The Democrat and Republican parties have long been polarized. But there’s always been one issue on which they’ve nearly always found common ground: Israel and Palestine. And over the years, that common ground has entailed nearly unquestioned, bipartisan support for Israel at the expense of Palestinian lives, land, and interests.
American support for Israel is not just theoretical: the U.S. gives Israel speaking to the Senate in 1986 about arms sales in the Middle East:
“It’s about time we stop apologizing for our support for Israel, there’s no apology to be made. It is the best $3 billion investment we make. If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”
Critics have long used the acronym PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine) to describe the Democratic party, but the 2020 presidential race shows signs that that could soon change. Recently, we’ve seen more Dem candidates attempt to break out of the PEP mold than ever before, replacing their unconditional support for Israel with a more critical, progressive perspective that at least somewhat takes Palestinians into account.
In 2016, Bernie Sanders laid the groundwork for this shift, shocking many by breaking with the party, calling out Israel’s “disproportionate attack” on Gaza, and urging politicians to treat Palestinians with “respect and dignity” on live said that summer.
More recently, though, Warren has surprised some by showing increasingly progressive views on the issue, like when she came to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar earlier this year after Omar was accused of anti-Semitism for criticizing pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. “Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians,” Warren said in a statement at the time.
“I believe in the worth and value of every Israeli and every Palestinian,” she told the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this month. “I will oppose incitement to violence and support for terrorism by Palestinian extremists like Hamas.” Though she called the situation in Gaza a “man-made humanitarian catastrophe,” she did not mention the incitement to violence and terrorism imposed by Israel on Palestinians.
When VICE reached out to Warren for comment, her campaign directed us to her interview with the Council on Foreign Relations.
Sen. Kamala Harris
On the issue of Palestine and Israel, Harris’s history is nearly indistinguishable from that of her Republican colleagues. While the Harris campaign did not respond to VICE’s request for comment, her campaign communications director, Lily Adams, told McClatchy in April, “[Harris’s] support for Israel is central to who she is. She is firm in her belief that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself, including against rocket attacks from Gaza.” Breaking with Human Rights Watch, Harris told the New York Times that she believes Israel meets international human rights standards.
When asked if she opposes illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in July, Harris deflected the question, saying that “the terms of any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be imposed by others in the world.” As recently as 2017, Harris, who says she supports a two-state solution, co-sponsored a bill condemning the Obama administration for not vetoing a U.N. resolution that pushed back on the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.
Harris has come under fire from progressive-leaning Democrats for unapologetically working with AIPAC and posing for photos with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While she maintains that Palestine and Israel should come to an agreement themselves, she told CFR in August, “As President, I would start by reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity, while simultaneously working to rebuild the broken relationship between the United States and the Palestinians.”
Harris has not responded to VICE’s request for comment.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
Beto O’Rourke also falls into the camp of Democratic presidential candidates who have changed their tune on Israel and Palestine. According to his campaign’s press secretary Aleigha Cavalier, "A two-state solution that realizes the aspirations of the Palestinian people and addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns is the only way to guarantee peace and the human rights and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. Our strong relationship with Israel is key to achieving that outcome, and as president, Beto will support and sustain it."
However, just last year, his Senate campaign issued a statement on Palestine and Israel with a far more conservative tone. “[O’Rourke] believes that Israel is critically important to the United States, because it is the home of the Jewish people, because it is an exemplary democracy that shares our values, and because it is a crucial contributor to our national security measures in the region,” the statement read. Like Harris, O’Rourke has met with AIPAC. O’Rourke has occasionally voiced concern for human rights violations against Palestinians, condemning Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip in 2014 and as a congress member, voting against an aide package for Israel following the attacks.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg is another Dem candidate who’s become more progressive on the issue of Palestine and Israel while on the campaign trail. Though in the past Buttigieg has shown a strong willingness to back Israel—calling the country a good model when it comes to handling security threats—he’s recently condemned the Israeli government for a “short-sighted focus on military responses” and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Recently, Buttigieg also acknowledged that Israel’s human rights record is “problematic.”
“The United States needs to put its arm around the shoulder of its ally, Israel, and help it to develop policies that will work towards the economic and security benefit of both Israel and the Palestinians,” he told CFR in July. “A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward.”
Buttigeig has not responded to VICE’s request for comment.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang is another presidential candidate who sides with the Democratic establishment on Palestine and Israel. When questioned about U.S. involvement in the conflict, the self-described “human-centered capitalist” says he supports a two-state solution but sees no reason to decrease funding to Israel. “Israel has been an important ally to the U.S., and it will continue to be an important ally. It is a democracy in a region where that is rare,” Yang told CFR. Yang supports reinstating funds to UNRWA.
Yang has not responded to VICE’s request for comment.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Of all the Democratic presidential candidates, Amy Klobuchar is the most conservative when it comes to Israel and Palestine. She was the only Democratic presidential candidate to vote in support of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s anti-BDS legislation. “As staunch allies of Israel, we must also ensure that harmful movements, like the resurgence in anti-Semitism and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement are not successful,” her campaign website reads.
Klobuchar has spoken at AIPAC’s annual conference, where she boasted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called her “the Israeli prime minister of Minnesota.”
Klobuchar has not responded to VICE’s request for comment.
Sen. Cory Booker
Cory Booker is another Democrat who sides with Republicans on Palestine and Israel. Booker co-sponsored the anti-BDS bill, and is extremely friendly with AIPAC. Another Israeli lobby, NORPAC, has been a top contributor to Booker’s campaigns since 2011. Booker’s support for Israel is so strong that an activist group co-opted his “Justice for all” slogan, protesting his campaign kick-off event in April with “Justice for Palestine” signs.
Booker has said that he supports a two-state solution. But when asked by a member of Jewish progressive activist group IfNotNow in July if he believes the occupation is a human rights violation, Booker deflected the question. Asked about violence in Gaza by a CBS reporter, Booker responded, “You have a terrorist organization that actually suppresses its own people, conducts acts of violence and human rights violations against people who live in Gaza. And so Israel has a right to defend itself and it should do that.”
As some candidates move to the left on Palestine and Israel, Booker appears committed to upholding bipartisan status-quo support of Israel. “We need leadership in both parties that is about uniting Americans around a common cause,” he told an AIPAC crowd earlier this year. “And what greater tradition has there been in America, going back to the founding of Israel that we have common cause with the state of Israel. We have a common cause, and they are our allies."
VICE has reached out to Booker for comment.
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
Former member of the Obama administration Julian Castro says he supports a two-state solution. “Israel has to choose: it’s going to be a Jewish state or a democratic state,” he told The New York Times earlier this year. His plan, put simply, is to “support Israel, remain strong allies, but recognize the value of Palestinians and that they should be treated in a way that we can support on behalf of the country,” he told The Daily Texan.
VICE has reached out to Castro for comment.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Despite putting more emphasis on foreign policy than any other candidate, Tulsi Gabbard has perhaps the most confusing perspective when it comes to Palestine and Israel. Gabbard says her time in the U.S. military made her critical of what she has called “wasteful foreign wars,” and she supports re-allocating war funds toward domestic issues. This seemingly anti-imperialist stance has convinced some that she is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. While that isn’t entirely false, it is misleading. Though Gabbard has been critical of Israeli violence towards Palestinians, her voting record sides with Israel. She voted for the recent anti-BDS bill and co-sponsored a bill reaffirming the United States’ commitment to vetoing U.N. resolutions that ask Israel to comply with international law.
“I know how important our enduring alliance with Israel is,” her website reads. “I co-sponsored H.Res.23 which reaffirms the U.S. commitment to Israel, and a negotiated settlement leading to a sustainable two-state solution that re-affirms Israel’s right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state and establishes a demilitarized democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security.”
VICE has reached out to Gabbard for comment.
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