In Harris, Biden chooses a traditionally pro-Israel Dem as his veep candidate

Senator has good relations with AIPAC, is closely aligned with running mate on Mideast policy and aid to Jewish state; voted against anti-BDS bill, citing First Amendment rights

Sen. Kamala Harris, left, hosted by Israeli PM Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office, November 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Sen. Kamala Harris, left, hosted by Israeli PM Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office, November 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

WASHINGTON — Former vice president Joe Biden made history Tuesday by choosing California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. The 55-year-old senator will be a VP candidate of many firsts: the first woman of color, the first daughter of immigrants and the first Indian American to be on a major party’s presidential ticket.

When it comes to US policy on Israel, her positions more or less reflect mainstream Democratic thinking over the last 10 years.

Harris supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and believes in a robust US-Israel relationship, including the continuation of American military aid to the Jewish state.

She backed the Iran nuclear deal and vowed to re-enter the landmark pact as a presidential contender last year, aligning her closely with Biden, who was a champion of the agreement in the Obama administration.

In this 2011 file photo, former president Barack Obama walks along the tarmac with California Attorney General Kamala Harris at San Francisco International Airport, Feb. 17, 2011 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Unlike some of the more liberal members of the caucus, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she has not bucked the party’s traditionally supportive posture toward Israel, or called for fundamental changes to the nature of the alliance.

In November 2017, she visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In April 2019, the senator’s then campaign communications director Lily Adams told McClatchy that her “support for Israel is central to who she is.”

Even as insurgent progressives like Ocasio-Cortez have been deeply critical of Israel’s tactics in Gaza during flareups, Adams told McClatchy that Harris was “firm in her belief that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself, including against rocket attacks from Gaza.”

The Howard University graduate has also maintained a close relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The former prosecutor was very public about her private meetings with AIPAC officials in March 2019, amid the pro-Israel lobby’s annual policy conference.

At the time, there was pressure from liberal groups such as MoveOn to boycott the event. The public announcement of the private meetings was seen as a tactic to dispel the rumors that the campaign had been successful.

“Great to meet today in my office with California AIPAC leaders to discuss the need for a strong US-Israel alliance, the right of Israel to defend itself, and my commitment to combat anti-Semitism in our country and around the world,” Harris tweeted at the time.

AIPAC became even more of a progressive lightning rod in 2020, when Sanders, then the leading Democratic presidential hopeful, refused to speak before the confab, saying it provided a venue for leaders to disparage Palestinians.

“I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights,” he said. “For that reason I will not attend their conference.”

Harris, who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary for the presidential nomination, had already dropped out at that point.

There has been one issue in which Harris has diverged to an extent from Washington’s pro-Israel lobby: the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that would criminalize boycotting the Jewish state. Harris does not support the BDS movement, but she voted against the bill on the grounds that it would infringe on speech rights.

“Senator Harris strongly supports security assistance to strengthen Israel’s ability to defend itself,” her office said. “She has traveled to Israel where she saw the importance of US-Israeli security cooperation firsthand. She opposed [the act] out of concern that it could limit Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

Biden’s announcement that he had chosen Harris as his running mate drew swift praise from Jewish Democratic advocacy groups.

“Harris prioritizes the same issues as Jewish voters, and will work diligently to defend our values in the White House, alongside our next president, Joe Biden,” said Hailie Soifer, the head of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and a former Harris aide.

Halie Soifer heads the Jewish Democratic Council of America. (Courtesy of JDCA)

“As the former national security advisor to Senator Harris, I know firsthand her conviction and commitment to creating a better country for all Americans,” Soifer added. “She strongly aligns with the values of American Jews, including her support of the US-Israel relationship, her commitment to ensuring access to affordable healthcare and education, her intolerance for hatred and bigotry, and her unwavering efforts to protect our country’s most vulnerable communities.”

Immediately upon Biden’s announcement Tuesday, the Republican Jewish Committee began attacking Harris, depicting her as a radical leftist, and targeting her vow to return to the Iran deal and opposition to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

“Joe Biden has sealed the Democrat Party’s move to the extreme left with the choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate,” the group’s executive director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “She does not stand with Israel and the Jewish community.”

Harris has a personal connection to the Jewish community. Her husband, attorney Douglas Ehmhoff, is Jewish. If Biden and Harris are elected, he would become the country’s first Jewish second husband.

Biden and Harris are expected to appear together for their first public event as running mates in Wilmington, North Carolina on Wednesday.

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