(December 13, 2018 / JNS) 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.
Greg Steube, 40, is an Iraq war veteran and Republican state senator who was elected in Florida’s 17th Congressional District in the midterm elections to replace retiring Republican Tom Rooney, defeating Democrat Allen Ellison.
JNS talked with Steube by phone. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What is your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: You probably won’t find a stronger supporter for Israel in Congress than me. I know I just got elected, but my wife and I just went to Israel with our church about a couple months ago. It was after the primary, before the general. I spent 10 days out there, and to be out there and see the security interests, having an ally in that region of the world I think is very important to our national security interests and for us to work together on good policy in the Middle Eastern region.
Q: What are those national security interests between America and Israel?
A: Having Israel in the heart of the Middle East, we really don’t have a stronger ally there from a national security, tactical situation, with all the shenanigans going on with Turkey and the kind of stuff they’re doing. It used to be an ally.
When I served in “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” we had a base in Turkey, and we would launch operations from airfields in Turkey to the northern part of Iraq. I don’t think those type of relations are there now. So having someone in the region there who is an ally is very important to the policies the president has in Iraq and the surrounding countries.
Q: Would that be proof in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, when the president cited Israel as an important reason for the United States and Saudi Arabia to work together?
A: Yeah, absolutely. And I supported the president in moving the embassy to Jerusalem. We actually had the opportunity to drive by it in Israel a couple months ago, and I know that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee takes the legislative delegation out there, so I’m looking forward to that next year and see a different side of Israel from more of a security standpoint. We drove by the Palestinian area, so you see the fences and the security protocols they have in place. I’m looking forward to going out next summer.
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from incoming Democrats Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
A: They fall on deaf ears with me. I’m going to be a supporter of Israel in Congress, and I will do what I can within my power in the committees that I happen to be on to support pro-Israel and American relations. One of the committees I’ve asked to be placed on is the Foreign Affairs Committee, and hopefully, I’ll be placed on that given my military background. Hopefully, I can be a conservative voice on that committee for the relations between the U.S. and Israel.
Q: Do those three Democrats represent the future of the Democratic Party?
A: They just got elected, and I don’t know, because I’m a Republican, what direction their party is going in the sense of their platforms. But if you look at the type of Democrats that they have elected this cycle, they are very left Democrats. I’m very hopeful that we can take a lot of those seats back in the midterm, especially those seats that Trump won in 2016.
I’ll be doing whatever I can to help my colleagues to raise the necessary resources we need to be successful to take the House back in two years. All you have to do is see the results of the Florida elections. Florida is a very purple state, and you had a very far-left, self-identified progressive socialist running against a conservative Republican, and the conservative Republican won. Even Florida, a purple state, is not ready. I don’t think they’ll ever be ready for far-left policies.
Q: On the Republican side, Rep. Mark Harris of North Carolina said in 2011: “You cannot be in that land, as powerful and as moving as it is, without realizing the incredible tension that is constantly in that land between the Palestinians and the Jews. There will never be peace in Jerusalem until the day comes that every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” What’s your reaction?
A: I would agree with that statement. I sensed that firsthand when I was over there. Having served in Iraq, you see things that normal tourists don’t see. I will tell you there was some tension when we crossed over from what is still Israel to the land controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
In the airport, I bought Six Days of War by former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, and it’s very illuminating on the tension. Israelis took the Temple Mount, and I don’t understand why; I guess I’ll get to that in the book. But what the political decision was to ease tensions with the Palestinians and other Muslim-surrounding countries to give up the Temple Mount to the Muslims to try to have some type of peace.
When I was there, you could certainly feel the tension when you go between the two different areas. We spent some time in Bethlehem, and it was to the point where our Jewish tour guide had to not be our tour guide once we crossed the Palestinian Authority into Bethlehem; it had to be a Palestinian tour guide to give us a tour through Bethlehem. So, there’s tension between those areas of the country.
Q: What is your stance on BDS?
A: I don’t support anything that would diminish Israel’s presence in the Middle East.
Q: What is your reaction to those who want to defund or decrease U.S. assistance to Israel?
A: I wouldn’t support decreasing assistance to Israel.
Q: What is your stance on U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority?
A: I’d like to take a look at that because I’d like to know what we’re currently funding.
Q: Are you aware of the Taylor Force Act?
A: No. I just got elected to Congress two months ago. Once I get on some of these committees, I’ll obviously get into a lot more of these more detailed issues.
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: I think any form of racism should be rejected in the country that we live in—that’s just not American. I don’t know what policies we can put in place at the federal level to reduce that, but I certainly don’t think anti-Semitism is appropriate.
Q: Are you aware of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act?
Q: It’s a bill 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 would probably support that.
Q: Do you have any specific plans in Congress regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship, such as introducing relevant legislation?
A: Not at this time.
Q: What are your thoughts on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal?
A: I didn’t support it and am glad President Trump withdrew from it.
Q: Did you support the reimposition of sanctions on Iran?
Q: Do you think the administration is doing enough to combat Iran?
A: Yes. More than what the Obama administration did.
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
A: No, I think we’re good for now.