Illinois’s Jewish community praises VP contender Tammy Duckworth

With the Democratic National Convention just weeks away, speculation over Joe Biden’s running mate selection has hit a fever pitch. Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he’ll likely announce his pick next week, and one name reportedly on the shortlist is Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Members of Chicago’s Jewish community largely described Duckworth — a former Army combat helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq — as a popular and well-respected senator who has a strong relationship with the local Jewish community.

“Senator Duckworth has been a great friend to the Jewish community and a champion on the issues they care about, from helping the widow, orphan and stranger, to ensuring a safe and secure Israel as a democratic, Jewish state,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), who is Jewish, told Jewish Insider.

Steve Sheffey, a Democratic activist in Chicago, echoed Schneider’s sentiments.

“She’s been absolutely outstanding on issues of concern to the Jewish community,” Sheffey told JI. “She’s very supportive of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, she’s open, she’s got a great voting record on Israel.”

Alan Solow, a national co-chair of the 2012 Obama-Biden reelection campaign and the former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JI that Duckworth’s relationship with the Jewish community has been harmonious.

“There have been no issues,” Solow said. “It’s been what one would expect in a state like Illinois, where we have a tradition of political leaders here hav[ing] strong, affirmative relationships with the Jewish community, and she’s done the same thing.”

Lauren Beth Gash, a former member of the Illinois House of Representatives and the vice chair of the Illinois Democratic Party, said she has known Duckworth for more than 15 years, since Duckworth’s first run for office. In 2006, Duckworth was the Democratic nominee in the race to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), but lost 51-49 to Peter Roskam, then a state senator.

“One of the reasons that I have supported Tammy is because she truly shares our values and the value of tikkun olam,” Gash told JI. “Personally, I feel as an American Jew that she is the kind of leader we can trust to fight for Israel, and that matters to me.”

Duckworth is largely in line with the Democratic mainstream on Israel — she supports a two-state solution, backed the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, opposes BDS and supports continued U.S. military aid to Israel

In the House, Duckworth co-sponsored a resolution condemning antisemitism and comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, as well as a bill providing resources to social services agencies to assist Holocaust survivors.

Recently, Duckworth has been vocal in her opposition to Israel’s potential unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank. She signed a letter, along with 18 other Democratic senators, criticizing annexation as a “dramatic reversal of decades of shared understandings between the United States, Israel, the Palestinians and the international community.” She also co-sponsored a Senate resolution that said annexation would “jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution.”

Local supporters described Duckworth as well-informed about issues relating to Israel and the U.S. Jewish community.

“I’ve personally talked to her about Israel, and I have no doubt that she understands the issue and that she’s a good friend of both the Jewish community and the pro-Israel community,” Sheffey said.

Gash agreed, noting that Duckworth’s military service has given her a particularly keen understanding of Israel’s security needs.

“When you listen to her give a speech or just talk, you can tell that it’s real, and you can tell that she shares our values, and you can tell that it comes from a deep place of caring and concern, and not just someone who’s just running for office,” she said. “Tammy is the real deal, and that’s not as common as I’d like to to be.”

Gash told JI that Duckworth speaks frequently to local Jewish organizations, as well as national groups including J Street and AIPAC. Duckworth’s positions have earned her an endorsement from J Street PAC.

“The J Street Chicago chapter is proud to have a very strong relationship with Senator Duckworth and her staff,” J Street’s Midwest Regional Director Sam Berkman said in an email to JI. “The Senator has proven herself time and again to be a true friend of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.”

Duckworth has received criticism, however, from Republicans in the state.

“There’s a lot of fluff around her in the media, and most of that is because of the story of her service and sacrifice, which is all honorable, but if you actually were to put her on a national stage and have scrutiny, it would not go well for Biden in my view,” a GOP operative from Illinois told JI. 

“On issues in the Jewish community [she’s been] absent or on the wrong side,” the Republican added, pointing to her opposition to annexation and endorsement from J Street.

While the Democrats who spoke to JI avoided endorsing any individual as Biden’s running mate, they agreed that Duckworth would be a strong choice.

“If Vice President Biden selected Senator Duckworth, I would enthusiastically support that,” said Solow — who added that he knows most of the individuals who are reported to be in consideration. “I’m sure she would do an excellent job if she were called upon to assume the duties of the presidency,” he added.

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