WASHINGTON – Next week, when the 117th Congress will be sworn in, some familiar faces will not be there. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, is one of them. After 32 years in Congress, Lowey – one of the most influential figures in the Democratic Party and a staunch supporter of Israel – announced in 2019 that she intends to retire and did not seek reelection this cycle.
“I have had an extraordinary 32 years,” she told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Thursday. “It is time to move on, but I loved every bit of it.”
She said that during that time, it had been an honor for her to break the glass ceiling for women on the Appropriations Committee, noting that she was also the first Jewish member of Congress to chair that committee.
“Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve been so proud to champion support for Israel, to ensure that our ally can protect its citizens and secure its borders,” she said.
“This is why I went on this committee,” Lowey said. “I really made it clear I wanted that seat on the powerful state foreign operations subcommittee during my first term on that committee. So it’s been very, very important to me to focus on Israel.”
During her time as chair of the Appropriations Committee, she advanced numerous bills that aim to increase cooperation between Israel and the US. But when asked if there is a specific achievement she is particularly proud of, she mentions the “Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act,” which passed last week and provides $50 million for people-to-people exchanges and economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, “with the goal of supporting a negotiated and sustainable two-state solution.”
“This is important because what it does, in my judgment, is cement Congress’s unequivocal support for grassroots organizations,” said Lowey. “I’ve always felt that they are essential in bringing people together and for economic initiatives that improve livelihoods.
Throughout my time in office, I’ve been a strong advocate for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” she said. “I simply could not in good conscience retire without leaving in place a source of funding for the people on the ground who are willing to come together and make progress in their communities.”
She went on to say that she doesn’t think she will witness another handshake on the White House lawn between an Israeli leader and a Palestinian leader soon, “but I firmly believe that these programs are important to build the foundation for such a peace to take root and endure.”
TOGETHER WITH Lowey, another staunch supporter of Israel, Eliot Engel, will not serve in the next Congress as well. Asked if, in her view, there is a shift within the Democratic Party towards the progressive flank when it comes to Israel, she said she doesn’t believe this to be the case.
“You have Ted Deutch there. You have Brad Sherman there. You have Lois Frankel there. The Democratic Party has always been diverse. Some people on the Right, some on the Left, [and] people like myself that I consider in the center,” Lowey said. “We have a big tent in the Democratic Party, with several strong supporters [of Israel], so I’m not concerned about that.”
In 2015, when the nuclear agreement with Iran was signed, Lowey opposed it. “I didn’t vote for the JCPOA. I was concerned about the sunset provisions and the provisions related to Iran’s military sites,” she said.
“However, I did not support President [Donald] Trump’s decision to unilaterally leave the nuclear deal without an alternative plan in place,” Lowey said.
“And I think he gave up crucial leverage over Iran without making any progress to rein in Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East. And during that time, I think he unnecessarily divided us from our European allies,” she added.
“I think the Biden-Harris administration is inheriting a mess, and I hope they will work with Israel and our Arab partners, in addition to the P5+1 members, to assess how they can aggressively, comprehensively tackle the aggressive Iranian regime,” Lowey said. “I’m concerned about the nuclear program and its other destabilizing actions in the region.”
WOULD SHE support rejoining the agreement?
“There are a lot of factors here. It’s not a matter of joining the agreement or another agreement, you really have to see what [Biden] is doing in terms of building relationships, working with other countries and making sure that the support for Israel and the Israel-United States relationship remains strong,” she said.
“Biden has been a strong supporter of the Israel-United States relationship, and I think there are many people on his team who understand Israel and appreciate how important it is to have safeguards and to have language there that will ensure a strong Israel-United States relationship,” the retiring House Appropriations Committee chairwoman said.
“I worry about many things, like support for Israel on American college campuses,” she said. “Studies show that young adults are less likely to support the Jewish state. And I am very concerned about the politicization [of the relationship]. Israel must continue to retain bipartisan support, and it cannot happen if one side attempts to use the issue to score cheap political points.
“I’m also very worried about the international community losing hope in a two-state solution to the conflict,” Lowey said. “I continue to believe – and I have throughout my whole career – that two states for two peoples is the only solution that will lead to a democratic Jewish State of Israel and a democratic Palestinian state living side by side.”
Rep. Lowey also addressed the recent Abraham Accords. “What is happening recently is remarkable – to see the Arab countries agreeing to work with Israel, trade with Israel.
“And I think it’s because [Israel] is such a remarkable country,” she said. “Look what it’s done against all odds. And when you think of the scientific advances and the young people who are part of amazing, amazing results that are coming from research that the government is investing in, it is a remarkable country.
“I was in Israel with Nancy Pelosi, and I was very moved when Netanyahu gave me a certificate and congratulated me for my work and constantly trying to bring about peace in the region,” she continued. “To me, to be there and shake the hand of the prime minister and getting a certificate for my work to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians was a time I will not forget.”
She also addressed the upcoming election in Israel – the fourth round in less than two years. “Israel is a thriving democracy – and if you get 10 Jews in a room, they always have different opinions,” Lowey said.
“And I would hope that all the candidates continue to reach out and try to bring people together, because Israel is an extraordinary country,” she concluded. “I talk about the medical achievements, the business achievements – and I just hope that all the candidates, whoever they’re going to be, will continue to work to strengthen the relationships.”