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Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday he supports President Biden’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza, citing the “ongoing and horrific loss of innocent civilian life.”

“I support President Biden’s call for an immediate ceasefire as part of a deal to secure desperately needed relief for Gazan civilians and the release of hostages,” he wrote in a letter addressed to California’s Muslim, Palestinian American, and Arab American communities. “I also unequivocally denounce Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel. It is time to work in earnest toward an enduring peace that will furnish the lasting security, autonomy, and freedom that the Palestinians and the Israeli people both deserve.”

Newsom’s statement came one day before the U.S. asked the U.N. Security Council to back a ceasefire resolution, though Russia and China vetoed it. And it follows other leaders shifting to more forceful calls for Israel to change its conduct of the war.

On March 3, Vice President Kamala Harris, the former U.S. senator from California, called for an immediate, but temporary ceasefire — the strongest statement from the Biden administration to that point.

Following his State of the Union address on March 7, when he announced a new effort to bring in humanitarian aid by sea, President Biden called for a six-week ceasefire and a hostage-prisoner exchange. And in a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the president expressed concerns about the civilian death toll and Israel’s blockade of aid delivery, according to a White House summary.

And on March 14, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official, called for new elections in Israel, saying on the Senate floor that Netanyahu is an “obstacle to peace” and “has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

The governor’s statement, sent during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, comes after months of criticism by pro-ceasefire supporters that he wasn’t even-handed in his stance on the Gaza war.

But in California, views have been more mixed.

More than 60% of likely voters in California supported an immediate ceasefire in a poll released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California. But they’re more divided on whether to increase, decrease or maintain military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The state’s Jewish Democrats have been split over calls for a ceasefire; Newsom’s move puts him at odds with those who have opposed the idea and framed the issue as Israeli having a right to defend itself.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who has advanced to the November election for U.S. Senate, had rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire, but said earlier this month that he would support one contingent on Hamas releasing hostages it kidnapped from Israel, adding that “the obstacle to getting that temporary ceasefire is Hamas.”

Assembly Republicans have called for a resolution condemning Hamas. And in response to Newsom’s letter, Jim Stanley, Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher’s spokesperson, accused the governor of treating Israeli hostages as “an afterthought.”

Patrick James, former professor and director of USC’s Center for International Studies, said that the governor’s statement has little impact on the conflict itself and that it’s rare for governors to get involved in hot-button international issues.

“They have some involvement in trade and investment policy, and yes, they even will visit other countries,” he said. “But they generally don’t talk about things like this.”

That’s why James sees Newsom’s statement as a strategic one: “It’s about a very skilled politician, positioning himself — and I think he’s doing this brilliantly — to be the Democratic nominee if there is an emergency and Biden pulls out, or for 2028.”

“He’s hedged his bets,” James added. “He has not come out and said, ‘I love Hamas, and from the river to the sea’ or anything that extreme. He even has said some cautiously neutral to even pro-Israeli sounding things as well.”

In the letter, Newsom acknowledged the suffering of the Muslim community — particularly those who had lost family and friends in Gaza.

“The scale of suffering in Gaza is so vast that it seems few Palestinians across the world have been spared personal loss,” he said. “And now burgeoning disease and starvation threaten to deepen the devastation, especially among children. This is unacceptable.”

Newsom added that he will “always defend your right to take part in the California tradition of peaceful protest — to publicly express your opposition to any war or government decision you oppose, including the war in Gaza.”

Officials from California chapters of the Council on American Islamic Relations and other groups have been pushing the governor for months — including at a meeting in December, where community leaders and organizers from around the state asked the governor to call for a permanent ceasefire.

“We’re pleased to share that after many months of advocacy by various groups, including a meeting CAIR-CA convened with the Governor and Muslim leaders, this afternoon, Governor Newsom joined the resounding global call for ceasefire,” said CAIR California CEO Hussam Ayloush.The group also praised the governor for sending medical supplies and aid to Gaza.

But for others, the statement didn’t come soon enough.

“I certainly welcome Gov. Newsom’s support for a ceasefire. It should be noted however, that like President Biden, Gov. Newsom is making a political as opposed to a moral, ethical, or a principled judgment,” said Yousef Baker, co-director of the Middle East Studies program at California State University, Long Beach. “Newsom and other leading Democrats need to step up and show true humanistic leadership and put pressure on the Israeli government to halt its collective murder of Palestinians.”

In a statement Friday, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California said it appreciated that Newsom’s letter included support for its core positions on the war: the return of remaining hostages, removing Hamas from power, maximizing aid to Gazans and minimizing civilian casualties.“We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with Governor Newsom to strengthen California-Israel ties, achieve a peaceful and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, counter antisemitism, and make California a safe and welcoming place for all,” the statement said.

The escalating violence and worsening humanitarian crisis followed the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, in which 1,200 were killed and at least 200 taken hostage. Later that month, Newsom added a stop in Israel on the way to a climate change tour of China. While in Israel, he met with government officials and visited the parents of a Californian being held hostage. Newsom did not go to Gaza due to security issues, and his pledge of medical and humanitarian aid for Palestinians wasn’t fulfilled until weeks after similar aid was delivered to Israel, also due to security issues.

During a week-long pause in November, Hamas freed more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Israel releasing about 240 Palestinian prisoners, according to Reuters. Israel’s response to the attack has killed more than 32,000 people, according to Gaza health officials, and displaced 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, according to Human Rights Watch.

In addition to addressing the conflict, Newsom said his administration is focused on battling Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate. Since Oct. 7, Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities around the U.S. have seen increases in incidents of harassment, bias and sometimes physical assault.

Last October, the governor authorized expanding the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which mosques, churches and synagogues can use to bolster safety and security.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.