The Democratic presidential field campaigning in advance of the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary will be confronted by some uncomfortable questions about Israel, at least if Senator Elizabeth Warren’s appearance here this weekend is any indication.
Warren, on her first visit to New Hampshire as a declared Democratic presidential candidate, answered a question from a voter who volunteered that two of his best friends from college were Jewish before pivoting to ask Warren what she thought of Israel’s West Bank settlements and “basically an apartheid situation in Palestine now.”
Warren didn’t dispute the “apartheid” characterization, but didn’t endorse it, either. Instead she thanked the voter for his question and replied with generalities in which voters from a variety of viewpoints about Israel might find themes to sympathize.
Though Israel has traditionally had strong bipartisan support in the US, some recent polls have found support for Israel to be weaker among “progressive” Democrats than among other Americans. At least two newly elected Democratic members of the House of Representatives are open supporters of the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel. Two longtime Democratic operatives, Ann Lewis and Mark Mellman, recently founded a new organization, Democratic Majority for Israel, aimed at shoring up their party’s backing for the Jewish state.
“Israel lives in a dangerous part of the world where there are not a lot of liberal democracies,” Warren observed. “We need a strong Israel there.”
Then she turned to make some implicit requests: “A good ally is an ally that promotes peace,” she said. A good ally, she said, supports “basic humanitarian efforts” and acknowledges the basic human dignity of everyone.
“I believe in a two-state solution,” Warren said. “I believe it is the long term answer to peace.”
“We have to push for a two-state solution,” Warren said. “We don’t dictate the terms.”
“We don’t take the negotiating chips off the table,” Warren said, in what seemed to be a criticism of President Trump’s decision to obey the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which set American policy that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel and that the American embassy in Israel should be there.
Warren was one of 13 Senators who signed a 2018 letter asking Secretary of State Pompeo to do more “to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.” The letter blamed Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, but it also faulted Israel and Egypt, which control access to the territory.
In a one-on-one interview with this reporter following the event, the person who asked the question identified himself as Bill Monza, 74, a retired schoolteacher from Farmington, N.H. He described himself as a small donor to Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that promotes the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.
Asked what he thought of Warren’s answer to his “apartheid” question, Monza said, “She didn’t respond to it.” He said he couldn’t tell whether the senator agreed or disagreed with his characterization. “It’s such a hot word,” he acknowledged.
Monza said he asked the question because Warren had avoided any discussion of foreign policy in her remarks before the question period, and because he was “just horrified” by what he has heard about the situation in the West Bank.
“I’m anti-colonialism,” he declared. As for a solution, “maybe it’s two states, maybe it’s one state,” he said.
Monza acknowledged he’d never visited Israel or the West Bank. “I don’t know the issue,” he conceded at one point in the conversation. He said he’d gotten his information about it in part by reading the New Yorker and watching MSNBC, and that his first exposure to the BDS movement had come from a United Church of Christ congregation in Miami, Fla.
He said he “was very pro-Israel” as a student at Hofstra University on Long Island, but now is, “I think,” a BDS supporter. He said he’s “almost afraid to talk” about the issue with his Jewish friend from college.
Monza said he supported the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in 2016. This time around, he’s interested in Warren as well as in Senator Kamala Harris of California and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Monza said Warren’s appearance in New Hampshire kept him interested in her candidacy. “I know how sharp she is, what a fighter she is,” he said.