Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
(photo credit: STEFANI REYNOLDS/CNP)
WASHINGTON – Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, says he is committed to Israelis’ security and the US-Israel alliance, but that it doesn’t mean that he “has to be on board with the political agenda of the Israeli government.”
In a closed conversation with key figures in the Jewish community in Washington, organized by Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak, who founded Bluelight Strategies consulting group, he said: “I do not believe that the right approach is to endorse wholesale the agenda of the current government. The right approach comes about when you have an ally or a friend that is taking steps that you think are harmful and you put your arm around your friend and try to guide them somewhere else. That’s part of how our alliance works.”
The event was attended by some 40 people, many of whom are veterans of Republican and Democratic administrations. Among the participants were Dennis Ross, David Makovsky, Mark Mellman, Adam Szubin and Rabbi Jonah Pesner. The meeting lasted an hour and focused on US-Israel relations and antisemitism.
“The way I think about our relationship with Israel, versus our relationship with the current Israeli government or any current government, is in some ways the way I think about my relationship with the United States,” Buttigieg said. “That I, as a loyal, patriotic American, I do not believe that means I have to be loyal to the political agenda of the current administration in Washington.”
He spoke about the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, and took exception to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
“I mean, at the very least if we’re going to talk about things like Jerusalem or the recognition of Golan, having an actual deal around that,” he continued. “You don’t do something specifically for the purpose of reinforcing him politically and domestically. Even if those gifts are endorsed.”
He suggested that those decisions didn’t mark a shift in American policy, but “a decision to intervene in Israeli domestic politics through American policy.”
Buttigieg criticized the Trump administration and suggested it is politicizing antisemitism.
“It’s pretty rich to see a White House that has welcomed in people who I think are blatantly antisemitic. The White House has made excuses for people who walk the streets chanting ‘Jews cannot replace us’ to say that they are now concerned about antisemitism,” he said, noting that fighting antisemitism must be a bipartisan cause.
“So, when I talk about fighting hate and white nationalism, that shouldn’t be a Democratic position,” Buttigieg continued. “It should be a universal American position. One reason I raise it is to challenge people on the other side of the aisle to be just as full-throated in rejecting it as the people on our side.”