Rabbi Rebekah Goldman said she found hope in an Israeli friend who hoped the attack would not beget others, during an event at West Hartford town hall in October 2023, following the Hamas attack in Israel. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

One of the chief lobbyists for more than 50,000 unionized health care and service workers in Connecticut resigned Thursday, 10 days after denouncing references to the Hamas attacks on Israel as the acts of “terrorists.”

Kooper Caraway, of New Haven, stepped down as executive director of the SEIU Connecticut State Council, which in a statement condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The attack was the latest in a long history of hostility between Israeli and Palestinian forces in the region.

“Our enemies are not in Gaza,” Caraway said at an Oct. 9 rally in New Haven, referring to the narrow strip of eastern Mediterranean land bordering Israel and controlled by the Islamic group Hamas. “Our enemies are the CEOs who are cutting our pay and benefits. Our enemies are the politicians who lock our people up and leave them to sleep on the streets.”

Caraway said people who fought to build the labor movement in America also were called terrorists.  “Our enemies are not in Gaza,” he added, “our comrades are in Gaza.”

Republican leaders in the legislature earlier this week had called for Caraway’s resignation.

The Connecticut Mirror could not reach Caraway for comment Thursday afternoon after his resignation had been announced. According to his LinkedIn page, he had been executive director of the Connecticut council since December 2022.

The SEIU council, which coordinates political and organizing strategies among six affiliated locals, made strong statements regarding both sides of the conflict.

“SEIU unequivocally condemns the horrific terrorist attack by Hamas that took place on October 7th, and all violence against innocent civilians, no matter their background,” the council posted in a statement on its Facebook page, which also announced Caraway’s resignation.

The council also wrote, “We are also deeply troubled by the emerging humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We join other organizations calling for an end to attacks on civilians, immediate humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, the safe return of hostages, and long-term solutions that will bring safety, peace and justice to the people of the region.”

According to The New York Times, more than 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that led Israel to declare war. More than 200 Israelis were taken hostage.

And according to relief organizations including Oxfam International and Unicef, the Israeli blockade of Gaza has left more than 1 million people impoverished and in need of food assistance.

Connecticut House and Senate Republican leaders wrote a letter Tuesday to their Democratic colleagues and to Gov. Ned Lamont, also a Democrat, urging them to join in their call for Caraway’s removal.

“Mr. Caraway’s branding of murderous terrorists Hamas as ‘our comrades’ is offensive to us, our Jewish friends and families, and the House & Senate Republican caucuses,” wrote Rep. Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford and Sen. Kevin Kelly of Stratford, the legislature’s minority leaders. “We are certain many of Connecticut’s hard working state employees feel similarly.”

GOP leaders also predicted businesses would find Connecticut less attractive because of Caraway’s comments.

“Mr. Caraway has cast a dark shadow over the state of Connecticut as it works to grow its economy — an effort that requires a deep and positive partnership with the private sector,” they wrote. “ … Business leaders look for stability when deciding where to grow roots, and Mr. Caraway’s comments — presumably on behalf of the organization that represents state employees — smacks of radical ideology that sows the type of division business leaders avoid.”

Reps. Devin Carney of Old Saybrook and Mitch Bolinsky of Newtown, assistant House Republican leaders, also signed the letter.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.