In June of 2015, I fulfilled a lifelong mission to go to Israel. My wife Robin and I, along with our Rabbi, Brennar Glickman, and 50 members of Temple Emanu-el visited the Holy Land. I have always been proud of my Jewish heritage and identity, but never more so than when I traveled through Israel.
Since Israel’s founding in 1948, during periods of peace, war, and terrorism against both countries, the United States and Israel have been steadfast, trusted, and reliable allies and partners, based upon their shared values of peace, security, freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. At no point in our historic relationship has this partnership been stronger or more essential to our collective security and U.S. foreign policy than it is right now. When elected to Congress from Florida’s District 16, I will be a zealous supporter of the U.S. Israeli relationship, and of Israel’s right to exist—in peace and security—as a Jewish, democratic state.
America’s healthy relationship with the state of Israel is born from the similar visions of their respective founding fathers: individual freedom, representative democracy, equality, freedom of religion, and the free enterprise system. Israel is a bright spot in a region that is plagued by religious and civil wars, catastrophic violence, autocratic regimes, and the absence of human rights. For generations, both Israel and the U.S. have shared a commitment to a stable, secure, and peaceful Middle East, and the U.S. must continue to support Israel’s efforts to achieve security and peace within the region.
The Peace Process
Peace for Israel has been a goal of every U.S. Administration and Israeli government since Israel’s founding. I firmly believe that it is in the interest of both countries to achieve a two-state solution that enables Israel to exist as a Jewish, democratic state alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state—both states living in peace and security. However, peace in the region cannot be dictated by outside forces; only through direct, face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians can a real peace agreement be achieved and implemented. I strongly support the efforts of the U.S. to aid in this process, but Israel needs the flexibility to negotiate terms that ensure its security.
The issues that need to be resolved are highly complex and interconnected, no unilateral action, like the Palestinians’ petitions to the UN, can substitute for direct negotiations, and the United States should oppose any move to impose a solution on the parties. The U.S. must also be vigilant about any attempt to delegitimize Israel and must work proactively to support Israel’s standing in the world.
I believe that negotiations with the Palestinians should proceed without preconditions, within the framework put forward by the Quartet: Recognition of Israel’s right to exist, the renunciation of violence, and the acceptance of prior agreements. Throughout this difficult and dangerous period, the U.S. must continue its unwavering support for the security of Israel, as well as its efforts to ensure that the Arab nations recognize Israel’s right to exist, and denounce the use of violence against Israel.
A final peace agreement will require the long-term stability of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Both Israel and the United States have a role to play in supporting policies that enhance such stability, such as easing restrictions and promoting the rule of law, but only so long as such policies do not jeopardize Israel’s security. Just as importantly, the United States must do everything in its power to change the Palestinian mindset that promotes and rewards terrorism; ending the disgusting practice of paying terrorists for murdering Israeli civilians is an essential first step. That’s why I strongly support passage of the Taylor Force Act.
Aid to Israel
In supporting Israel, the United States must use every tool available. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called this strategy “Smart Power”: using defense, diplomacy, and development to achieve national security and foreign policy goals.
Aid to Israel is an essential part of the U.S.-Israel relationship. To ensure its safety and security, Israel must retain a qualitative military edge, and I fully support the 2016 security assistance Memorandum of Understanding which provides for $38 billion in aid to Israel over ten years, starting at the end of Fiscal Year 2018. The threats to Israel are increasing in both number and sophistication, with Hezbollah’s many thousands of rockets to the North, Iranian-controlled Shiite militias in Syria to the East, and Hamas’ ongoing terrorist activities in Gaza, making continued security assistance to our most dependable Middle East ally essential. Promoting stability in that volatile region is critical for both the United States and Israel.
Also, much of the aid given to Israel is spent right here in the United States—supporting jobs, creating new opportunities for U.S. exports, enhancing our economic prosperity, and confirming America’s role as a global leader. Moreover, U.S.-Israeli cooperation leads to benefits for both countries; Israel is a leading innovator in software and agriculture, and the U.S. and Israel are working together to create the next generation of innovations in clean technology, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
Stopping Iran’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons
Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the United States, Israel, the Middle East, and the world. Thus, it is in the vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s acquisition of such a capability—even before it possesses an actual nuclear weapon—would mark a significant new regional danger, as Tehran would be able to use its status as a nuclear-capable state to increase its regional leverage and threaten broad American interests, including oil supplies and prices. Coupled with its already existing ballistic missile technology, a nuclear-capable Iran will drastically alter the military balance and stability of the Middle East, and likely spur a nuclear arms race among the countries in the region and beyond, creating an even more dangerous situation for Israel, the United States, and the world.
Recognizing this existential danger, a nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 was reached in July 2015, after several years of negotiation. Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement, while seriously flawed, does have limited merit as a narrow “arms control rental agreement,” in my opinion. The primary flaw is that the agreement has a “sunset” provision that will enable Iran to legally expand its nuclear program after 15 years, with no limitations on the number and type of centrifuges, or on its stockpiles of fissile material. That scenario could enable Iran to reduce its “breakout” time to weeks, if not days. The other major flaw relates to the inspection regime; the JCPOA does not require Ian to submit to “anytime, anywhere” IAEA inspections of facilities and military sites where nuclear activities are suspected to be taking place—and Iran is a well-known “cheater.”
Moreover, the JCPOA did not address Iran’s role as the world’s primary state sponsor of terrorism—funding and training groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Shiite militias in Syria, and the Houtis in Yemen. Israel is an obvious target of these activities; Iran’s leaders have consistently challenged Israel’s right to exist, issuing repeated threats to destroy the State of Israel—an unacceptable danger for both Israel and the United States, and a growing concern for other United States allies in the region.
The United States must work diligently to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to curtail its support for terrorism around the world; to achieve that goal; I believe that we must keep all options on the table, except containment of a nuclear Iran. If Iran violates the agreement, I support re-imposing the strongest possible sanctions against Iran, including sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank. Also, the United States must continue to take a leadership role in pushing other countries to implement strong sanctions as well. Iran must be prevented from achieving nuclear weapons capability—which would be an existential threat to its neighbors, the United States, and the world—and must be severely penalized for its support of world-wide terrorism.
Israel has faced terrorism from the moment of its founding—and even before—and continues to face significant security threats from Gaza rocket attacks, suicide bombings, vehicle assaults, random knife and gun attacks, and other acts of unacceptable and tragic violence that primarily target civilians. I unequivocally condemn these terrorist acts. While Israel actively pursues peace, it must defend itself and all its citizens—Jews, Muslims, and Christians—and it is essential that everyone in the international community recognize that right.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s terrorist proxies, pursue violent strategies designed to kill civilians and create an atmosphere of fear—the ultimate purpose of terrorism. Hezbollah, entrenched along the Lebanese border, has amassed tens of thousands of rockets and missiles aimed at Israel; Hamas in Gaza, poses an enormous threat to Israeli security and the safety of
Israeli civilians, firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately into towns and villages in Israel, and digging terror tunnels to murder sleeping families. Moreover, these organizations have shown that they are willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goal of destroying Israel, with no regard for international law or human life in this pursuit.
Israel must be able to protect its citizens against such terrorist groups and those who support them, and the United States must continue to work with Israel to confront these continued threats to Israel’s security. Defensive operations, homeland security cooperation, anti-terrorist financing programs, cyber warfare activities, and nuclear threat reduction are all critical elements in protecting Israel against attacks. However, if Israel is forced to take military action in response to terrorist attacks and threats, the United States must support Israel’s right to self- defense in the international community.
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)
I am unalterably opposed to this insidious campaign to destroy the State of Israel. Despite the seemingly noble intentions of this campaign, the entire premise and rhetoric of BDS are deceptive, fallacious, and deliberately distorted. In fact, it is apparent that the essential goal of BDS is to isolate Israel from the rest of the world in order to obliterate Israel completely and replace it with a Palestinian State—not two states, and not a binational state—only a Palestinian State.
BDS supporters pretend to be working toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but the truth is much simpler and more evil: they seek the destruction of the Jewish State and the people who live there—and they will use virtually any means to accomplish this goal.
The seeds of BDS derive from the campaign of isolation launched against South Africa because of its terrible Apartheid policies; thus, to justify the use of a BDS strategy against Israel, BDS supporters accuse Israel of being an “Apartheid country,” which, of course, is totally false. As every objective person knows, Israel’s Arab citizens already have full civil rights, including the right to petition Israel’s Supreme Court when they feel those rights are being infringed upon. In fact, black leaders from South Africa have condemned the use of “Apartheid” to describe Israel; they are incensed by the misuse of this sensitive word, asserting that it demeans the suffering of black South Africans to use it against Israel—which is NOT an Apartheid country.
By inaccurately comparing the situation in Israel to that of South Africa in order to justify the use of BDS, those who support BDS ignore both the facts on the ground and the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and make a two-state solution less likely—which, of course, is the goal of BDS! I will oppose and condemn this vicious campaign at every opportunity.
That Jerusalem is both the present and historical capital of Israel is a fact—and I fully support the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Facts have power and stating obvious facts can be productive. Countries have a right to choose their own capital, and no one involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking process has ever imagined that West Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, would not be part of the capital of Israel. The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is indisputable—except to those who want to delegitimize Israel.
On the other hand, the way facts are presented can sometimes be unproductive. Since the United States continues to recognize that East Jerusalem’s status is disputed and that any future Palestinian capital will likely be in East Jerusalem, it would have been very helpful and politic to say so. In fact, as everyone knows, the option of an East Jerusalem capital was repeatedly offered to the Palestinians by Israeli leaders as part of several prior peace proposals; although the Palestinians rejected those prior offers, the concept of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem appears to be an essential ingredient in any future peace deal.
Accordingly, if formally acknowledging Jerusalem’s status is one’s goal, it would have been highly desirable to state both halves of that factual picture, rather than just one half. It might well have muted the angry, sometimes violent reactions in the Arab world and among Palestinians, including President Abbas. If brokering a deal that enables Israel to exist in peace and security is the ultimate objective of the United States, as I believe it should be, the recognition announcement was a poorly-crafted misfire that had the unfortunate effect of only pushing peace further away. The import of the message was truly laudable; the manner of its delivery was not.
America faces many challenges in the 21st Century. Together with our allies, we continue to pursue terrorist elements that threaten global stability and security. The U.S. has no greater partner in this endeavor than Israel. In continuing to strengthen our relationship with Israel, we continue to promote and enhance our economic and security interests both here in the U.S. and abroad. As the next member of Congress from Florida’s Sixteenth Congressional District, I will be a staunch supporter of America’s historic partnership with Israel.