Editor’s note: This story was first published on Oct. 31, 2023 at 10:15 a.m. It was updated on Oct. 31, 2023 at 3:38 p.m. to include comments from Heath Barnes.
As the Israel-Hamas war rages on overseas, constituents in Montgomery County are watching to see how elected officials and those seeking political office will respond.
MoCo360 sent a three-question survey regarding the Israel-Hamas war to candidates running for the Sixth Congressional District seat. Their responses are listed in alphabetical order.
Representatives for Geoffrey Grammer (D), Ashwani Jain (D) and Tekesha Martinez (D) did not respond to requests for comment. This story was already in production prior to Dan Cox’s (R) announcement Monday that he was also running for the seat; MoCo360 sent him these questions Tuesday and will update the story if and when he responds.
Neil Parrott (R) has only launched an exploratory campaign with the FEC and has not officially declared candidacy, but MoCo360 still sent him the questionnaire.
How do you think the country should respond to the crisis in Israel and Gaza?
Heath Barnes (R): I fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against any enemy that is trying to destroy them. The eradication of Hamas is long overdue. I believe America must stand with our ally in the Middle East to ensure they are victorious against this group that horrifically attacked them and against any other adversary that wants to see Israel destroyed. I can’t entirely agree with America’s advising of Israel to pull back as I believe Israel has stood and taken the attacks from Hamas for too long it is time to permanently correct it this time. I also stand firmly against Joe Biden’s decision to release $6 billion dollars in funds to Iran which is known to be a financer of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. As Ronald Reagan used the Peace through Strength method for America during his Presidency, I believe Israel should be practicing the same thing.
Chris Hyser (R): We, as a world power, must be measured. However we must take a firm stance/action against acts of terror, no matter who the perpetrators are. It’s important for countries and leaders to promote peace, dialogue and diplomacy to address the underlying issues and reduce tensions, on both sides. We must broker the long-awaited two-state solution.
Lesley Lopez (D): The Hamas attack against Israel was a brutal and horrific act of terrorism that cost thousands of innocent civilian lives. I have always believed Israel has a right to defend itself, and the actions of the last few weeks have only strengthened that belief. I agree with President [Joe] Biden’s unwavering commitment to Israel as they face unmatched threats. I also join with the President and others in calling for humanitarian aid for innocent Palestinians. We must minimize the loss of innocent lives and keep civilians out of harm’s way.
April McClain-Delaney (D): I strongly condemn the murderous, evil and unprovoked terrorists’ attacks by Hamas against Israel on the Jewish Sabbath. As a member of Congress, I will stand strongly with our great ally Israel, including its right to defend itself against acts of terrorism and support the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. I support President Biden’s effort to both ensure Israel is provided the aid it needs during this hard hour and his efforts to work to limit the harming of innocent civilians, particularly women and children, and the provision of humanitarian relief. I encourage the Congress to quickly act on an additional aid and assistance package for Israel. Foreign aid to support Israel’s missile defense system is directly saving lives and preventing an even larger escalation of conflict. I also strongly support the Congressional bipartisan letter signed by over a hundred members urging the Egyptian government to work with its allies in establishing safe zones in southern Gaza with humanitarian corridors that will assist civilians impacted by this conflict. Egypt needs to assume a leading role in assuring the safety and security of civilians–predominantly women and children–who are the most at risk. We must also support humanitarian efforts assisting these civilians.
Neil Parrott (R): The U.S. should provide a supportive role for Israel as we are doing. I don’t think, however, that we should be advising them to stall on their tactics. Now is the time for Israel to go after Hamas to try to eliminate them as a future credible threat. In addition, we should not negotiate with terrorists. In 1985 Ronald Reagan indicated, “America will never make concessions to terrorists–to do so would only invite more terrorism.” Freeing up $6 billion in frozen assets to go to Iran in order to free five prisoners was a colossal mistake, and simply emboldened enemies of the U.S. and Israel. One other point, the US needs to allow more drilling for oil in our own country and work to refill the oil reserves. By working toward becoming energy independence again, we will reduce the cost of oil. Since Iran relies on oil as its major export, this change would reduce the financial assets that Iran has to invest in terrorism.
Mariela Roca (R): I support President Biden’s strong and unequivocal support for Israel and its right to self-defense. As mentioned previously in my statements: Israelis are being killed, kidnapped, raped, and maimed by Hamas in this conflict that Hamas has started. Hamas purposely targets civilians with over 7,500 missiles and projectiles fired directly at civilian targets while continuously violating the Law of War by placing military activities in and next to hospitals, mosques, schools, and residences. The U.S. should adhere to the various signed security agreements made over at least the last six presidential administrations that require the U.S. to support Israel with logistical support, weapons, ammo, spare parts and intelligence when at war. Israel is now at war against these organizations that clearly directed a horrific surprise attack on its neighbor with the intent of slaughtering and torturing Jewish civilians of all ages to include infants. Israel is a democratic country and has established the rule of law for all its citizens, including Muslim citizens. Israel has always been a great ally to the U.S., and they have the right to exist. We must stand with Israel during this horrific attack on them.
Tom Royals (R): The United States, and all our institutions, should lead with absolute moral clarity in condemning terrorist violence and antisemitism in all circumstances. There is zero moral equivalence between the unimaginable savagery Hamas unleashed on innocent people and the right of the Israeli people to take decisive action to defend their safety. America needs to stand steadfast behind our ally Israel. As a former Naval Flight Officer and combat aviator who served on multiple deployments to the Middle East, I believe we also need to restore strength to American leadership in the region to prevent escalation and achieve peace. The weakness of the Biden Administration in coddling Iran after a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan emboldened America’s enemies, and the enemies of our allies. We need to return to a policy of maximum pressure on Iran and restore American leadership in the Middle East as a bulwark against terrorism.
Joel Rubin (D): Rubin forwarded an email statement he sent to his mailing list to MoCo360 to answer this question. It reads, in part: Given my experience working on national security and foreign affairs, specifically in Israel and the Middle East, I’ve also been providing commentary about this crisis to CNN, MSNBC and more … I stand by President Biden as he prioritizes supporting Israel’s defense in accordance with international law. Demonstrating our country’s solidarity with our ally by providing additional Iron Dome air missile defense systems and preventing escalation from Hezbollah and Iran, as he has done, is crucial to standing by our democratic ally in its time of need … We must address the grave humanitarian consequences of this war. I applaud President Biden’s decision to provide $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians and his prioritization of the release of the more than 200 hostages, including 13 Americans, taken by Hamas in contravention of international law and basic human decency.
Laurie-Anne Sayles (D): I stand with President Biden, whose response to this crisis has been exemplary. The United States should stand with our ally Israel as they respond to the unprecedented atrocities of Oct. 7. We should work with Israel to help them avoid civilian casualties as much as possible while achieving their mission of freeing the Palestinians and Israelites of Hamas.
Brenda Thiam (R): We must support Israel in this war and support that they have a right to defend themselves from the terrorists acts committed by Hamas. I stand firm in their resolve to defend their homeland by any means necessary. Innocent Palestinians deserve to also be protected from evilness of terrorists.
Joe Vogel (D): Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself against terror and attacks on Israeli civilians. The cycles of terror Hamas unleashes on Israeli civilians must come to an end. The Palestinian people deserve to live in freedom and prosperity. Israelis deserve to live in peace without being in constant fear of rocket attacks or terrorist infiltrations … The United States must reaffirm our commitment to Israel, while joining in the condemnation of Hamas’ attacks … Efforts to bolster American military presence in the region as a deterrence force has been of critical importance … The threat to Israel, and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is serious. We must immediately provide monetary support to provide Israel with funding to continue securing its civilians, while providing direct emergency humanitarian needs to the Palestinian people in Gaza. Now that Congress has elected a Speaker, my hope is they will move swiftly to pass a security funding package and humanitarian aid package to deploy resources to the region immediately. In the long term, the United States must continue being the leading promoter of stability and peace in the Middle East. This requires moving all parties in the direction of a lasting two-state solution.
Destiny Drake West (D): I think we, as a nation, has a responsibility to respond to the crisis by offering support to one of our strongest allies in the region (Israel) and offering material support to protect its people from harm. The assault on the lives of innocent children and families in Palestine at the hands of Hamas is grotesque; it should shock the conscience of every peace-loving, decent human being on earth and be condemned. In Israel’s right to defend itself, innocent Palestinian families will undoubtedly be unintentionally hurt in these strikes on Hamas. We need to be equally concerned with preserving as many innocent lives as possible and maintaining the flow of food, water and services to these families as much and as fast as possible. I urge peace in the region and pray for a swift resolution. I also urge, without delay, for the immediate and safe return of all hostages to their families. As we enter the 19th day of this crisis, we should also be very clear-eyed in that any military response will be further devastating and destructive to the region; any action taken by us should be strategic and heedful that the toll war bears on innocent civilians on both sides is dreadfully heavy.
How do you plan on supporting constituents with family and connections in Israel and Palestine?
Heath Barnes (R): I have and will continue to actively speak with our Jewish communities in this district to support them and their fears. As Burgess (Mayor) of the town of Woodsboro, I have actively reached out to the known Jewish families in this area to offer support. We must focus on trying to bring the hostages home safely. As someone who has several Jewish friends, I do understand the fear of where they are coming from. I find it reprehensible the statements and actions that Congresswomen Rashida Talib and Ilhan Omar have said and made against Israel and Congress should hold them accountable for their actions.
Chris Hyser (R): Supporting constituents with family and connections in Israel and Palestine may involve providing consular assistance, advocating for peace efforts and using all available means to secure and repatriate those stranded in either country, ensuring their safety and well-being.
Lesley Lopez (D): As a two-term delegate, I have extensive experience providing constituent services and helping to navigate government services, especially during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. The pain and anxiety that many in our communities feel is tremendous, whether they have loved ones in danger or feel targeted due to their faith. Much of the news and images coming out of the crisis are tragic, and it is important that our community members know they aren’t alone.
April McClain Delaney (D): We must continue to do everything we can to get all the hostages held by the Hamas terrorist organization released and home safely. Congressional constituent work entails understanding the whereabouts and welfare of those in the region and directly communicating with the Administration, our State Department and other relevant NGOs and international bodies involved in these issues – this work includes helping to get hostages released and working to ensure the safe passage of innocent civilians out of Gaza. The dramatic rise in antisemitism is incredibly concerning – particularly the hateful anti-Israel rhetoric coming from many college campuses. We must be clear, unequivocal and forceful in condemning antisemitism, and collectively work to ensure that this horrific conflict overseas does not have further spillage here at home in the form of antisemitism or Islamophobia. Constituent work includes convening community stakeholders to foster dialogue, cultivate tolerance and build solutions to address the underlying issues (which are being fueled by anger, rhetoric and mistrust)
Neil Parrott (R): Declined to answer, saying the question was better for a sitting elected official to answer.
Mariela Roca (R): There is little I can do right now as a candidate for office but to offer my understanding, concern and prayers for families and friends affected by this tragic situation – any war has victims and suffering, and I pray that this war ends soon. That said, if I was in office and elected at this moment my staff and I would be working hard to acquire critical info about loved ones in the region and working with the State Department to facilitate other needs such as visas and travel back home.
Tom Royals (R): I would like to speak directly to our Jewish community here in Maryland, many of whom may feel fear, worry or horror at the unacceptable rise of antisemitism on display in our country and around the world, to let you know that I, and millions of people of good will, unequivocally stand with you. I am committed to ensuring you feel safe and heard, to reversing the tide of extremism, and to ensuring leaders at all levels are held accountable to condemn antisemitism wherever it appears. Just this past weekend, I participated in a Stand with Israel rally in Frederick, with Marylanders from every background, to show solidarity and support for the people of Israel, and to pray for the families of those murdered by Hamas terrorists in cold blood. I have also called out instances where I believe leaders of our institutions have failed to meet this moment. As a father and a veteran, I found the statement issued by the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, Dr. Monifa B. McKnight, following the Hamas terrorist attacks to be an indefensible failure to meet the moment to condemn terrorism and reassure Jewish families in one of our communities right here in Maryland’s Sixth District. As a graduate of the University of Virginia (UVA) Darden School of Business, I also condemned a morally repugnant statement from a UVA student group regarding the Hamas terrorist attacks on innocent Israeli civilians. I called on the president of the university to join me in condemning the statement that expressed support for the brutal murder and rape of innocent civilians.
Joel Rubin (D): I will be an active supporter of constituents who have family and connections in Israel and Palestine. As a former State Department official and former Obama appointee, I have deep contacts inside the agency and with the Biden Administration’s leadership. I will use these networks and platforms to aggressively advocate for the safety of our constituents’ families. And as a former elected local government official, I have a track record of being responsive to the needs of constituents, and am available now to be of service. People can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if they need assistance with getting a response from the State Department to help their family members or personal connections.
Laurie-Anne Sayles (D): What we can do as local elected officials is to stand with them against hatred, advocate for them, and partner with the federal government to ensure open lines of communication.
Brenda Thiam (R): The same way I would support all of my fellow constituents. We must implement wise policy, such as support the Abraham Accords and seek efforts to encourage peace in the middle east. We must also cease to give anymore taxpayer money to Iran and sanction Iran’s proxies for their years of funding terrorism.
Joe Vogel (D): My priority, first and foremost, is to the safety and security of my constituents. That is why I have been engaged with community professionals and law enforcement officials to ensure our local Jewish community and Muslim community are safe amid escalating violence. We must say clearly that there is no room for hate and violence targeting Palestinians or Jews. Our consular services abroad must continue to actively support American citizens who are currently in Israel and Gaza, and provide them with options to return to the United States.
Destiny Drake West (D): First, I am praying for those who have families in both countries. I imagine that it is impossible to rest or even think knowing your loved ones are in harm’s way. I will revamp my efforts in the community to continue offering my assistance, standing up for the voiceless and for what’s right, and collaborating with as many support groups as I can to help families experiencing uncertainty and trauma due to the ongoing crisis. I pledge my support to the millions of Palestinians trapped under Hamas’ evil grip and the millions of Jews who have been terrorized by hateful, depraved organizations that don’t recognize their right to exist.
How are you prepared to prevent and respond to hate crimes against the Jewish and Muslim communities in the area?
Heath Barnes (R): Antisemitism has no place in America and for sure not in our elected officials. We should not only be speaking out against all forms of hate, but we should be doing something about it. I would also be in support of pulling funding for publicly funded universities that are advocating antisemitic hate groups on their campuses. We must support peace initiatives in the Middle East such as between Israel and Saudi Arabia and immediately freeze the funding to Iran. As a leader in my community, I will immediately act against hate in any form against my constituents in the district just like I have done as Mayor of Woodsboro in the past.
Chris Hyser (R): Preventing and responding to hate crimes against the Jewish and Muslim communities is crucial. To address this, a comprehensive strategy should be implemented, which includes proactive law enforcement measures, increased patrols around these communities, static police at all synagogues and mosques, community outreach programs, and educational initiatives aimed at fostering tolerance and promoting interfaith understanding among diverse religious and ethnic groups.
Lesley Lopez (D): I strongly condemn recent acts of antisemitism and stand against the rise of islamophobia in this country. My great uncle, Colonel Curtis L. Williams, was a lead interrogator in the office of the U.S. Chief of Counsel for the International Military Tribunal in Paris and Nuremberg. His files, which my family donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, show a commitment to fighting the brutality of antisemitism, and I carry this legacy proudly and take this commitment seriously. To honor this heritage, as a Delegate in Maryland’s General Assembly, I authored successful anti-hate crime legislation that has increased training for law enforcement to better understand and prevent hate crimes and hate speech, as well as served on a legislative workgroup convened to address swatting, which is an increasingly frequent hate crime in our state. Outside of legislation, I have a track record of hosting events to show support and unity for targeted communities, such as the rash of anti-Asian hate crimes we saw recently. In Congress I will continue this work so that all Marylanders feel safe and protected.
April McClain Delaney (D): I will be unwavering in efforts to protect people from hate crimes and unrelenting in our commitment to prosecute hate crimes. No member of our community should live in fear of a hate crime. Maryland is home to many incredible Jewish and Palestinian families, and as stated above, we need further convenings and dialogues with multiple stakeholders to remind each other of our shared humanity. When social media is weaponized to cultivate hate and incite violence, discrimination and hate crimes against ethnic and religious minorities can result. In fact, last week New York Attorney General Letitia James urged social media platforms to crack down on hate speech and threats associated with the Hamas attacks and stated that some tech companies seemed unprepared for the wave of terror propaganda that is spreading across messaging apps and platforms. I agree with her call to make social media companies “purveyors of peace instead of conduits for combat.” These platforms should have a responsibility to help keep users’ safe and prohibit the spread of violent rhetoric that endangers vulnerable groups (which can originate from bad actors both here and abroad). We can do better.
Neil Parrott (R): Declined to answer, saying the question was better for a sitting elected official to answer.
Mariela Roca (R): I condemn all hate crimes and want vigorous enforcement of the law. Synagogues and Mosques must be protected, and we must condemn bigotry; especially the increase in hate crimes and intimidation we are seeing being directed at Jewish communities and Jewish students on college campuses across this country and the world. Accurate information and education about the real history of this conflict is necessary and I strongly support a focus on attacking the disinformation about Israel. Unfortunately, deniers of the Holocaust are no different than those spinning disinformation about this conflict.
Tom Royals (R): Any act of hate that is religiously or ethnically motivated should be immediately, and unequivocally, condemned — and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We cannot afford to coddle ignorant and dangerous views with silence.
Joel Rubin (D): I took a leadership role as a Town Council Member in Chevy Chase at combating hate crime activity in the area, particularly when we had neo-Nazi and KKK fliers left in front of community neighbors’ homes. And as a father of three teenage daughters in the public schools of mixed Jewish-Buddhist background, I understand the pressures that our communities are facing regarding hate and intolerance, all the way into the school system. I will never allow hate speech to take over our community and will be — as well as have been — a strong voice for inclusion, peace, and tolerance in our communities.
Laurie-Anne Sayles (D): As an elected official, it is up to me to use the bully pulpit afforded to me by the voters to reject all forms of hate and prejudice, regardless of whether it is the antisemitism we have seen so much of in the past several years here in Montgomery County or to stand up to anyone who feels that the tragedy of the terror attacks in Israel is an excuse to attack and harass Muslim communities here in Montgomery County. I’m grateful to work for a local government that has allocated resources and provided security measures to protect our Jewish and Muslim residents from hate, violence, and intimidation.
Brenda Thiam (R): I’m against hate crimes that occur against all Americans. Hate crimes have no place in our culture and will not be tolerated. We must condemn and speak against hate crimes that occur against any culture of people. We’re all Americans and those who commit hate crimes must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Joe Vogel (D): We are seeing a devastating surge in antisemitism and islamophobia in recent weeks. In Montgomery County alone, we’ve repeatedly seen swastikas and other hateful messages graffitied in public areas, and across the country we have seen escalating violence targeting the Jewish and Muslim communities.In high schools and on our college campuses, we are seeing very concerning patterns of antisemitism. This is inexcusable and I have been outspoken in condemning this behavior. As a State Delegate I was the lead sponsor behind legislation to fully fund an Assistant Attorney General role dedicated to hate crime response in the Office of the Attorney General, and to establish a Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention. The commission has convened state agencies, community leaders and nonprofit organizations, including organizations representing the Jewish and Arab American communities, to develop strategies to prevent and respond to hate crime activity and evaluate state laws and policies relating to hate crimes. I will continue spearheading these efforts in the legislative session ahead.
Destiny Drake West (D): As a non-elected official, I implore everyone to remain peaceful. Antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate has no place in our discourse or our lives. Now, at this very volatile time, I ask that we all consider each other as human beings made in God’s love and love. I urge police departments nationwide to step up its efforts in securing the many Jewish and Muslim religious institutions that so many people frequent. I ask that our intelligence agencies and Justice Department be vigilant and proactive to head off any potential threat to the peaceful people in this area.
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