As he becomes a leading contender in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination, Pete Buttigieg has shifted toward the center on Medicare for all. Some on the left have ascribed the shift to campaign donations.
Buttigieg has also shifted on Israel Palestine. After saying directly that he would seek to condition aid to Israel if the country moves toward annexing the West Bank, the South Bend Mayor dodged this question entirely at the last debate, offering platitudes about the need for U.S. “leadership” in the world.
Last June and October Buttigieg said he would condition aid to Israel. His most explicit answer came at the University of Chicago in October when a member of the young Jewish group IfNotNow urged him to pledge to condition out $3.8 billion yearly aid to Israel because we bear “complicity” in its “despicable” treatment of Palestinians under occupation. Buttigieg responded:
I think that the aid is leverage to guide Israel in the right direction. If, for example, there is follow through on these threats of annexation, I’m committed to insuring that the US is not footing the bill for that. It is in the American interest, as well as the Palestinian and ultimately Israeli Jewish interest, that Israel not reach the point where there will have to be a choice between either being a Jewish state or being a democracy and there is a trajectory toward that going on right now. So I’m not going to commit now to all of the ways that that leverage can and should be used. But I will say that our policy goal will be to do what you do when a friend is moving in a way that you’re worried about, which is to put your arm around them and guide them somewhere better.
Pressed on conditioning aid completely, Buttigieg said, “I’m not going to put that string on aid today.”
On December 19, Buttigieg was asked the conditioning aid question at the Democratic debate in Los Angeles. The question was first posed to Bernie Sanders, who responded by speaking of Palestinian human rights. Then moderator Yamiche Alcindor referred the question to Buttigieg. The original question:
“Senator Sanders, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that the United States believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. That broke decades-long U.S. precedent. How would you respond to Israeli expansion of settlements? Would you link that to foreign aid to Israel?”
What we are seeing in the Middle East and around the world are the consequences of this president’s failure, this president’s refusal to lead. It’s particularly disturbing in the case of Israel because he has infused domestic politics, making U.S. foreign policy choices in order to effectively interfere in Israeli domestic politics, acting as though that somehow makes him pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, while welcoming white nationalists into the White House.
But it’s not only in the Middle East that we see the consequences of the disappearance of U.S. leadership. We see among our allies and among our adversaries case after case where the world is making plans on what to do, ignoring the United States, because we’re no longer considered reliable.
It’s not just the mockery at a cocktail party on the sidelines of a conference. It’s the looks on the faces of the leaders at the U.N. as they looked at the United States president with a mixture of contempt and pity.
As an American, I never again want to see the American president looked at that way by the leaders of the world. The world needs America right now. But it can’t be just any America. It has to be one that is actually living up to the values that make us who we are: supporting peace, supporting democracy, supporting human rights, and supporting stability around the world.
So after a suggestion that he doesn’t like Netanyahu, Buttigieg moved on to what a friend calls, “a generalized, vapid, politically empty reply. A more purely gutless response would be impossible to imagine.”
Donors are surely an issue. During presidential primary season four years ago, Hillary Clinton made it a point to publicly oppose the BDS campaign (boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel) so as to pander to donors.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.