Candidates vying for Sen. Barbara Boxers open seat speak on Israel, anti-Semitism, BDS

Nearly three dozen candidates are on California’s June 7 primary ballot to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. The top two will go on to a general election showdown in November.

J. asked the five leading candidates — California Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, both Democrats; and three Republicans, former state party chairmen Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim and Palo Alto businessman Ron Unz — five questions about Israel and anti-Semitism. Four candidates’ answers are here; Unz did not respond.

 

Harris: ‘We should not isolate Israel’

Kamala Harris (Dem.)


1) Have you ever been to Israel?

As an adult, I had the opportunity to travel there twice, experiences that deepened my own bond to the nation and its people, and I saw firsthand the powerful significance it has as the historical, spiritual and rightful home of the Jewish people. A few experiences are particularly memorable. I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem and it had a profound impact on me. I was devastated by testimonials of victims and families who were torn apart from each other and left only to imagine how their loved ones might have met their fate.

On one trip to Israel, I convinced my traveling companions to add to our itinerary a visit to the Supreme Court of Israel, an indulgence my fellow travelers generously allowed. Whenever I visit a foreign country, I like to tour its highest court to see if there are discernable parallels between the building’s architecture and the importance that society places on the rule of law. Israel’s Supreme Court is a beautiful monument to a government founded on the highest of human ideals. The beauty of the architecture and spirit of design left a lasting impression — the straight lines in the building represent the immutable nature of truth, while the curved glass and walls were built to represent the fluid nature of finding justice. The Court, like Israel, is a beautiful home to democracy and justice in a region where radicalism and authoritarianism all too often shape government.

 


2) Do you support the Iran nuclear deal  reached last year?

I support the agreement. This is by no means a perfect compromise, and I certainly understand the forceful and passionate opposition that has been advocated by many in California and throughout the country. But after very careful review of the proposal, including discussions with experts and advocates on both sides, and with a deep commitment to the safety of Israel, I have concluded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action proposed by the president is the best available option for blocking Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability and to avoid potentially disastrous military conflict in the Middle East. However, it’s critical to be vigilant going forward because the deal is only as good as its enforcement.



3) The Obama administration has objected to Israel’s ongoing program of settlement building in the West Bank, though in 2011 the U.S. vetoed a United Nations resolution declaring the settlements illegal. As a U.S. senator, would you support or oppose legislation characterizing the settlements as illegal?

The terms of any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be imposed by others in the world. The U.S. and our allies in Europe and the Arab world can and should help facilitate an agreement to create peace and bring both parties to the table, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves must negotiate and approve the terms of any peace agreement. Lasting peace can only be found through bilateral negotiations that protect Israel’s identity, ensure security for all people and include the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

 


4) UC Regents in March passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on campus. Some Jewish groups said it didn’t go far enough because it did not condemn anti-Zionism. Free speech and pro-Palestinian groups said it stifles discussion of Israeli policies. Do you support the resolution, and where would you draw the line between free speech and hate speech?

There should be no tolerance for anti-Semitism and hate speech in our public discourse and our democratic institutions. As a courtroom prosecutor, I have personally prosecuted hate crimes against the Jewish community, and as San Francisco District Attorney I created a special unit to prosecute hate crimes. Freedom of speech is one of our most treasured rights, but the First Amendment should not be the basis for shielding perpetrators who commit a crime against another human being.



5) The BDS movement seeks to penalize companies that do business with Israel. A bill currently in the California Assembly would punish companies that engage in boycotts of the state’s trading partners. Do you support either of these efforts?

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is based on the mistaken assumption that Israel is solely to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The BDS movement seeks to weaken Israel, but it will only isolate the nation and steer Israelis against prerequisite compromises for peace. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise — especially in Europe — and the Middle East is growing increasingly unstable, I believe we should not isolate Israel, the only democracy in the region.

 

Sanchez: Daughter became Israeli

Loretta Sanchez (Dem.)


1) Have you ever been to Israel?

I have participated in a number of official trips to Israel.  Twenty years ago, I participated in a congressional delegation trip to Israel — one of the first countries I visited in my official capacity as a congresswoman. As a new member of the House Armed Services Committee, I believed it was my responsibility to fully grasp the significance of the U.S.-Israel alliance and to truly understand and experience the people and culture of Israel. My first trip to Israel was a beautiful journey. Never before had I experienced a country embrace its culture, passion and beliefs more than Israel. Everyone I spoke to — men, women, young, old — carried one voice. I saw how Israelis were unified in love and concern for their country and were willing to give everything to defend it. As an American who would do whatever necessary to defend my country and its values, I felt an immediate connection to the people of Israel. This relentless patriotism has driven both our countries to become the strong, incredible nations we are today.

My last visit to Israel was April of 2015.  I was the Democratic lead for the delegation. This trip was particularly extraordinary because I had the honor of being in the Holy Land during Easter. During this trip, I had the honor of meeting with Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu again and discussing the concerns of Israel and how the U.S. can further improve our alliance. I also had the honor of meeting with President (Reuven) Rivlin. It was exciting to visit Palmachim Air Force Base to see the developments of Arrow and Iron Dome, while also visiting a tank production and combat vehicle facility.

My connection to Israel also extends beyond my role as a congresswoman, because my daughter has made Israel her home and is raising her family there, which includes my two grandsons who were born in Tel Aviv. She was granted Israeli citizenship in April 2016.



2) Do you support the Iran nuclear deal reached last year?

I believe Iran is the pre-eminent threat facing Israel, the United States and the world. Not only are we threatened by Iran’s pursuit for nuclear capabilities, but also by Iran’s increasing influence in and around the region. We are threatened by Iran’s inherent nature and desire to destabilize the region through Iran’s support of terrorist organizations and — quite frankly — Iran’s reckless dialogue and hegemonic behavior. Iran supports Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist organizations that cause death and destruction. Iran utilizes these organizations to control a worldwide network that can instigate chaos anywhere, anytime. Iran’s nuclear ambitions remain the most urgent national security threat for both Israel and the United States. Beyond the destructive power Iran would obtain through nuclear weapons, I’m concerned that a nuclear Iran could start an extremely dangerous arms race in the region — not only among Arab states, but also among terrorist organizations — something we haven’t faced since the Cold War. I’ve continued to strongly support sanctions against Iran. I co-sponsored the Iran Sanction Enabling Act of 2009, requiring the president to impose sanctions on any entity that provides Iran with refined petroleum resources. This act also urged the president to impose sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and any financial institution engaged in proliferation activities or support of terrorist groups. I also cosponsored the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009, which authorized state and local governments to divest from companies investing in Iran’s petroleum and natural gas sector. I believe the implementation of these multilateral sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table.

I supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) because I believe the international community must take immediate steps to prevent Iran from obtaining the remaining materials they need to develop a nuclear weapon. I support a multilateral agreement that holds Iran accountable by all P5+1 nations, not just by the United States. Through this agreement there will be greater transparency over Iran’s nuclear programs, something that didn’t exist before. Additionally, I believe this agreement clearly establishes consequences if Iran violates any part of the agreement. As the Iranian market has recently reopened for business, Tehran has gained access to over $100 billion in previously frozen assets. Congress and the President must exercise robust oversight of Iran’s behavior and decisively respond with certain, swift and severe penalties to any Iranian violations of the JCPOA or United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

Iran must understand that sanctions are not off the table. As such, Congress must not only reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which is set to expire, but also enhance this legislation to further restrict Iran’s malignant behavior. This is necessary to send a clear message to Iran and our allies that Congress stands ready and vigilant at all times. Congressional oversight and action will be needed throughout the duration of the agreement. Iran must continually be held accountable for existing U.N. Security Council Resolutions. Any violation of these resolutions must be met with severe consequences, which is why I urged President Obama to immediately implement sanctions in response to Iran’s recent testing of ballistic missiles. Any continued testing of these weapons will clearly indicate Iran’s lack of commitment to regional peace. It cannot be the case that sensitivities surrounding the JCPOA serve as an excuse to look the other way as Iran continues its destructive non-nuclear behavior across the globe.



3) The Obama administration has objected to Israel’s ongoing program of settlement building in the West Bank, though in 2011 the U.S. vetoed a United Nations resolution declaring the settlements illegal. As a U.S. senator, would you support or oppose legislation characterizing the settlements as illegal?

I firmly believe the West Bank settlement issue must be part of a comprehensive peace settlement between the state of Israel and Palestinians. I’ve remained committed to reaching a peaceful resolution between Israelis and Palestinians. I strongly believe in a two-state solution where a democratic Jewish state of Israel and a democratic, demilitarized Palestinian state peacefully coexist. I’ve continued to call on the Palestinian government to reject terrorism and respect Israel’s right to exist. In order for a lasting peace to be achieved, it’s imperative the parties engage in direct, bilateral negotiations.  While the United States has an important facilitative role, there cannot be any imposed solutions or agreements, including from the U.N.



4) UC Regents in March passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on campus. Some Jewish groups said it didn’t go far enough because it did not condemn anti-Zionism. Free speech and pro-Palestinian groups said it stifles discussion of Israeli policies. Do you support the resolution?

I believe anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are both forms of discrimination — and neither should be tolerated. Anti-Semitic activities can range from workplace discrimination to violent persecution in the international arena and, as a U.S. senator, I must and will address all forms of anti-Semitic activities. Law enforcement must be trained to recognize such persecution and the law must not ignore such criminal activities. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) launched its No Place for Hate initiative. An initiative such as this is critical to combating anti-Semitism in the United States. Schools are a common place where hatred and discrimination starts —we must create an environment where discrimination and persecution is unacceptable. We must start young and provide the necessary funding and resources to schools and organizations, so that the next generations of leaders have the knowledge to speak against such hate. Anti-Semitism has also spread through the internet. We must work with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to ensure security measures are in place to stop any type of persecution in the cyber arena. As the United States, we must speak up for those who are being persecuted and strongly condemn those who continue to speak such hatred against a population and religion. Iran’s continued efforts to delegitimize Israel and threaten its existence is absolutely unacceptable and must be dealt with.      



5) The BDS movement seeks to penalize companies that do business with Israel. A bill currently in the California Assembly would punish companies that engage in boycotts of the state’s trading partners. Do you support either of these efforts?

During my long career in Congress, I have ardently defended Israel’s right to self-defense and Israelis’ rights to safety, prosperity and peace. I’ve spoken out and taken legislative action against individuals, groups and movements that attempt to delegitimize Israel as a state. Movements like the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement are not only detrimental to the security of Israel but also damaging to the overall prospects for peace in the region. I applaud recent bipartisan congressional action taken to combat this highly misguided effort by including language in numerous legislative vehicles that will discourage our trading partners from engaging in BDS activities. I believe in taking further action in the years ahead as we find innovative ways to exhaust all diplomatic tools to protect Israel’s right to exist and reject politically motivated boycotts of any kind.

 

Del Beccaro: ‘BDS is wrong’

Tom Del Beccaro (Rep.)


1) Have you ever been to Israel?

No, I have not.



2) Do you support the Iran nuclear deal reached last year?

No, I did not.



3) The Obama administration has objected to Israel’s ongoing program of settlement building in the West Bank, though in 2011 the U.S. vetoed a United Nations resolution declaring the settlements illegal. As a U.S. senator, would you support or oppose legislation characterizing the settlements as illegal?

Oppose.



4) UC Regents in late March passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on campus. Some Jewish groups said it didn’t go far enough because it did not condemn anti-Zionism. Free speech and pro-Palestinian groups said it stifles discussion of Israeli policies. Do you support the resolution, and where would you draw the line between free speech and hate speech?

I support the resolution. Obviously, the culture on American campuses increasingly has become anti free speech as well as anti-American and anti-Israeli in many ways. There is no set line that makes it easy to distinguish between civil free speech and intimidating speech meant to end free speech. There is no doubt, however, that actions should be taken in context and that if the combined speech and behavior has the effect of reducing free speech, it should not be allowed. Hate speech obviously belongs in latter category.



5) The BDS movement seeks to penalize companies that do business with Israel. A bill currently in the California Assembly would punish companies that engage in boycotts of the state’s trading partners. Do you support either of these efforts?

The BDS movement is wrong. I do not support it. I support the Travis Allen bills.

 

Sundheim: Opposed to  Iran deal

Duf Sundheim (Rep.)


1) Have you ever been to Israel?

I have not, although I would be interested in going before the election and would participate in any codels (congressional delegations) to Israel while in the U.S. Senate.



2) Do you support the Iran nuclear deal reached last year?

No. Not only was it a bad deal, but the administration’s conduct during the negotiations and afterwards have been reprehensible.



3) The Obama administration has objected to Israel’s ongoing program of settlement building in the West Bank, though in 2011 the U.S. vetoed a United Nations resolution declaring the settlements illegal. As a U.S. senator, would you support or oppose legislation characterizing the settlements as illegal?

I respect the sovereignty of Israel and its nation’s leaders to determine the best course of action for Israel. I believe Israel should look to the United States and see a friend willing to stand by its side. That is currently not what Israel sees, and I will work, as a U.S. Senator, to rebuild that very important relationship.



4) UC Regents in late March passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on campus. Some Jewish groups said it didn’t go far enough because it did not condemn anti-Zionism. Free speech and pro-Palestinian groups said it stifles discussion of Israeli policies. Do you support the resolution, and where would you draw the line between free speech and hate speech?

I wholeheartedly support free speech and believe our college campuses must be a place where all opinions and views should be heard and allowed to be voiced.  But we have seen university officials and faculty allow the stifling of diverse opinions in hopes of quashing views that don’t conform to their particular views. Whether a particular speech is found to be protected or not under the Constitution, if it is bigoted, I will stand up against it every time.



5) The BDS movement seeks to penalize companies that do business with Israel. A bill currently in the California Assembly would punish companies that engage in boycotts of the state’s trading partners. Do you support either of these efforts?

I was happy to see Assembly member Travis Allen introduce AB1551 and AB1552. It is important for California to stand by such an important ally of our nation’s and such an important trade partner of California’s. While the partisan gamesmanship on this issue was unfortunate to witness, I am also happy to support Assembly member Richard Bloom’s AB2844.  I am proud that, thus far, the legislation has passed out of three Assembly committees with strong bipartisanship support.