Most influential Jews in diplomacy and politics: Dianne Feinstein

From the Jerusalem Post's '50 most influential Jews.'

Dianne Feinstein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dianne Feinstein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jerusalem Post has put together its annual list of '50 most influential Jews' who have impacted the world last year, and have the potential to affect change in years to come.
With Benjamin Netanyahu en route to Washington to deliver his controversial address to Congress in March, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took to CNN and uttered a phrase that encapsulated the sentiments of Jewish Democrats who were fed up with Netanyahu’s diplomatic maneuverings. “He doesn’t speak for me on this,” Feinstein said plainly after the prime minister claimed that he was going to Washington to speak on behalf of world Jewry. “I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the [US] Jewish community is like any other community. There are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”
As an effective and vocal advocate for an alternative approach to US-Israel policy within the Democratic Party, the veteran senator from California has spent 22 years representing a state with a sizable Jewish community.
In an exclusive interview via email, Feinstein spoke to The Jerusalem Post about maintaining the strategic alliance between the US and Israel despite the current tension between their two leaders, and gave her assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat.
The Jewish community is a particularly active group in American political life. Why do you think that is, and how do you identify with it?
Like many other groups that have come to the United States, American Jewish immigrants came here seeking a better future for their children, economic opportunity, freedom and tolerance. I remember as a little girl feeling so grateful to live in this country as Jews were brutally killed at the hands of Nazis in Europe. Standing for Israel is of particular importance in saying “Never again” to the Holocaust.
The historian Simon Schama likes to say that the Jewish community is defined by arguments: that a diversity of thought is essential to Jewish life. In your experience, have Jewish world interests – at home in California, here in Washington and over in Israel – been uniform or diverse?
The Jewish community, like any other group, is diverse – and I see that as a strength. There is no one “Jewish way of thought.” For example, on Iran, it was “conventional wisdom” that American Jews opposed the framework agreement, but I know countless Jews who think an agreement with Iran is not only desirable but necessary to protect Israel’s future. People who love and support a vibrant Israel can have very different policy views.
Over the course of two decades in the Senate, you have played a unique role in fostering the US-Israel relationship, and in maintaining bipartisan support for the fostering of that relationship. What are some moments you are particularly proud of, or remember as politically challenging?
I am very proud of the tremendous amount of military aid we provide to Israel, year after year. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and the Intelligence Committee, I know the value of each of those dollars, and it is money very well spent. Among the most difficult times have been the periods of war. Whether it is seeing images of Israelis run for cover from Hamas rockets or Palestinian children playing in rubble in the Gaza Strip, war is heartbreaking.
There has been so much human suffering on both sides, that’s what makes this issue so emotional and difficult to resolve.
Some leaders in the Israeli and American Jewish establishment say that US-Israel relations are at an historic nadir. Do you consider that characterization accurate?
The US-Israel relationship may be strained, but the core of that relationship – US support for an independent and secure homeland for the Jewish people – remains unchanged. Allies rarely agree on everything, and we have our differences with Israel. But the real problems come when those disagreements become politicized. The US-Israel relationship must transcend domestic politics. Israel’s security is too important an issue on which to score political points.
You’ve said previously that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not speak for you, and have criticized his policies and stagecraft politics, particularly when it comes to Iran. Vice President Joe Biden said last week, “The criticism that Israel is too concerned, I find preposterous.” Do you understand where Netanyahu is coming from?
Prime Minister Netanyahu – like all of us – is concerned about Israel’s security and well-being. As an American, it is difficult for me to fully understand his situation, but my assessment on Iran is that a military, maximalist approach is not a positive alternative to diplomacy. Offering unrealistic demands, which is akin to advocating for a major war, makes no sense – especially when the Middle East is already burning. We don’t need more war when a verifiable diplomatic agreement can accomplish the task at hand. I have known Foreign Minister Zarif for many years and I believe he is sincere about the Iranian desire to find an agreement.
We may never have this opportunity again, and it would be a waste to throw away diplomacy in favor of military action.
If you could change a single component of the Lausanne framework, what would you do? In your opinion, what should Israel’s policy be?
The framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is a good one, squarely in the national security interests for both the United States and Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time examining the framework and discussing it with many experts, including [US] Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. In a recent op-ed, Moniz – an esteemed nuclear physicist with decades of experience in this arena – wrote, “The negotiated parameters would block Iran’s four pathways to a nuclear weapon – the path through plutonium production at the Arak reactor, two paths to a uranium weapon through the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities, and the path of covert activity.” When Secretary Moniz goes through the technical facts of each of these pathways and how it is blocked, the strength of the framework is apparent. Secretary Moniz understands the science and his analysis is sound. Also, as he puts it, this is not simply a 10-year agreement; parts of it are for 25 years, other parts are longer. To the best of my knowledge, the JPOA [Joint Plan of Action] has been complied with, and as a permanent agreement is being drafted, I am hopeful it will be specific, understandable and enforceable. We now have to cross every “t” and dot every “i” so that there is no misunderstanding, but I am confident a final, permanent deal is within reach.
As a leader of the American-Jewish community, what message do you have for the Israeli government on its settlement activity?
I am 100 percent opposed to the settlements. State-supported settlement activity is a primary driver of Israel’s international isolation and sends a signal to the world that Israel has no interest in the creation of a Palestinian state. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu admitted that settlements have been used as a retaliatory tool. The existence of the settlements is a troubling reality, but the drive to further expand them is unacceptable.