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Stefanik, on Israel

Editor’s note: Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik was part of a bipartisan delegation that visited Israel Aug. 8-16. Her office offered The Chronicle a phone interview on Thursday, Aug. 22. Here are excerpts of her responses to questions from Chronicle editor Mark Frost and News Editor Gordon Woodworth.

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Q: What did you learn on your trip to Israel?

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik

A: Well, it was my third visit to Israel, my first time as a member of Congress. I have strongly believed that Israel is one of our strongest allies going back to my belief in high school, but I think you really need to go there to understand how many national security threats Israel is under and the issue of proximity and geography.

Israel is a miracle if you think about the neighborhood they exist in. It was incredibly inspiring to talk to the Israelis and hear from them first-hand how appreciative they are about their partnership with the United States. It’s just awe-inspiring, too, to see the religious sites, whether it’s the Western Wall, whether it’s passages from the Bible that are all throughout Jerusalem. It was incredibly inspiring.

Q: Is the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement discriminatory against Israel?

A: Yes, the BDS movement does not want Israel to exist. It’s anti-Semitic at its core. It tries to undermine Israel’s ability to do business in the global economy. I have been a legislative leader when it comes to combatting the boycott by that sanction movement against Israel. Israel…is now one of the world’s top three countries when it comes to tech startups. We ought to be partnering with Israel economically, not discriminating against them.

Q: Do you think “The Squad” is anti-Israel?

A: I do think they are anti-Israel. I’ve been very concerned with anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from some members of Congress. In the case of Rep. Omar and Rep. Talib, which has been in the news quite a bit lately, I think they should have gone on the bipartisan delegation. Every member of Congress is invited to go as a freshman. Since I had been twice before, I went in my third term. They should have gone on the bipartisan trip because we had an opportunity to hear from not only Prime Minister Netanyahu but we also went to Ramallah and met with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Seeing Israel with your own eyes is so critical for policy makers.

Q: Do you think Israel discriminates against Palestinians?

A: No. And that’s another thing you realize when you are walking around Israel, there are Palestinians who are living in Israel and their rights are respected. I do think we do need to come to a two-state solution and that means that Palestinians need to recognize Israel’s right to exist. That has been one of the challenging issues previously. I don’t think Israel discriminates against Palestinians.

Q: Did you go to the Golan Heights?

A: We did. We were able to see the security threat along the border of the Golan Heights. We received briefings on the threats from Hezbollah and the threats from Syria and I think seeing the Golan Heights is incredibly important, to see why that location is critical to Israel’s national security.

Q: So you agree with the U.S. recognizing it as part of Israel?

A: Yes. I also agree with the U.S. moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That actually goes back to a 1995 Congressional law. It just wasn’t implemented. President Trump is the first president, while every president has promised it, he’s the first president who actually has done it, and the Israelis were very, very positive and supportive of that decision. I think it’s the right thing to do.

Q: You talked about the two-state solution. What steps should be taken toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How can we get there?

A: First, we need to look at history. There have been many offers on the table that the Palestinians have walked away from. I think first recognizing Israel’s right to exist is critically important. I also think not being under threat day-to-day from rockets is also important…Israel also needs to be able to defend itself and I think any two-state solution must respect that.

Q: Do you support the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu?

A: I do support Prime Minister Netanyahu. We met with the Prime Minister but we also met with Benny Gantz, who is also a candidate for prime minister. I strongly support Prime Minister Netanyahu but I believe that the U.S. is going to have a positive working relationship no matter who is prime minister.

Q: Do you support the Trump administration’s peace initiatives toward peace in Israel?

A: I support any type of discussions to try to bring peace to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Q: What do you think the Trump administration is proposing?

A: We haven’t gotten the details about that…That’s something I’m hoping to get briefed about on the House Armed Services committee. Certainly the House Foreign Affairs committee should get briefed on those issues.

Q: What do you think about President Trump’s comments that criticized American Jewish people for voting Democratic?

A: I disagree with those comments. I think Jewish Americans can vote for whoever they want. It doesn’t mean they don’t support the U.S.-Israel relationship. Where I’m concerned with is you have two very outspoken Democrat elected members of Congress who have a record of anti-Semitic statements. I’m very concerned that anti-Semitism is in the halls of Congress with those two individuals. I think it’s wrong to paint with a broad brush when it comes to voting for Republicans or Democrats, and testament to my position, this is the largest bipartisan delegation. You had 41 Democrats and 30 Republicans. That shows strong support for Israel. It was a trip led by Steny Hoyer and Kevin McCarthy. You have top, top Congressional leadership working together to show their support for Israel.

Q: There are many who believe that it’s anti-Semitic for President Trump to imply dual loyalty, the old notion that Jews can’t be trusted because their true allegiance is to Israel, not their country. Do you see it that way?

A: Well, what I think the statement is getting compared to, the context of the statement, was in response to Talib and Omar. I do think there are strains of anti-Semitism that are growing within the Democratic primary electorate among some of the very, very far left progressive groups.

Again…I disagree with that comment, but the real anti-Semitic statements are coming from Rep. Omar and Rep. Talib, who have a record of making numerous, numerous anti-Semitic statements and have been condemned by their colleagues, including the Democratic chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, Eliot Engel, who has a very strong pro-Israel record.

Q: So you don’t believe the President’s statement was anti-Semitic?

A: I don’t think it was anti-Semitic. Again, I disagree with the statement. I think it was in response to how these two anti-Semitic Democrats, Omar and Talib, are getting so much media attention, and that’s a real question for the Democratic Party. Every Democratic candidate should be asked, including every Democrat running for President, about what their response is to that type of rhetoric coming from elected officials in their party.

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