How Biden VP Kamala Harris Could Tip U.S.-Israel Ties

Harris has walked the tightrope on the issue of Israel, facing criticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party after meeting AIPAC leaders in 2019

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Then-U.S Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, in Miami, June 27, 2019
California Senator Kamala Harris, then-U.S Democratic presidential candidate, in Miami, June 27, 2019. Strongly supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.Credit: Brynn Anderson/AP

This story was originally published August 2020. On Nov 7th, Joe Biden won the election, and Kamala Harris became VP elect.

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Many of the eulogies for Senator Kamala Harris’ promising but unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination blamed her campaign’s failure on the fact that she was seen as too progressive for the centrists who favored Biden – but not progressive enough for those who rallied around Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Harris certainly walked the tightrope on the issue of Israel: She is strongly in the moderate Biden column but has had to adjust her optics, if not the content of her stands to avoid alienating more progressive supporters.

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This process can be measured in her relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Not long after her election as California senator, but well before her presidential bid, Harris was the star performer at the powerful pro-Israel lobby’s 2017 Policy Conference, in a much-quoted appearance: “Having grown up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember those Jewish National Fund boxes that we would use to collect donations to plant trees for Israel,” she said at that conference, followed by a rapturous travelogue of a recent tour of Israel and the West Bank, which she visited with her Jewish husband, Doug Emhoff, whom she married in an interfaith ceremony in 2014.

She also co-sponsored a Senate resolution in January 2017 criticizing President Barack Obama – in his last week in office – for abstaining in a vote on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies.

Kamala Harris at AIPAC

The following year, as she began to eye the 2020 presidential nomination, Harris did not appear publicly, but quietly attended an off-the-record session at AIPAC that was later revealed in social media posts by attendees. Then, in 2019, after the Democratic hopefuls came under pressure to boycott the confab, she stayed away – but made a point of releasing photos with AIPAC leaders in her Capitol Hill office, facing subsequent criticism from the left wing of the party.

Like Biden, Harris strongly supports a two-state solution, and she has pleased AIPAC and other “pro-Israel” circles by speaking out in favor of Israel’s “right to defend itself” from Hamas attacks from the Gaza Strip, and saying that she didn’t think the United States should pressure Israel on peace with the Palestinians because a resolution “cannot be imposed by outside parties.” Those circles are surely less excited by her statements during the primary race endorsing the idea of the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement under a new administration, but “look toward expanding it.”

Following Biden's announcement of his running mate, Halie Soifer, Harris's former national security adviser and current executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said the senator "strongly aligns with the values of American Jews, including her support of the U.S.-Israel relationship, her commitment to ensuring access to affordable healthcare and education, her intolerance for hatred and bigotry, and her unwavering efforts to protect our country’s most vulnerable communities."

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