PHILADELPHIA — Shortly after the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton announced Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate Friday, liberal and conservative Jewish groups went into their respective offensive and defensive modes.
The dovish J Street immediately championed Kaine, who has long been one of their darlings. Due to his preferred use of diplomacy over force and articulated support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the organization has in the past listed him as one of their “On the Street” candidates, to whom their supporters can directly donate through their political action committee’s website.
Besides sharing J Street’s policy priorities on the Palestinian issue, Kaine was an ardent advocate of the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement on which the group spent roughly $5 million helping to push through Congress.
Once Clinton made the text message announcement to her supporters, J Street released a statement commending Kaine’s work on behalf of their core issues. “In the course of his lengthy career in public service, Senator Kaine has proven himself to be a great friend of Israel and a champion of pragmatic, proactive American foreign policy,” it said.
Before being elected to the US Senate, 58-year-old Kaine chaired the Democratic National Committee and was the governor of his state. As a member of Congress, he’s accrued experience with international affairs, particularly as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.
J Street praised his record on the Middle East, saying he “consistently advocated the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the only way to ensure that Israel can survive and flourish as a Jewish and democratic state and that Palestinians can live with independence and dignity.”
They also noted him as a “leader in the successful effort to defang the Iranian nuclear program through tough sanctions and effective diplomacy that produced the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] agreement.”
But for the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition, such background did not garner their approval or commendation. They swiftly lambasted Kaine as enabling Tehran in acquiring a nuclear arsenal and, indeed, his affiliation with J Street itself — an organization they regard as lobbying positions that do not serve Israel’s interests.
“After leading President Obama’s disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East, Hillary Clinton’s selection of Senator Kaine as her running mate further proves she cannot be trusted to keep our country safe,” RJC’s executive director Matt Brooks said in a press release.
“Whether it’s his vote for the Iran deal, which paves the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, or his proud support of the progressive anti-Israel J Street agenda which earned him their enthusiastic endorsement, Senator Kaine has shown how out of touch he is on the dangers facing our country,” he added. “A Clinton-Kaine White House would continue the same failed policies that have made the US and our allies around the world less safe.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council hit back at the criticism of Kaine, stressing his support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and highlighting Republican nominee Donald Trump’s hesitation in rejecting an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke.
Kaine “showed his deep concern for finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine question and finding a solution in that two-state answer that has been the keystone of American foreign policy regarding Israel for decades,” Greg Rosenbaum, the head of NJDC, told The Times of Israel.
“I can’t imagine that there are Jewish Dems out there who would find a reason to object to Senator Kaine,” Rosenbaum said. “I know that the RJC has already responded with one of their guilt-by-association press releases, in which they [claim] Senator Kaine was disqualified because he’d been endorsed by J Street. I find that incongruous, in that the RJC has endorsed a candidate for president who refuses to disavow his support for neo-Nazis.”
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report