(January 29, 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.
Jim Hagedorn, 56, defeated Democrat Dan Feehan in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, replacing Tim Walz, who went on to be elected the state’s governor.
During the campaign, Hagedorn called the relocating of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as an “example of [U.S. President Donald Trump’s] firm, decisive leadership which has strengthened our country abroad.”
JNS talked with Hagedorn in his office, the same one that his father, Rep. Tom Hagedorn (R-Minn.), once occupied. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What is your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: I’m a “peace through strength” person; I believe in the Reagan doctrine on that. That means a strong U.S. military and a strong foreign policy in peace through strength. Part of that means we stand with our allies, and we stand up to our adversaries. As far as our allies are concerned, there’s no greater ally in the world than Israel. It’s very important that we maintain that relationship.
Q: What do you think America and Israel have in common?
A: They have lots of things in common. We believe in freedom, we believe in free enterprise, we believe in free markets, we believe in free trade. A lot of people are not familiar with how dynamic the Israeli economy is, and how the products and services they provide around the world contribute to our way of life and to the betterment of society. It’s kind of an untold story. Former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.), he was my mentor—he talks about the way the two countries have partnered up, and the way Israel has stood up as that little democracy in that area with all their enemies around them. We have to make sure we’re tight with because we want them protected and secure.
Q: You have any relationship with former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.)?
A: Yes, but not as tight. Sen. Boschwitz has taken us under his wing and tried to help us get elected. He and my father served in Congress together. He was in the Senate; my father was in the House. Our families have been connected for 40 years. Sen. Coleman is a great guy and been a strong proponent of Israel. When he was senator, he did an admirable job.
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib and, from your own home state, Ilhan Omar?
A: When I worked for Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.) in the 1980s, there were anti-Israel things said back then, mostly from people from the other party. This isn’t anything new, unfortunately. It’s people who have anti-Israel rhetoric, and I think anti-Semitic rhetoric. There’s no place for it. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s always been around, and it’s something we’ll always have to combat. I’ll be canceling out Omar’s vote every chance I get.
Q: What is your reaction to the planned U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria?
A: I understand where the president is coming from. One of the things the president campaigned on—and he was right—is that sometimes over the years, we’ve put U.S. troops in [entrenched positions] … we’ve gotten ourselves into situations and we can never leave. We’re just there forever. He’s trying to change that. Pull back in a responsible way and then over time, if needed, then we’ll re-engage. Our friends and allies will not be left undefended. We’re going to come to the rescue, if needed, and, hopefully, it’ll be a stabilizing force.
Q: Speaking of going back, do you fear that if the United States were to withdraw its troops too soon, then we’d have a repeat of Iraq in 2011?
A: Probably not to that nature. The Iraq situation, I campaigned on this. U.S. President Barack Obama should have had some status of forces agreement with that government to make sure that as we withdrew troops, we’d have some security there. We had a vacuum there filled by the Islamic State. When leaving office, President Obama said that ISIS would be around for decades. I’m not saying they have been eradicated—we’re probably never going to get rid of Islamic supremacy in that evil nature. President Trump, by relaxing the rules of engagement so that the troops can do their job [has allowed] the U.S. to do a terrific job in pushing ISIS to the brink.
Q: Speaking of the rules of engagement, should the U.S. military also combat Iranian forces in Syria?
A: If they’re a threat to what we’re trying to do, if they engage. I think what the president doesn’t want to do in Syria is see the fighting expanded to the point where we get drawn into some fight with Russia and others. Is Iran a problem? Yes.
Q: To combat the Iranian threat, should there be a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force?
A: We should do everything we can to keep them at bay. Make sure they’re as powerless as possible. I don’t know if we should engage them directly. That’s something the president would have to weigh in on. He’s the chief executive; he decides what to do with these things. By in large, what’s been going on there has been a disgrace with Iran for a long time. Destabilizing countries in that region aren’t good for us.
Q: Has the president done enough to combat the Iranian threat?
A: I think he’s working on it. He’s taking the steps that are needed. Some of us don’t want us to see us engage directly in combat and get into another war. We want to see whatever we can do to encourage people to take back their country—a Radio Free Iran or Internet Free Iran, something to get the message out. It’s possible down the road, but we can all entertain the concept of helping freedom fighters take back their country. Reagan did that all around the world against Communists, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t help people fight for their own freedom, particularly when it’s a regime that’s as destructive as Iran.
Q: What is your take on U.S. funding for Israel’s military, especially in the aftermath of the latest Israeli conflicts against Hezbollah and Hamas?
A: I’m going to be supportive of the shared military agreements we have and continue to make sure, on all sides that technology is made available. A lot of times, Israel takes some our aircraft and they perfect it.
Q: What’s your stance on BDS?
A: I’d be against that. This is what Omar supports. It’s off the charts. Not productive.
Q: What’s your reaction to the rise in anti-Semitism in America and abroad?
A: We shouldn’t have it anywhere. I’m a religious freedom person. I believe everybody should be able to practice their religion. We should never have people go after others because of their religion or in any way try to intimidate them from practicing their religion.
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know?
A: You asked quite a few good questions. Sen. Boschwitz has been a mentor and really helped me understand these issues. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m very open to learning. I really want to go on a trip to Israel. Going on the annual AIPAC trip would be one option; I think there’s been competing trips. I haven’t been invited yet, so let’s put it at that. Frankly, being that our office just started here—a lot of transitioning we have, legislation of our own we want to get going—I’m going to be focused on the work here and the work in the district, so I probably won’t be taking any foreign trips for a long time.