Allen West doesn’t move through the lobby of Jerusalem’s David Citadel like most
of the other 20 or so freshmen congressmen in his delegation visiting Israel –
anonymously, with no one really knowing the difference between them and the
No, West walks through the lobby almost like a rock
star – not the world’s most famous rock star, but one that enough people have
seen, and heard, to attract attention.
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“Excuse me,” a seemingly
star-struck woman in her late 20s-early 30s bursts out, interrupting the
interview with West in a semi-isolated corner of the hotel. “I love you so
much,” she gushes, “thank you for coming.” Then she bends down to give the
Republican congressman from South Florida a hug around the neck.
is not alone. Some four other people stopped West, introduced themselves and
wished him well in the two minutes it took to meet him in the hotel and find a
private place to sit.
The attention is not surprising.
Republicans trounced the Democrats in last year’s congressional election, some
84 new Republicans – most of them Tea Party folks like West – went to
Most, in the public’s mind, just melded into one.
First, he is an African-American who for months, until he bucked
the movement’s orthodoxy on the recent budget deficit debate earlier this month,
was one of its darlings.
Second, he is a 22-year US military veteran,
having spent 43 months of active duty in the Middle East, including combat in
Iraq and during the first Gulf war. He retired with the rank of
lieutenant-colonel after being questioned over the manner in which he had
conducted an interrogation: While stationed in Iraq, West fired a pistol near a
detainee’s head to extract information. He was fined $5,000 for the incident,
and when asked later whether he would have acted differently, he said, “If it’s
about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I’d go through hell with a gasoline
And third, he is outspoken, having garnered American media
attention for telling a Muslim activist who challenged him at a town hall
meeting in February, not to “blow smoke up my butt and tell me it’s warm and
More recently he sent Florida Democratic colleague Debbie
Wasserman Schultz an email in July after she chided him on the House floor,
calling her the most “vile, unprofessional and despicable” member of the
He is also a politician many believe has a very bright
Only this week did he officially announce he would not run in
2012 for the Senate, despite a great deal of speculation to the contrary, and
some have even mentioned him as possible presidential contender down the line.
In 2010, West defeated Ron Klein, a strongly pro-Israel Jewish incumbent
Democrat, to represent Florida’s 22nd district – a district that includes West
Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale and has an estimated 10-percent Jewish
This week, West sat down with The Jerusalem Post and pulled no
punches when talking about his view of the Palestinians, Iran, Israel and the
African-American community, and Jonathan Pollard.
What follows are
excerpts of the interview.
You are meeting tomorrow with the Palestinian
Authority leadership. What is your message to them?
There is one very simple
question I would ask: Do you really believe you are a credible peace partner?
Because I think with the reconciliation pact with Hamas, that is a very telling
thing. The fact is that they are trying to back-door the process by going to the
UN for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, when we don’t have a
firm recognition of Israel, we don’t have the renouncing of terrorism. I would
also ask, what is a Palestinian state? It is something that never existed
And even the word Palestine.
You take it back to Palestina
– which comes from Philistia – which was nothing but a declaration by Roman
Emperor Hadrian in 73 AD.
This is a region, it is not anything tied to a
certain group of people; it would be just the same as saying we should have an
Appalachian state, separate from North Carolina. It’s those questions I’d like
Do you support two states for two peoples?
I think that you have
to first of all support the modern-day state of Israel. I think you have to
support Israel post the ’67 borders. Now, I am not going to sit here and dictate
to Israel what their polices should be, but my perspective on it is that I have
never seen a Palestinian state, and I think before that ever gets talked about,
there are some concessions that have to be made on their side: the recognition
of Israel and the renouncing of terrorism.
And once again it comes back
to those very important words: a credible peace partner.
I think the last
thing you need to have is an erosion of your state of security. Look at what is
going on right now. You gave back Gaza and the only thing you got in return were
Kassam rockets and 220-millimeter [mortar shells]. You pulled out of southern
Lebanon, and what did you get? You got a more militant Hezbollah, which during
the Second Lebanon War rained down rockets and missiles.
So I think the
other side needs to come to the table and show they are a credible partner
before we continue to say to Israel, “This is what you must do, and that you
must believe in a two-state solution.”
And I think the other thing we
have to do is a better job on the information, propaganda side of this thing...
I remember during the flotilla incident, I was sitting there looking at the TV
with my wife, and I said, “They have paint guns on their backs.” She said, “How
can you tell?” And I said, “I can tell the silhouette of a paint gun.” So you
did everything necessary to try and have less of a confrontation, but yet you
What I told people in America was to think about what if
America was participating in a sanctioned blockade, and all of a sudden we
boarded ships, and our Navy SEALs were attacked, what would you expect our Navy
SEALs to do? We should allow Israel to do the exact same thing.
have rockets and missiles coming in out of Mexico over into the Texas territory,
guess what we are going to do? We are going to defend our sovereignty. So why
should we expect Israel to do anything less?
Why do you think that much of
America, much of the world, does treat Israel differently?
It comes back to
exactly what I said: The information-operations war. In the military, in
strategic studies, they teach you that there are four elements to a nation’s
power. It’s called the DIME theory: diplomatic, informational, military and
It is the “I” portion where we are not doing very well. It is
the “I” portion where Israel is not doing very well.
No one is talking
about the fact that half a million Israelis were in bomb shelters last night...
But as soon as you go and defend yourselves, then that is all over the place,
and you are made out to be the aggressor when what are you doing – you are
protecting your sovereignty. I can’t understand why when it comes to the case of
Israel you are not allowed to defend yourselves.
People come in and
always talk about proportionality. I was a soldier. If a guy shoots at me, I am
shooting everything back at him – anyone will tell you that offensive operations
are three-to-one, it is not supposed to be one-to-one.
There are those
who argue, however, that no matter how good the messenger, the message won’t be
received because there is a double standard toward Israel and the
Yes, there is a horrific double standard. We, as your best ally,
need to help you on that.
Because a lot of our media sources follow that
duplicitous hypocrisy as well. We need to do better in our country.
there is no better bond than the bond between American and Israel. I grew up in
Georgia. I grew up knowing probably more about this country through Sunday
school, Bible study and everything before I was a high school graduate, than
maybe a lot of people who live here in this region. So that when I came here in
2009, it was just the same as me coming home.
A part of me is
This is my wife’s first time here, and a part of her is here
because of the Judeo-Christian faith heritage that we share, the values that we
share, the democracy that we share, the sense of liberty and freedom.
need to understand that we are in this fight together and what is being done to
Israel is also being done to America, so as Israel falls, then guess who is the
next target – America. Because America and Israel are truly the beacons and
shining light in this world.
I call it a sea of darkness of despots,
dictators, theocrats and autocrats. If we let the light go out here, there is no
doubt that the next target is the next shining light. So I think we have to do a
better job with Israel in helping getting that message across.
mention the strong Israeli-US bonds. Has President Barack Obama hurt those –
have they been weakened over the last three years?
I won’t say that it has been
weakened; it has definitely been shaken. I think that when you make the
declarations that he has made in some instances, that is very hurtful.
would have thought that going into his third year [as president], he would have
come to visit Israel and show that support, show that bond, show that closeness
and stand here. It was a great event when Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu
came and spoke at the joint session of Congress [in May], and I would expect the
American president to come here and address the Knesset just as well – to show
that inextricable bond, to show that we are two countries which have roots that
are just so intertwined.
Do you think President Obama has hurt Israel?
think that President Obama has left a question mark with a lot of the Israelis.
They are really not sure which direction things are going. You may see this, but
then you get that. So there is a lot of uncertainty, and really when you talk to
people in the US, that is the big theme, uncertainty – be it in our financial
markets, our unemployment situation, debt deficit, foreign policy, whatever,
there is just a lot of uncertainty.
What do you answer those who say that
the great ovation Netanyahu got in Congress just shows that the US is in
I don’t think we are in each other’s pocket. We have a shared
history, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that or deny that. Read the writings
of the founding fathers: There is a Judeo-Christian faith heritage that helped
establish the United States of America.
When you go back to May 1948, I
believe it was 16 minutes after the declaration that the US recognized the
modern- day State of Israel.
As I said, every kid that grew up with me
knew all the stories of the Old Testament and the Bible, and the stories of the
prophets. So I am not ashamed to say that we have this close relationship, and I
don’t think that we should allow any other nation, or any other type of
criticism to try to separate us.
But can the US be a fair broker?
we are a fair broker, and I think Israel is a fair broker, and I think it is
kind of like baseball: We will call a ball a ball, and a strike a strike. We
will call each other out if we don’t do something right, but I think there are a
lot of things we have to be proud of about our two countries.
that one of the great gestures that we should send forth – and I wrote a letter
about this to President Obama – Jonathan Pollard has been through enough. Let
him go home. It is a point beyond understanding right now.
Pollard has been in prison now for 25 years. Back in my inner-city neighborhood
in Atlanta, Georgia, we had a saying when we played basketball: “No blood, no
foul.” I think he has sat in the penalty box for long enough.
come home... And I think it would be a fantastic gesture, it would be a
fantastic showing of our mutual respect and bond, to say enough is
There are a lot of concerns here about Israel’s relations with
the Afro-American community. Polls show that support there lags behind
support in other communities. Why is that, and what can be done to change
It is so interesting, and that is probably one of the most perplexing
things, because the most conservative, pro-Israel people on Sunday is the Afro-
American community. But then something happens from Monday to Saturday, and I
think that if we can solve the riddle of what happens from Monday to Saturday,
then we can reverse that situation.
Because as I said, growing up, my
life was understanding the Bible and the prophets, and understanding the history
of Israel and how that formulated my own Christian faith....
happened in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in the South. Those were
Jewish Americans who were down there working with the black community, and we
have to reestablish that, because that was incredible.
Look at what
happened in Mississippi.
Those were young Jewish men [Andrew Goodman and
Michael Schwerner] who were killed [in 1964] with the black kid [James Chaney]
there in Mississippi, so why did we get away from that, and why do certain
people like Louis Farrakhan have a greater voice? We have to reverse
But how do you explain that?
I think there is a desire in the
Afro-American community to connect with something. You see Islam coming into the
prisons, where unfortunately you have a high degree of
You see it going into the neighborhoods and preaching
discipline and things of that nature.
I think you have had a breakdown of
the church – its importance and role in the black community. You’ve had a
breakdown in the black family.
When I was growing up, I sang in the youth
Wednesday night was Bible study. All of those very basic things we
have to go back and reestablish, and when we do that, I think the Afro-American
community will once again reconnect.
I’d like to see more Afro- Americans
come to Israel, because this is part of who we are. This is our holy land, just
as it is your traditional homeland.
Often you hear parallels made between
the Palestinian struggle and the American Civil Rights movement. Former
secretary of state Condoleezza Rice once made such an allusion. Do you see any
No, I don’t see it that way.
Again, when you are a student of
history, history does not lie.
You go all the way back to the Peel
Commission. There were things offered to the Arabs that were living here in
Palestine, back when the British were here after World War I.
who lived in this region had a passport that said “Palestine” – it had nothing
to do with Arab or Israeli. So this is a region, not about a certain people. And
then once again, if you want to understand the true evolution of this word
Palestine, it’s because Hadrian changed the name from Judea to Palestine. So
really, if you want to free Palestine, it belongs to the Jewish people, if you
want to look at it historically.
I think that trying to make those kinds
of parallels is very dangerous, and I don’t think they are the correct types of
parallels. And I think we have to look historically at what happened
The Palestinians will say they are looking for freedom and equality
just like the American blacks were looking for equality.
Yes we were
looking for equality, but in America my forefathers were brought there for what?
I don’t think any Jewish person brought the Arabs here for the purpose of
slavery. So I think you totally blow that parallel right there.
said, you look at the Peel Commission, you look at the 1947 UN mandate – every
opportunity was given to have this peaceful coexistence, but it was continuously
rejected. That would be the same as the Unites Sates saying, “Okay, these are
going to be the Afro-American states – South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama,” and
we say, “We don’t want that, we want Tennessee.” So that parallel does not work
very well for me. There can be peaceful coexistence here, but it comes down to
who is a credible peace partner.
Since you are a military man, I want to
ask you about statements General David Petraeus made last year to the effect
that Israel was costing the US both blood and treasure.
That was not a
I know Gen. Petraeus personally, and I think that was a
faux pas, because Israel is not costing the United States anything.
are associated with the Tea Party. Should we be concerned that its members will
want to cut US aid to Israel?
When you look at the Tea Party, one of the things
that I have said they have to focus on as well is national security – not just
constitutional movement, fiscal responsibility, free market for enterprise, but
national security is part of it.
The Tea Party is a constitutional
conservative grassroots movement. It is only 18 months old, it’s getting better,
stronger, more credible, and more knowledgeable each and every day.
how about the demands to cut back on spending? Won’t foreign aid be at risk?
is not so much on cutting back on spending, but on prioritizing spending. It is
understating what are the constitutional mandates of the US government, and when
you go back and look at what are the five basic mandates of the Constitution –
to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, promote general welfare,
provide for the common defense and secure the blessings of liberty – providing
for common defense is without a doubt probably the most important thing the
federal government has to do. There is some waste in the foreign aid spending we
have out there, no doubt about it. But when you look out at who your true allies
are, there is no better ally out there than Israel.
What about Iran? Are
You know, Iran is not that concerned about the effects of
sanctions on its people.... I think we have to take Iran at face value and
understand that it is a theocracy; they do believe in the return of the Mahdi,
the 12th Imam, by an apocalyptic event. They are pursuing this nuclear
Just think if [Libyan leader] Muammar Gaddafi had not given
up his nuclear program in 2003, and how that would have changed what happened
with NATO in 2011. That’s the message these guys have learned, that this
[nuclear arms capability] is your trump card. I look back in history – we must
start taking people for who they are. The world did not take Adolf Hitler for
who he was, and they continued to try to appease and compromise with him, and
look what happened after six years, and the devastation to the Jewish
So I think were are going to have to understand at some point
that if you want this part of the world to respond in a way conducive to your
security, you have to have a credible military option on the table. It is about
strength in the Middle East. No one respects words; they respect your projection
Is now the time, then, for the US or Israel, or in tandem,
to take military action against Iran?
I’m not privy to a lot of intel briefings,
but I will say this: Iran has two Americans, and I think right now there should
be a very definitive statement that they will release those two American hikers,
or else. We don’t need to define “or else,” but it comes back to what I said, a
credible military threat.