Editor’s Note: A number of incoming members of Congress, including those in the upcoming Democratic House majority, will bring new faces to the Jewish and pro-Israel community. JNS will introduce some of these elected legislators as part of its “Meet the Newbie” series.
New York Democratic assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, 40, unseated incumbent Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney in the state’s 22nd Congressional District in the 2018 midterm elections.
Brindisi broke with fellow Democrats and endorsed the United States moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.
“The capital of Israel is Jerusalem,” he posted on Twitter. “And it is right, ripe and ready to host our American embassy. I fervently believe that a two-state solution is the best answer for regional democracy and peace. I’m engaged on this issue and committed to doing all I can to propel these beliefs.”
The capital of Israel is Jerusalem. And it is right, ripe and ready to host our American embassy. I fervently believe that a two state solution is the best answer for regional democracy and peace. I’m engaged on this issue and committed to doing all I can to propel these beliefs.
— Anthony Brindisi (@ABrindisiNY) December 6, 2017
Although not Jewish, Brindisi’s brother-in-law is the director of the Jewish Community Center in Utica, N.Y. His niece and two nephews are also Jewish.
JNS talked with Brindisi by phone. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You were one of a handful of Democrats who supported U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Why the break from your fellow Democrats?
A: For me, Israel has been one of, if not, America’s closest allies in the Free World, and has been under attack by almost every other country in the Middle East. Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people going back to biblical times. I feel it’s important for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as their capital.
Q: What is your response to those who say that moving the embassy hinders the peace process?
A: I disagree. I certainly want to encourage a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors, and I think peace is still possible even with the support from the administration on this move.
Q: What is your stance on the Iran deal and the overall Iranian threat?
A: I was not supportive of it before. As a member of the state assembly, I’ve supported a number of initiatives, such as the New York State Iran Divestment Act of 2012 relating to investments in foreign states sponsoring terrorism. And I was not for the deal because I felt that it simply wasn’t long enough.
Q: Did you support the reimposition of sanctions?
A: I do.
Q: Do you think the current administration has been doing enough to counter the Iranian threat?
A: I think it remains to be seen. I want to make sure that the U.S. is doing everything it can. As a member of Congress, I will be well aware of the existential threat Iran and several of its proxy nations presents to Israel. I am committed to ensuring the best I can for Israel’s safety.
Q: What is your stance on BDS?
A: I think it’s anti-Semitic. I have supported legislation as a member of the Assembly, directing New York State entities to divest all public funds supporting the BDS campaign against Israel.
Q: What is your reaction to your fellow incoming Democrat Ilhan Omar, who endorsed BDS shortly after getting elected?
A: I think every member is entitled to take whatever position they think appropriate on that. For me, I will continue to speak out against the BDS campaign.
Q: What is your position on funding Israel’s military?
A: If I support the continued relationship and funding that we have had, I want to see a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and believe it is in the U.S.’s best interest to ensure that Israel remains safe from outside threats. Israel and the U.S. need to have each other’s backs, as there are very few others in the world that either of us can depend on.
Q: Which interests do Israel and America share?
A: There’s so many. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and we share and they share values practically identical to the U.S., whether it’s the rule of law or freedom of the press or justice for all its citizens.
Q: You would say this funding is crucial especially in the aftermath of more than 450 rockets being fired from Hamas in Gaza into Israel, correct?
A: Absolutely. Israel has to be on constant preparation for possible security breaches in both the north and south all the time. I visited Israel a couple years ago and saw firsthand the remnants of thousands of rockets that have been launched into the country. That’s a constant threat people in Israel have to deal with.
Q: Can you elaborate on your trip to Israel a couple years ago?
A: I was there as part of a delegation from the New York State Assembly. We visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Gaza border, the Dead Sea, and many of Israel’s sacred and holy sites. I had a chance to speak to dozens of Israeli citizens throughout the country; I talked to businesspeople, health-care workers, farmers, local and national leaders, military officials and many of the leading economists.
Q: Did you also visit the Palestinian areas?
A: I did. I visited Bethlehem. Got a chance to talk to Palestinians. The one thing I walked away from that trip, talking to both Israelis and Palestinians, is that they wanted peace. I’m committed to doing everything I can as a member of Congress to ensure a lasting peace.
Q: Speaking of Palestinians, what is your stance on American funding for the Palestinian Authority?
A: I would not support any funding that go towards rewarding terrorists who want to do harm to Israel. If the funding is for humanitarian purposes, I certainly can consider that. I want to learn more about what that funding is used for, but I would certainly not support any funding that’s directed toward sustained terrorism activities.
Q: If funding were to go towards humanitarian purposes, would there be the concern that it could actually fall into the hands of the P.A., and go toward terrorists and their families?
A: I think that’s always a concern. If that’s the case, then I would not support funding.
Q: What’s your reaction to anti-Semitism in the United States and worldwide, especially in the United Kingdom with the rise of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn?
A: It’s something we need to be very aware of. I know here in New York state we’ve seen a 90 percent increase in anti-Semitic activities, whether it’s swastikas on college campuses or defacing of Jewish grave sites. I’ll do everything I can as a member of Congress to speak out against anti-Semitic activities in the U.S. and throughout the world.
I did support funding as a member of the State Assembly here in New York that would increase financial support to law enforcement in the state to deal with hate crimes, and specifically, those hate crimes which are anti-Semitic in nature.
Q: Are you familiar with the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program?
A: I am very well aware of it.
Q: Any institution that gets funding from the program can only use it towards security equipment, but not for security personnel. In Congress, would you try to change the appropriations instructions?
A: I would. I would also want to ensure that smaller institutions, like those in the 22nd district of New York would also be able to have access to that funding.
Q: Would you support the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act that would require the Department of Education to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism in evaluating such incidents on college campuses and at other educational institutions?
A: I’m not familiar with the legislation, but I certainly would want to take a look at it. Seems like something I would support.
Q: Are there any other pieces of legislation you would introduce related to the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: Not at this point, but I certainly have an open mind and want to do everything I can to make sure that we continue strong U.S.-Israel relations going forward.