Has Pete Buttigieg been too hard on Israel?

2020 Democrats

Stefani Reynolds/CNP

Mayor Pete Buttigieg meets with leaders of the Jewish community at a communal parlor meeting at the offices of Bluelight Strategies in Washington D.C., U.S. on May 23, 2019. Credit: Stefani Reynolds / CNP

Since delivering the first major foreign policy address of his presidential campaign last week, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has drawn scorn and praise for his comments on Israel. In a series of interviews with Jewish Insider, Jewish leaders shared their views on Mayor Pete’s approach to Israel-related issues.

Susie Gelman, chair of the Israel Policy Forum, tells Jewish Insider that she hasn’t “found anything objectionable” about what Buttigieg has said so far on Israel. “I feel like he so far is striking a very good balance when it comes to Israel. I think he is just showing a very measured way of being both pro-Israel but was also reserving the rights — as every administration should have — to make it clear when we have a major disagreement on a policy level with our close friend and ally Israel.”

According to Batya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at the ForwardButtigieg “has a good sense” of where the majority of the Jewish community is at, “where to press, and where to ease up.”

“One of the most satisfying parts of the 2020 primaries so far has been seeing the entire cohort of Democratic candidates form a consensus view about Israel that directly mirrors the view of the vast majority of American Jews,” she explained to Jewish Insider. “Despite a host of hysterical articles about how Democrats are abandoning Israel, or the endless prophecies that Israel will be on the ballot in 2020, every candidate, from Bernie Sanders on the far left to Amy Klobuchar in the center, has expressed the same liberal Zionist view on Israel: They are all pro-Israel, anti-BDS, pro-two-state, and deeply critical of Bibi Netanyahu. To be pro-Israel is to oppose depriving millions under Israel’s rule of civil rights and to insist loudly and proudly on the Jewish right to self-determination. These are not a zero sum game, and it’s a lesson the Democratic Party has clearly internalized, care of the American Jewish community.”

Mark Mellman, president of Democratic Majority for Israel, emailed us on Monday: “Mayor Buttigieg has expressed strong support for Israel, for the U.S.-Israel relationship, for continuing U.S. aid to Israel, and for Israel’s right to defend itself in what he recognizes is a very difficult security situation. While some of his comments may sound paternalistic, his heart, and his basic policy approach, seem to be in the right place.”

Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic campaign consultant, tells JI: “Like many Democrats, Mayor Pete wants it all ways: whack the Netanyahu government, but make it appear that you are really in your heart an Israel supporter. After the Israelis stop laughing at him, maybe he and the other Democrats who say similarly ridiculous things will stop appearing even more ignorant and foolish.”

Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, tells JI: “I think, without reading into it too much, it’s important to focus on the fact that [Pete Buttigieg] continued to reaffirm U.S. support for a two-state solution, the fact that the embassy is in Jerusalem – I don’t see this as a huge shift, in any way, from what has been U.S. policy.”

“The notion of conditioning aid is something that has not been JDCA’s position, it’s something that we would have to look at in terms of what he actually meant by what he said. He didn’t actually use the word conditioning, he didn’t use the word cutting. So, I think it’s important to better understand what he intended to say when he said the U.S. taxpayer wouldn’t foot the bill. But even that, in terms of him expressing his concern with annexation in general, is consistent with where Democrats and where JDCA has been.”

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