(April 15, 2019 / JNS) Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., announced his candidacy on Sunday for the 2020 presidential race, joining a field of nearly 20 Democratic contenders.
If elected, he would be both the youngest and first openly gay president. And he would be the first person in history to go from the mayor’s residence to the White House.
As mayor of a mid-sized Midwestern city, Buttigieg’s foreign-policy record, and more specifically, his record on the U.S.-Israel relationship has not been foremost on his list of political concerns. Nonetheless, he traveled in May 2018 to Israel for the first time as part of a tour for mayors organized by Project Interchange, an affiliate of the American Jewish Committee, and met with Israeli politicians, business people and other leaders.
While he was in Israel, rockets were fired at the Jewish state from Syria.
“It was a reminder of how real and how alive a lot of these issues are,” he said. “At the same time, you also had a sense that this was not causing society to grind to a halt. Everybody was obviously watching the news very closely as this confrontation over the Syria border happened, but it didn’t stop people from living their lives.”
“I actually think there’s a lot to be learned for America, which unfortunately, probably has not had our last experience with terrorism or with violence, and needs to learn how to prevent terrorists from succeeding in their goal of becoming our top priority by seizing our attention,” he continued. “Seeing the way that a country can be on one hand, very intentional, very serious and very effective when it comes to security, and on the other hand, not allowing concerns about security dominate your consciousness.”
On the podcast, Buttigieg addressed the waning support for Israel in the Democratic Party.
“There is a risk that support for Israel could come to be regarded as a partisan issue, and I think that would be really unfortunate,” he said.
On peace in the Middle East, on the AJC podcast Buttigieg questioned U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to such an outcome.
“The current administration is certainly aligning itself with the Israeli right and making some sweeping gestures,” which he didn’t specify, saying “that they may well move public opinion, to some extent, but I’m not so sure that they’re serious or committed to peace.”
However, Buttigieg remarked that Hamas is to blame for Gaza’s problems.
“There really is not a unified or single voice for the Palestinian people,” he said. “Most people aren’t aware of the difference between what’s happening in Gaza—run by Hamas in a way that is contributing to a lot of misery there—but also totally different than an environment where you’d have a negotiating partner across the table.”
‘The regional security picture’
However, like many within the Democratic Party, Buttigieg has also stuck by the prospect of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stances on the issue.
A few days before the Israeli election, along with other Democratic candidates, Buttigieg slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign promise that, if re-elected, he would annex parts of Judea and Samaria. (Netanyahu won re-election on Tuesday. Whether he plans to fulfill that promise is to be determined.)
“This provocation is harmful to Israeli, Palestinian and American interests. Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu’s politics. I don’t. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution,” tweeted Buttigieg.
This provocation is harmful to Israeli, Palestinian, and American interests. Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu’s politics. I don’t. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution. https://t.co/4ycYNowjzn
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) April 6, 2019
“People like me get strung up in Iran, so the idea that what’s going on is equivalent is just wrong,” he said on ABC’s “The View.”
He continued, “There is a real problem there long term—how they are going to balance being a democracy and a Jewish state. But they’ve also got to figure out, and we’ve got to figure out with them as an ally, what the regional security picture is going to look like in the future.”
“It’s a complicated picture,” @PeteButtigieg says on America’s relationship with Israel and what needs to be done moving forward: “We need to figure out, as an ally, what the regional security picture is going to look like in the future.” pic.twitter.com/U93HiQFC7r
— The View (@TheView) January 31, 2019
Though former U.S. President Barack Obama has called him part of the future of the Democratic Party and he has skyrocketed in the polls, whether Buttigieg can maintain the momentum is a question in the making.