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What the Top Democrat 2020 Presidential Candidates Really Believe About Israel In Their Own Words

07-17-2019
Democratic presidential candidates former vice president Joe Biden, left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) right, at NBC's Democratic primary debate June 27, 2019 (AP Photo)

Two dozen Democratic presidential candidates have officially joined the race for their chance to challenge President Donald Trump for the highest office in America in the 2020 elections. 

One policy issue on many Americans' minds is Israel. What do the top candidates believe about Israel and what would America's relationship with the Jewish State look like under their leadership?

Here's their answer in their own words. 

Joe Biden 

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Joe Biden is a Democratic presidential front-runner and former vice president. He supports separate states for Israel and the Palestinians and said at an election rally in New Hampshire on Saturday that "there is no answer" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but the two-state solution.

He told IfNotNow, an anti-Israel Jewish-American organization whose stated goal is to "end the occupation" of Palestinians, that he believes Israel is occupying Palestinian land. He said the "occupation is a human rights crisis." He also vowed to pressure Israel to end the occupation if he became president. 

He has said Israeli settlement communities in Judea and Samaria are "unnecessary." However, he also called out Palestinian leaders for their hatred of Israel. 

"The Palestinians have to step up to be prepared to stop the hate that has caused, so it’s a two-way street," Biden said.

The US-Israel Relationship

While speaking at the City University of New York earlier this month, the former vice president emphasized America's "ironclad commitments to Israel's security" regardless of how much he disagrees with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

"Sustaining our ironclad commitments to Israel's security regardless of how much you may disagree with its current leader," the former vice president said Thursday.

Iran Nuclear Deal

The United States entered the highly controversial Iran nuclear deal under Biden’s leadership. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal last year. Biden said he would re-enter the accord if Iran complies. 

"If Tehran returns to compliance with the deal I'd rejoin the agreement and work with our allies to strengthen and extend it," Biden said, "while more effectively pushing back against Iran's more destabilizing activities which under the agreement we were allowed to do — we had partners to do with us." 

Jerusalem

Biden voted in favor of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act that recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and required the president to relocate America's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, Trump was the one to enact the legislation last year. 

A spokesman for Biden told Axios he would not move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv. 

"But he would re-open our consulate in East Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians. He would also return the United States to the effort of encouraging a two-state solution — the only way to truly guarantee Israel’s long-term security as a Jewish and democratic state and meet the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for a state of their own,” he added. 

Cory Booker 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) represents a state with one of America’s largest Jewish populations. 

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In an interview with HuffPost, Booker described Israel as a "democratic ally of ours in a region that is surrounded by nations, many of them who are doing things to suppress minorities, violate rights in a way that should be calling on all of us to say, 'Look what you are doing to your minorities, to gays and lesbians, look what you are doing to women.' But yet people seem to be focused on a state that is a democratic state, that has Muslims on its Supreme Court, Muslims in its legislature." 

Booker supports a two-state solution and said: "Israelis have a right to self-determination, so do Palestinians."

When pressured by anti-Israel activists to classify “the occupation as a human rights crisis for Palestinians” he became visibly frustrated and responded, “If that’s your issue I would understand if you want to support somebody else.” 

Booker condemns the anti-Israel “Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement and told HuffPost he believes part of the movement's goal is to "destroy the State of Israel."

"I do not support BDS," Booker told HuffPost. "To me, I think, there are elements in the BDS movement that want to destroy the State of Israel, that are engaged in things that will undermine Israel's ability to survive, to exist, to protect itself."

Booker co-sponsored the S. 720 Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which punishes American businesses who boycott the Jewish State. In February, Booker voted against an earlier version of the bill that passed as part of a larger measure called the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act. While explaining his reasoning to HuffPost, he said although he condemns BDS, he opposed the earlier measure because he thought it "was an assault on First Amendment rights." 

Iran Nuclear Deal

Booker supported the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and called it "the better of two flawed options."

However, Booker classified Iran as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and said a nuclear-armed Iran is "plainly unacceptable."

Jerusalem

Booker opposed President Trump's embassy move because he believes it should have been decided after direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Booker told Axios Sunday he would not reverse the decision. 

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I- VT) is a Jewish-American candidate who is one of the most public supporters of socialism in America. While Sanders considers himself pro-Israel, he is also one of the most vocal critics of the Jewish state.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Sanders condemned Israel’s actions in 2018 during the March of Return riots on the Gaza border. 
He told an Al Jazeera reporter, “Instead of applauding Israel for its actions, Israel should be condemned. Israel has a right to security, but shooting unarmed protesters is not what it is about.”

During the riots, Sanders addressed J Street’s annual conference and said Israel “massively overreacted.”

“Though the overwhelming majority of these protesters were nonviolent, we know that some of them were not, and when Israeli soldiers are in danger, we can all agree that they have a right to defend themselves,” he said at the time. “But I don’t think that any objective person can disagree that Israel has massively reacted to these demonstrations.” 

In 2014, during Israel’s war with Gaza, Sanders condemned Hamas for terrorizing Israelis and Palestinians. 

“You have a situation where Hamas is sending missiles into Israel – a fact – and you know where some of those missiles are coming from. They’re coming from populated areas; that’s a fact. Hamas is using money that came into Gaza for construction purposes – and God knows they need roads and all the things that they need – and used some of that money to build these very sophisticated tunnels into Israel for military purposes.” 

However, Sanders, who once lived in Israel for a few months, believes Israel is crushing the Palestinians under “military occupation.”
He told ACJ Global Jewish Advocacy, that “ending that occupation and enabling the Palestinians to have independence and self-determination in a sovereign, independent, economically viable state of their own” a top priority. 

Last month, he was also seen posing with anti-Israel IfNotNow activists while holding a sign that read: “Jews Against the Occupation.” 
Criticisms of Netanyahu

Sanders is very critical of Netanyahu’s policies and told NBC News “I’m not a great fan of his.” 

Earlier this year accused Netanyahu of running a racist and oppressive government. 

“What I believe is not radical,” Sanders said during a CNN town hall event. “I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing — dare I say — racist government.”

Despite his harsh criticism of Israel and Netanyahu’s policies, Sanders says he is “100 percent pro-Israel” 

“Israel has every right to exist and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. But the United States needs to deal with not just Israel, but with the Palestinian people as well.”

Jerusalem

In 2017, Bernie condemned Trump for considering moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

He said in a statement that doing so would “dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States’ ability to broker that peace.” 

When asked by Axios if he would move the embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv, he refused to answer. 

Anti-Semitism and BDS

While Sander says he does not support the BDS movement, he voted against a resolution that would allow states and local governments to stop doing business with companies that participate in the BDS movement. He called the legislation “absurd” and said, “it is clear to me that this bill would violate American’s First Amendment rights.”

Earlier this year, Sanders received backlash for defending anti-Semites within the Democratic party. When Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) came under fire for accusing American Jews of paying off American leaders to promote pro-Israel policies, he called Omar and offered her his support. 

He reportedly told Arab American Institute founder James Zogby, “I talked to Ilhan last night to give her my personal support. We will stand by our Muslim brothers and sisters.” 

He also did not condemn Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D- MI) after she accused pro-Israel American lawmakers of having dual loyalty. 

He also has praised anti-Semitic UK politician Jeremy Corbyn.

In 2017, Sanders did sign a letter condemning the United Nations for its anti-Israel bias. However, he later told Al Jazeera’s AJ+ weeks later that he disagreed with some of the content of the letter. 

“I didn’t write that letter. I signed onto the letter. It’s not a letter that I would’ve written. There are many problems with Israel, and I have been critical and will be critical of a lot of what Israel does,” he said.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Sanders supported the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that while it is not “a perfect agreement” the United States has “to negotiate with Iran.”

He strongly condemned Trump for pulling out of the deal in May 2018, calling the decision “the latest in a series of rash and reckless moves that make Americans less safe.”

“Breaking the Iran agreement would not only free Iran from the limits placed on its nuclear program, it would irreparably harm America’s ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements,” continued Sanders. “Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president might simply discard that agreement a few years later?”

Sanders said he would rejoin the Iran deal if elected president. 

Kamala Harris

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was the former Attorney General of California and is currently married to Jewish lawyer Douglas Emhoff. 
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

According to her campaign website, she has "unshakable support for Israel" and if elected as President, will "work towards a two-state solution so that Palestinians and Israelis can govern themselves in security, dignity, and peace." 

Addressing UN Anti-Israel Bias 

The first resolution Harris co-sponsored after being elected as a US senator condemned the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which labeled Israel's settlement activity as a "flagrant violation" of international law. 
 
She also wrote a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urging him to stop the UN's unfair bias against Israel

While speaking at AIPAC in 2017, Harris said she would challenge anti-Israel bias, even in the United Nations.

"I believe that when any organization delegitimizes Israel, we must stand up and speak out for Israel to be treated equally. That is why the first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and reaffirm that the United States seeks a just, secure and sustainable two-state solution," she said.  

The BDS Movement

Harris also condemns the BDS movement. She told The Jewish News of Northern California in 2016 that the movement seeks to "isolate Israel, the only democracy in the region" and is "based on the mistaken assumption that Israel is solely to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." 

Harris voted against a bill that punishes companies that boycott Israel "out of concern that it could limit Americans' First Amendment rights." 

Iran Nuclear Deal

Harris says she wants to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but supports the Iran nuclear deal even though it is "by no means a perfect compromise.”

She criticized Trump's decision to pull out of the deal, saying his decision "jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies."

In late 2017, Harris visited Israel to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss deepening cooperation between the US and the Jewish State. 

Harris opposed the nomination of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman along with several other Democrats. 

"In his writings and statements, Friedman has insulted, vilified and smeared broad swaths of Americans whose political views differ from his own, including using Holocaust references to equate some Americans with Nazi sympathizers," Harris said in a statement

Jerusalem
She did not respond to a question by Axios asking if she would move the US embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv if elected President.
 

Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has increasingly aligned herself with anti-Israel leaders and organizations in recent years. 
Connection to Anti-Israel Group IfNotNow

Warren recently hired IfNotNow founder Max Berger as her new "Director of Progressive Partnerships". Last week, she told a representative of IfNotNow on camera that if elected, she would push Israel to "end the occupation."

Jerusalem
She also chose not to respond to an inquiry from Axios about whether or not she would move the US embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. 

The rest of Warren's record on Israel is mixed. 

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Massachusetts senator has addressed AIPAC and said in 2014 during Israel's war with Hamas that "Israel has a right to defend itself." 

However, after the 2014 conflict, Warren refused to sign a letter in favor of preventing Hamas from rebuilding its military and warning the PA from going to the International Criminal Court. 

Yet, later that year, she co-sponsored the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, a measure that aimed to strengthen the two countries' cooperation on defense issue, energy, water, and agriculture. 

Last year she urged the Israel Defense Forces to "exercise restraint and respect the right of Palestinians to peacefully protest" during the March of Return riots. n/

The BDS Movement

In 2017, Warren called BDS "wrong," but came out against the Israel Anti-Boycott Act because she believed forbidding American firms from joining the BDS movement violated the First Amendment. 
Jerusalem

When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, Warren said at a Union for Reform Judaism conference in 2017 that the holy city "is the capital of Israel." 

However, she criticized Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, saying it makes implementing the two-state solution "more difficult." 

Warren supports the Iran nuclear deal and was one of nearly 60 Democrats who boycotted Netanyahu's 2015 address to Congress about Iran's nuclear aspirations.

She also came out strongly against Trump's decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, saying it "breaks our word, hurts our credibility with our allies, empowers Iranian hardliners, and doesn't make us any safer here at home." 

Pete Buttigieg 

Iraq veteran and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is a harsh critic of Netanyahu and a staunch supporter of the two-state solution. 
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & Criticism of Netanyahu

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & Criticism of Netanyahu

According to his campaign website, Buttigieg says the "security and survival of the democratic state of Israel has been and continues to be an essential tenet of U.S. foreign policy, and is very much in our national interest." 

However, on Friday, Buttigieg told IfNotNow that "the occupation must end." 

Criticisms of Netanyahu 

Buttigieg is very critical of Netanyahu.  

"You can care about Israel's future and believe in the U.S. relationship and alliance with Israel without being on board with right-wing policies by the Netanyahu government which is now walking away from peace in a way that I think will harm the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, and in the long run the American people," he says on his website. 

Buttigieg has said there are "increasingly disturbing signs that the Netanyahu government is turning away from peace."

Earlier this month, he pledged to cut American aid to Israel if Netanyahu moves forward with his plans to annex Israeli settlement communities in the West Bank. 

"A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel's security needs remains the only viable way forward and it will be our policy to support such a solution actively. And if Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his promise to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won't help foot the bill," he said during a speech in Bloomington, Indiana. 

He also places the blame for the Palestinian people's suffering on "the extremism of Hamas and inefficacy of the Palestinian Authority," the international community, "and yes, the policies of the current Israeli government."

"As Israel's most powerful and most reliable ally, the United States has the opportunity to shape a more constructive path, with the tough and honest guidance that friendship and fairness require," he added. 

Jerusalem

Buttigieg also told Axios he would not move the US embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv, saying the US does not have much to gain from such action. 

However, he does not necessarily support Trump's decision. He told Axios the US should have required "some kind of concession" for peace from Israel before making the move. 

Iran Nuclear Deal

If elected, Buttigieg says he will rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran despite "its imperfections."

"This agreement was concluded not to do Iran a favor, but because it is in our national security interest—just as a parallel policy of confronting Iran's support for terrorism and abysmal human rights record reflects our values and security interests," he said.
 

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