When I was a young boy growing-up in Altamonte Springs, Florida, my parents made the decision to leave the segregated south. They became live-in domestic servants for several Jewish families, first in Queens (Jamaica Estates) New York, and then in Beverly Hills and Bel Air, California, which was when my lifelong relationship with the Jewish community began. As a youth, I have many fond memories of attending bar mitzvahs, learning about the Jewish faith, and even working as a short order cook in a Jewish delicatessen named Spector’s in Margate, New Jersey. Although I am not of the Jewish faith, I count myself lucky to be deeply rooted in the Jewish community.
When I first was elected to Congress, I served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and then on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where issues related to the US-Israel relationship were always treated with the utmost importance. I went on to serve on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), where I am currently the Ranking Democratic Member. I am privileged to have also been the only American ever elected as president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA). As president emeritus of the OSCE PA, I also served as special representative on Mediterranean Affairs. Because of these opportunities, I have visited Israel 18 times and am one of her strongest defenders in the US House of Representatives.
It is with this in mind that I took note of an October 8th New York Time’s article suggesting that a “New Wave” of Democrats is challenging the party’s support for Israel. Although it is true that some activists within my party – some of whom will likely win this November – have been critical of Israeli policies, generalizing their criticisms as the future of the Democratic Party is as misleading as suggesting that fringe white nationalist Republican candidates are representative of their party.
I am a staunch Democrat, and I support Israel. Nearly all of my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, do as well.
As one of the co-chairs of the Democratic Israel Working Group, I work hard to educate my colleagues about the importance of a strong US-Israel relationship. I take this role very seriously and frequently work behind the scenes with colleagues not deeply involved in foreign affairs to contextualize the daily challenges Israel faces, whether it is the deeply flawed boycott movement or the unfair treatment Israel receives when it is singled out by multilateral bodies. I look forward to working with my new colleagues in the same way, and I will encourage them to join the Working Group so that they too can meet with foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum and Members of the Knesset to learn about Israel and the region.
There have always been some who are skeptical of Israel and those who rely on hyperbole in their criticisms. I would be shocked if any of the candidates quick to criticize Israel have ever stood in a Hamas Terror tunnel designed to enable the murder of Jewish civilians. I would be surprised if any of them have stood in playgrounds in Sderot that double as bomb shelters, or heard from mothers who are forced to decide which of their children they will carry to safety when the sirens give them 20 seconds notice of incoming rockets. I doubt any of them have experienced stepping onto a bus or into a café and considered the chances that a suicide bomber or a lone-wolf terrorist would follow close behind.
Perhaps more importantly, they have never stood in Hadassah Hospital and seen Israeli and Palestinian doctors treating patients without consideration for their ethnicity. I’m sure they have never seen the bilingual and multicultural Hand in Hand school, initiatives like Roots that works to build trust, empathy, and support between the communities, or EcoPeace, at the front of the environmental peacebuilding effort. They know little of the joint American-Israel research into lifesaving medical technologies, clean energy, or agriculture that will feed the future while keeping our water clean and air clear.
These are the real stories of the US-Israel relationship, and Democrats overwhelmingly support them. It is my sincerest hope that my future colleagues will too.
Like some in my party, I have had my disagreements with some of the decisions that Israel’s leaders have made in recent years. A dynamic relationship such as ours is worthy of honest and open debate. And because our relations are strong, I have been able to make my concerns known at the highest levels of Israel’s government, while simultaneously supporting the cooperation between our two nations, including the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that protects Israel’s security and ensures regional stability.
The US-Israel relationship is paramount, and although the complex and deeply rooted challenges sometimes evoke frank debate, the Democratic Party will always support Israel and Jewish communities across the globe. Members of Congress like myself will always ensure that our relationship continue to grow stronger and prosper.
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings represents Florida’s 20th district, and serves as a Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida delegation.