LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of protesters gathered on the campus of the University of Southern California Monday night to demand candidates for California's Senate seat call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The protest took place during the first televised debate between the four top candidates for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by Dianne Feinstein.
Students, including many Jewish students, rallied outside USC's Bovard Auditorium with signs featuring phrases like "Your constituents are calling: ceasefire," "Jews against genocide" and more. Protesters said the demonstration was meant to draw "attention to the massive disparity between voter opinion about the genocide in Gaza and the positions of their elected representatives."
While the protest went on outside, Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, and Republican candidate Steve Garvey were on the debate stage, discussing the biggest issues facing California voters in the upcoming election. The topic of a potential ceasefire in Gaza was one of the more divisive topics the candidates debated Monday night.
Lee called for a ceasefire in Gaza on Oct. 8, just one day after Hamas' attack, and said Monday that "Israel deserves to live in peace with security, free from Hamas and all terrorist attacks," but added that "this war in Gaza that has killed 25,000 people. That is counterproductive to Israel's security."
"The only way Israel is going to be secure is through a permanent ceasefire," Lee said. "The only way that is going to happen is with a political and diplomatic solution, the path to peace and to a secure Israel and a secure state for the Palestinians. Yes, I do believe we have to see the endgame, and it should be a two-state solution. Killing 25,000 civilians — it's catastrophic, and it will never lead to peace for the Israelis nor the Palestinians."
Porter called the conflict "a very difficult situation," but said that she's also called for a permanent ceasefire. Porter said that getting to that point, though, will take time.
"'Ceasefire' is not a magic word," Porter said. "You can't say it and make it so. But we have to push, as the United States, as a world leader, for us to get to a ceasefire and to avoid another forever war like this."
Schiff hadn't previously made declarations for a ceasefire. On Monday, he clarified his position, saying that after the Oct. 7 attack, Israel, "has a duty to defend itself. And I think the United States should support Israel in defending itself."
Schiff went on to say though that he "grieves" the loss of Palestinian civilians, and hopes for a two-state solution.
"We have to get back to a road to a two-state solution," Schiff said. "But Israel has to defend itself. We can't leave Hamas governing Gaza. They are still holding over 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."
Garvey echoed Schiff's opinion regarding Israel's right to fight back against Hamas, and said he stands "with Israel yesterday, today and tomorrow, for whatever their needs are."
"I think it's naive to think that we can ask our government to tell them or try to influence them to ceasefire," Garvey said. "If 9/11 became 9/12, and one of our allies came to us and said, ‘We want you to ceasefire,’ what would we have done? We would have looked at them like, ‘Thank you for being our ally, but we must control our destiny and our sovereignty.’"
Regardless of where the candidates stand on the issue, cries from demonstrators outside demanded them to "pick a side: human rights or genocide."
Watch the full debate by tapping or clicking here.