Exclusive: IDF veteran runs for Congress

In a first and exclusive interview to The Jerusalem Post, Nizahon announced his long-shot campaign for his district’s primaries.

August 23, 2019 14:02
Exclusive: IDF veteran runs for Congress

SHLOMO NIZAHON: I’m not going to comment as to what the president of the United States said with respect to ‘loyalty’.’. (photo credit: Courtesy)

WASHINGTON – It doesn’t happen every day when Israeli-born Americans decide to run for Congress. Shlomo Nizahon, a 47-year-old attorney who was born and raised in Kfar Saba before moving with his mother to the US, has recently launched his primary campaign and hopes to become a Republican congressman in 2020.

There’s just one “tiny” problem: he is going to run for Florida’s 23rd district. Meaning, if he becomes the Republican nominee, he will face a well-known, savvy congresswoman: Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Since the creation of the district in 1993, its constituents have always elected Democrats for Congress. Alcee Hastings served 10 terms (and now serves the 20th district, after redistricting) and Wasserman Schultz currently serves in her fourth term in office. Her Republican rival for the past three campaigns, Joe Kaufman, has received 38% of the vote on average.

In a first and exclusive interview to The Jerusalem Post, Nizahon announced his long-shot campaign for his district’s primaries.

“Sometimes, when a person is in place for too many years, they get comfortable in that position,” he tells the Post. “From the voices that I’ve heard from both sides of the aisle, I know that there is a desire for change. I am here for the long run. I’m going to give the best fight that I can in these elections, and planning on winning. I will learn from this process, express my ideas, speak to the people on the ground and hope to convince them that just because one person is in place for a certain period of time, that does not give them an absolute mandate to remain there for additional time.”

Nizahon was born in 1972. When he was one year old, the Yom Kippur War had started. His father, Shabtay, didn’t receive a call from the IDF, but decided to go anyway to join one of the units that were fighting on the Golan Heights. He was killed shortly after.

Young Shlomo grew up in Kfar Saba, but when he was eight, his mother remarried, and the family moved to Brooklyn. He recalls a happy childhood in the United States, but when he became 18, he decided to join the IDF.

“I just felt that missing the part of going to the army there is something that I would regret in the future, should I not do it,” he tells the Post.

Moving back to Israel wasn’t an easy call, he remembers, but when he suggested it to his mother, she encouraged him to serve.

“She told me that if I join the army, she will return to Israel with me,” he says.

Just before starting law school at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he was exposed to Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian Authority Diplomat who toured the US’s Ivy League universities to speak about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Nizahon says that watching the lecture was the event that convinced him to run for office.

“I knew that the people that were about to listen to what he was saying would be affected,” he says. “Projecting it all forward, I understood that it would affect Congress because these students eventually will get into corporate America and to Congress. I understood that something needs to be done. And that’s when I decided that it’s time to go ahead and run.”

Nizahon adds that if elected, he wants to focus on two main issues: hate speech on campuses, and incitement for terror on social media. For almost a year, he used his skills as an attorney for independent research to find legal tools that would put the burden to stop incitement in social media.

“I believe that something will come out of it because it is a viable tool that does not hurt freedom of speech,” he says. “It’s a tool that can be used with proper legislation, and if I am elected to office, this is one of the first topics that I will promote.”

He says that he is interested in serving it the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with two specific goals in mind. The first, to help to build trust between Israel and the Palestinians in a way that could lead to direct negotiations in the future. Nizahon says he would be open to restoring funding for humanitarian causes and cultural programs for Palestinians, but only under tight scrutiny.

The second goal he mentioned is to pass legislation that would force future administration to sign any new agreement with Iran only on the form of a treaty, so Congress will have to ratify it – and possibly reject it.

THE INTERVIEW is taking place in a busy week for US-Israel relations, and Nizahon, as a dual citizen, seems uncomfortable discussing the president’s latest remarks about disloyalty toward American Jews who vote for Democratic candidates.

“I’m not going to comment as to what the president of the United States said with respect to ‘loyalty,’” he says. “But I think what the president is trying to convey is that he has done some brave moves so far with Israel. One example is moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He openly expresses his support for Israel and therefore, because of this conduct, there’s an expectation that, ‘if I managed to do that, then the support should be with someone whose supporting Israel.”

“Israel should remain separated from the ‘Bibi-Trump’ question because leaders change and the state remains,” he continues.

“And I think no matter which leader is in office, the support for Israel should be strong.”

“Certain voices within the Democratic Party are pushing the party in a certain direction, and that is what is causing the Democratic Party to move away from supporting Israel,” he adds. “Some members within the Democratic Party are calling for the destruction of Israel and voicing antisemitic views. It’s not all of the party, it’s a small movement – and yet, the Democrats have tried to pass certain bills that were not as much in support of Israel as they were in the past. There are signs that they are slowly moving away from the consensus of both parties supporting Israel.”

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