Readers should bear in mind that this post appeared on April 1, 2015.
Mondoweiss was lucky enough to score an interview with Steve Israel, the former head of the DCCC and one of the State of Israel’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. Below is a transcript of our brief exchange:
Mondoweiss: Congressman, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Congressman, it goes without saying that you are one of Israel’s key advocates in Congress. Do you take such a strong pro-Israel stance because of the demographics of your district or is something else going on?
Congressman Israel: Thank you for the question and let me first say that it is an unexpected treat to talk to Mondoweiss, I lose sleep over what you say on your blog. To the question, something else is definitely going on – what’s going on is an uncanny convergence, I’d say a beshert convergence, between AIPAC and my undying love for The State of Israel. You see, I really really love Israel, and AIPAC doesn’t need to pressure me one bit to take the positions I take. But it works really well because I still benefit from their political support and I get to be a stout advocate, some would say a clueless one, for all sorts of Israeli misdeeds.
Mondoweiss: What do you mean by clueless?
Congressman Israel: Well I completely miscalculated on the Bibi speech a few weeks ago. If I had acted rationally I would have spoken out against the speech and skipped it. This would have sent the message that though I support Israel through and through, no matter what atrocities it commits, that I am an American first and as a member of Congress I couldn’t take part while the Hill was reduced to a political circus, not to mention the abhorrent treatment shown to President Obama by the Speaker and Bibi. Also, after the war last summer I traveled to Israel to show my undying fealty to the Jewish State. I took a picture on the beach in Tel Aviv with then President Shimon Peres. Some said this image, juxtaposed with the carnage only a short distance down the coast in Gaza, was in bad taste. I’m still not sure what they meant.
— Steve Israel (@RepSteveIsrael) August 7, 2014
Mondoweiss: Yeah, the picture with Peres was sad but I want to go back to the speech for a minute. You attended the speech.
Congressman Israel: Not only that, I escorted Bibi onto the House floor!
— Steve Israel (@RepSteveIsrael) March 3, 2015
Mondoweiss: Why would you go that extra mile?
Congressman Israel: Because I’m not so bright. Did you read my incoherent oped in the NY Daily News shortly before the speech? Basically I thought that that would give me enough political cover to attend the speech and I probably was right about that. But I couldn’t leave well enough alone and I overreached. I got caught up in all the excitement that Bibi, he’s really a magnetic figure, elicits. I just had to walk down that aisle behind him, and I just had to tap him on the back while the cameras snapped away. I had to upstage Debbie [Wasserman-Schultz] and Eliot [Engel]. They think they love Israel more than I do and they’re wrong.
Mondoweiss: Was it worth destroying your relationship with President Obama? Some say that he is furious with you and is personally offended by your actions and that he’s written you off for the rest of his term in office.
Congressman Israel: I always had a queasy feeling about Obama anyway. His middle name is Hussein.
Mondoweiss: But was it worth trashing your relationship with the President? After all you are still part of the Democratic House leadership?
Congressman Israel: I don’t know, but if it strengthens my pro-Israel bona fides, then it was probably worth it.
To my critics: Both Hamas & ISIS use innocent civilians as hostages .No moral difference. But thx for your views. Can you tone down curses?
— Steve Israel (@RepSteveIsrael) August 21, 2014
Mondoweiss: Last week you organized a dinner with Ambassador Dermer and several other House Democrats. What exactly did you hope to accomplish?
Congressman Israel: That was another reckless act. I thought I’d be able to repair the ruptured relationship between the administration and Bibi. But I overreached again. You see, the Obama-Bibi breach is now way bigger than me, I can’t do anything about it. I’ve heard that the president had some very unkind things to say about me after he heard about that stunt.
Mondoweiss: We’re just about out of time, but I have one more question. Given how you’ve blown up your relationship with the president and given that you remain a member of congress at least until January of 2017, what do you see your role as being now?
Congressman Israel: I don’t think recent events have caused me to rethink my role; my job as congressman from NY district 3 is to advocate for Israel at all costs. People argue that I harbor dual loyalty. They’re totally wrong, I’m just loyal to Israel. We share a name after all! (Editor’s Note: Rep. Steve Israel’s birth name was Steve Westbank but he had it legally changed to Israel in 1967.) So far, I have helped create a wedge between Israel and my president and helped get its fascistic prime minister reelected. I’d say I’m doing pretty darn good!
I say in public that I believe a strong Israel means a strong America, as if our two country’s interests are one and the same. Of course that’s not true but I have to keep the military aid flowing. Israel can never have enough white phosphorus, am I right?!
Thanks for the interview, but I think our time is up. I’m late for a meeting with the Speaker. We are planning a fundraiser for Jeb Bush.