Kaine Hailed as Strong Supporter of Israel

Hillary Clinton’s selection of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential candidate was hailed by Jewish leaders as a “smart” and “responsible” choice, given recent global events and the challenges facing the U.S. and abroad.

Kaine, a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, has always maintained a warm and approachable relationship with the Greater Washington Jewish community, Ron Halber, JCRC of Greater Washington’s Executive Director, told Jewish Insider on Sunday.

“He was close to the Jewish community when he was mayor of Richmond; he was closes to the statewide Jewish community once he became lieutenant governor, and he was very popular with the Jewish community when he became governor and continued as senator,” said Halber.

“On the issues, Senator Kaine is very much aligned with Jewish values,” Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said in a statement. “He has fought for equal rights for everyone, has worked hard to reduce economic inequality, champions health coverage for all, supports comprehensive immigration reform and seeks to rein in senseless gun violence, all positions that certainly match up with those of NJDC,”

Kaine’s appointment was also viewed through the lens of the U.S-Israel relationship. Kaine is a fervent supporter of the Iran nuclear deal, and in March 2015 he was one of the few Democrats who boycotted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech. In an interview with the Forward, Kaine criticized Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer for going along with some in the Republican Party who want to “push Democrats out of the relationship with Israel.”

This earned Kaine the praise of J Street, a pro-peace organization supporting progressive candidates appealing to the left of the Democratic Party. “Senator Kaine embodies the vision of principled and effective US leadership embraced by millions of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” J Street said in a statement on Friday. “Secretary Clinton’s selection of the Senator to join her ticket speaks to her commitment to the two-state solution and to a diplomacy-first approach to US foreign policy in the Middle East. We applaud her and the Democratic Party for this outstanding choice.”

But recently, Kaine downplayed the rift between Netanyahu and the Obama administration over the Iran deal. Speaking to Jewish Insider in April, Kaine maintained that while Netanyahu did not see eye-to-eye with the administration on the nuclear deal, current and former Israeli security and intelligence officials agree that the military corporation between the two countries has been “stellar” and “now you’re seeing a whole group of Israeli security officials who are willing to publicly say now that the Iranian nuclear deal has given them some breathing room and inspections that will give them some security that Iran won’t develop a nuclear weapon, at least for the first fifteen years.” Kaine further stressed, “There has [only] been one significant disagreement between the president and the prime minister of Israel over the Iran nuclear program.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, in a statement released after Clinton announced the selection of Kaine on Twitter, said it’s further proof Clinton cannot be trusted to keep our country safe.” “Whether it’s his vote for the Iran deal, which paves the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, or his proud support of the progressive anti-Israel J Street agenda which earned him their enthusiastic endorsement, Senator Kaine has shown how out of touch he is on the dangers facing our country,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks.

In an interview, Halber challenged the critics of Kaine’s pro-Israel stance. “If you go by that standard, you might as well disqualify half of the Congress as unsympathetic to Israel,” he said. “That’s a barometer that is simply not fair, and, frankly, it’s wrong.”

Kaine, Halber said, would actually “adhere much closer to what Democrats before Obama have done, which is less daylight between the administrations.”

“I think he would follow the example of President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and others, which is that the less daylight that is shown in public — I think he would go back; he would see that the Obama administration – by having more daylight between Israel and the U.S. – may have made it more difficult and harmed the relationship in some ways,” he stressed. “If Hillary Clinton and Kaine get elected, I think you would see them going back to a more traditional arguing behind the scenes. Kaine has visited Netanyahu’s office several times, and I think, if Hillary Clinton wins, you will have two people in office who already have established a solid relationship with the prime minister and the State of Israel.”

Rosenbaum, while touting his support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, pointed to the fact that American Jews are a minority, and, therefore, should focus less on issues like the candidate’s support for Israel and more on his firm commitment to the principles of governance. “While his religious background causes him to oppose abortion personally, he has consistently said that his personal views, especially his religious views, should not be the basis of public policy,” said Rosenbaum. “American Jews should focus on this principle. Jews are a minority religious group in every nation other than Israel. Our history teaches us that when we are a minority and majority religions become intertwined with state governance, the outcome is never good for Jews.”

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