Last June, South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg gave a speech at Indiana University detailing some of his foreign policy objectives. The speech came shortly before the Israeli election and a promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he would annex portions of the West Bank if he continued to hold power.
“If Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill,” declared Buttigieg. At a University of Chicago event in October, Buttigieg reiterated the sentiment more forcefully. After Daniel Harris, a member of the progressive, Jewish organization IfNotNow, asked the candidate about potentially conditioning aid, he 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.
Over the weekend, both @ewarren and @PeteButtigieg gave statements indicating support for leveraging American military funding to Israel to challenge Israeli policies of occupation. This is encouraging.
Here's Buttigieg's answer to a question from an IfNotNow member on Friday: pic.twitter.com/0fRC5hwS22
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) October 21, 2019
When the subject came up at recent debate, Buttigieg seemed to distance himself from it a little. However, now that many believe the Trump administration has effectively rubber-stamped Netanyahu’s annexation plans via its new “peace plan”, Buttigieg is running away from the issue entirely.
At a Jan 29 town hall in Iowa, Buttigieg was asked about conditioning aid once again. This time the question came from IfNotNow organizer Elias Newman. Here’s their exchange:
Newman: Hi Mayor Pete. My name is Elias and I’m an American Jew and right now I’m horrified. Seeing Trump, what he’s doing, giving Netanyahu the green light with his so-called “peace plan”, right? And recently I was actually visiting the Occupied Territories and I met a Palestinian family in the village of Susya. After we met, and pretty soon after I arrived to this village, outside of their home Israeli bulldozers came up to their home and demolished their home right in front of us. I was standing there with a ten-year-old Palestinian boy as we watched this all happen. And we know that annexation, if it happens, it’s going to make things way worse for Palestinians and for the young Israeli soldiers who are there upholding Jim Crow-like laws. And recently I was happy to see that you said if annexation happens that you’ll make sure the U.S. doesn’t foot the bill. So, I wanted to know…now that annexation is happening in full force, are you ready to commit? Are you ready to commit, to make sure the U.S. doesn’t send a blank check to Israel?
Buttigieg: The U.S. cannot be promoting annexation, like it is under this president. By the way, I am not talking about withdrawing aid or withdrawing our support from Israel–
Newman: Okay, so you’re actually not ready to actually–
Buttigieg: What’s that?
Newman: You’re not willing to make good on your commitment–
Buttigieg: Well, if you’re asking me to commit to withdrawing American support for Israel, the answer is no.
Newman: I’m asking you about—
Buttigieg: But I will say that in my administration, the Israeli government will get the message that we are not going to support those kinds of steps. In my view, they’re bad for Israel, they’re bad for Palestinians, they’re bad for America. And we don’t know what the state of play will be a year from now.
Newman: I asked you a “yes” or “no” question….are you committed “yes” or “no”, to withdrawing aid for the occupation
Buttigieg: I stand by what I said about this.
Newman: What, just now or a couple months ago?….
Buttigieg: So, if you’re asking me in light of the president’s proposal, I would withdraw aid from Israel? The answer is no.
There’s an important distinction to be made here. Buttigieg never said he’d cut aid to Israel over the occupation or any event, he declared that he would prohibit U.S. funds from being used for annexation. Maybe he’s purposely trying to be obtuse here, but it seems clear that he has no intention of revisiting his previous comments on the subject.
You can watch a video of the exchange on IfNotNow’s Twitter page:
NEW: The day after Trump unveiled his plan green-lighting Israeli annexation and Netanyahu’s announcement of a cabinet vote on annexation this Tuesday, @PeteButtigieg backtracked on his repeated promise that the "U.S. will not foot the bill for annexation." #StopFundingOccupation pic.twitter.com/dldyRnI5lo
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) January 30, 2020