taking a position

Blake Masters: ‘Israel’s future is tied to our elections’

The Arizona Republican suggested in a position paper that 'zealots' in Congress have damaged bipartisan support for Israel

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Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Blake Masters speaks during his election night watch party on August 2, 2022, in Chandler, Arizona.

Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Arizona, takes a characteristically partisan position while arguing in a new Middle East position paper that Israel can no longer count on bipartisan support from Congress. Laying the blame before his political rivals, Masters accuses “zealots like ‘the Squad’” — as well as, he suggests, most other Democrats — of contributing to an unfortunate dynamic that only his party can ameliorate.

“It is a shame to say, but support for Israel has become a partisan issue,” Masters writes in his recently finished policy paper, which was obtained by Jewish Insider on Thursday. “That means that Israel’s future is tied to our elections — to making sure that our representatives are true friends and supporters of Israel,” the 36-year-old political newcomer adds, before referring to himself in the third person. “In this race, that is Blake Masters.”

Such claims are typical of the cocksure rhetoric that Masters, a Trump-endorsed protégé of Peter Thiel, has employed over the course of his first bid for elected office. But if the former venture capitalist believes he is best equipped to defend the U.S.-Israel alliance in the upper chamber, his written assurances do not seem to match what some critics have viewed as a lack of substantive engagement on Middle East policy issues throughout the race.

Masters has hardly positioned himself as a pro-Israel stalwart in his effort to defeat Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a former astronaut and Navy captain who, while viewed as a vulnerable incumbent in a competitive swing state, has consistently outperformed his neophyte opponent in public polling.

Even as Masters has touted his support for the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, his public statements on the matter have — like the Democrats who he says are unwilling “to stand up for Israel” — been “few and far between.”

In an interview with JI published in March, Masters went into some detail on his approach to U.S. security assistance for Israel, Iron Dome funding, the Iran nuclear deal and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, among other issues.

But since then, some Jewish leaders and pro-Israel advocates in Arizona have hoped to hear more from Masters, a high-profile member of the populist-leaning “New Right” movement who has embraced a heterodox if loosely defined belief system on international engagement. 

The single reference to the Jewish state included on his campaign site, where Masters writes that he will support “military action only in defense of the U.S. and our allies like Israel,” underscores a decidedly isolationist approach, albeit somewhat calibrated, that is gaining traction among some other Thiel-backed candidates this cycle, including J.D. Vance and Joe Kent. 

It is, however, a posture that mainstream pro-Israel advocates, particularly those affiliated with the bipartisan lobbying group AIPAC, have traditionally viewed as untenable — and some of the tensions endemic to Masters’ campaign have demonstrated why such reservations may exist in the first place.

As a former hardcore libertarian, Masters appears to have once held a more skeptical view of Israel. In 2010, for instance, he shared an article on Facebook that denounced Israel as “the North Korea of the Middle East,” JI reported in April. Meanwhile, as an undergraduate at Stanford University, Masters wrote a now somewhat infamous essay for a libertarian website in which he quoted Hermann Goering, cited a conspiracy theorist who has frequently been accused of antisemitism and suggested “the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a just war in over 140 years” — a claim he now acknowledges went “too far,” even as he has insisted that the essay otherwise “holds up.”

That he has also been endorsed by a prominent neo-Nazi publisher as well as the Christian nationalist founder of a social media platform for white supremacists has also contributed to a sense that Masters — who rejected their support — has simply shifted from one extreme to the other.

Still, Masters has his defenders. “I can tell you that in my conversations with Blake, I think he fundamentally rejects, strenuously rejects antisemitism in any form whatsoever,” Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, explained in an interview with JI last month. He said he was “very confident” that Masters will “stand with the Jewish community” and is also committed to upholding “pro-Israel” values. 

But others have regarded Masters as more of a cipher, in part because he did not produce an Israel position paper during the primary, as is customary for most viable House and Senate candidates.

After the Aug. 2 primary, Jewish Republicans and other pro-Israel activists had been emailing the Masters campaign for weeks to gauge his interest in producing a Middle East policy paper, but they were unable to get a response until recently, according to a source familiar with the outreach who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The paper was finally distributed late last week, with just over a month remaining until the November election.

A spokesperson for Masters’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment as to whether he had solicited feedback from pro-Israel supporters or if he wrote the paper entirely on his own, as he has reportedly done with his frequently updated campaign site that has come under scrutiny for scrubbing past statements on abortion and other issues.

The paper, at just two pages, is relatively short on details. By contrast, one of Masters’ Republican primary rivals, Mark Brnovich, the term-limited attorney general of Arizona, produced a seven-page Israel paper that was historically informed and packed with data and policy points.

Despite a somewhat perfunctory tone, Masters appears to have fine-tuned his Middle East foreign policy views somewhat in the months since talking to JI, when he spoke in a tautological manner that indicated he was still feeling out his views.

“Our countries have a relationship that is unique and special, and so Israel is not just another country, and we might not fund a similar thing for every other country in the world, but every other country in the world is not Israel,” he said at the time, rationalizing his support for funding Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.

In the first section of his new paper, Masters declares that Israel and the U.S. “share a powerful and strategic relationship that must be championed and safeguarded, for the good of all freedom-loving peoples across the globe.” He describes Israel as a “key partner in diplomacy, intelligence, and technological innovation” that “deserves continued and expanded American support.”

The U.S. “benefits directly from countless Israeli efforts,” he says, adding a patriotic flourish: “But our nations share a philosophical and moral vision as well: one of peace, of freedom, and of religious tolerance. Israelis and Americans share the fundamental belief that you have a right to defend yourself, to fight for your family, to defend your nation, and to practice your faith free of persecution.”

The language is reminiscent of a pledge on his campaign site to protect religious freedom at home, suggesting some overlap with a domestic agenda focused in part on culture war issues such as ending “the scourge of wokeness in schools” and opposing “men in women’s bathrooms,” among others. “On my watch, you and your family will always be free to practice your religion, according to your conscience,” Masters, who is Catholic, writes after promising to ensure that ‘left-wing ‘antidiscrimination’ law never infringes on your right to honor God in peace and freedom.”

On the second and final page of his policy paper, Masters runs through six “key issues,” starting with a vow to oppose BDS, promote trade with the Jewish state and uphold the $38 billion in U.S. aid to Israel that is guaranteed in a 10-year memorandum of understanding between the two countries, signed during the Obama administration. Perhaps unexpectedly, owing to his broader aversion to providing foreign aid to countries beyond Israel, Masters suggests that he will work “to build” on such “financial commitments” in “the future.”

Elsewhere, Masters extols the Abraham Accords as an “incredible success” that set a “powerful precedent” for regional cooperation between Israel and a number of Arab nations that are aligned in their mutual concerns over Iran. 

Using the only two exclamation points in the paper, Masters takes an especially vociferous stand against the Biden administration’s renegotiation of the Iran nuclear deal. “It was lunacy to believe that Iran would be honest and self-report!” he shouts. “Now, President Joe Biden is trying to get the United States back into the Iran Deal — on even worse terms than President Obama! Blake Masters opposes these misguided efforts.”

While he expresses support for U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Masters does not touch on diplomacy with the Palestinians or explicitly address security risks from Hamas and other threats. In the interview with JI, Masters said he was theoretically open to a two-state solution but would ultimately defer to Israel. Masters also makes no mention of efforts to counter Arizona’s worsening water crisis through such measures as desalination, a technology developed by Israel and touted by a number of leading GOP figures in the Copper State. 

Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House, visited Israel in August to learn more about water resource management. Arizona’s outgoing Republican governor, Doug Ducey, also traveled to Israel last spring to discuss water technology initiatives, among other things. Kari Lake, the GOP gubernatorial nominee who hopes to succeed Ducey, argues on her campaign site that “the future is desalination,” while praising Israel’s water technology advancements as a model for the state. “Israel is rapidly turning the Negev Desert into one of the world’s great agricultural areas,” she writes, “we can do the same”

For his part, Masters takes a somewhat more adversarial approach to water concerns, which are addressed in a brief bullet point on his website. “I will fight the federal bureaucrats who for decades have siphoned away our water and sabotaged our rural economy, citing bogus environmentalist concerns,” he says.

Masters has repeatedly criticized Kelly throughout the race, but he refrains from mentioning his Democratic opponent in the position paper.

The junior senator, now seeking his first full six-year term after winning a special election in 2020, is largely aligned with the Democratic mainstream on Middle East policy. In an interview with JI two years ago during his primary bid, for instance, he backed a two-state solution, observed that moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “seems to be working,” and said it had been “a rather poor decision” to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.

Kelly holds something of a personal connection to Israel. He was once stationed in Houston with the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in 2003 in the Columbia space shuttle explosion. He remains close with the Ramon family. Kelly, who first visited Israel months before he announced his Senate bid, is endorsed by AIPAC’s new political action committee as well as the Jewish Democratic Council of America and Democratic Majority for Israel.

Masters, who says he visited Israel in 1998 on a week-long business trip with his father, reserves some of his fiercest criticism for the United Nations and “similar organizations” that, he alleges, “have disgraced and de-legitimized themselves” in their “willingness” to “attack Israel.”

But he seems most enlivened when he invokes the growing threat of “wokeness,” which he credits with contributing to “a recent surge in antisemitism.”

“It’s incredible that you hear constantly about ‘structural racism’ from the mainstream media, but never a peep about the rising threat of antisemitism here in the United States and throughout the Western world,” Masters writes, before slipping into the third person again. “Blake Masters will wield the cultural power of the U.S. Senate seat to oppose the creep of antisemitism. America cannot be allowed to become France.”

Additional reporting contributed by Marc Rod.