Update: On Mar. 1, 2020, Pete Buttigieg announced that he is dropping out of the 2020 presidential race.
(JTA) — Pete Buttigieg, the charismatic mayor of South Bend, Indiana — a community home to a growing Orthodox Jewish population — has risen from relative unknown to near household name (for those who can pronounce his) over the course of the 2020 campaign. He is young, gay, moderately liberal on most issues and outspoken about his Christian faith.
Here’s where he stands on Jewish issues.
What has Pete Buttigieg said regarding anti-Semitism?
In May 2019, at a meeting with Jewish community groups, Buttigieg accused the White House of welcoming people who “are blatantly anti-Semitic” and excusing “people who walk the streets chanting ‘Jews will not replace us.’”
He was referring to the neo-Nazi march on Charlottesville, when President Trump said there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the violence that broke out. (Joe Biden has made Trump’s Charlottesville remarks a central part of his campaign.)
In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, on Oct. 27, 2018, his account tweeted: “South Bend stands united with the people of Pittsburgh, the Jewish community, and all who have suffered from gun violence in other cities as in our own.” He tweeted about the one-year anniversary as well.
Buttigieg later stumbled into his own anti-Semitic controversy of sorts in April 2019, when he continued to refer to Vice President Mike Pence as a “Pharisee.”
The Pharisees, a group subject to intense criticism by Jesus in Christian texts, are among the intellectual forebears of modern rabbinic Judaism. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explains that the word is seen by many as anti-Semitic, telling the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “When you use that as an insult, you’re saying that Jews are bad. It perpetrates anti-Semitism: Jew as bad guy, as Christ killer, is one of the ways people have justified murder and pogroms and the Inquisition and the Holocaust for centuries.”
Buttigieg’s communications advisor Lis Smith subsequently tweeted that Buttigieg would no longer use the term.
After Rep. Ilhan Omar was criticized for making what some saw as anti-Semitic remarks about Jewish wealth and influence in February, the House voted on a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism. It was largely seen as a rebuke of Omar’s comments.
Buttigieg didn’t comment specifically on the resolution, but he has clashed with Omar, especially when she said that Americans should be as alert to religious discrimination in Israel as they are in Iran.
“People like me get strung up in Iran,” Buttigieg told “The View.” “So, the idea that what’s going on is equivalent is just wrong.”
However, Buttigieg said he was “disappointed” to see Israel bar Omar and Rashida Tlaib, another congresswoman who backs the boycott Israel movement, from entering the country.
So what’s his plan?
Buttigieg wrote in a JTA op-ed that he would “devote $1 billion to prevent and combat radicalization and violent extremism” as president. He also noted that he would push for more Holocaust education in schools.
“Intolerance springs from ignorance, and an informed citizenry is a foundation of democracy. Holocaust education is a critical component of addressing anti-Semitism,” he wrote.
Where does Buttigieg stand on the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — commonly referred to as BDS?
Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately called by some, has never addressed BDS.
What’s Buttigieg’s relationship with Jewish organizations?
Unlike many of his older primary peers, Buttigieg has no long history with many of the prominent national Jewish organizations that court presidential candidates, though he spoke at the liberal pro-Israel lobby J Street’s conference in 2019 and a former AIPAC president, Steve Grossman, has endorsed him. However, he does have a relationship with the American Jewish Committee: In May 2018, well before declaring his run for president, he participated in AJC’s Project Interchange tour of Israel with a group of U.S. mayors.
“Engagement is very important,” Buttigieg said after the trip.
Alright, let’s turn to Israel. What has Buttigieg said?
In November 2019, after missiles were fired from Gaza into Israel, Pete Buttigieg tweeted, “I strongly condemn the rocket attacks on the citizens of southern and central Israel. Israel has a right to defend itself against acts of terror that set back any progress towards peace and will only serve to inflame the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
He has also said he would not move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jersualem, telling Axios “what’s done is done.”
However, he is also critical of Israeli policy at times: In a Q&A with The New York Times, Buttigieg called Israel’s human rights record “problematic” and “moving in the wrong direction under the current right-wing government.”
In October, Buttigieg told the Council on Foreign Relations, “I disagree with… overreach in the West Bank and Gaza and short-sighted focus on military responses. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has gone on far too long and provides a ripe environment for the very extremist violence that threatens Israel.”
In spite of all this, Buttiegieg thinks support for Israel should be non-partisan: “There’s a risk that support for Israel could come to be regarded as a partisan issue and I think that would be really unfortunate,” he said in 2018, after that AJC trip to Israel. “One of the first things you realize when you get on the ground is that this is not a left versus right issue — at least it shouldn’t be. The Democratic Party is, I think, ultimately committed to the idea of peace and security and stability and fairness for everybody.”
In April 2019, when Netaynahu announced ahead of the Israeli elections that he will begin annexing West Bank if he were to be elected, Pete Buttigieg tweeted, “This provocation is harmful to Israeli, Palestinian, and American interests. Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu‘s politics. I don’t. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution.”
In a foreign policy speech in June 2019, he reiterated this, stating, “If Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat to annex West Bank settlements, a President Buttigieg will take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t foot the bill.”
What has Buttigieg said about a two-state solution?
Buttigieg said that “A two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward.”
“The security of Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are fundamentally interlinked. To visit the West Bank and Gaza is to understand the fundamental need for a two-state solution which addresses the economic, security and moral rights of both Israelis and of the Palestinians who live there,” Buttigieg told the Council on Foreign Relations.
One of the biggest issues, he told Jewish groups in May 2019, is that “we don’t have the right kinds of partners in leadership on the Palestinian side, is that we have to invest more energy in constraining their worst impulses than in trying to get a good outcome.”
Would Buttigieg leverage U.S. aid to Israel to try to force policy changes?
Buttigieg, like Elizabeth Warren, has said that aid to Israel could be “leverage to guide Israel in the right direction.”
“We need to make sure that any such cooperation and funding is going to things that are compatible with U.S. objectives and U.S. law,” Buttigieg said at a J Street conference in October 2019. “[W]e need to have the visibility to know whether U.S. funds are being used in a way that is not compatible with U.S. policy, and U.S. policy should not be promoting this kind of construction precisely because it is incompatible or at best detrimental to [the two-state solution].”
Jewish fun fact
While Buttigieg would be the first openly gay major ticket nominee, he’s not the first candidate: Fred Karger, who is Jewish and gay, sought the Republican nomination in 2012.