(March 14, 2019 / JNS) Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced on Thursday his candidacy to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020.
O’Rourke, 46, served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 2013 and 2019. In November 2018, he ran as the Democratic nominee for the Senate, losing to incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Compared to some of the other candidates in the run for the country’s top job, he has been playing the moderate card, testing the waters to see in which direction the other candidates may go.
During the 2018 cycle, Cruz blasted O’Rourke for taking money from the political-action committee arm of J Street, which the Texas senator slammed as “rabidly anti-Israel.”
O’Rourke received $182,934 from J Street PAC, which also endorsed him.
During his congressional tenure, O’Rourke largely followed his party’s stances when it came to Middle East issues, including support for the Iran nuclear deal, criticism of Israeli settlements and opposition to the embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He was one of nearly 60 Democrats who boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 address to a joint session of Congress, warning about the prospects of a nuclear Iran.
“The prime minister certainly has every reason and right to assert his position and the interests of his country,” he said in a blog post, announcing his decision not to attend. “And [House Speaker] John Boehner has every right to invite whomever he chooses to speak to Congress.”
“But by politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship with an address which will be seen as a refutation of our foreign policy and our president, one that will take place two weeks before national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Speaker Boehner are playing a destructive and reckless game with the U.S.-Israel relationship and will potentially upset the delicate state of our negotiations with Iran and our leadership of the P5+1,” he continued.
“But ultimately, my commitment is to this country and our interests, and I won’t support any action that will undermine them,” added the congressman.
Regarding supporting the nuclear agreement, O’Rourke said that while the deal has flaws, such as not addressing the regime’s support for terrorism and “the blood of Americans and Israelis on its hands,” it is “is the best available way forward to achieve our two primary goals in the Middle East: stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring the security of Israel and our regional allies.”
He added, “Without this deal, there will likely be no other deal. The premise that, after two years of negotiations and an agreement that enjoys the support of 99 percent of the world community, we can unilaterally reject this deal and then somehow bring everyone back to the negotiating table is not a likely one.”
Even before the accord was reached, O’Rourke signed onto a joint May 2015 letter, encouraging the Obama administration to pursue a nuclear deal with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
“As negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continue, we urge you to stay on course, building on the recently announced political framework and continuing to work toward a strong and verifiable agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran that will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon,” states the letter. “We commend you and your negotiating team, as well as our coalition partners, for the significant progress made thus far.”
On settlements in Judea and Samaria
“We should be aware of the fact that the U.N. is dangerously preoccupied with Israel (to the exclusion of other serious and more pressing issues: e.g. Syria) and clearly biased against her. That is of great concern to me—as are other manifestations of this bias, including the Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement,” he wrote, explaining his vote. “There is not enough pressure applied to the Palestinian Authority and those who have leverage with its leadership to refrain from acts of terror, incitement to terror, and the cultural context (including in textbooks) that provides part of the moral underpinning for terror to thrive.”
However, he added that “the settlement problem is putting at risk the very viability of the two-state solution. And I think that it is in our interest and in Israel’s interest for those settlements to cease if there is to be any hope for lasting peace; and that if settlement construction does not stop, a two-state solution will be unobtainable and Israel will lose the ability to be both a democratic and Jewish state.”
“That, and the fact that the resolution—as incomplete and imperfect as it is—does not contradict existing and historic U.S. policy, justifies an abstention,” he continued.
O’Rourke said that the United States abstaining from voting on the U.N. resolution was not a contradiction of U.S. policy towards Israel and instead saw the decision “within the context of the strong support he has provided to Israel despite disagreements along the way.”
On the Palestinians and UNRWA
Moreover, O’Rourke was one of dozens of Democrats to sign onto a letter in February 2018 calling on the Trump administration not to cease taxpayer funding to the Palestinians and the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), despite long-documented evidence that it has distributed textbooks that promote Palestinian violence against Israel.
“Alongside robust and expanding U.S. aid to Israel, Congress has regularly appropriated funds to help bolster Palestinian quality of life and governance, both bilaterally and through contributions to UNRWA, and security in the region,” states the letter. “This assistance also helps to improve the lives of millions of children in the Palestinian territories, where more than 50 percent of children live below the poverty line.”
On embassy move to Jerusalem
Finally, O’Rourke voiced opposition to the United States moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“This policy on the part of the president, this decision he made to move the embassy, was absolutely, unnecessarily provocative,” he said during his unsuccessful Senate run.
O’Rourke remarked that the move inspired the violent protests along the Gaza-Israel border, as predicted by Mideast scholars who “knew that there were going to be those who would suffer as a result, as they predictably have.”
“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to those two powers to produce the peace, but we can do a better job and we can certainly stop providing incentives and incitement to violence, which I think that move did,” he said.
While O’Rourke has been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, whether he can convert the buzz he had in 2018 to the 2020 race, especially in a crowded field of candidates, is to be determined.