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Warren’s praise of Israel, and occasional criticism, reflects liberal establishment thinking

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Elizabeth Warren has sought to distinguish her foreign policy stance from the Democratic mainstream on her right and Bernie Sanders on her left. Lately, she has been loading up with foreign policy advisers who worked in the Obama administration, and she has gotten the New York Times endorsement.

Her very-carefully modulated position on Israel Palestine– often saying a lot without saying anything at all– appears to reflect official liberal thinking. Warren looks to be a J Street-style Democrat on the Israel question. Once a hawkish supporter of Israel who refused to say a word against the 2014 massacre in Gaza, Warren has as a presidential candidate criticized the Netanyahu government and said that she is open to the possibility of conditioning aid to Israel were it to take steps to annex the West Bank. But she stops short of any harsh judgment, praising the country as a great democracy and ally.

In last week’s debate, Warren was eloquent and adamant on the question of bringing American combat troops home and ending “endless” wars. But Israel is a much harder subject. Warren sidestepped the question in a December debate, and on January 11, when JVP activists tried to get Warren to commit to leveraging aid now so as to deal with the “urgent human rights violations facing Palestinians every day,” Warren changed the subject:

“The first thing I believe that we should take, is we have to speak out about Palestinian rights and talk about values. We also need to establish Palestinian representation in Washington. We need to make sure that there is aid to the Palestinian people, and that we are helping the Palestinians and the Israelis move to — what has been the official policy in Israel and the official policy of the U.S.A for nearly 70 years now — and that is a two-state solution that recognizes a home and recognizes dignity for everyone in the region. It is the long-term path for peace and we need to keep pushing in that direction… We are a good friend not when we put a thumb on the scales and say, ‘Here is the right answer. Here is how we are going to help one side, take advantage of the other.’’’

Asked by the New York Times last year whether Israel commits human rights violations, Warren said only that the status quo is “untenable.” Mostly she stood up for Israel as a “liberal democracy,” and extolled the two-state solution.

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 work toward a permanent solution…

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 interests of either the Israelis or the Palestinians to continue on the path they’re on.

Warren is plainly trying to avoid the pitfalls of being too critical of Israel. She appears to be measuring her ideas against Sanders’s, and trimming her words proportionally. Sanders echoes much of the progressive base’s criticism, saying that he has “great concerns” about the Netanyahu government’s human rights record and racism (while also embracing the two-state solution). One of the Democratic Party’s largest funders, Haim Saban, has said that he loves all the Democratic candidates, except one, Sanders. Bari Weiss, the voice of the Israel lobby in the New York Times, issued a similar warning: “I’ve been traveling all over the country talking to ‘the Jews’ and … the number of people that say to me, I will vote for Trump over Bernie Sanders– it’s really unbelievable actually….”

Warren’s statement to J Street last fall emphasized Israel’s security against the likes of Hamas. She called Trump’s policies “reckless,” but implied that she would keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem:

I believe in the worth and value of every Israeli and every Palestinian and I believe that the way we respect all parties is through a two state solution. This is the best outcome for U.S. interests, the best outcome for Israel’s security and future, and the best outcome for insuring Palestinian rights, freedom and self determination… I believe that Israel is a strong and important ally. I am committed to Israel’s security and safety and to cooperating closely on the threats Israelis face from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. But let’s be clear, we can speak out against the far rightwing policies of the Netanyahu government like annexation and settlements, while supporting Israel, just as we speak out against President Trump while supporting the United States.

As president, I will take immediate steps to fix the damage caused by Donald Trump’s reckless policies. I will welcome the Palestinian general delegation back to Washington. And I will reopen an American mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I will make clear that in a two state agreement, both parties should be able to have their capitals in Jerusalem. I will also immediately resume aid to the Palestinians and financial support to UNRWA and focus on fixing the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and on bringing greater freedom and prosperity to the people in the West Bank.

Warren justified conditioning aid to Israel as a traditional tool of Middle East policy.

We must find ways to make tangible progress on the ground toward a two state solution. Sometimes that might mean finding ways to apply pressure and create consequences for problematic behavior as previous Democratic and Republican presidents have done. For example, if Israel’s government continues with steps to formally annex the West Bank, the U.S. should make clear that none of our aid should be used to support annexation. Achieving a just and lasting peace won’t be easy, but we must persist. We must lay a foundation that enables Israelis and Paletinians to move beyond the broken status quo toward a brighter future… a future where Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace freedom security and prosperity.

Reports on Warren’s foreign-policy braintrust suggest she is most comfortable with thinkers with long resumes in the establishment liberal/interventionist school of foreign policy. Her top foreign policy aide is Sasha Baker, a former deputy chief of staff to ex-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Ron Kampeas of JTA interprets:

Her campaign consultants, as outlined in the CNN story, offer a clearer picture and distinguish Warren from two of her main rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sanders and Joe Biden, the former vice president.

Among them is Ilan Goldenberg, who helped shape Iran policy under Obama. Goldenberg later was chief of staff to Martin Indyk, who tried to broker a Middle East peace deal in 2013-14. Warren also is talking with Hady Amr, Indyk’s deputy during that doomed peace deal attempt…

Warren’s pledge to J Street to consider cuts to Israel assistance notwithstanding, Goldenberg and Amr are steeped in an understanding of Middle East peace brokering that uses American carrots, and not sticks, for both sides.

Other foreign policy pros in the Warren camp are said to include Michael Fuchs, a Clintonite at the Center for American Progress who once co-authored a foreign policy book with Morton Halperin, a J Street leader;  and Loren DeJonge Schulman at the Clintonite/liberal-interventionist Center for a New American Security, who is very concerned with American casualties in our unending wars; appears to avoid criticizing Israel; and is a fan of Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Clinton hand and inveterate Israel supporter at the Brookings Institution.

Ilan Goldenberg criticized Trump’s Soleimani killing as in Israel’s interest, not America’s. Indyk has said lately that it is time for the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East, including the peace process; we’re not helping anything there.

Warren’s braintrust and instincts are in line with J Street: Criticize Israel, but don’t go nearly as far as the young progressive base of the party wants you to. Throw them a bone but do everything not to come down hard on Israel.

Thanks to Adam Horowitz, Michael Arria, and James North. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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9 Responses

  1. Misterioso on January 21, 2020, 10:44 am

    It’s truly disgusting and a betrayal of their country that in exchange for campaign funds, so many American politicians take their marching orders from a racist, expansionist, brutal occupier, fascistic, serial violator of hard won internatioanl humanitarian law foreign entity known as “Israel.”

    • eljay on January 21, 2020, 2:31 pm

      || Misterioso: It’s truly disgusting and a betrayal of their country that in exchange for campaign funds, so many American politicians take their marching orders from a racist, expansionist, brutal occupier, fascistic, serial violator of hard won internatioanl humanitarian law foreign entity known as “Israel.” ||

      It really is all about the benjamins. (It certainly has nothing to do with justice, accountability or equality.)

      I find it interesting that when Russia “interferes” in American politics and Iran does “very bad things” (as America’s “Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade” might say), there’s no end to the wailing and gnashing of teeth by American politicians.

      But when Israel interferes in American politics and does very bad things, there’s no end to the deafening silence. You’d think Zionists – who insist that Israel not be “singled out” for special treatment – would be the first to speak out and demand from American politicians outrage for and against Israel comparable to the outrage they demonstrate for and against Russia and Iran.

  2. Tom Suarez on January 21, 2020, 10:53 am

    Thank you, Phil.
    One comment: You point out that she “justified conditioning aid to Israel as a traditional tool of Middle East policy”. But worth noting that her example of such a scenario is far more slippery: that no US aid “should be used to support annexation”. So, she can still sign all the checks no matter what Israel does, and need only explain that, well, don’t worry, they’ve promised not to use these particular dollars on annexation.

    • JWalters on January 21, 2020, 7:12 pm

      That’s a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. While Warren says a lot of good things, which would turn things in a better direction, she has shown herself to be very changeable over the campaign. She has also shown a decidely underhanded side in the way she teamed up with CNN to smear Bernie as a secret sexist. So her reliability and moral clarity have become issues. While through all the smears Bernie has remained a class act.

      And now Hillary is smearing Bernie again. After she stabbed him in the back in 2016 (with her back-room conspiracy with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz), and after Bernie dismissed the complaints about her private email server, and after Bernie endorsed her and campaigned mightily for her, now Hillary is once again the perfect oligarchy puppet. I’m wondering if mere money is enough to make her act that so low. I’m wondering if there may be some other coercive force at play, something of a more threatening nature, such as information about Bill’s connection with Jeffrey Epstein. After all, that was the purpose of Epxtein’s operation.

  3. CHUCKMAN on January 21, 2020, 11:13 pm

    “Warren’s praise of Israel, and occasional criticism, reflects liberal establishment thinking”

    I rather think it represents the wish to avoid offending any powerful people, the wish to avoid bad press in the nation’s high-end press, and a desire for continued campaign contributions.

    I don’t know how these American politicians can sleep at night.

    No principles at all.

    It’s the same for America’s wars and insane military/security culture with her. No real objections.

    But that too is part of supporting Israel.

    An aggressive US is viewed by the Neocons and the lobby as Israel’s greatest support.

  4. genesto on January 22, 2020, 12:17 pm

    ‘Bari Weiss, the voice of the Israel lobby in the New York Times, issued a similar warning: “I’ve been traveling all over the country talking to ‘the Jews’ and … the number of people that say to me, I will vote for Trump over Bernie Sanders– it’s really unbelievable actually….”’.

    This is unmitigated BS! But, what else should we expect from Bari on the subject. I’d like to see an actual, scientifically conducted survey of American Jews’ preference for president. I guarantee that the American Jewish community is still very much on the Democratic side and will vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate – even if its Bernie.

    As for Warren, once again, I believe she is, basically, agnostic on the Israel/Palestine issue. She is trying to walk a fine line on it, as Phil points out, in order to not upset her base nor distract from the domestic policies for which she truly, and singularly, cares. She is also, as has been pointed out above, becoming very desperate in her attempts to recapture the momentum she had a month or so ago. She finds herself sinking in the polls and, as a result, wavering on her progressive stands, most notably Medicare for all, and attacking her opponents, including her one-time ally, Bernie. She is fast becoming just another overly ambitious politician.

  5. brent on January 23, 2020, 4:17 pm

    I agree with genesto, that Warren (I think like most politicians) is actually agnostic on Israel. Many, perhaps most, concluded long ago their best interest was to remain safe by adopting talking points that would be tolerated by their constituents. Standing with Palestinians was risky not only because benjamins and political intimidation are powerful reinforcers but also because that was generally considered unsafe political ground to move to. Candidates find positions that keep them safe while giving the impression they stand for principles, like fairness. Note Warren’s, “dignity for all”, “Palestinian rights”, “2SS”.

    The PA is too often seen as not having a political program, a consensus on co-existence or the inclination to work together and American politicians believe the pro-Israel media is ready to take them down if they are not careful.

    The Congressional confirmation hearing for David Friedman ( is an important case study. All students of the Palestine Question, especially Palestinian students in political science, will gain understandings and insights into how American politicians are thinking and how to effect political change with them.

    Its a long hearing, well over two hours. Senator Tim Kaine’s segment is just past one hour in and is particularly instructive…. and hopeful.

  6. echinococcus on January 23, 2020, 8:17 pm

    Warren or Sanders, there is no distinction. One pretzels clockwise then counterclockwise then north to east, while the other one cricles the other way… whatever either of them is saying it don’t amount to a hill of beans — it’s all the same liberal Z policy intended to make the theft, occupation and genocide easier by presenting the Z as more human, period. Sanders sounds more old-fashioned Labor-Z (the worst butchers) is all.

  7. echinococcus on January 23, 2020, 8:19 pm

    Just love the drawing, Katie.

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