Using Israel for Political Gains in the U.S. Does Disservice to Both Countries, Schumer Tells J Street

Democratic lawmakers tell pro-Israel, left-wing group's annual conference that two-state solution is in all parties' best interests, nuanced discussion required on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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Chuck Schumer at a press conference in Washington D.C. last week.
Chuck Schumer at a press conference in Washington D.C. last week.Credit: Stefani Reynolds / AFP

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday told the J Street 2021 National Conference that those who use pro-Israel support as a means to score political points do a disservice to both Israel and the United States.

"I'll make sure that the U.S. remains committed to strengthening our relationship with Israel, to work for her security and prosperity and to continue finding ways for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace, security and dignity," Schumer said. "A safe, secure and democratic two-state solution is what we must continue to advocate for."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House Democratic majority stands with the Biden administration as they engage with allies and partners to ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.

"Our unified, democratic government is committed to proven diplomatic efforts to advance progress, and a lasting peace, to renew our commitment to justice and peace for all who call Israel home," Pelosi said. 

"The House will continue working to build on our 2019 resolution, which reaffirmed us support for a two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, the Palestinian people and the region," she added, "and it must be a real solution, requiring us to oppose actions by either party that hinder progress."

'Creative conversation'

Pelosi was followed by remarks from a series of Democratic lawmakers, who spoke on evolving U.S.-Israel relations under the Biden administration and the ways in which it can move forward on the Middle East.

Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia discussed the need to have "an open and creative conversation about the path forward in the Middle East, and not be constrained by the policy formulas, conventions and rhetoric that have prevailed for the last 30 years without results."

The first-term senator said he looks forward to engaging with the community at J Street and the broader pro Israel community and the community of civil society groups and organizations "who are promoting a peaceful settlement of this conflict to identify a real path forward getting beyond rhetoric that's too often empty and determine how we can really make progress, delivering peace for people living in the Middle East, who just want those same basics out of life that everybody on earth does."

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch noted how congressional support for the two-state solution found itself under stress during the Trump administration and "the aggressive occupation and annexation policies being pursued in Israel and supported by Trump," noting that the U.S. is fully committed to a diplomacy-first approach under the Biden administration.

He added that a strong and dynamic debate is what leads to a strong and dynamic peace in the Middle East.

Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey said working with Israel and encouraging a two-state solution practically serves American interests, while also recognizing the "fundamental values that are important to us as Americans and most Israelis. I want American foreign policy to wrestle with our moral obligations."

"It's just not that binary in the world of national security or foreign policy," said Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, acknowledging the political challenges when discussing major national security priorities. Legislators "need to ensure that we are always making that clear to our constituents that this is not a 'yes' or 'no' policy question, this is actually an issue full of potential for unintended consequences," she said.

'Legitimate criticism'

Rep. Sara Jacobs added it would be "incredibly damaging" if Israel became a wedge issue either between Democrats and Republicans, or within the Democratic Party.

Jacobs, a 32-year-old first-term lawmaker from California, discussed the challenges of ensuring young progressives remain supportive of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship. "It's incredibly important that we are able to separate legitimate criticism of the policies of the State of Israel, just like we have legitimate criticisms of the policies of the United States of America, from having that being called antisemitic or having it seen as being anti-Israel," she said.

"The most pro-Israel thing we can do right now is push to have U.S. policy that creates the conditions conducive to a peace settlement, and make sure that we're not using U.S. assets to do things that make it harder to get to that peace agreement," she continued.

"From my point of view as a Jewish woman who grew up in the Jewish community in San Diego and and has family in Israel, I know where I stand, and I feel very confident in speaking up both about what I see is wrong in the United States and what I see as wrong in Israel, and I hope that we can create the space for more people to feel like they're able to do that as well."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois told the conference how when she first came into office in 1999, "if you even blinked in a different way about Israel given this standard definition of what it meant to be pro-Israel, you were suspect," praising J Street for giving space for "progressives who love Israel, but also want justice for the Palestinians and a two-state solution."

New Jersey's Andy Kim said how national security is the last place where foreign policy belongs, noting that "when we're talking about foreign policy, in particular about our relationship to Israel, we're talking about this fundamental question of 'What does America stand for?' And that is something that we need to be able to push forward on and if we water that down or weaken that because of partisanship, then we are inherently weakening our hand abroad."

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told Haaretz prior to the conference that his left-wing, pro-Israel organization is now afforded the ability to influence U.S. foreign policy – particularly around how the United States can draw limits around what Israel does in the occupied territories.

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