Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), one of several legislators vying to succeed Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) as chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned the other candidates’ commitments to a strong and bipartisan U.S.-Israel alliance on Wednesday as he seeks to ramp up support for his candidacy.
In a Zoom call hosted by Democratic Majority for Israel, Sherman sought to distance himself from rivals Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Joaquín Castro (D-TX). The California Democrat highlighted his refusal to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress, his opposition to the Obama administration’s abstention on the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements (UNSC 2334) and his commitment to unconditioned military aid to Israel.
“There is a huge difference on whether to honor the memorandum of understanding signed by President Obama, endorsed by Congress and signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Sherman said. “There is a huge difference on how to react to a U.N. resolution. And of course there’s a huge difference on how to treat the prime minister of Israel when he comes to the United States.”
Meeks and Castro were among 58 members of Congress who did not attend Netanyahu’s March 2015 address to a joint session of Congress vocally opposing the Iran nuclear deal. “Prime Minister Netanyahu is not my favorite Israeli, and I’ve never met an Israeli who doesn’t criticize him for one position or the other, but I attended the speech because Prime Minister Netanyahu embodies the Jewish state,” Sherman said. “My two opponents in this race boycotted the prime minister’s speech, made a big deal out of [it at] the time, and are trying to get votes in the contest… by saying, ‘Look how great I am. I boycotted the speech.’”
Sherman also noted that Meeks and Castro voted against a bipartisan House resolution — which Sherman co-sponsored — condemning the UNSC resolution, and that both congressmen support some restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Israel.
Last month, The Times of Israel reported that — following a public lobbying effort by J Street and other groups — Meeks and Castro had expressed support for a measure that would prohibit Israel from using U.S. military assistance to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. Meeks later clarified his position in a Zoom call hosted by the American Jewish Committee, saying that his commitment to Israel aid is “absolute and unequivocal.” On Wednesday’s call, Sherman said he gives Meeks credit that he “renounced his own position,” which was described by the publication as a flip flop.
On the call, Sherman clarified his own position on aid, drawing a contrast between conditioning U.S. assistance to Israel to pressure them to change their policies and earmarking aid. “The MOU money is restricted to the purposes identified, and it should not be used for annexation, it should not be used for soccer stadiums. If God forbid Israel goes forward with this annexation, they can’t use the money from the MOU to buy the paper they print or to move around the paper,” he explained. “[But] when you turn to Israel and say, if you take our aid, you can’t build a soccer stadium with your own money, you can’t erect a fence with your own money… I’ve always been opposed to that. And so conditioning, I’m certainly very strongly against.”
Sherman also implored the pro-Israel group to intervene in the caucus vote that will decide the next chair following the November election — despite DMFI’s failed high-dollar investment to defend Engel in his June 23 primary. He named several groups, including IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine, who are supporting Castro, an effort he described as a “block Sherman movement.”
“You went to bat for Eliot Engel in a huge way, and demonstrated that you understood how important that chairmanship is,” Sherman told the group on the Zoom call. “Eliot Engel was Plan A. I strongly supported him. But now I’m going to try to ask you to go with Plan B. And I won’t compare myself to my good friend Eliot Engel, except to say that when it comes to having one’s heart in the right place, Eliot and I are in the exact same place.”
DMFI has invited all contenders to participate in the dialogue and is in the process of scheduling Meeks and Castro, a DMFI official said.