U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

October 14, 2023

Modern Day Pogrom

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

My grandparents came to the United States in 1902 from Lithuania. It was a violent time in that part of the world. Starting in 1881, there were a series of attacks against Jews across Russia and Eastern Europe. These were not minor skirmishes amongst neighbors, but what became known as pogroms – “an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jewish people.”  (Thank you, Oxford Dictionary).

From 1881-1921, attacks on Jews were particularly savage as the deadly pogroms spread with the tacit support or official neutrality of local authorities. Members of my family were part of what would become waves of Jews fleeing danger and looking for refuge in America. The bloody and destructive pogroms, and the growing Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe, were only a prelude to what would come next: the Holocaust. 

Auschwitz, Birkenau and other concentration camps were liberated about 15 months after I was born. Too young to remember headlines, as I grew up, I heard harrowing stories of life and death firsthand from survivors. These were powerful stories of humanity at its worst and best, which were imprinted on me and a generation of Jews. 

For nearly 80 years, since the end of World War II, our nation and the world has repeated the mantra “Never Again.” Never again would we allow Jews or any other people to be targeted for genocide. Never again would we tolerate ethnic or racial cleansing. Never again. 

Regretfully, the world has never fully been able to keep its word. Mass atrocities targeting a particular religious or ethnic group have been committed in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Mali, Iraq, China, Armenia and many more countries. But until last weekend, while Jews have persistently been attacked in Israel and around the globe, there had never been a terror attack of this large a scale specifically targeting Jewish civilians since the Holocaust. The brutality has been breathtaking. 

Over 1,300 Israelis and others, including Americans, were slaughtered by terrorists who crossed the border into southern Israel on trucks, motorcycles and even gliders while thousands of rockets whooshed overhead as a distraction. Thousands more were injured. Young people enjoying a music festival. Grandparents and babies. Mothers and children. We have not seen this kind of atrocity since the early days of the ISIS caliphate. 

Intentionally targeting civilians is an attack against humanity and that is what Hamas committed. It was a modern day pogrom. 

For the Israelis, and the Jewish community around the world, the immense loss has been horrific and deeply personal. October 7 will be remembered as the deadliest day in Israel’s history. 

Tragically, we must not only mourn the dead who were left behind by Hamas’ terror attack, but we must try to rescue the hostages that Hamas dragged back to Gaza — Americans included. And, of course, Hamas, long recognized as a terrorist organization, must be stopped. 

Israel is not alone in this fight. The United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the State of Israel. Our two countries share an iron-clad, historic bond based on common values. Since Israel’s creation in 1948, the relationship between our two nations has only gotten stronger and deeper. 

Despite the pain that many of us feel from these barbaric attacks—and will continue to feel— now is the time for us to show our support for Israel. Not just in our words, but in our deeds.

In Congress, as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am rallying colleagues behind a bipartisan resolution of support and legislation to provide Israel with supplemental resources, as well as expedite the confirmation of our U.S. ambassador. 

The Biden-Harris administration has been working around the clock to help Israel and make sure it has everything it needs to defend its people. Together, with the presidents of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, President Joe Biden issued a joint statement expressing “steadfast and united support to the State of Israel, and our unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.” They added: “We make clear that the terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned. There is never any justification for terrorism … Our countries will support Israel in its efforts to defend itself and its people against such atrocities.”

I’d like to emphasize one point: There is never justification for terrorism. For those who would like to draw an equivalence between Israel’s security operations and the Hamas terror attack, there is no equivalence here. 

Israel is acting to protect its own basic security, as any other country in the world would do if it were attacked. This is not an easy time, however.

As someone who has worked my entire career to protect and uphold human rights, I understand the concerns about the safety and welfare of Palestinians. I am truly concerned about the safety and welfare of the Palestinians. 

Who doesn’t care about the safety and welfare of millions of Palestinians? Hamas. The best thing we could do for the Palestinians in Gaza, is to make sure Hamas can never do this again. Hamas doesn’t care about the safety and security of Palestinians — the terrorists have been using Palestinians as human shields for nearly two decades.

Most Palestinians want no part of what Hamas is doing, and I believe we must find a way to grant safe passage to those residents of Gaza who are trying to get out. 

Finally, as we look to the future, we must not allow this conflict to derail the normalization process that has been in the works between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This would be an absolute game-changer and Hamas knows it. A stable and prosperous Middle East that includes a stable and prosperous Palestinian state is one of the best ways to undercut Iran’s resistance ideology and Hamas’s goal of destroying Israel. 

Make no mistake; this is an uneasy time for the world. It will take time to unpack exactly how Hamas was able to pull off such a surprise terror attack of an unprecedented scale. There are no winners in the aftermath of terror and war; we work toward stability and peace. And we mourn the loss of innocent life. 

This has been a life-changing week for the worst imaginable reasons. Perhaps, like me, you can relate to the anguish expressed by Avi Mayer, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post and a University of Maryland alum: “Without the frenetic activity … I may actually be left alone with my thoughts, with the first-person accounts I’ve read, and with the images I’ve seen and can’t unsee. And I don’t know what I’m going to do when it hits me.”

I welcome your thoughts on this and any other topic. Please reply to this email or use my website to send me your reflections and concerns. 


Ben Cardin