The second coming of Darrell Issa

After a brief spell in the political wilderness, Darrell Issa, the former longtime California congressman and car alarm magnate, is now preparing to rejoin his Republican colleagues in the House — and he wants to make clear that he hasn’t gotten rusty in the interim. 

“I’m just a little bit more refreshed,” he said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Friday.

The past two years have been unusually sedate for the 67-year-old Issa, who established a reputation as one of the Obama administration’s most dedicated adversaries during his combative tenure chairing the House Oversight Committee, where he led the Benghazi investigation. In 2018, however, he gave up the fight, relinquishing his seat in California’s 49th congressional district when it looked as if he would lose to a Democrat — ending a nearly two-decade run in the House.

Issa had set his sights on the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, thanks to an appointment from President Donald Trump in 2018. But his nomination was stonewalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) over an FBI background check, and he was never confirmed. “I think Bob Menendez was just looking to get a pound of revenge,” Issa speculated in an interview with JI last March. 

If Issa is still sore about losing the post, he also sought to convey the impression that he had by no means been defanged. “I was supposed to have a hearing, and Sen. Menendez blew up the hearing,” he said on Friday afternoon. “I went back to the White House the following day and told the president I thought I should switch to holding this seat for my party, and he agreed.”

The congressman is poised to represent the historically conservative 50th district of California, which includes a large swath of San Diego County. Issa was accused of opportunism as he campaigned in a district that sits adjacent to his old one, but he said his priorities have always remained the same and rejected the notion that congressional lines had much meaning. 

“The idea that you represent some very fine lines drawn by some gerrymandering authority, I think, just wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said. “I think anyone would say, wait a second, you represent your country first, your state second and a region third.”

Despite polling that suggested Issa would have a close race, he prevailed over his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, by more than eight percentage points in the November 3 election.

Issa, for his part, said he never doubted that he would defeat Campa-Najjar — who told JI that he is now planning to write a book about his complex relationship to his late Palestinian grandfather’s alleged involvement in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. But Issa nevertheless acknowledged that he had to fight for the seat after a contentious primary battle that hobbled him leading into the general election.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, and I’m not, to know that when $5 million is spent bashing you in the primary you have some work to do in the general to fix that,” he said, alluding in part to an attack ad from American Unity PAC that took aim at some of his past statements on Israel. “It’s not only not my first rodeo,” he added, “but it’s not the first time the bull threw me either.”

The general election battle was also strained as Issa and Campa-Najjar, both of Arab descent, took turns attacking one another over, among other things, their fealty to Israel — even though, according to questionnaires solicited by JI, they hold largely the same views when it comes to the Jewish state. 

While Issa, whose paternal grandfather was born in Lebanon, accused his opponent without evidence of being against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Campa-Najjar charged that Issa had called Israel an “apartheid state” and expressed sympathy for Hezbollah. 

Issa has denied the allegations, noting that some of his comments have been taken out of context. “Whether someone agrees with me or not, I have two things I’m consistent about,” he said. “I’m an unapologetic supporter of Israel, and I’m willing to go and meet with any leader any time to be better educated without necessarily agreeing with them, but at least hearing them out.” 

During his time in Congress, Issa noted, he met with Muammar Gaddafi as well as Yasser Arafat and Bashar al-Assad. “I’m not afraid to listen to people that I disagree with in the hopes that they will listen to me and their ways will be changed.”

It was such an attitude, Issa believes, that allowed the Trump administration to broker historic normalization deals with Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, which he supports enthusiastically. “For Jared Kushner and the rest of the team,” he said, referring to Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, “it happened because they believed in it and because they were willing to go anywhere, meet with anyone, to try to achieve it.”

Issa supports a two-state solution and claims that he is “perfectly willing” to engage in good faith with the Palestinian Authority, but he is doubtful that he will be able to do that in the immediate future. “I view these normalizations as an opportunity for the Palestinians to say we would like to normalize relations, let’s sit down and really make that effort anew, and do it sooner rather than later,” he said. “But so far, I see no movement.”

He amended his remark by pointing out that he has seen “a lot of good people within the Palestinian community who want to go a different way.” But, he added, “I don’t see a Palestinian Authority that’s geared to do it, and obviously, as long as Hamas is funded, and well-funded, by Iran, and Hezbollah is still a reality, I’m not sure where we go except to have those conversations and tell them that these are the changes that are needed if they’re going to enjoy what they tell us is their goal.”

President Donald Trump greets Rep. Darrell Issa at a White House event on August 14, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Though he was initially cold to Trump at the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign, Issa has since embraced the president wholeheartedly (and the feeling is apparently mutual). In conversation with JI, he singled out Trump’s approach to Israel for praise, commending his decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

“President after president promised to move the embassy to the building we built for that purpose,” Issa said. “Even though it was called a consulate, that building was built to be the embassy just waiting for a president to issue the order.”

Issa refused to acknowledge that Trump had lost the election, even as the president’s increasingly desperate legal efforts to disenfranchise millions of voters have been struck down in the courts and condemned by a smattering of Republican leaders. 

“We don’t know the outcome of the legal battles, so I don’t want to be presumptuous beyond what’s fair, but I think the one thing that we can know is that President Trump has grown the party,” Issa said, citing the president’s strong showing with Latino voters this cycle. “He’s given us an opportunity to continue reaching out to people who became Trump voters.”

Still, Issa seemed willing to allow for the possibility that Trump wouldn’t be in the White House next term. “I would be much happier if President Trump prevails in these legal challenges,” Issa said, “but for a moment, assuming he didn’t, then our job is to work with the president but not to work for the president.”

One issue on which he isn’t willing to budge is the Iran nuclear deal. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to return to the agreement brokered by his old boss, former President Barack Obama, and which Trump abandoned in 2018. But Issa, who described Iran as “an existential threat to the region,” said that he would fight to keep the United States out of it. 

“The undoing of that agreement, and the successes based on a much closer relationship with Israel and asking for and getting Arab nations to come to the table, has worked,” he said. “So, with all due respect if Biden becomes president, the failed policies of President Obama should not be considered for a return. I mean, they’re just that, they’re proven to have failed, versus the policies that have gotten us a lot further down the peace trail.”

That isn’t to say he doesn’t envision reaching across the aisle on occasion. Issa expressed admiration for some Democratic members of his California congressional delegation, including Reps. Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Scott Peters (D-CA). On foreign affairs, he said, “Juan and I see eye-to-eye with some frequency, and Scott and I have done immigration reform and other issues together.”

On the Republican side, Issa said he is looking forward to reengaging with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as well as minority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). “They early on endorsed me and supported me,” Issa said, “and that makes a difference when it’s not a close call in the beginning.”

Issa told JI that the leading Republicans on the three House committees he previously sat on — including judiciary, oversight and foreign affairs — have all asked him back. “The intent,” he said, summarizing his approach as he readies himself for a new term in Congress, “is to return to the committees of jurisdiction I’ve historically been involved with and continue a lot of the work that I was doing on transparency.”

“I always tell people, the idea that you’re going to do something new after 18 years — the only thing new is that two years of sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be confirmed, gave me a perspective,” he said. “But it’s not going to change the basic goals that I had when I was in Congress.”

House letter raises concerns about Israeli demolition of Bedouin settlement

A letter sent by several dozen congressional Democrats to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week raises concerns about the Israeli government’s demolition of a Palestinian Bedouin community earlier this month.

The Israeli government demolished the Khirbet Humsah village in the West Bank, displacing 73 Palestinians, in early November. The Israeli military claimed the settlement was illegally constructed in a firing range in the Jordan Valley.

The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) urges Pompeo, who is visiting Israel this week, to communicate U.S. disapproval of the demolition to the Israeli government, and push the Israeli government to cease similar actions going forward.

The letter — which describes the demolition as “a serious violation of international law” and a “grave humanitarian issue” — also requests information on whether Israel used military equipment it received from the U.S. in the demolition.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), one of the letter’s signatories, told Jewish Insider he signed on because he sees the Israeli government’s actions as impediments to peace.

“I think these Israeli demolitions bring us further away from a two-state solution at a time when we need to see both sides moving in the opposite and more peaceful direction,” Lowenthal said. “We do not believe the U.S. should support, directly or indirectly, any action which undermines a two-state solution.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) characterized Pompeo’s failure to address the demolitions as particularly concerning given his upcoming visit to a West Bank settlement.

“For the secretary of state to visit the West Bank without even acknowledging the home demolitions, that’s counter to American values and our framework for a two state solution,” Khanna said. “The only way we’ll make progress in the region is by standing up for both Israel’s security and the human rights of Palestinians.”

Other notable signatories include Reps. Joaquín Castro (D-TX) — a candidate for the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairmanship — Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY).

Kathy Manning is seeking a spot on Foreign Affairs

As the first woman to chair the Jewish Federations of North America, Congresswoman-elect Kathy Manning (D-NC) is no stranger to big jobs. But during orientation for newly elected members of the House of Representatives — which began last week — she’s come to terms with just how busy her schedule as a congresswoman will be.

“One of the things I’ve learned is how precious a commodity my time will be,” Manning said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Tuesday afternoon. “Because there’s so much to get done, and so many ways to approach the problems that we want to solve for the American people. So managing my time is going to be a challenge.”

With her limited time, Manning said her top priority is to assist in efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic, but she’s also eyeing a spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in part because of her commitment to and “deep knowledge” of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“Being on that committee would allow me, I think, to stand up for what I believe is such an important relationship,” she said. 

“The other reason I find that committee interesting is that President [Donald] Trump had done a lot of damage to the relationships with our allies around the world,” Manning continued. “And it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild those very important relationships. And I wouldn’t mind being part of that work.”

Although all incoming members of Congress are meeting together at orientation events, bipartisan cooperation for the incoming class may be hampered by coronavirus concerns.

“It’s been a little difficult to get to know the Republican members in our new class. We are trying to social distance. There have been some different approaches to mask wearing and social distancing that have made it difficult for me to get to know some members on the Republican side,” Manning said.

“On the other hand,” she added, “I have really been able to get to know and bond with the Democratic new members. And that’s been a big advantage.”

Manning was one of a small number of Democrats to flip a Republican-held House seat blue this cycle — although her victory is due in no small part to a court-mandated redrawing of the now-blue district.

Manning seemed relatively sanguine about Democrats’ losses in House and Senate races across the country, noting that many of them were in districts and states that were previously considered reliably Republican.

“They were very, very difficult races. So I think there was always a risk that we would lose some of those seats,” Manning said. “I think the good news is that we won the presidency. And that was the big prize that we were all hoping we would be able to accomplish. And we feel great about that.”

The newly elected congresswoman told JI she believes Democrats can shore up their House majority in 2022 by focusing on controlling the pandemic, facilitating better health care access, decreasing unemployment and improving education over the next two years.

Manning’s former colleagues at JFNA say she’s well placed to get things done in Congress.

“I couldn’t be more proud that a former chair, the first woman chair of JFNA, is continuing her service as an elected member of Congress,” JFNA President and CEO Eric Fingerhut, a former congressman, told JI. “It’s a testament to her leadership and that our leaders continue their love of public affairs in the elected realm. I couldn’t be more excited for her, she’ll make a great representative. It’s a moment of great pride.”

Eliot Engel looks back

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) admits that he has some regrets about his performance in the June 23 Democratic primary, when the 16-term congressman lost in an upset to Jamaal Bowman, the former Bronx principal and political upstart who is heading to Congress next year.

“There are always things you would have done differently, things that you see that might have been changed,” Engel explained in an interview with Jewish Insider on Tuesday. “I think we should look to the future. I can’t change the past. I’m obviously disappointed that I didn’t win reelection.”

Engel said there was “absolutely no indication beforehand” that he should have worried about the race, but he offered one explanation for why Bowman may have beaten him by double digits. “We had these terrible killings, George Floyd and whatever, and that seemed to stir the pot,” Engel said, alluding to mass protests against police brutality that took place over the summer and appear to have given momentum to a number of progressive candidates. “I think that played a role in this race.”

As Engel prepares to step down, the congressman, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, reflected not only on his recent electoral loss but also his decades-long tenure in the House. “I’ve been in Congress for 32 glorious years,” he said. “I grew up in a Bronx housing project. We didn’t have much money, and we didn’t have any contacts.” 

Engel, 73, still seemed somewhat gobsmacked that he had managed to get elected to Congress in 1989, and that he had risen through the ranks to become chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a position he achieved in 2019 and which, coupled with his strong support for Israel, he views as one of the crowning accomplishments of his legacy.

“I said when I ran that I would be the best friend that Israel ever had in Congress, and I think that I have kept up that bargain,” he told JI, adding his belief that the U.S.-Israel relationship is in better shape than ever. “It’s no longer built on security and cultural ties, but on economic ties and cooperation in every sector, supported not just by Jewish Americans but by all Americans, or many Americans, and Israel is a strategic partner in every sense of the word.”

The recent normalization deals between Israel and Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, according to Engel, have positively changed the geopolitical calculus in the Middle East. “It used to be where the Palestinians blocked everything,” he said. “They complained and whined and cried that they weren’t being treated fairly, and then when we tried to get together to treat them fairly, they rejected everything we did.”

“The old fights are really antiquated,” Engel said. “I would always talk to the Arab leaders and say, ‘You and Israel sound very much alike, why do you continue to be enemies?’And I think that the Arabs are finally realizing this, and that’s why you’re having diplomatic relations with all these different [Arab] countries.”

The congressman added his belief that U.S.-Israel relations would be in good shape going forward, and that both parties would be able to work together in a bipartisan manner, at least with regard to the Jewish state. 

“We have a situation now where, if you think of one thing where there’s bipartisan consensus, it’s Israel,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that everybody feels the way I feel. I mean, I think that Israel is one of our most important strategic partnerships, and I think that people understand that the relationship is very important. I don’t like when one side tries to politicize. It’s a nonpartisan issue, and I think it shouldn’t be used as a political football.”

Bowman, 44, has called for conditioning aid to Israel, which Engel regards as foolhardy. “We support Israel because Israel supports us, and we have values that we stand for, and Israel stands for the same values,” Engel told JI. “So to treat our closest friends the way we would treat our adversaries and condition aid on this or that is just ridiculous. It’s just absolutely ridiculous. And if people are going to push that, I don’t think it’s going to pass.”

Engel said he had called Bowman after the primary to congratulate him on his victory and to wish him good luck, but that otherwise, the two haven’t spoken. “I know that some of the things he’s been saying about Israel or whatever are inaccurate and just plain wrong, and I hope that he takes the time to learn the issues, so that he wouldn’t make the statements that he has made,” Engel said. “That’s really not helpful to achieve peace in the Middle East.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. (Facebook)

Engel is leaving Congress during a tense moment for the Democratic Party as moderate candidates in swing districts have butted heads with progressives over messaging on issues like defunding the police and socialism. For his part, Engel hopes that such “infighting” will “fall by the wayside” and that Democrats can work together to achieve what he described as shared goals around job creation and raising the federal minimum wage.

“By and large, there’s not that much difference between members of Congress,” Engel said, while cautioning, “I do think that we have to be careful. You talk about defunding police or any of these other things, they are not correct, in my opinion, and they are not good issues for the country and we need to be careful. We need to show people that we want to have a big tent. I think that’s important. And we want to show people that they can feel comfortable in the Democratic Party.”

“Of course, there are going to be different people who are going to have different ideas on different things,” Engel added. “We need to be careful, that’s all. A freshman in New York is different than a freshman in middle America somewhere. So we need to be doing everything we can to help get our new people reelected, not fighting and then insisting that people pass some kind of purity test.”

In the last six weeks of his final term, Engel told JI that he is most focused on helping his constituents as the coronavirus pandemic enters a third wave. 

While a number of Democratic congressmen are vying to succeed him in the Foreign Affairs Committee — including Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) — Engel declined to offer his endorsement.

“I’ve stayed out of it because I think it’s not right for me as I’m leaving to say who I want to replace me,” he told JI. “I think they’re all capable people doing it. I’ve done lots and lots of things with Gregory Meeks through the years, we both represent districts in New York. Brad Sherman has been a good friend. So, we have competent leadership.” (He did not mention Castro in his appraisal.)

As for his next move, “I figured I would let the term end, and then I would sit down and try to figure out what makes most sense for me,” he said. 

“I know one thing I’m not going to do is retire.” 

Engel did express an interest in joining President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, but was vague on details. 

“That’s certainly something I’d consider. People have said to me, would you want to be an ambassador, would you want to be an undersecretary?” Engel told JI without going into specifics. “I’ll see. When Congress ends, I’ll step back and I’ll see what makes most sense for me. I still want to contribute.”

Asked if he had any plans to challenge Bowman when his term expires in two years, Engel was tight-lipped. “I think it’s really too early to see,” he said, adding, “Let’s look at him and let’s see what he does. There are lots of people that I didn’t care for who turned out to be good and a lot of people I liked who turned out to be not so good.”

“Let’s see who he reaches out to,” Engel said of Bowman. “I made it a point to reach out to everyone. Hopefully, he’ll do the same, and we’ll see. That’s the last thing on my mind, worrying about what’s going to happen in two more years. I think that we have a lot of work to do now.”

Can Marilyn Strickland make history in the Pacific Northwest?

In Washington’s 10th congressional district, two Democratic candidates are competing to succeed outgoing Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) in a race that is viewed as representative of the growing ideological rift between moderates and progressives.

Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, has earned establishment support from local and national leaders, among them two former Washington governors as well as Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Most recently, she was CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, where she led the opposition to a head tax on businesses that her opponent holds up as evidence of Strickland’s fealty to corporate interests. 

Meanwhile, Beth Doglio, a community organizer and climate activist who serves in the Washington House of Representatives, has pulled in endorsements from labor groups along with progressive stalwarts like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

“We are running a very good campaign that highlights the differences between myself and my opponent,” Doglio, 55, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview, arguing that her support for such progressive policies as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal stands in contrast to Strickland’s more measured approach to healthcare and the environment. 

But in conversation with JI, Strickland rejected the notion that she is on the moderate end of a binary that many have put forth, she suggested, to create false distinctions. 

“We love labels because it makes it easy,” Strickland, 58, said in a phone interview earlier this month. “As a woman who is Black and Korean, I’ve been labeled my entire life, or people have been trying to assign a label to me. My lane is left-of-center. There are times when I am very progressive on issues, and there are times when I’m more moderate — it really depends on the needs of the people that I want to represent.”

On Israel and the Middle East, however, both candidates seem to hold relatively similar views that are common among the vast majority of Democrats. Strickland and Doglio both support rejoining the Iran nuclear deal and back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither candidate has been to Israel, but each expressed a strong desire to visit if elected to Congress. Both say that they do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, though the candidates speak differently about the reasoning behind their decisions.

While Strickland worries that BDS could cause damage to Israel’s economy, she believes that it has failed to gain enough traction to do so. Her larger concern is that the movement “paints an inaccurate picture of Israeli life,” she told JI. “It’s antisemitic.”

For her part, Doglio also firmly renounced the movement. “I don’t support what BDS stands for because it would eliminate the Jewish state, which is not a two-state solution,” she said matter-of-factly. Still, Doglio noted that even though she won’t back the movement, she respects BDS as an organizational effort given her background in community activism. “It’s hard for me to take tools out of the toolbox for people who feel strongly about something,” she said. 

According to Doglio, many activists in the Evergreen State are supportive of BDS, which she described as a “tough issue” in her community because of a young Washington native, Rachel Corrie, who in 2003 was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer while defending Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Though a court ruled in 2012 that Israel was not at fault for Corrie’s death — and an appeal also was later rejected — Doglio said the issue is still a raw one at the local level. 

“There’s a strong BDS presence in Washington because of that,” she told JI. 

Doglio said she has had several discussions with community members as part of an evolving effort to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “There is not a consensus around what a solution looks like,” she said. “The range of views on that within the Jewish community is big, and so I’ve been taking that in and learning as much as I can.”

Doglio, whose Jewish husband has family in Israel, described her “strong connection” to the Jewish state despite never having visited. Doglio said she met with AIPAC about the possibility of going this past December but wasn’t able to make it happen. She told JI that it would be a priority if she is elected.

Marilyn Strickland family photo
Washington State Representative Beth Doglio and her family. (Courtesy)

Strickland, though, is the candidate who appears to have garnered more support from the pro-Israel community. Last month, she earned an endorsement from the grassroots advocacy group Pro-Israel America, whose executive director, Jeff Mendelsohn, described Strickland as a “strong champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship” in a statement to JI. “There has never been a more critical moment to elect officials to Congress who support clear and consistent pro-U.S.-Israel policies.”

In her interview with JI, Strickland made clear that she was committed unequivocally to such policies, which she came to support after having spent time with members of the Jewish community in Washington who are pro-Israel. “It has just given me the opportunity to learn a lot more about the history,” she said.

“I have an understanding now that the U.S. and Israel have a deep and abiding commitment to supporting democracies around the world,” she said. “This is a very special relationship between the two nations, and it’s important to strengthen this relationship, to partner, to ensure that we are sharing our goals of peace and free speech and democracy.”

Her own identity as a Black and Korean woman, she added, has led her to feel a “shared experience of bigotry and prejudice” with the Jewish people as antisemitism is on the rise. “We just want to make sure that, as I have the chance to serve in Congress, my door will always be open,” she said, “and I’m going to be a friend of Israel and a friend of people who want to support Israel.”

“At the end of the day, we all want peace and prosperity, and that is both for Israel and for the Palestinians,” Strickland said, noting that that she was currently reading Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor to gain more insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jessyn Farrell, a member of Seattle’s Jewish community and a former state representative, said that Strickland brought a similar sense of care to her position as Tacoma’s mayor. “She’s been a real leader on issues that Jewish community leaders have focused on,” said Farrell, who has endorsed Strickland. 

Former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. (Courtesy)

According to Farrell, gun violence is a major concern among Washington Jews after a deadly shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006 — and as mayor, Strickland passed a resolution supporting universal background checks that Farrell found reassuring. Shortly after President Donald Trump’s election, Farrell recalled, Strickland also reintroduced a resolution to reaffirm Tacoma’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“It was important to me to make sure that the people of the city I represented understood that we were not going to waver on treating all people with respect and dignity,” Strickland said.

Doglio, who lives in Olympia, has served as a state legislator since 2017 and for the past 13 years has been a senior advisor and campaign director for Climate Solutions, a nonprofit advocating for clean energy. She announced her bid for Congress in February, joining a crowded primary election.

Strickland would be the first Black representative from the Pacific Northwest and also the first Korean-American woman in Congress if she prevails on November 3. Born in Seoul, Strickland moved to Tacoma with her family in the late 1960s. She was on the Tacoma City Council before being elected as the city’s mayor in 2010 and served in that role until 2018. She announced her candidacy in December 2019, shortly after the incumbent, Denny Heck, said he would retire.  

The candidates are vying to represent a district in the western portion of the state that includes the capital of Olympia. There is scant polling in the race, though one internal survey conducted in late August for Strickland’s campaign suggests that she is the favorite, leading Doglio by a margin of 21 percentage points. 

“I feel like, win or lose, we’ve raised really, really important issues,” Doglio told JI.

Michael McCann, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Washington, said that Doglio’s support from organized labor has helped her stand apart from Strickland, whose ties to business when she led the Seattle Chamber of Commerce have been an issue in the race.

“That said, the difference on policy issues and ideology are not great,” McCann told JI in an email, “a moderate progressive vs. more progressive.”

New Mace campaign poll shows statistical tie in SC race

A new internal poll shows Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace and incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) in a statistical tie in South Carolina’s 1st congressional district, despite some indications that the race has been trending toward Cunningham.

The poll of 400 likely voters, conducted by landline and cellphone calls between Oct. 14 and 16, showed Mace with support from 47% of likely voters, compared to Cunningham’s 45%. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

This poll is a welcome sign for Mace compared to another internal poll three weeks ago, which showed Mace 6 points behind Cunningham, according to a polling memo shared with JI. Yet another poll, commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released last week, gave Cunningham a whopping 13-point lead.

Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, told Jewish Insider last week that he expects the final race to be close, predicting a single-digit margin of victory for Cunningham.

The new polling numbers also arrive shortly after Mace announced strong third-quarter fundraising, beating Cunningham by $500,000 and giving her a $500,000 cash-on-hand advantage heading into the race’s final weeks.

Members of Congress launch international task force to combat online antisemitism

A bipartisan group of members of Congress will announce on Tuesday the creation of a new global inter-parliamentary task force to combat digital antisemitism. 

Members of the task force include Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), along with elected officials from major parties in Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Another member of the panel is member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh from Israel’s Blue and White Party, the daughter of former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler. In July, Cotler-Wunsh challenged a Twitter spokesperson during a Knesset hearing over the company’s decision not to delete or flag a post by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that she said was “calling for genocide.” In a May tweet, Khamenei called for “firm, armed resistance” to bring about the “elimination of the Zionist regime.”

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Deutch said the lawmakers coalesced around the issue of online antisemitism because as social media continues to grow, “it’s unfortunately more and more being used to spread hatred and antisemitism. And we know that what may begin as online threats in the virtual world can lead to violence in the real world.” 

Deutch said conversations about combatting global antisemitism began when he attended the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem earlier this year, and felt “compelled to move forward” with more action after social media platforms — including Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and Google — failed to counter it. “We are aware that there are efforts by multiple groups, and non-governmental organizations who are trying to address this,” Deutch said. “We think that it’s important for elected officials from countries that are experiencing concerning and really upsetting increases in antisemitism to speak out.” 

The goals set by the task force, as reviewed by Jewish Insider, include raising awareness about online antisemitism and establishing a consistent message in legislatures across the world to hold social media platforms accountable. The group will also work to adopt and publish transparent policies related to hate speech.

“Always and at this time in particular as we stand united in fighting a global pandemic, another virus rages that requires global collaboration and cooperation,” Cotler-Wunsh said in a statement. “By working with multi-partisan allies in parliaments around the world, we hope to create best practices and real change in holding the social media giants accountable to the hatred that exists on their platforms.” 

Deutch maintained that “the power of having a group of elected officials” from different parties across the globe come together on this issue “will highlight the need for action by the companies and the need for action by our respective legislative bodies.” He added: “And most importantly, we hope this will help advance the conversation that’s premised upon the fundamental understanding that we just shouldn’t accept this spread of antisemitism that we’ve seen on social media platforms.” 

The Florida congressman told JI that as the group gains traction, its organizers will look to expand “into many more countries.”

Gottheimer introduces bill condemning Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists

A resolution introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) criticizes the Palestinian Authority for payments to terrorists and honors a woman from his district killed in a suicide bombing.

“I think you need to keep a spotlight on this until the Palestinian Authority comes out and renounces martyr payments to terrorists,” Gottheimer told Jewish Insider. “And I just don’t understand why that hasn’t happened. And we need to keep the pressure on to get them to do that.”

Sara Duker, 22, of Teaneck, N.J., was killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem on February 25, 1996, which also took the lives of 25 other people. Two other Americans were also killed in the attack, and are referenced in the bill, which is cosponsored by Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Max Rose (D-NY).

Gottheimer linked the bill to this week’s divestment referendum at Columbia University. Duker graduated from Barnard College the year before her death.

“The BDS movement, which many, like me, believe is antisemitic, are trying to praise and trying to make it as if the Palestinian Authority is being attacked,” he said. “But actually the Palestinian Authority is the one that continues, as we see in this case, to reward terrorists with payments.”

Gottheimer said he sees a “double standard” at play in this incident and other scenarios involving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which he said turns “a complete blind eye on rewarding terrorists.”

“The reality is there’s still so much that we must stand up to when it comes to the [Palestinian Authority],” he continued, “and this is just an example of that.”

The resolution calls on the international community to condemn Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and reaffirms the penalties for such activity as laid out in the Taylor Force Act.

“I think you’ve got to continue to shine a spotlight on the behavior,” Gottheimer said. “And the fact that this individual, this terrorist who killed Sarah Duker — the family’s still getting money every single month while in jail because of the pay schedule. I don’t think people realize that.”

In the heart of the Keystone State, two Pennsylvania politicos battle it out

The Harrisburg, Penn., Jewish community was shook in early August when the Kesher Israel synagogue was vandalized with a pair of swastikas painted on its entryway.

Following the incident, community members and local officials came together to offer their support. Among those who offered their help to the synagogue were Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), who are in the midst of a tight congressional race in the state’s 10th district, which includes Harrisburg.

DePasquale told Jewish Insider that he was angered by the incident, describing his reaction as a “surprise on one hand, but on the other hand not completely shocked.”

“This stuff tragically happens. And sometimes it happens in your own backyard,” DePasquale, who is not Jewish but grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, said. “We have to do our best to root it out.”

Kesher Israel’s Rabbi Elisha Friedman said that both DePasquale and Perry expressed outrage after the incident.

“That’s exactly the kinds of people that you do want to make sure that they’re very concerned about it and you want them speaking out against it, but on a practical level it was being handled by other government agencies,” he said.

Perry did not respond to JI’s request for comment.

***

DePasquale’s congressional run comes after a long career in state-level elected office. He first ran for the state legislature in 2006 on a platform of governmental reform, alternative energy and education reform — DePasquale and Perry entered the Pennsylvania House of Representatives the same year, and both concluded their terms in 2013.

DePasquale emphasized that he has pushed for government accountability throughout his career — he said he was the first legislator to post his expenses online, and, as auditor general, helped clear a backlog of untested rape kits and improved child protection services.

DePasquale is running on a moderate platform against Perry, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. The House Freedom Fund PAC has contributed nearly $200,000 to Perry’s campaign.

“My style of leadership [is] needed at [the] Capitol. Being tough and fair on both parties,” DePasquale said. “Certainly I’m a proud Democrat, but… I’ve looked out for what is right, not necessarily just what’s right for the Democratic Party. And I thought our nation could use some of that right now.”

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) (Perry for Congress)

He drew a stark contrast between himself and Perry, who he described as “an ideologue that is more focused on representing an extreme ideology as opposed to representing the district.”

Many of the issues on which DePasquale is campaigning are personal to him. His family was never able to obtain health insurance for his younger brother while he struggled with — and ultimately died of — muscular dystrophy. 

“At least through all [the Affordable Care Act’s] strengths and weaknesses, that type of situation will not happen for a family member again,” he said. “[Perry] actually voted to take away those protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This fight on healthcare is personal for me.”

The devastation of his brother’s death was compounded by other family tragedies. DePasquale’s father, a Vietnam War veteran, became addicted to painkillers prescribed for gunshot wounds he suffered during the war. To finance his addiction, he sold drugs, eventually landing in prison.

“He actually had to come to my brother’s funeral in shackles,” DePasquale said. “So criminal justice reform, treating drug addiction — these are also high priorities for me.”

***

DePasquale visited Israel on a trip with the Philadelphia Jewish Coalition in 2019, while he was in the state legislature. In Israel, the group met with members of the Knesset, military and security officials, small business owners and environmental leaders, among others, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The group also visited areas bordering Gaza and the West Bank. 

DePasquale described the trip as “life changing” and “eye opening.”

“I don’t think you can truly appreciate Israel’s challenges until you’re there and you see how close everything is,” he said.

DePasquale added that he also took time away from the group to visit local spots. “Just talking to average everyday folks, whether they were Palestinian or Jewish or whomever else may have been there… the people there desire peace. And they’re exhausted by this and they want it to change,” he said.

DePasquale supports a two-state solution, and believes the United States has a major role to play in brokering such a deal. “The United States needs to make clear not only are we a friend of Israel, but we’ve got to be a fair negotiator among both sides to reestablish credibility,” he said, “so that we can get these sides to the table and try to negotiate.”

DePasquale expressed concern that the U.S.’s credibility as a negotiator has been undermined in recent years by “unilateral actions” that go “well beyond political parties.”

“Our friendship and alliance with Israel is non-negotiable,” he continued. “That doesn’t mean we can’t sit at the table and try to make sure that everyone is negotiating fairly.”

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. (Courtesy)

DePasquale said he works in all aspects of his life — both with his family and in his position as Auditor General — to consistently push back against hate and extremism of all kinds, including antisemitism. 

As a member of Congress, he said he would continue these efforts by reiterating his support for Israel and speaking out against those who express antisemitism.

Perry voted in favor of last year’s House resolution condemning antisemitism, but also criticized it at the time, saying it had been watered down.

Members of the local Jewish community praised DePasquale’s stance on Middle East issues, and said he’s been very open to discussing these issues, as well as other topics, with members of the Jewish community.

“I came away being very impressed with his views and his knowledge of the Middle East and Israel issues,” said Arthur Hoffman — a Harrisburg, Pa., attorney who organized a fundraiser for DePasquale. “He’s willingly spoken and been open to anyone approaching him with concerns.”

Both Hoffman and Harvey Freedenberg, another Harrisburg attorney backing DePasquale, praised him as a centrist and as more representative of the district than Perry.

“He is somebody who is very much committed to representing all the people of the district, as opposed to the incumbent, who I think has a very narrow ideology… [that] I think is really out of step with a growing number of people in the district,” Freedenberg told JI.

Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, a local PAC, also endorsed DePasquale during the primary. “We know he cares deeply about the Jewish community,” Jill Zipin, the PAC’s chair, told JI. “From our view, DePasquale is a man of integrity, he is a man of character, and he is a man who cares about the constituents of [the 10th district.]”

Eric Morrison, a longtime Perry supporter, praised DePasquale’s work as auditor general, but will be supporting Perry again this cycle.

“I’ve known [DePasquale] for a while as well… I hold him in high esteem,” Morrison told JI. “My concern is when you go to Washington, in the House or Senate, you tend to fall into the majority leader, speaker of the house platform regardless.”

Morrison praised Perry’s stance on Israel issues and said Perry has a “fantastic” relationship with the local Jewish community.

“He is very much involved in listening to AIPAC and we have meetings with him, he always avails himself, he wants to listen, he wants to learn,” he said. “He’s a tremendous advocate and ally for issues pertaining to Israel.”

Elliott Weinstein, a member of AIPAC’s national council, likewise described Perry as strong on Israel issues.

“He’s a friend of all of the things that we support,” Weinstein told JI. “He understands the issues that we bring forward to him.”

***

Recent polling indicates a tight race heading toward election day in the 10th district, which the Cook Political Report rates as a tossup. 

A late August and early September York Dispatch poll of 1,100 voters showed Perry leading DePasquale 44.7% to 38.4%, but 10% of voters said they were undecided. But a poll of 500 voters by GBAO Strategies found the two in a statistical tie, with DePasquale at 50% and Perry at 46%, with a margin of error of 4.4 points.

Monetarily, the candidates are fairly evenly matched — Perry had banked $1.9 million and DePasquale had raised $1.6 million by the end of the June. Both had approximately $990,000 in the bank as of the end of June.

But DePasquale is optimistic.

“We’ve been on the air for three and a half weeks and his first ad went on the air as a negative ad, and we’ve been positive,” he said. “So that lets me know that they know they’re in trouble.”

With Lowey and Engel departing, Elaine Luria says she’ll be stepping up

One of the most frequent questions Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) receives from constituents in Virginia’s 2nd congressional district is: “Is it as crazy in Washington as we see on TV?” 

Her typical answer, Luria told Jewish Insider,,is that while it might seem like there is no real opportunity for positive change in Congress, she has managed to find common ground with members across the political spectrum to pass legislation that matters to all. 

And while she is only a freshman member in Congress, Luria had the third highest number of bills signed into law by President Donald Trump among her colleagues on Capitol Hill last year. “It kind of shows that the process can work, and that there are lots of things that we can do that are not controversial where we can find common ground,” Luria told JI in a recent interview. “So when I talk to people about that, the bipartisan work I’ve done is hopefully somewhat reassuring.” 

Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Luria spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, ultimately rising to the rank of commander. She served on six different ships and was deployed six times, operating nuclear reactors and on aircraft carriers. 

Luria, 45, was first elected in 2018 as part of a blue wave that flipped districts that had voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, beating first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Taylor with 51% of the vote. This year, her district is considered a toss-up, according to the Cook Political Report, and she will once again face Taylor. 

While Luria voted for Trump’s impeachment last year, she has aligned herself with the president when it comes to his policy on Israel and — as a member of the House Bipartisan Task Force For Combating Anti-Semitism — she has been an outspoken critic of the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. Luria was one of 12 House Democrats who broke party ranks last year to vote in favor of a Republican motion to recommit on anti-BDS legislation that would allow state and local governments to adopt laws to divest public funds from entities that boycott Israel. 

She is also only one of a handful of Democrats who have attended Trump White House events, including the signing of Trump’s executive order to combat antisemitism on campus, and more recently, the Abraham Accords signing ceremony between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, along with Bahrain. “I was honored to join President Trump at the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, marking a new era in regional security and cooperation in the Middle East,” Luria told JI after the event. “I commend President Trump on his leadership to make this milestone a reality,” she added. 

While Luria claims she does not agree with everything Trump has done, she noted she is “willing to literally stand behind him on the stage while he does support an effort that I do agree with.” Luria added she would love “to see more bipartisanship and more opportunity to work together to get the things done that we all agree on.” 

Elaine Luria picture
Rep. Elaine Luria

In an interview last year, Luria told The Washington Post that her Jewish faith inspired her to take a position on impeachment and to speak up in defense of Israel and against antisemitism. 

“I did not necessarily anticipate going in to be a representative in the House that I would need to be as vocal about these things,” Luria told JI. Her debut speech on the House floor was during a debate over a resolution against hate, widely considered to be watered-down, following Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) comments regarding lawmakers’ support for Israel. Luria quipped that her remarks, decrying the dual loyalty label by pointing to her faith and past experience, sounded like an adapted version of the Passover song “Dayenu.” While she felt “discouraged” that the measure was diluted in the process, Luria said she felt it was important for her to use that opportunity to “speak up against antisemitism.” 

Luria maintained that with the retirement of longtime Democratic members like Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel of New York, and the addition of some newly successful far-left candidates, “I think that it’s much more important that I stay and come back to Congress as a strong voice to counter people who certainly speak up with different views than mine.” 

Last year, Luria reached out to Omar to discuss Israel and antisemitism. And while those meetings were not “as productive as I hoped for, I will always continue to try to do that,” Luria said, adding that she will “redouble” her efforts to engage with new members about issues of importance to the Jewish community. 

Luria is also one of the few House Democrats who didn’t sign on to letters expressing opposition to possible Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. A House letter sent to Israeli leaders, signed by 191 House Democrats and backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), warned that annexation would undermine the two-state solution. Luria told JI she “deliberately chose to not sign on to that letter,” because she believes it’s not the job of a member of Congress to be weighing in on Israeli government decisions, or to be “doing anything that would erode the very strong relationship that we have between the U.S. and Israel.” 

Luria was an early supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, endorsing the now-Democratic nominee back in January. “I know that Joe Biden is a very strong supporter of Israel. He stood up to antisemitism during his very long career serving in the Senate and he believes in standing up against the BDS movement,” she said. The only place she differs with her party’s standard-bearer is on his commitment to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. “I know that that is something that I’m not 100% aligned with him on, but I think that overwhelmingly his positions, both for domestic policy and support of the U.S.-Israel relationship, [are] something I do align with.” 

Luria, along with fellow freshmen Reps. Max Rose (D-NY) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), are part of the “Gang of Nine,” moderate Democrats with national security backgrounds. 

In 2018, during a campaign stop, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced Luria and expressed in amazement how “this Jewish girl from Alabama,” who served 20 years in the Navy, commanding a combat unit of 400 sailors, was going to be a congresswoman. Recalling that moment, Luria laughed that she might indeed be an unusual candidate for office. “I guess there are not many Jewish girls from Alabama who go to the Naval Academy and then end up in Congress,” she said. “But I feel it’s just a continuation of my service, and I feel a great responsibility to preserve my heritage and serve my constituents well.”

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