Vance puts pro-Israel spin on America First worldview in Quincy Institute speech

The Ohio senator, rumored as a possible Trump running mate, asserts pro-Israel bona fides in front of an anti-Israel crowd

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Sen. JD Vance (R-OH) walks to a luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 27, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) delivered an address at an event co-hosted by the isolationist Quincy Institute on Thursday defending U.S. support for Israel as a critical component of a foreign policy agenda otherwise at odds with his more-hawkish Senate GOP colleagues.

Vance, who is among the contenders to be former President Donald Trump’s running mate, spoke at a conference convened by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank opposed to U.S. intervention in foreign conflicts. The conference, co-sponsored by The American Conservative, was promoted as an event highlighting “realism and restraint amid global conflict.” 

Vance used his speech to differentiate his opposition to Ukraine aid from his steadfast commitment to Israel. “I’m supportive of Israel and their war against Hamas. I certainly admire the Ukrainians who are fighting against Russia, but I do not think that it is in America’s interest to continue to fund an effectively never-ending war in Ukraine,” Vance said. “It’s sort of weird that this town assumes that Israel and Ukraine are exactly the same. They’re not, of course, and I think it’s important to analyze them in separate buckets.”

While Vance has distinguished himself as a leading voice against U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, he has held firm in his support for Israel. He criticized President Joe Biden for delaying offensive weapons transfers and potential sales to Israel while trying to avert a full-scale Rafah invasion earlier this month, and dug in during Thursday’s address on why the America First platform he aligns himself with requires a strong relationship with Israel. 

“If we’re going to support Israel, as I think that we should, we have to articulate a reason why it’s in our best interest,” Vance said.

“Israel is one of the most dynamic, certainly on a per capita basis, one of the most dynamic and technologically advanced countries in the world,” Vance went on, citing work done on Israel’s end to “actually give us missile-defense parity. That’s a very important national security objective of the United States of America, and that’s something we’re working with one of the most innovative economies in the world to accomplish.”

“We have to sort of ask ourselves, what do we want out of our Israeli allies? And more importantly, what do we want out of all of our allies writ large? Do we want clients who depend on us, who can’t do anything without us? Or do we want real allies who can actually advance their interests on their own with America playing a leadership role,” he continued. 

Vance added that one of the main reasons Americans support Israel is because the United States is a majority-Christian country, and “a majority of citizens of this country think that their Savior, and I count myself a Christian, was born and died and resurrected in that narrow little strip of territory on the Mediterranean.” He then slammed backers of the war in Iraq for “precipitat[ing] the genocide of one of the oldest Christian communities in the entire world.”

The Ohio senator explained that emboldening Israel and allied Sunni Arab nations would serve as a “regional counterweight to Iran” and prevent a wider conflict from developing — thereby lessening the odds of a regional war that would necessitate greater American involvement. 

“The way that we get there in Israel is by combining the Abraham Accords approach with the defeat of Hamas. That gets us to a place where Israel and the Sunni nations can play a regional counterweight to Iran,” Vance said. “We don’t want a broader regional war. We don’t want to get involved in a broader regional war. The best way to do that is to ensure that Israel, with the Sunni nations, can actually police their own region of the world. That allows us to spend less time and resources on the Middle East and focus more on East Asia, in the same way that we want our own allies to do the job in Europe [with Ukraine].”

Vance noted that while it’s “reasonable” for some people to argue that Hamas and Islamic radicalism can never be permanently defeated as an ideology, he said that the U.S. and Israel can still destroy each terror group “as a functioning military apparatus.”

Asked what steps the U.S. should take to most successfully counter Iran, Vance told Jewish Insider on the sidelines of the conference, “The Abraham Accords model is the perfect way of building a counterpoint to the Iranians in the Middle East. [There’s also] economic levers, obviously, the Israelis don’t have a lot of energy resources but the Saudis do. There are all of these weird ways in which a Sunni-Israel alliance is very, very good economically, diplomatically, militarily for the Israelis but, of course, also for us.”

“Maybe the most important thing we can do with the Israelis vis a vis [containing Iranian pursuit of] uranium is make sure they have the weapons systems the other supports necessary to keep the nuclear program in check,” he added. 

The Quincy Institute, a think tank launched in part through funding from billionaires George Soros and Charles Koch in 2019, employs a number of scholars from both sides of the aisle who oppose a close U.S.-Israel relationship. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who in 2007 jointly published the controversial book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, are nonresident scholars. 

The group was also a major backer of a widely condemned 2022 Congressional Progressive Caucus letter urging direct talks with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) accused the think tank of helping drive an increase in antisemitism across the country in 2020.

Vance noted to Jewish Insider that he regularly speaks before groups whose agenda he doesn’t fully embrace. He attended the Munich Security Conference in February to argue against continued involvement in Ukraine, taking part in meetings with world leaders and delivering a speech to explain his point of view. 

Asked by JI about appearing at Thursday’s event despite diverging with many attendees on supporting Israel, Vance explained that, “Those two institutions, and I don’t agree with them on everything, though obviously the American Conservative I’m very close to; they represent an important meeting place for a lot of ideas that I think are very popular on the American right right now.”

“If you’re pro-Israel like I am, you should want people to engage in those forums because they don’t want the traditional viewpoint completely ignored in a place where a lot of young conservatives are sitting there thinking about how to develop their own worldview,” he said. “So it’s not just that I think it’s OK to speak at places like that. It’s absolutely necessary to go everywhere and speak to everybody if you think you can actually persuade some people and get them to think about things in the way you’d like to.”

Jewish Insider’s Capitol Hill reporter Marc Rod contributed to this report.

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