Two congressional Republicans on Wednesday slammed Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, for saying on Tuesday, “If [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat 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.”
“That’s not helpful. We need the Palestinian community united around peace,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told JNS. “If I were him, I would criticize Hamas. Israel is not the problem. Nobody’s talking about annexing anything.”
“The last time Israel gave up land for peace, it got rockets,” he continued. “So I hope we remember that experience. I hope the mayor will understand that when Israel withdrew from Gaza, there’ve been over 10,000 rockets fired. I want an independent, secure, safe Jewish state.”
Graham added that “a self-determined Palestine works only if Israel has the security it needs. So my advice to the mayor is that let’s focus on the terrorist attacks coming from lands that Israel withdrew from before we ask them to do anything else.”
New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is Jewish, told JNS that Buttigieg “said a lot things that I strongly disagree with in total.”
“I’ll just say generally, as it relates to his entire approach to this issue where he’s trying to win a Democratic presidential primary, he’s going in the wrong direction,” he continued. “We should be strengthening our relationship between the United States and Israel, and it seems like he wants votes from a more extreme wing of his party in order to win his nomination.”
Graham and Zeldin were honored at the annual “Ray of Light in the Darkness Dinner” sponsored by the Endowment for Middle East Truth on Wednesday.
‘Ignorance of the U.S.-Israel relationship’
The National Council of Young Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the American Jewish Congress criticized Buttigieg’s threat, while the Jewish Democratic Council of America declined to take a direct stand.
“Addressing his foreign-policy goals for the first time as a presidential hopeful, Buttigieg used an address at Indiana University to assail Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” said NCYI in a statement. “Buttigieg astonishingly talked about cutting aid to Israel, an American ally; however, noticeably absent from his comments was any reference to the ongoing acts of terror emanating from Gaza and the “West Bank,” and the steps needed to be taken by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in order to attain peace.”
“Buttigieg’s comments about Israel ‘turning away from peace’ indicate a complete lack of understanding of the fundamental core of the conflict; namely, that the Palestinian Arabs steadfastly refuse to accept the existence of the State of Israel and advocate for its destruction,” continued the organization. “The apparent failure to understand this central and critical point is shocking for someone who claims to be a supporter of Israel and is aspiring to the presidency.”
“Mayor Buttigieg’s comments expose his ignorance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, how military aid works and the enormous benefits our country reaps from our relationship with the only Democracy in the Middle East,” RJC spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS. “His words are also reflective of the rapidly growing anti-Israel sentiment in the Democrat Party.”
“By invoking assistance to Israel, Mayor Buttigieg used one of the most long-standing bipartisan issues as a political instrument in his fight for the 2020 Democratic nomination,” said AJCongress president Jack Rosen in a statement. “In doing so, Buttigieg is feeding the growing and alarming debate within the Democratic Party which legitimizes the idea that assistance to Israel—one of the U.S.’s closest allies—should somehow be on the table.”
“JDCA has expressed deep concern with annexation because it would impede prospects for a two-state solution,” JDCA executive director Halie Soifer told JNS. “We have also expressed support for full military assistance to Israel, per the 10-year MOU negotiated and finalized by the Obama administration.”
“JDCA is not taking a position in the Democratic primary and will mobilize Jewish voters in support of the Democratic candidates who share our values running for the House, Senate and the White House once the nominee is chosen in 2020,” she continued. “We are also combating false narratives with facts to ensure that Republicans cannot use Israel and anti-Semitism as political wedge issues.”
Soifer added, “We are pleased that all the Democratic candidates are supportive of Israel, and opposed to BDS and anti-Semitism, and we will continue to serve as a resource to candidates and the electorate.”
Though he is “not necessarily supporting Mayor Pete,” Democratic operative Steve Rabinowitz pushed back against criticism of Buttigieg’s remark.
“I did not hear Pete Buttigieg threaten U.S. aid to Israel,” he told JNS. “I heard him say U.S. aid may not be used anywhere against U.S. foreign-policy interests, including in Israel, and the wholesale annexation of West Bank settlements and the abandonment of a two-state approach to that area would certainly run counter to U.S. interests.”
In his speech, Buttigieg also promised, if elected, to re-enter the United States into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from in May 2018, following by reimposing sanctions lifted under it in addition to enacting new financial penalties against Tehran.