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.