(March 21, 2019 / JNS) Democratic Rep. Susan Wild defeated Republican Marty Nothstein in Pennsylvania’s redrawn 7th Congressional District (previously the state’s 15th Congressional District) in the 2018 midterm elections to replace Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, who retired in May, leaving his seat vacant until Wild took it over in November, having also won the special election in the 15th Congressional District the same day.
Previously, she served as Allentown’s solicitor for two years.
JNS talked with Wild in person. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What’s your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: I’m a very pro-Israel member of Congress and feel very strongly that we have to constantly fortify that relationship, sustain that relationship. Israel is a terrific partner to the United States in many ways: security, economically and otherwise.
Q: Have you ever been to Israel?
A: I have.
Q: How many times?
A: I’ve been there twice. My kids went both times, and they also went on Birthright. I was supposed to go on the trip this past December that AIPAC led, but I had already taken my position because I was sworn-in in November and we had votes, so I wasn’t able to go. But I’m looking forward to the next trip.
Q: That would be this summer with AIPAC?
A: I think so. My understanding is it’s in August. I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of my favorite places.
Q: As a Jewish freshman member of Congress, do you mind giving our readers a quick overview of what it was like growing up?
A: I didn’t grow up Jewish. My mother was Quaker; my father was Methodist. I converted many years ago before I had children. I was married to a Jewish man—that’s not why I converted—and my children have both been raised as Jews. I was born into a military family, and we traveled a lot.
Q: Did that include the Middle East?
A: No, it did not. Mostly Europe and the United States.
Q: What is your reaction to the president announcing that US. troops will withdraw from Syria?
A: I’m concerned about it. I understand where the president is going, but I also am very worried about destabilization of that area. I worry about bad actors getting a foothold.
Q: Does the United States need to fight Iranian forces in Syria?
A: If we pull out, we’re not going to be able to do that, obviously. I think the Iranian threat is always present; we know that they provide arms. We know that they have nothing but ill will to Israel, and that is of great concern to me.
Q: Would you support an Authorization for the Use of Military Force that would allow U.S. troops to fight Iranian forces in Syria?
A: I haven’t really considered that specific authorization. I take any kind of war powers authorization very seriously, and I know that my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee do also. I’ve heard [chairman and New York Rep.] Eliot Engel speak at length about the seriousness of that. I would really have to review the situation and get a sense of how my colleagues feel about.
Q: Just to clarify, Congressman Engel has talked about the possibility of an AUMF?
A: Not the authorization you’re talking about. Just in general the use of the war powers authorization, and that it’s not something to be done lightly. I only mention that I feel the same way, but it’s something that he’s spoken about very recently and I concur.
Q: What is your reaction to the anti-Israel verbiage coming from your fellow Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?
A: I don’t like it. It causes me great concern. The comments themselves I believe to be anti-Semitic. I can’t speak for whether their intent was anti-Semitic, but the comments themselves are. I know that there’s been a suggestion that [Omar] did not understand the import of what she was saying. But when you’re elected to office, you’ve got a very strong responsibility of guarding your words and making sure that your words are not inflammatory or discriminatory. I think we took the right step in voting on an anti-hate resolution mentioning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and so forth.
Q: Do you agree with the calls for Rep. Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee?
A: That’s really a decision for the leadership of that committee to make. I know that chairman Engel has so far steadfastly said that he’s not going to remove her from the committee. Whatever he decides to do, I would support him. I have the utmost regard for him.
Q: You told The Morning Call, “We know that anti-Semitism is on the rise, as is Islamophobia and so forth. These catchphrases that are so inflammatory are really, really important to avoid, and that’s probably a lesson that every member of Congress has learned.” Which catchphrases are “inflammatory?”
A: “Catchphrases” is probably not a great term. I’m talking about the tropes that were used by Congresswoman Omar specifically. But what I think I was really referring to in that comment to The Morning Call was exactly what I said to you a few minutes ago: I just think that as elected officials, the importance of articulating exactly what we mean and making sure that there is nothing hateful, discriminatory, or that would encourage bigotry and racism and hatred, is incredibly important. So I was referring to the comments that she made.
Q: What was your reaction to the president saying that the “Democrats hate Jewish people?”
A: As a Jewish Democrat, I find that insinuation offensive. I have seen an unwavering commitment to the Jewish community from my colleagues.
Q: What was your reaction to the U.S. relocating its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
A: I certainly recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I think the embassy belongs there. I’m a little bit worried about the strategy and timing of it, and whether it will be an impediment to continued negotiations, but I think that’s where the embassy belongs.
Q: What’s your stance on U.S. taxpayer funding for the Palestinian Authority?
A: I am not in favor of that. We have to recognize the PLO for what it is. I just would not be in favor of that.
Q: Even for humanitarian assistance?
A: That’s a different issue. You asked me how I feel about taxpayer funding for the Palestinian Authority. That I’m not in favor of. However, I do believe in human rights. I believe in humanitarian assistance for citizens. But the problem is the humanitarian needs are so inextricably intertwined with the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah that it’s very difficult. I would support aid to organizations that can be relied upon to be on the ground providing true humanitarian assistance.
Q: What’s your reaction to the rise in anti-Semitism nationally and abroad, especially in the aftermath of the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue shooting in your home state?
A: It’s beyond troubling. It’s devastating. The Tree of Life murders were a punch in the gut for all of us in the Jewish community, not just in Pennsylvania. I worry about the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe. On the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’m not only on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, but also the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy and the Environment. Reasons I selected that one is that I have a particular concern about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I don’t like what we are seeing here and across the world. It’s frightening to me. As the mother of two Jewish young adults, it’s a grave concern.
Q: Do you think anti-Semitism is worse in Europe than in America?
A: I’m not in Europe, so I can only base my knowledge of what’s going on in Europe on what I hear from others and what I read, so I can’t state qualitatively which is worse. All I know is that any of it is too much.
Q: How do we fight anti-Semitism?
A: I’d just like to be able to say that it’s by education and teaching. I’m very dismayed when I hear about school districts that don’t teach about the Holocaust. Education isn’t a perfect solution. But you can’t legislate away hate. You can pass resolutions, which we did, but people who are going to behave in a certain manner will probably do that … I’m not saying that nobody is redeemable. Some people are able to be educated out of their points of view. But I think that we have to be very forceful and treat hate crimes against the Jewish people the same way we treat hate crimes against other ethnic groups.
Q: What’s your reaction to the anti-BDS component of the Senate bill that would also strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel and Jordan, in addition to enacting fresh sanctions against Syria? Some Senate Democrats voted against it, citing concerns from the ACLU that it would infringe on Freedom of Speech.
A: I disagree with those Democrats. When the House version gets here, I fully expect that I will be voting in favor of it.
Q: Do we have a timeline as to when the House Foreign Affairs Committee will take it up?
A: I don’t know that we do. I actually thought that it would have made it here by now. I’m very familiar with the Senate bill. I’m also very familiar with the fact that a number of Democrats voted against it and the reasons that they stated. I think they misunderstand both First Amendment and the importance of that legislation.
Q: What do they misunderstand?
A: I don’t believe that is protected speech, plain and simple.
Q: Why is that?
A: The anti-BDS legislation, as I understand it, is related to commercial transactions. I don’t think that the First Amendment protects that.
Q: Going back to the resolution, what is your response to Republicans who say that they passed a resolution condemning Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) by name, as well as specified the hatred specifically that he was promoting, whereas the Democrats passed a broad anti-hate resolution that didn’t even mention Congresswoman Omar, in addition to not removing her from her committee assignments?
A: That’s a multi-part question. I will tell you as far as the resolution goes, I would’ve liked for it to be more specific. Whether it named her or not, I didn’t like the fact that we included all forms of hate speech. I really felt that the time warranted specifically a resolution that addressed anti-Semitism.
Q: Then why did you vote for it?
A: Voting against it suggests that you are somehow condoning hate speech. Perhaps that’s a freshman view, but that’s after reading the resolution carefully. I don’t feel that it deserved a “no” vote. I think a stronger resolution should’ve been put forth.
Q: In a primary candidates’ forum, you said, “I do not believe we gain any additional security for Israel by upsetting the fragile [Iran nuclear] agreement we have now which has brought about some positive results,” and that it “needs to be improved … but I do believe we must remain in it.” Nonetheless, did you support the reimposition of sanctions that were lifted under the deal?
A: Our thoughts evolve on subjects. And that is a subject where my thoughts have evolved on. I consider Iran to be a very significant threat. The decision of when and how things are done matter. Strategy matters a lot to me. I don’t know that I agreed with the president’s approach, but I’m not opposed to our current status in terms of that deal.
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
A: I have enjoyed a very good relationship with our Jewish members of Congress. We’ve been very proactive in terms of gathering knowledge about the situation in Israel; Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) is generally the leader on this. We’ve had a number of closed meetings with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, as well as former members of the military in Israel, and I hope to continue that and information-gathering so that we can as a collective group exert influence on our fellow members and encourage them to recognize the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.