(January 3, 2019 / JNS) Editor’s Note: A number of freshman members of Congress, including those in the new Democratic House majority, will bring new faces to the Jewish and pro-Israel community. JNS will introduce some of these elected legislators as part of its “Meet the Newbie” series.
Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher, 56, defeated Democratic nominee Cristina McNeil in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District in the 2018 midterm elections to replace Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of the state.
JNS talked with Fulcher by phone. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What is your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: I get that America and Israel have a very unique relationship based on shared cultural-religious histories. Most importantly, there’s common values that our nations share: freedom, liberty, democracy.
I’ve been there on numerous fronts, and I don’t think that America has a more important ally. Certainly, when you consider the volatility in the Middle East—and the situation that Israel is in and the value that Israel brings to America in terms of intelligence-gathering and overall support for that region—I think they’re an incredibly important ally. I will continue to stand in support of positive American-Israeli relations.
Q: When were you last there?
A: It’s been several years. I used to be in the technology industry, and I work for a memory component manufacturer, Micron Technology, which is one of the largest semiconductor companies in the world. We had some technical partners in Israel, and I know Intel has a large facility there. I’ve also been on a biblical tour through the region.
Q: Do you mind elaborating on the biblical tour?
A: I’m an evangelical Christian, so part of my interest on that front is to be able to see and understand better the history firsthand, and the role that the nation has played in history, in my faith, and something that is a personal interest as well.
Q: What’s your reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that troops will leave Syria?
A: I don’t know the ramifications of that. If you give me a little time after being sworn in, where I can understand some of the deep ramifications, then I’d be better equipped to answer that question. I would like to hear what Israel’s response is to that, and that will tell me a lot.
Q: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he talked to Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Netanyahu said that it’s “America’s decision.”
A: Sounds like a tentative response there. I simply don’t know the ramifications of [a withdrawal].
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from fellow new Democrats Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
A: I never fully understood the whole reason behind anti-Semitism. It’s clearly being a factor throughout the course of history, but why are the Jewish people being singled out on that front? Anytime that takes place, frankly, it just needs to be stopped, and by the way, that’s not just unique to the Jewish people. If someone has a bias or discrimination against anyone, I think it’s dangerous. The fact that it has manifested itself over time to be more prolific with the Jewish people is something I don’t fully understand. There’s just no room for that in society.
Q: What is your stance on the 2015 Iran deal and overall Iranian threat?
A: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action should’ve been sent to the Senate as a treaty, not an agreement. There’s a couple of problems [with the deal] that stand out.
The first thing is that it tolerates Iran’s long-term desire for a nuclear weapon. They’ve proven they’re not responsible on that front, and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
The other thing is it does nothing to curb Iran’s aggressive behavior. We know that many of the security issues that America has faced have come from that region, and the JCPOA doesn’t really do anything to thwart that.
From the perspective I got, it appears to be a bad deal.
Q: What is your stance on BDS?
A: It not only is harmful to the State of Israel, but I think it’s also harmful to innocent Palestinians because it has a negative impact on economic activity and some of the employment opportunities for the Palestinian people. It’s backfired on what its initial intent was to be. It’s not a good effect.
Q: What are your thoughts on funding for Israel’s military, especially in the aftermath of the latest conflicts against Hamas and Hezbollah?
A: You’re talking to someone who hasn’t been sworn in yet, so understand the perspective I’m coming at you from. I’m not normally a huge supporter of a lot of exporting of money.
However, in the case of security assistance—and that’s what this would be—that the U.S. sends to Israel, you can make a strong case that more funds come back as a result of what goes out in the first place. That’s a function of intelligence and the benefit that has come as a function of that.
Q: What is your stance on U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority?
A: The situation with the Palestinian people, quite frankly, I’m a little less familiar with.
However, if there’s going to be peace in that region, everybody—and in this case, especially the Palestinians—needs to identify and at least acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. They really haven’t done that. We should be supportive of everyone, but at least from the vantage point I have right now, that’s kind of the catalyst for the unrest ultimately. I don’t know that it’s as reasonable to reward that behavior.
A: Only by name, not the details.
Q: Do you support U.S. funding that goes towards Palestinian security forces that work with Israel?
A: I can’t comment. I don’t know enough about it.
Q: What was your reaction to the U.S. embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
A: Good move.
Q: Do you mind elaborating?
A: That was something, I believe, that enhances Israel’s identity on that front and America’s commitment to Israel. This has been something a number of administrations over the course of time had said or wanted to do, and the current administration did it. That was advantageous to the leadership in Israel.
Q: What is your response to those who said that moving the embassy doesn’t advance the cause of peace?
A: I’m sure you can make that case in more directions than one. From what I understand, that was something that was desired by the Israeli leadership, which is our primary partner, and I for one would tend to be sympathetic to their counsel as opposed to naysayers.
Q: What is your reaction to national and international anti-Semitism?
A: I’m not supportive of it anywhere. As I mentioned earlier, I never really fully understood why it continues to raise its head.
Look at it this way: If Jewish people can be threatened, if they can be discriminated against and be targeted, so can any other body of people. There’s just not room for that, and we shouldn’t stand for that; we shouldn’t allow that to transpire. We should use at least whatever influence we have to discourage it.
Q: Are you familiar with reports of young evangelicals being targeted by anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda?
A: Yeah, and evangelicals in general. That’s part of the discriminatory movement. I guess I’m not as intelligent as a historian I need to be, but to me, those have to be rooted in motivations that are simply not healthy. Everyone should take offense to that. Everyone should be alarmed when those types of things take place. If not, anyone can be a target. That’s just not good for society.
Q: How do we stop that hatred?
A: You attempt to find the root, and you don’t reward [negative] behavior. If there is support, whether that be through foreign aid or positive trade relations, you discourage it. Easier said than done, but in terms of a policy perspective, it needs to be discouraged.
Q: Do you have any specific plans in Congress regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship, such as introducing relevant legislation?
A: There’s going to be ongoing efforts that are promoted by AIPAC, by different organizations that are supportive on that front. Once I’m sworn in, once I get an opportunity to get more intelligence on the specifics of what’s going on, I think it will be more clear the pathway I need to take.
Before I jump in and try to launch legislation independently, I need to be more educated. I need to understand the efforts that are underway now and potentially try to aid on that front. If it turns out there is a gap that needs to closed or something that needs to be done, then I’m not shy about being the one to steer those types of things.
Q: Do you plan on going on AIPAC’s annual trip to Israel for legislators in the summer?
A: I’d like to. I don’t know any details. Some colleagues have mentioned that there is potentially going to be one. Assuming that the ethics issues aren’t breached or anything like that, then I would say that’s a high probability.
Q: Are you familiar with the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act?
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
A: Upon taking office and being a member of Congress, I anticipate being an outspoken proponent of positive relations between the U.S. and Israel, and I say that for the reasons you and I have already talked about.
For one thing, we don’t have a stronger ally in the region, and I believe the result of that alliance, in part, has been that America has suffered less in the areas of terrorism and being a target on the terrorist stage. Israel is a postage stamp in the middle of a lot of conflict with a lot of people who want to take them out. That, in and of itself, should be a red flag to people. It’s not like they’ve got massive natural resources that are coveted. It’s something more than that, and that is problematic.
This is our Middle East ally, this is one we need to stand with, and I anticipate that as I get more educated and engaged, then I’ll be more outspoken and active in that effort.