“Profoundly disappointed” by his alma mater, Harvard University, Senator John Fetterman removed the crimson hood from his robe while delivering his Yeshiva University commencement address. (Screen grab via @safier/X)

‘There’s Nothing Brave About What I’m Doing.’ John Fetterman Stands with Israel.

Before delivering the commencement address at Yeshiva University, Israel’s ‘single greatest friend’ in Washington spoke to The Free Press.

At its graduation Wednesday, Yeshiva University—America’s “flagship Jewish university,” as its president, Rabbi Ari Berman, put it—honored Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman with its Presidential Medal for Global Leadership for his support of Israel.

Like the other administrators at Louis Armstrong Stadium in Flushing, Queens, Fetterman arrived at the ceremony wearing a black gown and a sash in the colors of his alma mater. In Fetterman’s case, that was crimson; he studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

He did not leave with it on.

Halfway through his brief remarks to the roughly 5,000 graduates, family members, and faculty in attendance, Fetterman said he was “profoundly disappointed” by “Harvard’s inability to stand up for the Jewish community after October 7. And for me, personally, I do not fundamentally believe that it’s right for me to wear this today.”

At which point the senator stripped the sash from his neck, prompting loud cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.

Since Hamas invaded Israel, killing 1,200 and kidnapping some 250, the Democrat from Pennsylvania has stood apart from his party in his backing of the Jewish state. While progressive Democrats have condemned Israel at every step of Israel’s war against Hamas, Fetterman has blazed the least popular path with young, left-wing voters. 

Yeshiva president Berman called Fetterman Israel’s “single greatest friend” in Washington.

When we spoke before the ceremony, I asked Fetterman, who is not Jewish, why he had made Israel his cause at the same time progressives, including many who worked on his 2022 campaign, were abandoning it. 

“There’s nothing brave about what I’m doing,” Fetterman told me. “It’s actually been very easy, for lack of a better word, because of what they did on October 7.”

He added: “I’m not a soldier in Gaza. I’m not an innocent Palestinian caught in the middle of this. I’m just a senator, and I have my position and my voice, and that’s just been with Israel.”

Asked about Joe Biden’s apparent flip-flopping on the issue, providing Israel with weapons while threatening the country with an arms embargo, Fetterman admitted the president is in “a really tough situation.”

But, he said: “I do believe that the president is a strong ally of Israel.” He added that when push comes to shove, he believes Biden will come through. 

“I would just reference Lincoln when he was looking at reelection and the Civil War was going badly, and everybody thought that he was going to lose, and people were saying, ‘Well, you gotta negotiate with the South, and he’s like, ‘I can’t do that. This is the side that I believe in.’ ”

Peter Savodnik is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Read his piece “The Kids vs. the Empire,” and follow him on X @petersavodnik.

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