Eugene Vindman offers tough love to Israel as he pursues congressional campaign 

Vindman, who with his twin brother became famous during Trump’s first impeachment trial, talks to JI about his views on the Middle East

Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman gained national prominence in liberal circles as a whistleblower who helped spark former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. Now, as a congressional candidate, Vindman says he’d use his background as a war crimes prosecutor to train a critical eye on Israel’s operations in Gaza, emphasizing the need for thorough scrutiny of any potential wrongdoing.

Vindman and his twin brother Alexander became nationally known as whistleblowers in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial; Alexander was a witness to Trump’s now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and reported the call to his brother, who was a legal advisor at the time.

Vindman is one of nine Democrats running for the seat of Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), who is leaving Congress to pursue a gubernatorial campaign. Republicans, who landed a top recruit for the race, also plan on targeting the swing Northern Virginia district.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Vindman cited his experience as a war crimes prosecutor and investigator as a “unique” asset when it comes to his “nuanced” approach to Middle East policy-making.  

While he calls himself a supporter of Israel, he also said that he would be “highly surprised” if some Israeli soldiers hadn’t engaged in misconduct during operations in Gaza to take out Hamas — something he described as essentially inevitable in war, including by U.S. troops.  But he said he hasn’t seen any evidence of systemic violations.

Two days after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, Vindman wrote a tweet warning that “Israel will need to restrain its bloodlust to punish only those culpable for the slaughter.” 

He told JI that his warning was a reflection of lessons learned by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he said the U.S. had “failed to prosecute… effectively because we were driven by emotion.” He said that eliminating Hamas is a worthwhile goal but argued both as a commander and lawyer, that “discipline is critically important” in focusing on achieving military goals.

Vindman said, “as a responsible international actor, [Israel] has an obligation to conduct operations in accordance with the law of war and international criminal law,” which bans targeting civilians and civilian objects, mandates that it only attack lawful targets, requires it to distinguish between civilian and military targets and be proportionate in its attacks.

“Where Israel fails in this, it must conduct thorough investigations,” he said. “I am a supporter of Israel but I also acknowledge that Israel needs to live up to its obligations” — even though Hamas does not abide by them. 

“They have a right to self-defense, but they don’t get a free pass to do whatever they want,” he reiterated later in his conversation with JI. “I look at this from a perspective of supporting the Jewish state and Israel, but also as a strong supporter, [I] have to make sure… we hold them to that same standard that we would abide by.”

He also reiterated Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel was entirely without justification and “needs to be condemned completely without caveats.”

Vindman said he backs a temporary cease-fire that would free some of the hostages, arguing that there can be no progress toward a more permanent end to the war until that goal is accomplished. He added that Hamas is not a viable partner for long-term peace, but also said that it may not be possible to “completely eliminate Hamas” through military means.

He called on Congress to expeditiously pass the Senate-approved aid package to Israel, adding that additional conditions or restrictions on aid to Israel are not necessary, given the protections codified in law and laid out in the Biden administration’s recent military aid policy memo.

The former military officer described Iran as the key issue in the region, highlighting concerning links among Iran, its terrorist proxies and Russia. He said the U.S. needs to be “very assertive in pushing back” on Iran, including the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. 

He said the U.S. should work with its partners, prioritizing potential diplomatic and economic pressure as a primary response, but also acknowledged the role of U.S. military force — including the administration’s decision to dispatch aircraft carriers to the region and strike Iranian proxy targets — as a deterrent.

Vindman, a career military officer, told JI he never anticipated entering politics before the impeachment saga. But he now frames his candidacy as a response to the resurgence of Trump and the MAGA movement.

“As we got toward the end of last year, it became obvious to me that Donald Trump was going to be at the top of the ballot, and I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines, when I thought that I can contribute in a meaningful way,” he said.

Vindman, who describes himself as a “proud Jewish American,” also highlighted his immigrant story — he came to the U.S. with his family when he was 4 years old, fleeing the “bigoted” Soviet regime.

He said that his background in military service makes him a strong fit for the “unique” district, which includes or is near  several military installations, giving the district a large constituency of military veterans and government employees. He said it’s also a critical skill set at a time of major geopolitical conflicts.

“We have an electorate that is very well-versed in federal policy and geopolitics and foreign relations and national security,” he said “And I‘ve got a proven track record of having stood up for democracy at personal costs and to Donald Trump.”

Vindman told JI the U.S. needs to push back on antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry at home. He linked the rise in bigotry in the U.S. primarily to Trump.

“Trump has created an environment where it seems OK for people to engage in this bigoted, radical behavior,” Vindman said. “I think we need to come back to a time where we treat everybody with dignity and respect.”

Vindman is one of a handful of Democratic candidates who are hoping to leverage Trump-era profiles to pursue higher office, including former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, running for an open House seat in Maryland; and previously Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), who was a lawyer for Democrats during the impeachment trial. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) just parlayed his role as a prosecutor in former President Trump’s first impeachment into a likely Senate seat next year

Vindman said he’s lived in the 7th District since 2018. His national profile and popularity in liberal circles helped him pull in more than $2 million during his first quarter in the race — a huge sum for a first-time House candidate. 

Several of the other candidates, however, boast deep records in local politics. Vindman’s leading Democratic challengers include: Prince William County Supervisor Andrea Bailey, who entered the race with an endorsement from former Gov. Ralph Northam; state Del. Briana Sewell; former state Del. Elizabeth Guzman; and Prince William County supervisor Margaret Franklin. All significantly trail Vindman in fundraising. 

The leading Republican candidate is attorney Derrick Anderson, who unsuccessfully ran against Spanberger in 2022 and is considered a top GOP recruit.

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