(May 3, 2019 / JNS) U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet became the latest Democrat to enter the 2020 presidential race on Thursday morning in a video where he briefly mentions his mom and grandparents surviving the Holocaust. (She later immigrated to the United States and married a Christian. Bennet does not practice Judaism.)
Representing Colorado in the upper congressional chamber since 2009, he has usually toed the Democratic line on issues related to the U.S.-Israel relationship from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to U.S. President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Bennet signed onto an April 2010 letter with 75 other Senate colleagues, calling on then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge the Israelis and Palestinians to come to the negotiating table and agree to end the conflict between the two.
“Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions,” stated the letter. “By contrast, Israel’s prime minister has stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved, including the United States.”
It added, “It is the very strength of our relationship that has made Arab-Israeli peace agreements possible, both because it convinced those who desired Israel’s destruction to abandon any such hope and because it gave successive Israeli governments the confidence to take calculated risks for peace.”
In March 2013, Bennet signed onto a letter, along with more than two-dozen fellow Democratic senators, to U.S. President Barack Obama, calling on him to “reiterate your commitment to the security of Israel and the negotiation of a two-state peace agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during your presidency.”
A year later, he was a signee of a letter expressing alarm about the unity government between the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist group Hamas.
Additionally, he was one of 88 senators to sign onto a letter calling on the Obama administration to stop Hamas from rebuilding itself militarily, “enabling the Palestinian Authority to move toward becoming the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza,” and “preventing negative developments at the U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court that could derail any prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”
In September 2016, he signed onto a bipartisan letter to Obama that stated, “We are disappointed that talks between Israelis and Palestinians remain stalled. The only way to resolve the conflicts between the two is through direct negotiations that lead to a sustainable two-state solution with a future state of Palestine living in peace and security with Israel.”
In response to U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, Bennet said that while Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state, its final status should be determined in peace negotiations.
“I am concerned the President’s announcement today-absent support from regional partners and allies, and outside the confines of a plan-undermines the prospect for negotiations and risks destabilizing an already volatile region,” he said in a statement. “The administration should take constructive steps to restart direct negotiations with the longstanding, bipartisan goal of two states living side by side in peace and security.”
Condemning terror attacks
About three years later, Bennet condemned a wave of terror attacks against Israel.
“The terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are senseless and abhorrent,” he said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the families of the victims. These acts must be condemned, the hateful rhetoric must end, and the terror must stop.”
However, Bennet was one of 101 lawmakers to sign onto a September 2018 letter to congratulate the pro-BDS Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on its annual banquet.
On Iran: Pro-nuclear deal, pro-sanctions
Bennet was one of 79 senators to sign onto an April 2010 letter to Obama that stated, “Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons remains a diplomatic imperative. But time is not on the side of those who seek to prevent a nuclear Iran. We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts.”
About a month later, he applauded a deal between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China to enact sanctions on Tehran.
“A nuclear Iran poses a significant threat to the stability and security of Israel and our allies throughout the region,” he said in a statement. “Iran’s continued defiance has left the international community no choice but to impose new sanctions aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear aspirations and preventing it from building its weapons program. I am glad to see the rest of the world acting in concert to isolate and influence Iran’s dangerous regime.”
In February 2012, Bennet introduced an amendment that passed to impose sanctions on Iran’s energy sector.
“While we know our previous sanctions have been effective, there is still much more we need to do to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons production, especially in the face of such a threat,” he said.
“These sanctions will deal another blow to Iran’s energy economy and human rights abusers and continue to undermine the regime’s credibility as an effective government. An Iranian bomb would endanger our allies, especially Israel, and destabilize the entire region. My amendment with Senator [Robert] Menendez will help us better track our progress in isolating Iran’s energy sector by improving reporting requirements as part of a larger package of sanctions.”
Bennet was not one of the Democrats to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 address to a joint session of Congress, warning about a nuclear Iran amid America’s and other nations negotiating what would turn out to be a nuclear deal widely criticized for not stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, in addition to the United States providing $150 billion in sanctions relief to the world’s state sponsor of terrorism.
However, he accused his colleagues on the other side of the aisle for making the U.S.-Israel alliance a partisan issue.
“Our support for Israel has always been bipartisan and remains one of the few areas in Washington where both parties can agree,” Bennet told The Colorado Statesman. “The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been for Israel and we cannot afford to sink into partisan bickering.”
Bennet announced in September 2015 his support for the nuclear accord.
“After an exhaustive review of the agreement and a lengthy consultation process, which included briefings from our own defense, national security and intelligence experts, international inspection and verification experts, regional experts, former Israeli military and intelligence officials, and the P5+1 ambassadors as well as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, I have concluded that this agreement is more likely to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon than the plausible alternatives,” he said in a statement.
He continued, “Based on these briefings, it does not seem possible to me that new (particularly unilateral) sanctions would result in a better deal. And it is clear that reaching no agreement would result in Iran’s receiving billions of dollars of sanctions relief with no oversight of its nuclear program. That is an unacceptable result.”
Nonetheless, he supported a June 2017 bill that placed sanctions on Iran for its support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, and its ballistic missile program.
Unsurprisingly, Bennet blasted Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran deal in May 2018, calling the move “reckless.”
“Since taking office, President Trump has produced no strategy to counter Iran’s malevolent activities across the Middle East, all of which would be more dangerous if backed by a nuclear weapon,” he said, reported The Denver Post. “U.S. intelligence has assessed Iran is in compliance with the (agreement), and the president has offered no alternative path forward to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities.”
On the BDS movement and anti-Semitism
Bennet was one of 36 senators to sign a bipartisan letter in November 2015 to European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini to condemn the E.U.’s policy to label products made by Israeli companies in Judea and Samaria.
“As allies, elected representatives of the American people, and strong supporters of Israel, we urge you not to implement this labeling policy, which appears intended to discourage Europeans from purchasing these products and promote a de-facto boycott of Israel, a key ally and the only true democracy in the Middle East,” it stated. “We believe strongly that these efforts are unwarranted, dangerous, and damaging to the prospects of a negotiated solution to [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict.”
A few months later, he released a statement after Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act even though the president objected to parts of the law that opposed boycotting Israeli businesses in the West Bank and the Golan Heights: “I disagree with the President’s objections to the anti-BDS provisions in the new customs enforcement law. These are important provisions designed to counter efforts to economically discriminate against Israel. International BDS activities are deeply concerning, and the U.S. government must stand against these unjustified efforts to delegitimize Israel.”
In March, Bennet condemned Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for accusing those who support Israel of dual loyalty, which is a classic anti-Semitic trope.
“I think that what she said was something that shouldn’t be said,” he stated, reported Fox News.
Despite criticism of the measure, Bennet supported a resolution that passed the U.S. House of Representatives condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in the wake of Omar’s comments, though it doesn’t mention the congresswoman herself.
“I’m comfortable with what they passed,” he said, reported Fox News. “I think that it was right in this case to demonstrate that the House of Representatives wasn’t going to tolerate hateful statements like the one that was made.”
Bennet criticized the Chabad of Poway shooting in Southern California last week, where one person was killed and three others injured.
“We all must condemn this senseless and horrific attack and stand up to the scourge of anti-Semitism. Hate has no place in our country. We stand with the Jewish community and all those affected by the Poway shooting, especially on this final day of Passover,” he tweeted.
We all must condemn this senseless and horrific attack and stand up to the scourge of anti-Semitism. Hate has no place in our country. We stand with the Jewish community and all those affected by the Poway shooting, especially on this final day of Passover.
— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) April 27, 2019
On the anti-Israel bias at the United Nations
Finally, Bennet introduced a Senate resolution in January 2017 to rebuke U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria, from which the United States abstained and allowed it to pass.
In a race featuring former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as the frontrunner, Bennet is likely a longshot.