(February 12, 2019 / JNS) Editor’s Note: A number of new members of Congress, including those in the Democratic House majority, bring new faces to the Jewish and pro-Israel community. JNS will introduce some of these legislators as part of its “Meet the Newbie” series.
Democratic Rep. David Trone, 63, defeated Republican and former Deputy Under Secretary of the Army Amie Hoeber in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm elections to replace John Delaney, who is running for president in 2020.
A wine businessman, Trone grew up Lutheran but his wife, June, is Jewish and raised their four children as such, belonging to a Reform synagogue in Rockville, Md., where they had their b’nai mitzvot. Two of them have been on Birthright Israel trips.
JNS talked with Trone in person. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You were in Israel recently. What was your trip like, and what is your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: The trip to Israel was fantastic. Six congressmen-elect went over—three Democrats, three Republicans. We covered [areas] from the Golan to Gaza, spent time with major public officials. It was an excellent learning trip. The most important thing that came out of the trip was the ability to work together, the connectivity with Israel from Republicans and Democrats.
Q: You had meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials?
Q: Do you mind elaborating on your meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
A: The meeting was off the record, so I don’t want to get into too many details, but it was a real honor to meet with the prime minister in his office. He was very generous with his time. We reiterated our position that Israel is America’s only close ally or our closest friend in the Middle East, and what we could do in Congress to support Israel.
Q: What was it like meeting with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat?
A: The meeting was interesting—to go to Ramallah and see how that town, how the West Bank, looks. I had been there 20 years ago with another mission with the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore; we actually sat down at that time with Yasser Arafat. To see the change in 20 years in Ramallah is, without question, moving in a very positive direction for the people of the West Bank. There are more jobs there, there’s more technology transfer. Israel is a startup nation for sure, and with two trips over the last year, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to different entrepreneurs in Israel. But it’s good to see some of that technology startup sliding into the West Bank.
Q: Do you think the Palestinian Authority has done enough in the past two decades?
A: No, they haven’t done anywhere near enough. You always hear doom and gloom, and that may be the case in Gaza. But in Ramallah, in the West Bank, there are more job opportunities certainly than there used to be.
Q: And that’s despite the continued tensions (throwing stones, Molotov cocktails) and other forms of violence in the West Bank?
A: Despite all the difficulties. The success of the startup nation of Israel is beginning to penetrate the job market there.
Q: What is your reaction to 18 Senate Democrats, plus Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), voting against invoking cloture on the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act? Sen. Chris Van Hollen, from your home state, was one of the “No” votes. (Update: On Feb. 5, 2019, the Senate passed the bill with 22 Democrats, plus Sanders, voting against it.)
A: It makes no sense at all.
Q: Why does it make no sense?
A: Our position aligns with Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.). The BDS movement is despicable, and we need to call that out. We’ve talked about the anti-BDS bill that Senator Cardin put together with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio). We’ve supported Senator Cardin on that bill from day one. That type of legislation is needed. We have to work together to get it through.
Q: What is your response to House Democratic leadership expressing reservations about the anti-BDS bill?
A: The anti-BDS bill … there have been reservations expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union. I believe that this does not infringe on the First Amendment rights. The ACLU thinks it does. We need to pass the anti-BDS bill, and we’re 100 percent supportive of [Senator] Ben Cardin’s position.
Q: Have you been talking with House Democratic leadership and Sen. Van Hollen about the bill?
A: Our focus has been the ACLU and Senator Cardin, and trying to reach a resolution in the middle where we can get the ACLU to support it. Unfortunately, we have not been able to get them to support the bill. The senator’s gone on the extra mile to be aware of their concerns and address their concerns the best we could. But we have to maintain the spirit of the bill.
Q: Would you still vote for of the bill even if the ACLU opposes it at the end of the day?
A: 100 percent. I support Senator Cardin and will vote for the anti-BDS bill.
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from fellow Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?
A: It’s a country where everyone has the right to free speech. But it’s regrettable, it’s unfortunate, and I think it’s ill-informed.
Q: What is your reaction to the planned U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria?
A: I just got on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I’m looking forward to that. The decision to withdraw from Syria should be made with consultation with the generals, and the folks on the ground and our head diplomats on the ground, and not after getting off the phone with the president of Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan). That’s probably not the best use of the resources we have here in America.
Q: Should the U.S. military stay in Syria to combat Iranian forces?
A: We’re going to need to stay in Syria until the situation on the ground is stable. An immediate pullout doesn’t make any sense.
Q: And also Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah?
A: We should continue in Syria to try and stabilize the situation. The refugee situation from Syria is outrageous; the Kurds have been our friends from day one. We can’t just abandon and leave the Kurds there at the mercy of the Turkish forces.
Q: You mentioned to the Times of Israel that you would have voted against the 2015 Iran deal. According to the position paper on the U.S.-Israel relationship that you released during your campaign, you mentioned your disappointment with the president withdrawing America from the deal. Nonetheless, did you support the reimposition of sanctions?
A: I’ve been against the Iran deal initially. It was a bad deal. We need to have the ability not to let Iran become a nuclear power. We have to monitor Iran’s testing of missiles. We have to have open sites anytime, anywhere. But at the same time, once the deal was signed, I would’ve stuck with the deal and worked to impose/change the conditions that we need, such as inspections, anytime, anywhere. We cannot let Iran have nuclear capabilities. We cannot let Iran develop missiles that can cross to the U.S. or anywhere else. So, do we need sanctions? Absolutely. Should we continue to tighten the noose on Iran? Absolutely. In light of this, we should’ve stuck with the deal where it was.
Q: But did you support the president reimposing the sanctions lifted under the deal?
A: Reimposing the sanctions in the context of keeping the framework of the Iranian deal. Once it was made, we should’ve kept the framework and then work with Iran to put in more sanctions, and get the agreement to where it should’ve been in the beginning. But it wasn’t there in the beginning.
Q: Would sanctions include those on exports of Iranian oil?
A: I’m done with that subject.
Q: In that same Times of Israel interview, you expressed opposition to the United States relocating its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but said you didn’t take issue with the president recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. What’s the point in officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital if the embassy shouldn’t be moved there?
A: I stand by what I already said.
Q: Is there anything else that our readers should know about you and your policy focus?
A: We need to realize that anti-Semitism around the globe is on the rise once again. The anti-Semitism in the United States went up 57 percent. The tone and the language that comes from the White House are giving folks political cover to make these anti-Semitic-type remarks, and that has to end. We’ve worked for decades-plus with the Anti-Defamation League. I think their work is so important in this area, and we can’t let it slide. What we see happen to college campuses is of a similar problem. We can’t let that slide.