(JTA invited supporters of the five leading Republican and Democratic contenders for their parties’ presidential nomination to submit opinion pieces in support of their candidate. Other responses can be found here.)
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Today, Israel is surrounded by more turmoil than ever, and the world also presents great challenges to the United States. Iran is developing missile technology that can reach Israel, and providing ever-more-sophisticated rockets to Hezbollah and Hamas. Russia is making aggressive military movement from Ukraine to Syria. China is claiming new territory and seeking to militarize the South China Sea.
At such a perilous time for the Jewish state and for the U.S., supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party – both Jews and non-Jews – ought to seriously consider which candidate is most prepared to serve as commander in chief. America needs a leader who will protect our security interests across the globe, including our most important ally in the Middle East. And with that test in mind, Bernie Sanders is simply no match for Hillary Clinton.
Senator Sanders has many admirable qualities – every day he shows his basic decency, intelligence and candor on the campaign trail. American Jews are rightly proud of the first serious Jewish American presidential candidate. His support for Israel is unquestionable. His family has history in the Holocaust, he worked on an Israeli kibbutz and his Senate voting record shows regular support of Israel.
But in times like these, good intentions are no match for good qualifications. And unfortunately, his credentials for leading the defense of America – and helping that of Israel — are paper thin.
Sanders has spent most of his highly disciplined campaign promoting his own self-proclaimed “democratic socialism.” Many of his ideas, like free college education, are implausible and unaffordable. Some, like opening Obamacare to major surgery, would give Republicans an opening to roll it back or repeal it, and are downright threatening. But perhaps most concerning of all is that in nearly a year on the campaign trail, national security issues have not even been on his agenda.
On the few occasions when he is pressed to address Middle East issues, he shows a troubling lack of engagement and understanding.
During his nearly three decades in Congress, Senator Sanders has never served on a national security committee. He has had little serious contact with key foreign leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor has he regularly engaged with the American foreign policy community.
On the rare occasions he has addressed Israeli issues, his responses have been vague and surprisingly uninformed. In a recent New York Daily News interview, while declaring Israel settlement expansion “illegal,” he said he needed “some paper in front of me” to discuss what kind of pullback he wanted Israel to make on the West Bank. He criticized Israel for a disproportionate response to the constant shelling from Hamas in Gaza and cited a highly inflated figure of “over 10,000 innocent people” killed while omitting the number of Israelis killed or threatened by Hamas’ aggression. Perhaps most worrying of all, in a recent interview with MSNBC, Sanders said he did “not at this point” have an opinion on whether Israel’s pre-1967 borders should be the basis for a peace settlement.
In sharp contrast, Hillary Clinton would be a superb commander in chief. She is on a first-name basis with nearly every major foreign leader. From her years as first lady, to two terms as senator, to a full term as secretary of state, Clinton has been widely admired as a staunch ally and defender of Israel. She was a key backer of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system for Israel, which has saved countless lives. She helped negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in 2012, ending the rain of rockets from Gaza on to Israel. And she has called for taking the U.S-Israel relationship to the next level to deal with the many shared threats we face, including providing Israel with some of the most sophisticated arms and technology in the U.S. arsenal.
Hillary Clinton’s commitment to Israel’s security and to the Jewish people is not just campaign rhetoric – I know from experience that it’s personal for her. As first lady, she was committed to justice for Holocaust victims, and it was her recommendation to President Clinton, after meeting with then-president of the World Jewish Congress Edgar Bronfman, that led to my appointment as special adviser of the president and secretary of state on Holocaust issues.
During the Clinton administration, I negotiated over $8 billion of recoveries for Holocaust survivors and families of victims. Throughout those difficult discussions, then-first lady Hillary Clinton frequently asked me for briefings, and was instrumental in getting me the support I needed to secure $5 billion for the German slave labor agreement. She carried on this work as senator and secretary of state, leading on the issue of Holocaust restitution and working tirelessly to combat efforts to marginalize Israel on the world stage.
There has never been a time in its history when Israel found itself facing more threats than it does today. That’s why we need a president who understands these dangers, and can deal with them forcefully and effectively. We need a president who understands that the United States has a strong and enduring national interest in Israel’s security, and an interest in and commitment to a more peaceful, more stable and more secure Middle East. I believe that president will be Hillary Clinton.
(During the Clinton administration, Stuart E. Eizenstat was the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, undersecretary of commerce, undersecretary of state, deputy secretary of the Treasury, and special representative of the president on Holocaust issues. During the Carter administration, he was the president’s chief domestic policy adviser.)