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Susan Sarandon joins protesters on Capitol Hill calling for Gaza cease-fire

Actress draws crowd of onlookers for activists who say, ‘We’ve been walking these halls day after day after day’

Actress and activist Susan Sarandon addresses the media with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, right, on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Actress and activist Susan Sarandon addresses the media with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, right, on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Actress Susan Sarandon on Thursday joined protesters on the Hill calling for lawmakers to demand a cease-fire in Gaza and end American funding for Israel.

Alongside progressive activists from groups like Code Pink and Doctors Against Genocide, Sarandon visited the offices of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Ritchie Torres, both Democrats from New York.

The actress drew a swarm of media, police and other onlookers to the halls of the Rayburn Building, a sharp contrast to the groups’ normal reception in Congress.

“You know, we’ve been walking these halls day after day after day and we never get the media to come with us,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, said during a break between office visits in the Rayburn courtyard. “And that’s why it’s so important to have you here, because your presence really helps our voices reach so many more people.”

“It’s the least I can do. … That’s one of the few perks of getting media, for better or worse,” Sarandon said, staring out at roughly 100 protesters, many of whom wore shirts that said “Let Gaza Live” or “Palestine’s Blood Is On Your Hands.” Some had their hands painted red or carried bloody-looking baby dolls. No arrests had been made as of 4 p.m., although police repeatedly had to remind demonstrators not to block hallways and doors to lawmakers’ offices.

Sarandon has for decades championed progressive causes, railing against the death penalty, protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and speaking out against mass incarceration. Often, her politics have drawn scorn from mainstream Democrats. And that was true in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent military campaign in Gaza. 

In November, Sarandon attended a pro-Palestinian rally in New York City and told the crowd: “There are a lot of people afraid, afraid of being Jewish at this time, and are getting a taste of what it feels like to be a Muslim in this country, so often subjected to violence.”

Sarandon’s words were quickly labeled antisemitic, and she was dropped by her longtime agent. She said Thursday that she’s lost work in Hollywood for speaking out against Israel’s military action in Gaza. 

“I’m OK. I got fired from my agency of 10 years, and I’ve been getting threats and things like that. … But at the end of the day that’s not as important as people dying,” said Sarandon, who has sought to distinguish between criticism of Israel and antisemitism.

“When asking for a cease-fire is antisemitic, where do you go from there?” Sarandon said. 

Benjamin said the group was calling for a cease-fire, an end to U.S. funding for Israel and resumed funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA. The State Department announced a pause in additional funding for UNRWA after reports that employees may have participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

The group was also calling on members to stop accepting money from sources affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group. Jeffries received more than $320,000 from such sources this election cycle as of December, and Torres received nearly $368,000, according to OpenSecrets.

If Sarandon was successful in attracting the media, she had less luck with lawmakers. Neither Jeffries nor Torres met with protesters who entered their offices Thursday. (Jeffries has a separate leadership office in the Capitol, in addition to his personal office in Rayburn.) Benjamin said the groups requested meetings between the lawmakers and Sarandon as early as last week, but none were made available.

“Susan Sarandon is planning an action against me in DC for supporting Israel. At a time when Jews feel threatened by antisemitic violence, Ms. Sarandon said Jews are ‘getting a taste of what it feels like,’” Torres wrote Wednesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “As a sitting Congressman, I will refuse a meeting with the likes of Susan Sarandon who traffick in antisemitic victim-blaming.”

But Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Cori Bush, D-Mo., both progressive members who have spoken out against Israel, did meet with Sarandon and briefly greeted protesters outside of Tlaib’s office. Tlaib, who was censured by her House colleagues in November over her response to the war in Gaza, wept as she met and hugged Palestinian members of the group.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib, center, and Cori Bush greet activists in the Rayburn Building on Thursday as they call for a cease-fire in Gaza. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“We’re just here to ask Congress members to support a cease-fire and to stop supporting military funding to Israel because they’re using these funds to commit a genocide against the innocent people of Gaza,” said Jenna Awadallah of Maryland, standing outside of Tlaib’s office.

“She’s known, and people will listen to [Sarandon],” Lina Judeh, Awadallah’s mother, said when asked whether Sarandon’s presence helped raise awareness or distract from the issue. “We feel like her fans and people know she’s a good person and they’ll try to look into the cause when they see someone who is a familiar face to them.”

Sarandon won an Academy Award for her role in “Dead Man Walking” and has appeared in dozens of other movies, including “Thelma & Louise.”

According to Benjamin, who said she’s been at the Capitol nearly every day since Oct. 7, her group’s opposition to further funding of Israel’s military had led to unlikely alliances. In a letter to Democratic colleagues earlier this week, Jeffiries vowed to “use every available legislative tool” to bring forward a foreign aid package that includes $14 billion in aid to Israel, which Benjamin opposes. That bill also includes $9 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza.

“It’s not exactly a Republican crowd that came with us today. And yet, our hope is pinned on the Republicans. That [Speaker] Mike Johnson doesn’t bring it to the floor. That the Republicans who have been opposed to money for Ukraine may quash the supplemental. But there are very few Democrats who have publicly said that they will not vote for more money for Israel.”

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