In an interview with The Politicker yesterday afternoon, Democratic Congressional candidate David Weprin criticized President Barack Obama over his Middle East policy and defended his own record in support of the state of Israel.
He accused the president of striving to seem impartial in the long-running dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, especially during Obama’s speech earlier this year in which he called for a return to the pre-1967 borders for Israel.
“I think it was done to send a message to the Arab world that ‘I am trying to be fair,’ that kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t think you can equate the two because it’s not a question of being neutral. It’s a question of Israel is the only ally we have had for so many years. I don’ t think it is a moral equivalent.”
Weprin said that he thought it was untenable for Israel to retreat to its pre-67 borders, noting that the country has had those boundaries for more years than it had its previous borders. He also cited security concerns were Israel to retreat, pointing to Israel’s retreat from Gaza in 2005, which led to shelling by some Palestinian groups.
“I wouldn’t want to give credence to some of the adjoining countries that haven’t even officially recognized the state of Israel,” he said. ”Israel voluntarily gave back the land and what happened right after that? There were Kaytusha rockets being shot from the very homes that they gave up on Greater Israel.”
Weprin also echoed a criticism that has been in the Israeli press, that President Obama snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a visit last year.
“I thought it was outrageous the way he treated Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was at the White House,” he said. “He started a meeting and he left him there, abandoned him. It was something that was unheard of with any head of state, never mind the head of the only real ally the United States has in the Middle East.”
Israel policy has taken center stage in the race between Weprin and Republican Bob Turner, to replace Congressman Anthony Weiner, who stepped down in the wake of a sex scandal. Former Mayor Ed Koch has said that he hopes that Republicans capture the seat in order to send a message to Obama over his Israel policy. The district is one of the most Jewish in the nation.
Turner is not Jewish and has not traveled to Israel, and Weprin expressed surprise that this has become one of the defining issues in the early days of the campaign.
“I didn’t think it was that important until Ed Koch made it an issue!” he said.
However, if Weprin were to win, he would be the only Orthodox Jew in Congress, and he hit back over the notion that he was not a strong supporter of Israel or that he would be unwilling to challenge the leader of his party.
Weprin noted that he traveled there eight or nine times, including during Israel’s war with Lebanon, where alongside Dov Hikind–who also considered running for the seat and making the race a referendum on the United States’ Israel policy–they traveled to areas in the north of the country that were under attack.
“We actually put our lives in danger,” he said. “I am not going to do the Hillary Clinton analogy and say I was in the middle of a war zone, but it was a little scary for a while.”
He also noted that all of his cousins on his mother’s side live in Israel.
“For anybody to question my support of the state of Israel and my outspokenness, regardless of party affiliation, is wrong,” he said. “It’s not a question of supporting my president or my party. When he is right on the issues that I believe in–fighting to save Medicare, Social Security, fighting the Ryan Plan–I will say so, but when it comes to the state of Israel, I think he is wrong in the end and I hope he will recognize that.”
Weprin said he would model himself as D.C. legislator on Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a Washington Senator and a strong backer of the Jewish State. Closer to home, he also cited Senator Chuck Schumer and, ironically, Congressman Weiner, as legislators willing to defy their party on issues important to Israel.
“I thought Congressman Weiner was a strong supporter and I certainly would be just as strong if not stronger in my support of Israel,” he said.
He pointed to his own record as a lawmaker, which included eight years in the City Council and two in the Assembly, where he said he sponsored “many, many pro-Israel resolutions” and was one of the prime backers of the Salute to Israel Day Parade.
He noted that he was one of the prime sponsors of a resolution in the City Council that supported the Iraq War.
“Now things have maybe changed, and it is time to get out, but at the time we thought it was important for the War on Terror and the protection of the United States and Israel,” he said.
If Weprin wins in the September election, and he is expected to, he may get the chance to tell the President himself his views on the administration’s policy in the Middle East.
Asked what he would tell Obama, Weprin replied: “Don’t abandon your only friend in the Middle East, your only real ally we have. I would tell him my feelings on starting from using the pre-’67 borders as a basis for peace negotiation.”
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