Pennsylvania State Sen. Nikil Saval (D – Phila.) issued a statement on Tuesday condemning Hamas, but in doing so, sidestepped direct questions about social media posts by his chief of staff expressing support for the surprise terrorist attacks by the militant Palestinian group on Israel.
Saval’s chief of staff, George Donnelly, does not appear to have authored any of his own posts on X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday as the new war was unfolding. But he did repost at least five posts that day from other users showing his support for the attacks against Israeli civilians, whose death toll is estimated to have passed 1,000 sometime Tuesday.
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For example, Donnelly reposted posts that said:
“what did y’all think decolonization meant? vibes? papers? essays? losers.”
“Damn a lot of you really are fairweather friends to Palestinians.”
“Progressive commentators saying Palestinians have entered ‘Israeli territory’…baby, check yourselves. You’re part of the problem.”
“If you write, teach or otherwise work on anything ‘decolonial”, but don’t appreciate the significance of this picture, then your work isn’t really decolonial.”
All of the reposts by Donnelly are no longer available on his X feed, meaning he took them down. The website Legistorm, which tracks staff in the U.S. House and Senate as well as in state legislatures, says Donnelly has been Saval’s chief of staff since December 2020.
A Philadelphia-area real estate developer first raised an issue with Donnelly’s reposts.
“Sen Saval staffer @g_donnelly4 has spent the day cheering on Hamas terrorism, how does a guy like this work for the PA senate” Harrison Finberg posted on Saturday afternoon.
“You see it all over the internet today and expect it but seeing a guy who works for my home state senator on this train is unbelievable,” Finberg said further down in the same thread.
Finberg’s post then appears to have caught the attention of the Philadelphia GOP.
“Meanwhile, this is progressive Philly @SenatorSaval Chief of Staff approvingly RT’ing the targeted murder, torture, and hostage-taking of hundreds of Jewish civilians,” the Philadelphia GOP posted on Monday.
Broad + Liberty sent a request for comment to Saval’s office in Harrisburg, asking questions about Donnelly’s reposts.
“I deplore and condemn the murder of innocent civilians by Hamas. My heart is with so many people — in Israel, Palestine, and also here in Philadelphia — who are mourning the loss of loved ones and concerned for the whereabouts of so many others still unaccounted for in this horrific violence,” Sen. Nikil Saval said in response. “I look forward to adding my efforts with those who are working to create a just and lasting peace in an area that has experienced so much harm. For now, my office stands ready to support our constituents during this time of heartbreak.”
No other comment was offered.
The surprise, severity, and terrorist nature of the attack has rekindled a decades-long political fight over the state of Israel since its creation in the wake of World War II. President Harry Truman formally recognized Israel as a nation-state in 1948.
The attack — now generally being called a war by both Hamas and Israel — is in its fourth day, and gruesome details continue to come to light.
And while support for Palestinians and Israelis can sometimes have a clear partisan delineation in American politics, with Republicans allied more closely with Israel and Democrats more closely with Palestinians, most Democrats have not been shy about standing with Israel and condemning Hamas.
On Tuesday, Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Jewish Democrat, ordered flags across the commonwealth to be flown at half-staff because of the conflict and death toll.
“I condemn the horrific acts of war in Israel by Hamas and their enablers. These attacks on innocent Israeli civilians are abhorrent and warrant world condemnation and outrage,” Shapiro said. “Our family has shared many special moments in Israel and our hearts break for those living this horror now. We stand in solidarity against terror and are praying for all people in Israel.”
Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden said the American death toll in the attacks had risen to fourteen, and that “[w]e now know that American citizens are among those being held [hostage] by Hamas.”
“I’ve directed my team to share intelligence and deploy additional experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts. Because as president, I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” Biden said.
He said Israelis lived through “pure, unadulterated evil” when the attacks were unleashed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports