Hillary’s VP possibles all support Israel, not so sure about its PM
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Hillary’s VP possibles all support Israel, not so sure about its PM

Former secretary’s running mate options, including Kaine, Warren and Castro, largely back the alliance with Israel, a two-state solution… and the Iran deal

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters at a presidential primary rally in New York, June 7, 2016. (AP/Julio Cortez)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters at a presidential primary rally in New York, June 7, 2016. (AP/Julio Cortez)

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton’s search for a running mate will entail a lot of considerations: Who will help her energize Democratic voters? Who will help her win over progressives loyal to Bernie Sanders? Who will help her broaden her appeal to independents over Donald Trump?

But, another question remains: How will she be thinking about Israel when she chooses her second in command?

As she has narrowed down her shortlist and moved the vetting process into a more intense phase, her list reflects an attitude on Israel that’s generically supportive but not simpatico with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on some of the most hot-button issues.

Every prospective vice presidential candidate being considered to run alongside Clinton supports the Iran nuclear deal — as to be expected — and two of the senators on that list skipped Netanyahu’s controversial speech before Congress telling members to oppose the president’s signature diplomatic initiative.

When it comes to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, Clinton’s veep list contains no one who has departed from the mainstream. They have all stayed in tune with Democratic orthodoxy on the issue and support a two-state solution, the establishment of a Palestinian state and a strong US-Israel alliance.

None of them are more experienced on foreign policy or national security than Clinton, a former US senator and secretary of state; and certainly none of them have more experience on Israel — as first lady during President Bill Clinton’s efforts to mediate the Oslo Accords and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she’s had a front row seat to the rollercoaster of peacemaking for decades. As she joked at this year’s AIPAC policy conference, “I don’t think Yitzhak Rabin ever forgave me for banishing him to the White House balcony when he wanted to smoke.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2010, in Washington, DC -- the last time the two sides held direct, high-level talks (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2010, in Washington, DC — the last time the two sides held direct, top-level talks (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

As President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, Clinton negotiated a 2012 ceasefire during a violent flare up between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. She also worked with former US special envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell to get Netanyahu to declare a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank to try and jumpstart peace talks. It is hard to imagine she will find someone who has done more on the issue than her.

When it comes to a potential running mate, Clinton has indicated experience, judgment and preparedness are the most important requisites for the post. “I want to be sure that whoever I pick could be president immediately if something were to happen,” she told CNN this month. “That’s the most important qualification.”

The main three candidates now being considered, according to a series of reports, include: Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, along with a few other names still in the mix.

Below is a breakdown of their histories with Israel and some of their stances on US foreign policy toward the Middle East.

Tim Kaine

 

Of all the names on Clinton’s shortlist, Kaine has not only the most expansive resume of working in government and politics, but also the most experience relating to Israel. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kaine has been at the forefront of congressional debates relating to Israel and the region.

He is, in his own words, “a strong supporter of the nuclear agreement with Iran” and has called it “a dramatic improvement over the status quo.”

Before the contours of the deal were agreed upon in July 2015, Kaine, 58, supported using diplomatic means to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and he vocally opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before a joint session of Congress to lambaste President Obama’s efforts to negotiate an agreement.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) (YouTube screenshot)
Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) (YouTube screenshot)

One of the eight Democratic senators to skip the speech, the former Virginia governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee regarded the speech as “highly inappropriate” and harmful to Israel remaining an issue of bipartisan consensus in Washington. He also castigated the Israeli premier for using the address to fortify his re-election campaign back home.

“There is no reason to schedule this speech before Israeli voters go to the poll… and choose their own leadership,” Kaine said in a statement. “I am disappointed that, as of now, the speech has not been postponed. For this reason, I will not attend the speech.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress, Washington DC, March 03, 2015. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress, Washington DC, March 3, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

A little more than a year before Netanyahu’s speech, Kaine met with the prime minister in Jerusalem to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat. Shortly after the United States forged the interim agreement with Iran, in November 2013, the Virginia senator and his colleague Angus King (I-ME) discussed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions and what steps can be taken to halt them.

After the meeting, Kaine told reporters: “I understand and [the Israelis] understand that this is a negotiation. At the end of the day, we have the same goal of a diplomatic solution, [of Iran] without a nuclear weapon and easy ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Exactly how to define that question of what is acceptable in terms of nuclear research and what is unacceptable, that gets too close to a weapon, there are some gray areas.”

“The US and Israeli perspectives may be a little different,” he added. “That demands communication.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, meets with Senators Angus King, right, and Tim Kaine, on Sunday in Jerusalem (photo credit: Amb. Dan Shapiro/Facebook)
In this undated photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, meets with senators Angus King, left, and Tim Kaine, in Jerusalem (Amb. Dan Shapiro/Facebook)

 

On Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, Kaine is a strong supporter of a two-state solution. In July 2013, he co-sponsored a resolution calling for such an outcome to the longstanding imbroglio, shortly after the Kerry-brokered negotiations commenced.

“I have long been a supporter of direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security,” he said in a press release. “A two-state solution is the only outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which can ensure the State of Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people, and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.”

He further said that resolving the conflict was in the national security interests of the United States, and he added that, “While only the parties themselves can make the difficult choices necessary to end their conflict, the United States remains indispensable to any viable effort to achieve that goal.”

Due to his preferred use of diplomacy over force and a basic alignment of ideological orientation, Kaine is a darling of the dovish pro-Israel group J Street, which has listed him as one of their “On the Street” candidates to whom their supporters can directly donate through their PAC’s website.

The organization boasts of Kaine as someone who “speaks of himself as a Truman Democrat, committed to making Israel a lasting home for the Jewish people that is safe, secure and at peace with its Palestinian neighbors.”

Elizabeth Warren

 

Warren, a hero of the American left, has been an obvious consideration for Clinton, but not without some caveats. Pundits say she would help the presumptive Democratic nominee attract voters who aligned with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primary and could help unify the party.

If Warren, 67, were chosen, this election would not only see the first time a major party nominated a woman to be president, but it would also see the first time ever two women appeared on a ticket. There would be a tradeoff, however: The current Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, is a Republican, which means Baker would fill Warren’s Senate seat with a Republican until a special election was conducted.

Nevertheless, reports have said that high-level sources confirm she’s being vetted by the Clinton camp, and she and Clinton recently met at Clinton’s Washington home on June 10.

This file photo taken on February 24, 2015 shows US Senator Elizabeth Warren(D-MA), as she attends a US Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
This file photo taken on February 24, 2015 shows US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as she attends a US Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

On Israel, Warren has a consistent record of being supportive. Like Kaine, however, she skipped Netanyahu’s controversial address before Congress. Also like Kaine, she said she was bothered by the political nature of the address, given it was in the midst of an Israeli election, and she excoriated House Speaker John Boehner for extending the invitation behind President Obama’s back, which she described as a breach of diplomatic protocol.

“I strongly support Israel, and I remain deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, which I discussed in detail with Prime Minister Netanyahu when we met in Jerusalem last November,” she said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that Speaker Boehner’s actions on the eve of a national election in Israel have made Tuesday’s event more political and less helpful for addressing the critical issue of nuclear nonproliferation and the safety of our most important ally in the Middle East.”

Months later, after the deal was agreed upon by Iran and the P5+1 world powers, Warren announced her support for the agreement.

“The question now before Congress — the only question before Congress — is whether the recently announced nuclear agreement represents our best available option for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” she told the Boston Globe on August 3, three weeks after the deal was announced. “I am convinced that it does.”

In line with longstanding US foreign policy and Democratic Party orthodoxy, Warren supports a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has stated she thinks such an outcome must be reached through negotiations between the parties.

Her first trip abroad as a senator, in November 2014, was to Israel and Jordan, and during her travels, she met with Netanyahu at his Jerusalem office.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Nov. 24, 2014 (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Nov. 24, 2014 (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

She has, however, sometimes caused discomfort among the pro-Israel community. She was among the 75 senators who declined to sign a bipartisan letter, in January 2015, to Secretary of State John Kerry stating they would not support US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the administration reviewed its leadership’s decision to unilaterally join the International Criminal Court and accuse Israel of committing war crimes.

Moreover, she was among the 88 senators who declined to sign a letter, in September 2014, that called for the US to take steps toward preventing Hamas from rebuilding its military infrastructure, enabling the Palestinian Authority to govern the Gaza Strip and preventing the Palestinians from taking unilateral action against Israel at the United Nations.

She’s also defended Israel’s actions during intensified conflict. After she voted in favor of a senate measure to send an additional $225 million to Israel for military funding during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, constituents at a town hall meeting berated her for the move.

“I think the vote was right, and I’ll tell you why I think the vote was right,” she told an angry questioner. “America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world.”

“When Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets,” she added. “And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.” She also called Hamas attacks on Israeli population centers “indiscriminate” and said she thought that civilian Palestinian casualties were the “last thing Israel wants.”

Julian Castro

 

Julian Castro, the 41-year-old secretary of Housing and Urban Development, would bring a young face to Clinton’s ticket and would likely help to shore up the Latino vote, which many analysts say is becoming increasingly alienated by the GOP nominee and his proposal to deport more than 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro speaks at the Texas Democratic convention on Friday, June 17, 2016, in San Antonio (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro speaks at the Texas Democratic convention on Friday, June 17, 2016, in San Antonio (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Castro doesn’t have as much policy experience relating to Israel as Kaine or Warren, but he’s visited there and has spoken in general terms of admiration for the Jewish State. When he visited Israel as mayor of San Antonio, Texas, in July 2011, then-president Shimon Peres held an official ceremony welcoming him.

“Israel’s is an inspiring story, because if Israel, given the challenging circumstances it operates under can excel in a 21st century economy, certainly communities in the United States like San Antonio can do so as well,” he told reporters at the time. “It was eye-opening for me in terms of how a nation can overcome diversity, how they can come together and create something truly amazing in terms of entrepreneurship, and it spoke to me about what San Antonio can accomplish.”

Castro was reportedly so impressed by Saul Singer and Dan Senor’s book “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” that he decided to take a San Antonio delegation to learn from the country more directly.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro joins Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign stop in San Antonio on Oct. 15, 2015 (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro joins Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign stop in San Antonio on Oct. 15, 2015 (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

 

But other than that, he has never been in a position to execute foreign policy, and has not been vocal or specific about any particular policy positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or other regional issues.

Interviewed by Hadassah Magazine, in January 2013, he defended President Obama’s approach toward Israel, along with his handling of the Iranian nuclear threat, without going into details about policy.

“The president is a strong supporter of Israel, and through his leadership the United States has maintained a very close connection [and] has made a very big investment in ensuring that Israel continues to be stable and secure.” he said.

“The United States and Israel share a common goal with most of the rest of the world that Iran never secures nuclear weapons,” he added. “I don’t believe it will happen as long as we are vigilant and remain committed to the goal. The US will always stand for a strong Israel and ensure that Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons.”

Other contenders

 

While a number of reports have recently said Kaine, Warren and Castro are the three receiving the most consideration as vice presidential candidates, there are others who are in the mix: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and California Rep. Xavier Beccera are all being given a serious look, according to multiple US media outlets.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown speaking before the Senate Agriculture Committee, March 7, 2012. (photo credit: USDA/Bob Nichols/JTA)
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown speaking before the Senate Agriculture Committee, March 7, 2012. (USDA/Bob Nichols/JTA)

All of those three are basically inside the mainstream of Democratic Party and Jewish community thinking on Israel and the Middle East: all support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and they all supported the Iran nuclear agreement but have each called for rigorous implementation of the deal to ensure Tehran does not develop a nuclear program.

Brown, however, recently declined to sign a letter — signed by 83 of his Senate colleagues — urging the Obama administration to increase its annual defense aid to Israel following the Iranian nuclear accord.

Perhaps the most connected to the Jewish community of the three is Booker. During his time at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, from 1992 to 1994, he became friends with Hasidic Jews involved with the Chabad Lubavitcher movement, one of whom was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

Booker, the only black Democrat in the Senate, has since that phase of his life been well versed in Torah and Jewish customs. While at Oxford, Boteach asked Booker to head the campus’s L’Chaim Society. Booker accepted and became its first non-Jewish leader. The two have maintained a friendship since, despite Boteach’s anger over his friend’s support for President Obama’s nuclear deal.

Booker, who has maintained a strong relationship with the Jewish community throughout his career in public life, called the pact “the better of two flawed options” as opposed to rejecting the agreement.

“I nonetheless believe it is better to support a deeply flawed deal, for the alternative is worse,” he added. “Thus I will vote in support of the deal. But the United States must recognize that to make this deal work, we must be more vigilant than ever in fighting Iranian aggression.”

NJ Senator Cory Booker (YouTube screenshot)
NJ Senator Cory Booker (YouTube screenshot)

Booker’s choice, the rabbi said, was a “troubling and tragic choice,” and he publicly asked, “How on earth could he participate in making Iran’s nuclear program kosher amid their never-ending pledge to carry out a second holocaust?” The disagreement notwithstanding, he called Booker a “soul friend” and stressed that no matter of policy would “get personal or come between us.”

Another name often mentioned is Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who would help attract more left-leaning voters. The native of Buffalo, New York has been a progressive advocate for the labor movement, civil rights and criminal justice reform. A former assistant US attorney general and secretary for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Perez lacks foreign policy experience and any positions he may have regarding the Jewish State are not publicly known.

The Democratic convention, in which the party’s delegates will officially nominate their presidential and vice presidential nominees, will be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from July 25 to July 28.

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