Biden, Buttigieg and Booker Confronted by Jewish Anti-occupation Activists

While both Biden and Buttigieg called for an end to the occupation, Booker told IfNotNow activists, ‘I would understand if you want to support somebody else’

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Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden during the Democratic primary debate, June 27, 2019.
Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden during the Democratic primary debate, June 27, 2019. Credit: Wilfredo Lee,AP

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden called the occupation a "human rights crisis" and for a two-state solution when confronted by Jewish-American anti-occupation activists on Saturday.

Activists from the IfNotNow movement ambushed three Democratic presidential hopefuls, including the former vice president, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Cory Booker, and recorded their answers to questions about the situation in the West Bank.

The group has said that six full-time fellows are in New Hampshire to spend the summer publicly confronting candidates during their events. Last month, the group scored its first PR triumph, getting candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to pose with activists holding a “Jews Against the Occupation” sign.

Asked whether he considers the occupation “a human rights crisis,” Biden resonded: “I think occupation is a real problem, a significant problem.” Asked if he would pressure Israel to end the occupation, Biden said he had already done so, both as a senator and as vice president.

Asked if he will commit to meaningfully pressuring the Israeli government, Biden answered, “Yes, but also got to pressure the Palestinians to stop the hate, to stop calling for violence.”

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Biden added that the Palestinian leadership has rejected proposed solutions that included “85 to 95 percent of what they were asking for,” and that not one Palestinian has acknowledged Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. He said the only way for Israel to survive was a two-state solution, and that he has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past, “Bibi, I love you, but I don’t agree with a damned thing you say.” 

Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg was also confronted by IfNotNow activists, who have been trailing democratic candidates as they campaign in New Hampshire. “The occupation has to end,” answered Buttigieg when asked by a woman in Laconia if he is willing to condemn it. “Even people associated with the Israeli right, like [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, recognize that this state of affairs is unsustainable. The pathway to peace has to include Israelis and Palestinians living side by side with self-determination,” he said.

Buttigieg, who is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a Navy reservist previously deployed in Afghanistan, said that an end to occupation is in the best interests of the United States, in order to achieve a “stable Middle East,” as well as for Israel and its future as “Jewish and democratic.”

Buttigieg said that current discourse on the matter among American Jews is “healthier” than it is in Congress. “You can care about Israel’s future and believe in the U.S. relationship and alliance with Israel without being on-board with right-wing policies with the Netanyahu government, which is now walking away from peace in a way that I think will harm the Israeli people, the Palestinian people and, in the long run, the American people.”

An IfNotNow fellow on Saturday asked former Newark mayor and current U.S. senator Booker the same question. Booker avoided a conversation and responded: “If that’s your issue, I would understand if you want to support somebody else.”

Last week, Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren was also put to the test by the group. IfNotNow activists told Warren, “Hi, we’re American Jews, we really love the way you are fighting corruption. We’d really love it if you’d also pushed the Israeli government to end occupation.” Warren answered, “Yes. So I’m there!” and then quickly shook their hands and posed with them for a photo.