Yesterday the New York Times published a Democratic presidential forum of video interviews, including the hot potato: “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” And even the Times seems a bit surprised by the result:
“we thought this question would gauge Democrats’ willingness to criticize Israel, and found few candidates who would do so.”
Yes, what is most striking about the candidates’ short responses is the extreme reluctance to say a word critical of Israel’s human rights abuses. The exceptions were Bernie Sanders (though not as critical as he was to the AJC); Rep. Seth Moulton, who kinda stands up for Betty McCollum’s bill that would strip funds from Israel over its detention and interrogation of children; Tulsi Gabbard; and– the surprise– South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who all but answers the question, No. Israel’s record is “problematic and moving in the wrong direction.”
That’s straight talk. Those who advocate for Israel include Kamala Harris, who gives Israel an A (as we noted yesterday); Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill de Blasio, and Beto O’Rourke. It seems like it’s OK to knock Benjamin Netanyahu, but Israel is still a “beacon” in the Middle East, as Klobuchar says, and everyone is for a two-state solution. That is the safe talking point in the Democratic Party.
Surely the biggest disappointment here is Elizabeth Warren. You’d think she could be more critical given her progressive base, but no, Warren talks about what a tough neighborhood it is and gives Israel kudos as a liberal democracy and ally. “Israel is in a really tough neighborhood. I understand that. They face enormous challenges, and they are our strong ally.”
As the NYT itself notes, younger Dems are questioning the party’s reflexive support for Israel. Buttigieg seems the most aware here. So why are these other Dems folding? They are “squeezed between a pro-Israel legacy and a donor class that is more supportive of Israel on one side and an activist base that is far more critical of Israel,” as Michael Koplow has observed; and guess whose side they’re on! (And no wonder Mike Gravel is such a leader in the discourse).
Here are some of those answers (I’ve largely taken the transcripts from Jewish Insider’s work; with small fixes and amendments).
Buttigieg is concise and critical.
I think that Israel’s human rights record is problematic and moving in the wrong direction under the current right-wing government. Look, the U.S. can be committed to Israeli security and to the U.S.-Israel alliance while also guiding our ally in a direction that leads toward peace. I am very worried, especially with some of the latest talk about annexation of the West Bank that their government is moving away from peace in a way that is damaging in the long run to Israeli and Palestinian, and for that matter, American interests.
Kirsten Gillibrand is an out and out supporter. “Communities where Palestinians are living” —that’s a lot of words to avoid saying occupation or Palestine.
I do [think Israel meets human rights standards], and I believe that Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East, but we also have to care about her neighbors and make sure that we address the humanitarian crises throughout communities, including those where the Palestinians live right now. I think we have to do far more to relieve the suffering in places like the West Bank and Gaza. I think it’s important that we continue to provide humanitarian support, but I think what President Trump has done in the Middle East is very damaging. He’s done things prematurely outside of a long term negotiation for a two-state solution, and I think that has created more risks of enormous problems and issues for long term stability.
Amy Klobuchar is also a big fan of “our beacon of democracy,” though she criticizes Netanyahu:
Yes [Israel meets human rights standards]. I think Israel, however, under Prime Minister Netanyahu has been doing things that are not helpful to bringing peace to the Middle East. The way that he came out in favor of annexing the Golan Heights, what he has done when it comes to the settlements, the fact that we are not engaging in serious discussions for a two-state solution, our country and the Palestinians and the Israelis, I think that this is setting us back. And so what I would do is to reach out to restart those negotiations again. I think that President Trump has politicized this issue and has not helped in terms of American support for Israel. Israel is our beacon of democracy in the Mideast, and we have a role to play here that is very important and it shouldn’t be politicized the way the Trump administration has politicized it. And when Israel does things that I think are against public policy and international policy, I will call them out on it and I will work with them. But again, I think the way President Trump has done this has made it harder and harder for people to support Israel, and you are seeing a lot of young people that have fallen away from supporting this beacon of democracy in the Mideast, and I think that needs to change.”
Notice that Cory Booker goes right to a more important question to him than human rights, the fact that Israel is dividing the US discourse now, and that’s not a good thing. And the impediment to a two-state solution is Trump, not Israel. He can’t even go after Netanyahu.
I think we have a problem right now in America with the way we are debating issues surrounding Israel and Israel’s security. We have a president who seems to not to support this idea of a two-state solution, which has had bipartisan commitment and conviction over decades in our past. My commitment right now is to affirming Israel’s right to exist and affirming Israel’s right to defend itself against enemies, which they have virtually surrounding them, but also to affirm the dignity and self-determination of Palestinian people. I believe that we can get back to kind of policies that affirm that two-state solution, affirm human rights, and that America can be a force to accomplishing that in Israel.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke manages not to say anything. He tries to issue some criticism, but guardedly.
I know that Israel attempts to meet international standards of human rights. I know that they could do a better job, and that’s not just my opinion, that’s from listening to people in Israel say that about their own country. I think we have a role to play to ensure the safety, the human rights and the dignity of the people of Israel, as well as the people of what will become the state for the Palestinians, right now the Palestinian Authority. We cannot compel or force a two-state solution, but it should be our diplomatic goal, and every resource that we invest, every diplomatic effort should be towards that end. That’s the best way in the long term to guarantee the peace, the stability and the human rights of all people in that region.
Here’s Elizabeth Warren. Surprisingly, she seems to regard Palestinians and Israelis as equals. And though she is the policy person, she basically offered what John Kerry offered.
I think that Israel is in a really tough neighborhood. I understand that. They face enormous challenges, and they are our strong ally. We need a liberal democracy in that region and to work with that liberal democracy. But it is also the case that we need to encourage our ally, the way we would any good friend, to come to the table with the Palestinians and to work toward a permanent solution. I strongly support the two-state solution, and I believe that a good friend says to the Palestinians and to the Israelis: come to the table and negotiate. The United States cannot dictate the terms of a long-term settlement for the Palestinians and the Israelis, but what it can do is urge both of them to go there and to stay out of the way — to let them negotiate the pieces that are most important to them for a lasting peace. The current situation is not tenable. It may be tenable for a week, it may be tenable for a month, but it is not in the long term interest of either the Israelis or the Palestinians to continue on the path they are on. They need to come to a two-state solution.
Sanders’s answer goes after Netanyahu.
I have great concerns about the role that Netanyahu is playing in Israel and the relationship with the Palestinians. As I have said many times, I believe 100 percent in the right of Israel not only to exist but to exist in peace and security. But the role of the United States is to work with all of the entities in the region, including the Palestinians, and to do that in an evenhanded way.
Former Congressman John Delaney is a strong supporter. Bad neighborhood again.
I think Israel does meet international standards of human rights. I think Israel’s in a very difficult situation when they are surrounded by countries who are effectively threatening their existence and don’t believe they have the right to exist. So I think that puts them in an exceedingly difficult situation in many respects. I think it is always in the best interest of Israel to make sure their response to people who are threatening them is as measured and appropriate as possible. But in terms of your direct question, I think the answer is: I do think they meet human rights standards, absolutely.
Julián Castro, a former Obama cabinet officer, doesn’t want to answer the question, bends over backwards to give Israel a pass. His hope for the Israeli people is magical thinking: polls say that the creation of a Palestinian state is not an issue for Israelis, and their want-to-be leaders don’t touch the issue.
I believe that Israel, like a lot of other countries, wants to do the right thing, that they can get better. I do believe that we need to recognize and respect the human rights of the Palestinians. I agree with former Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel has to choose. It’s going to be a Jewish state or a democratic state. That’s why I believe that a two-state solution is the best solution for Israel. I recognize that that has been made harder over the years through the increase in settlements. My hope is that in the upcoming elections, the Israeli people will send a stronger message about the need for a two-state solution.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a cheerleader. Not a word of criticism. But we have to fight BDS.
I believe in the state of Israel and I think Israel is not only a crucial ally– the one true democracy in the Middle East, and they do respect the rights of all people. There’s always more work to be done. And I’d like to see a two-state solution. I think that’s the best way to move forward for peace and human rights for Israel and for the Palestinian people. I think there’s a lot of work to be done, but it begins with a strong commitment to Israel. And look, as a New Yorker where the ties to Israel are so strong, I’ve been to Israel four times. I have spent a lot of time seeing the threats that Israel faces. I firmly believe that we have to defend the state of Israel. We have to fight against the movements that would undercut Israel, like BDS. But at the same time, I believe the current Israeli government has made a lot of mistakes that have hindered the peace process. And I believe in a two-state solution. I think that’s where America should put its energy. That’s the best way to address both peace and human rights concerns for Israelis and Palestinians.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard uses the word Palestine. She almost answers that Israel is a human rights offender, but can’t quite say it.
I think there are some challenges with Israel that need to be addressed. I think that ongoing issues that we continue to see in the conflict between Israel and Palestine are complicated. But there needs to be progress made ultimately to make sure that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are able to live in peace and securely.
Author Marianne Williamson also can’t quite criticize Israel directly.
I think there are many countries including the Untied States that behaves in ways that don’t always meet international standards of human rights. As president of the United States I would have an equally robust commitment to both the legitimate security concerns of Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians and the economic hopes and opportunities and dignity of the Palestinian people.
Here’s Kamala Harris’s answer, which we reported yesterday. Unadulterated support.
I think Israel as a country is dedicated to being a democracy and is one of our closest friends in that region and that we should understand the shared values and priorities that we have as a democracy and conduct foreign policy in a way that is consistent with understanding the alignment between the American people and the people of Israel.
Pressed to say if Israel meets the human rights standards to her “personal satisfaction,” Harris asked the questioner: “Talk in more detail, what specifically are you referring to?” “As a country, overall–” he says.
Senator Michael Bennet also says Israel meets human rights standards and is essential as a refuge for Jews (though his mother, to whom he refers, likely disagrees with him).
Yes. I’ve said before and I believe that Israel is the one essential country on the planet. I say that because of my family history during the Holocaust, and that doesn’t mean Israel’s perfect, and where we have disagreements we should be able to articulate those disagreements, and I do articulate the disagreements that I’ve had with Benjamin Netanyahu over the years.
Seth Moulton is somewhat critical.
Israel often does but not always. And it’s incumbent on us as an ally to hold them accountable. And I have done that in Congress. I have signed legislation that is sometimes controversial, to say that we will not supply Israel with weapons and goods if they do not uphold standards for the treatment of Palestinian kids in prison for example. Now it’s not that hard for them to do this, and Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East. Now they’re a democracy that we have sworn to protect and we should. But we also have to hold our friends and allies to the same standards that we should uphold ourselves.
Here are four other answers as transcribed by Jewish Insider. The talking point among Dems is, Two State Solution. And notice that Hickenlooper has a false reading of Israeli society; they are all for a Palestinian state. This is not the case.
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:
When you’re addressing the issues around Israel, one has to look at their evolution. For me, they’re at a point now where they are at a crossroads and really have to push towards how are they going to get to that two-state solution. Which, pretty much almost every Israeli I know believes in, and I think most Americans support that. But the magic is how are they going to get from here to there.
Again, there are instances when you can find in almost every country places where there is disagreement for how they treat people or how they resolve internal conflicts. I continue to look at Israel as one of our strongest allies, they have been partners with the United States for a long time. Our challenge is to build on that foundation and help them be able to move towards that two-state solution that, which again, I think almost every Israeli believes is the ultimate goal.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee:
I’m a longtime supporter of a democratic Israel, and I believe we have to have a two-state solution. And I would work with all parties to make sure we have that we have that; of justice for people in Palestine and democracy in Israel. And that depends on a two-state solution and I would work with everyone to achieve that. I think that all countries can improve in all respects. Certainly our ability to foster a future for the Palestinian people needs all of us to up our game. I do not believe that the present government of Israel has followed policies, and those policies can improve to encourage the ability and maintain the access of the future to a two-state solution, and we all need to be dedicated to that.
Congressman Tim Ryan:
You know I think it’s a very complicated relationship that Israel obviously has with Hamas and dealings with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And I think the United States needs to play a much bigger role in trying to resolve that problem. I think the president has been very disengaged and we need to be a neutral broker, but recognizing the importance of Israel and the relationship we have with them for all of the other relationships we have in that region.
Well, I think they could do a better job, and I think we all need to participate in the discussion. The United States needs to maintain in some its ability to broker these peace agreements. The problem today is we are not even really trying.
Congressman Eric Swalwell:
Israel is a country that needs to work with the Palestinian people to find a two-state solution. I support putting the US back into the UN Commission on Human Rights. I support increasing aid to the Palestinian people. And I’m going to fire Jared Kushner on day one, because he has no business being on the job of seeking a two-state solution or finding peace in the Middle East. It requires serious scholars and a serious leader committed to making it happen. That’s what I’m going to do on day one.
I would like to see Israel not conduct any further settlements into the West Bank. I don’t oppose any geographical changes in either region, Israel and the Palestinian area, until we have a two-state solution. So I would press both sides; for the Palestinains to sort out who speaks for them, whether it is the PA or Hamas, and for the Israelis to negotiate and have a partner on the other side to seek that two-state solution. But I’m more interested in the future, I’m not going to go back into the past, because the future depends on a stable and secure Middle East.
Thanks to Allison Deger. Many of my comments are taken from her.