While some Israel supporters have questioned whether a Democrat-controlled Congress will hurt the strong ties the Jewish state enjoys with the Republican administration, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley said their concerns should focus on US President George W. Bush's new advisors.
The Democratic Representative from Nevada particularly singled out former secretary of state James Baker, who served under former president George H. W. Bush and has recently been called on by the current president to author a paper on how to proceed in Iraq. Baker also backed Robert Gates, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency in the first Bush White House, as the replacement for Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.
"The James Baker wing of the Republican Party is no friend to Israel," Berkley told The Jerusalem Post. "If he [Baker] is going to be the personal adviser to George Bush on Israel and the Middle East, that changes the political landscape dramatically."
For starters, some on the team have stressed the need to talk more with Iran as part of the US's efforts to prevent the Islamic Republic from going nuclear. There are also many in the Democratic Party who have called for such overtures.
Berkley, a long-time member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who spent the past five days in Israel on an AIPAC tour, said she favored tough sanctions on Iran. But that, she added, "should not be the last resort," saying that "all options should be on the table."
She said the ideological split on how to deal with Iran was not a partisan one, as disagreements persisted in both parties.
Berkley also rejected the notion that the Democratic Congress would be less supportive of Israel than the Republican White House has been: "Certainly the administration and the United States Congress believe in this relationship and continue to strengthen it."
Despite her concerns about Bush's new foreign policy advisors and their attitude towards Israel, she said, "We have weathered worse in the past, so it's just a matter of educating [incoming] members of Congress about why it is important to have a strong American-Israel relationship."