unfortunately, to annihilate Israel,” Levertov said. “We see that outside here, unfortunately, as well. They are calling into question the legitimacy of the Jewish people’s bond to the Holy Land in Israel. To them we say: You will not succeed.”

He then said in Hebrew, and then in English: “The nation of Israel is eternal.”

Reps. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) and John Block (R-Alamogordo) attended but did not speak. Gallegos sent invitations but did not attend.

On Tuesday, Brandt stood up on the Senate floor to promote the event as bipartisan.

“I hope everyone, on both sides of the aisle will feel comfortable to come up,” Brandt said. “We’ll introduce you, we’ll make sure that everyone knows you’re there. Because this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and never was intended to be. We should be able to stand, in a nonpartisan way, against terrorism in our world.”

In the Rotunda on Wednesday, Brandt cited an outdated figure for the number of people killed on Oct. 7, saying it was “the worst loss of life since the Holocaust.” Israel previously revised the death toll to 1,139, including 695 Israeli civilians and 373 security forces.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) said as a Jewish person, it is important for him to say, “Israel does have a right to exist.”

“Israel is a democracy, which is a wonderful thing, so I support the State of Israel,” Steinborn said. “I also want to say, I support human rights, it’s a universal condition. It’s not just for Jews, it’s also for Muslims, it’s also for Palestinians.”

Samayya Cabré, one of the anti-Zionist protesters outside, said she wishes the Oct. 7 attack never happened, but it does not justify killing innocent children in Gaza.

“We’re against war crimes of any kind to any people,” Cabré said. “October 6 and anything before is never mentioned, and October 8 and forward is never mentioned. They stay stuck on October 7.”

Her 15-year-old son, Naeem Cabré Abu Nada, is Palestinian and has lost eight members of his family to the Israeli military since Oct. 7.

Roberto Roibal, with the Santa Fe Ad Hoc Committee for Palestine, attended the Rotunda event and said it was excruciating to listen. He and Cabré noted there were no Palestinians invited to speak.

“They were saying that they were glad that the people of New Mexico and the state Legislature supports Israel, which is not true,” Roibal said. “We are out here. The majority of people in this country oppose the Israeli genocide.”

Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) was the sole Democratic lawmaker to attend “A Day for Israel” inside the New Mexico Capitol on Jan. 7, 2024. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Only one side’s hostages mentioned

Brandt said he and the others gathered in the Rotunda were there to stand with the State of Israel, “and her right to defend herself.”

Steinborn’s remarks also focused on the Oct. 7 attack.

“At this moment, there are still hostages being held, there are still Americans being held,” Steinborn said. “I call on the International Red Cross to check on the status of these hostages. That needs to happen like, yesterday.”

The organizers displayed photos of Israeli hostages who were taken from southern Israel into Gaza on Oct. 7, 2023.

Levertov gave Steinborn a pin which according to Levertov reads in Hebrew: “Our hearts are held captive in Gaza.”

At least 30 of the remaining 136 hostages in Gaza are dead, according to Israeli intelligence sources cited by the New York Times.

None of the speakers in the Rotunda mentioned the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

In the negotiations around a possible truce, Hamas has said it wants Israel to release about 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israelis taken on Oct. 7. Al Jazeera reports that as of Oct. 8, 2023 there were about 5,200 Palestinians in Israeli jails, 1,264 of whom are held without charge or trial.

“We want hostages to be freed, and we also want Palestinian prisoners who are being held without conviction, and children being held to be freed,” Cabré said.

The ‘Hunt for Hamas’ narrative

Steinborn said he wishes Gaza would “be liberated from Hamas, and they could get a democracy in Gaza.”

Steinborn described Hamas as “a fundamentalist group that does not want peace with Israel.”

“We need to understand, Hamas needs to go,” Steinborn said. “We need to look to a time when we can make peace between these peoples.”

Cabré said it is Israel — not Hamas — that is occupying Gaza and harming its people.

“They’re starving them to death, they’ve taken their water, they’ve bombed their homes, they bomb places they say are safe, they bomb places where Hamas is not,” she said. “Children did not vote for Hamas.”

Roibal and Cabré said Israeli officials and their supporters are not making any distinction between Hamas fighters and civilians in Gaza.

“This is not a war, this is not how war happens,” Cabré said. “This is against children. It’s a genocide against Palestinians, to wipe them out.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.