newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Rep. Jake Auchincloss: Democrats are ‘big tent party’ that in its totality is pro-Israel

While the growth of anti-Israel sentiment in politics is concerning, Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) is part of a new crop of young Democrats who believe that support for Israel has and will remain essential to the Democratic Party’s platform.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) in his office in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dmitry Shapiro.
Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) in his office in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dmitry Shapiro.

Pro-Israel organizations have recently been confronting the growing number of candidates for office with decidedly anti-Israel positions, in a very few cases, successfully defeating stalwart pro-Israel incumbent Democrats in primaries.

While the growth of anti-Israel sentiment in politics is concerning, Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), who is running for a second term representing the state’s 4th Congressional District, is part of a new crop of young Democrats who believe that support for Israel has and will remain essential to the Democratic Party’s platform. Representing the most Jewish congressional district statewide, Auchincloss, 34, has been vocal in supporting a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship since taking office, supporting pro-Israel legislation, and in September, introducing the House version of a bill that directs the U.S. State Department to create the U.S.-Israel Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Center.

He has supported supplemental Iron Dome funding for Israel and joined colleagues in denouncing anti-Israel rhetoric and bias from Amnesty International’s recent report on Israel that falsely compares its policies to “apartheid,” in addition to anti-Semitic statements made by colleagues such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Growing up in the heavily Jewish Boston suburb of Newton, Mass., Auchincloss attended Newton public schools before going on to study at Harvard University. After Harvard, he received a commission as an officer in the U.S. Marines, in which he continues to serve as part of the Individual Ready Reserve. He then attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning an MBA.

Auchincloss sat down with JNS recently for a conversation about his political views.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: Tell me about yourself and your attachment to Judaism.

A: I’m Jewish, had a bar mitzvah and grew up in a mixed household. My mom is Jewish, grandparents Jewish on her side. My father comes from the Episcopalian tradition, and when my mom and my dad were married in the early 1970s, it was still a little bit unusual.

I believe they got married at the Harvard memorial church and had a rabbi officiate. And that caused a stir in his family.

So they were at the forefront of that, and I think in some ways that made me more aware and more appreciative even of my Jewish heritage growing up and what Judaism stands for.

Q: Do you practice?

A: I’m really not observant in my day-to-day life. Judaism is important to me, and I feel Jewish, but I’m not a religious person.

Q: You, as a Jewish Democrat, obviously, nine years ago it would be amazing to see maybe one or two representatives going on the House floor and criticize Israel. At the levels we’ve seen now, specifically when we talk about the Iron Dome bill that you supported, are you concerned about the rhetoric coming from the Democratic Party?

A: The most important thing to emphasize is that the Democratic Party, in its totality, is a pro-Israel party. If you look at the party’s voting record, if you look at the party’s positions—and you look at the Iron Dome funding for example, you look the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed with Israel for $3.5 billion in perennial security aid—that happened under a Democratic president.

If you look at the voting record and track record of the Democratic Party as a totality, look at where the majority leader is, look at who our speaker is; we are a pro-Israel party. So let’s start with that premise. We are a “big tent” party. We’ve got a cacophony of voices on every issue, not just the U.S.-Israel relationship. But we don’t define ourselves by outlier voices; we define ourselves by the modal voice. And the modal voice is pro-Israel.

Q: At the same time, when these kinds of things happen, we see letters of condemnation of the certain quote that was said, but there hasn’t really been, as far as I know, anyone addressing these representatives by name. Have you condemned Reps. Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib by name for some of their statements?

A: I think you’ve seen on the record we condemned the statement by Rep. Omar when I’ve been in office. I joined the 12 other members when she made the statement about the U.S. and the Taliban, and I think that’s the way to handle these things—“this statement was made, this statement was not acceptable, here’s why” and just put that on the record.

Q: But the leadership has not condemned them by name, and there have been no consequences. I mean, if you compare it to the Republicans, you had Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) lose their committee seats.

A: Those are different, and I think not analogous. Marjorie Taylor Greene directly incited political violence. That is the red line for me.

We have vigorous, heated debate in Congress. We disagree; that is our job description. You cannot be kicking people off committees because they say things you don’t agree with. We start playing that game, and all of a sudden, we just don’t even talk to each other anymore. The red lines that we put down need to be very thoughtfully chosen and direct incitement to political violence is one of them. And that is something that MTG [Marjorie Taylor Greene] has failed.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) on Capitol Hill. Source: Jake Auchincloss/Facebook.

Q: Do you see a growth in that type of rhetoric in the Democratic Party?

A: I’m not going to try to forecast that. I’ll tell you what I’m concerned about. It’s wider and deeper than Congress, although clearly I’m engaged in issues that are U.S.-Israel relationship and anti-Semitism in Congress. My son’s generation—he’s 2 years old—will be really the first that has no longer a living connection to the Holocaust.

I grew up in Newton public schools; Holocaust survivors would come in, they would tell us about their experience, and there was a visceral connection. I had relatives, you had relatives, people had relatives. It was a living connection to the genocide. And that is fraying now. And when that happens, I think it’s easier for misinformation to take hold, and it’s easier for the anti-Semitic tropes that were put directly in the sunlight and sanitized by the direct memory of the Holocaust; it’s easier for those to fester again.

And these tropes, as obviously you know, are centuries-old—the globalist money cabal seeking the levers of power, more loyal to the tribe than to the country. These are things that have been trotted out from ancient Egypt through the medieval ages, through college campuses today. So we know what these tropes are, and I worry that they gain more traction in an era that no longer has a visceral living connection to the Holocaust.

And that means that we need to double down on education about anti-Semitism, education about the Holocaust; that’s why it’s so important to have a working definition of what anti-Semitism is, and the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition is a good one. This type of activity, I think to me, gains even more importance in future generations as we get further away from the actual event.

Because we are seeing a rising tide of anti-Semitism: Jews are 2% of the American population, and they account for, I think, more than 50% of all religious-based hate crimes documented by the FBI. It’s an upward trajectory.

Q: As a pro-Israel Democrat, how do you prevent anti-Semitism from growing and metastasizing in the Democratic Party?

A: Well, there’s not one silver-bullet approach. It’s a number of things. It’s direct one-on-one conversations with people with whom you disagree. I mean the House floor, in committees, over a drink. You know, “Here’s the facts about Israel, here’s how it’s a partner, here’s why it’s a false dichotomy that somehow you support one or the other of Israel and Palestine.” Their fates are intertwined and that two-state solution is the path forward.

It is isolating and condemning statements that are truly anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic. Making clear that this is not within keeping of the Democratic Party’s values and principles. It is bringing good legislation to the floor, and moving in and doing the hard legislative work of building coalitions and support, and log-rolling and persuasion and arm-twisting, and all of the stuff that goes into getting a bill passed. It’s the good blocking and tackling.

And then, of course, it’s in the elections. It is making clear that the pro-Israel community is going to engage in American elections, both primaries and generals, and just like other advocacy groups do they are taking note of rhetoric and votes and those are going to be a factor in the kind of support you can receive on the ballot.

Q: Do you know if you have a primary challenger yet?

A: Nobody has announced as of yet. The papers haven’t even come out yet.

Q: Do you worry that there may be a challenger further left of you come up?

A: I don’t spend my days concerned about challengers left or right. I spend my days focused on my job performance. Am I representing the values of my constituent? Am I advancing their priorities? Am I delivering world-class constituent services?

If I do those three things, I think I’ve got a strong case to get re-elected.

Q: So I read your positions, and you’re obviously for a two-state solution. Tell me what you envision that to be and how it can be achieved?

A: I think right now, the prospects—in the immediate term—the prospects for a two-state solution are faint, and yet they must be kept alive. And I think there are really two ways to do that. One is to shrink the conflict as much as possible and to find diplomatic, economic, humanitarian means of exchange between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

To recognize that the conflict is there. It’s not something that can be resolved probably at this exact moment, given the lack of any kind of Palestinian leadership and the coalition government that exists right now in Israel, but the conflict does not need to be all-encompassing. That there can be other ways to work to improve economic and security and living conditions for the Palestinian people and provide for near-term Israel goals.

Shrink that conflict. At the same time, widen Israel’s diplomatic and geosecurity reach through the Abraham Accords. The bilateral agreements that Israel is striking with Arab states in the region enhance its security; they foment trade and diplomatic ties that prevent the Israel-Palestine conflict from becoming regionally destabilizing.

And also, just give both sides more oxygen to eventually strike a deal. Sometimes, the way to get to “yes” is to just not say “no” right now. And I’ve learned this sometimes being in Washington is that you’re not always going to get to yes in the immediate term. But if you can just not have both sides say no. If you just keep the conversation going, timing and situation may change and you can get to yes later.

Q: Both sides are saying no. That’s kind of the problem, right?

A: I think the destinies are intertwined, so the fundamental construct of land for peace is ultimately still going to be how a two-state solution is achieved. As I said, the situation is such that it’s not going to happen right now. I don’t think anybody with expertise is saying it’s going to happen in the near term. But that does not mean that you stop trying to engage in ways that are productive. I think it’s all the more reason for Israel to be engaged in the Abraham Accords.

Q: Do you think the label of occupied territories is a fair one when considering the conflict?

A: That statement can’t be carte blanche across all the different territories in question here.

Q: I’m talking about the West Bank and Gaza.

A: Well, I mean, Israel is not occupying some of those places. Those places are governed by the Palestinian Authority.

Q: But the Palestinians see it otherwise, right?

A: Yeah. I mean it’s an inflammatory phrase, and it’s a phrase that, like I said, about situations you may not be able to get to agreement or consensus right now, but there are other ways to proceed. We may not agree on what territories would go where in a final-status determination, but we can agree that we want to work on getting clean water and security protocols better in Gaza.

Q: So right now, everyone is talking about the Iran nuclear deal, do you think U.S President Joe Biden and the administration should be trying to get back into the Iran deal?

A: I think back into is an inaccurate clause because it’s not back into it. It would be a functionally new deal. And Iran’s behavior at Vienna was such that it has frustrated even China and Russia, which tells you something about how intransigent they’re being. And the hardline behavior of Iran needs to change if we’re going to be able to get to a longer and stronger deal.

A nuclear deal is one of really three different areas that need to be addressed, along with ballistic-missile development and funding of proxy terror groups in the region.

Q: But all those things are supposedly coming after they go back into the original deal.

A: I think they need to be addressed on parallel tracks. If there’s log-rolling to be done between them, it should not be an all-or-nothing proposition. I think diplomacy and this kind of geopolitical engagement is messy, and we need to address all three of them in the best way we can at any given time.

Q: But Iran already said that they’re not going to go for a “longer, stronger” deal. So if they say no to that, do you think that the whole re-entry into the nuclear deal should be scuttled?

A: We keep talking. The hardline is posturing in Iran. A nuclear option from Iran is not an acceptable outcome here. Nobody wants military conflict in the Middle East, and so we keep talking.

Q: A State Department official recently brought up the idea of having direct talks with Iran. Do you think that would be a good idea?

A: I’m always in favor of talking. Now the right stratagem for when we do it through our European allies—when we do it face-to-face—are you giving oxygen to the hardline in Iran if you deny them a face-to-face? Are you supporting the moderates if you don’t? These are things I have confidence the administration and the State Department to be able to handle. I’m not going to weigh in on the exact tactics of their negotiations.

As we saw with Trump, when he just granted a face-to-face, that was a dumb decision, right? It elevated the North Korean regime in a way that gave the United States nothing. And Biden is a much more savvy foreign-policy operator than that. So he’s going to decide the best timing and sequence of how we engage with Iran.

Q: You also supported the creation of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia. Can you tell me why? Do you think there’s a threat it can be used against Jews?

A: Well, we have a special envoy to monitor anti-Semitism, which I’m thankful looks like the Senate is actually going to take up her confirmation. And that’s an important position and a special envoy to monitor Islamophobia I think performs an analogous function.

Q: Do you think anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are analogous?

A: It’s a core American value that we judge people by the content of their character and not based on ethnic or religious or sexual orientation or nation of origin. And so it is in keeping with and supportive of American values and principles that we spotlight and disinfect hate as possible throughout the world. And insofar that we can gather information and make it public, I think these roles are important.

Q: I know you have worked a lot with diversity issues, including on a local level.

A: I’m on the Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee for [House] Financial Services [Committee]. In fact, we’ve got a hearing tomorrow.

Q: A lot of times in those situations, you have a confluence of diversity and an undertone of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism. Have you experienced that, and how would you go about getting rid of that?

A: I don’t know if I accept the premise of that question. What I think you’re kind of alluding to is that sometimes what we’re seeing is anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are emerging—particularly on college campuses—but also other elite institutions, in the media and elsewhere, that the very progressive elements are incorporating anti-Zionism as part of the progressive mantra.

I worry about that as well. I’ve seen that on college campuses. It deeply concerns me. I think Zionism is about progress and the progressive movement should be embracing Zionism, and I’ve been clear about that and upfront about that from the get-go.

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