Biden’s VP pick prompts mixed reactions from Jewish groups

Organizations from the Democratic Majority for Israel to J Street praised the selection of Harris.

By Jackson Richman, JNS

Jewish and Israel-related groups expressed mixed reactions to the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, picking Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.

Organizations from the Democratic Majority for Israel to J Street praised the selection of Harris, who would be the first African-American and South Asian to be picked as a running mate for a major-party candidate. She would also be the third woman tapped for the vice-presidential slot, following former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008 and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) in 1984.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the perfect team to restore the soul of this nation, to stop President Trump’s hateful agenda, and to strengthen American leadership and the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS.

In a statement, Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director and former Harris national security adviser Halie Soifer said, “Harris prioritizes the same issues as Jewish voters and will work diligently to defend our values in the White House alongside our next president, Joe Biden.”

“As the former national security adviser to Sen. Harris, I know firsthand her conviction and commitment to creating a better country for all Americans,” she continued.

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“She strongly aligns with the values of American Jews, including her support of the U.S.-Israel relationship, her commitment to ensuring access to affordable health care and education, her intolerance for hatred and bigotry, and her unwavering efforts to protect our country’s most vulnerable communities.”

“J Street congratulates Senator Harris and Vice President Biden on this historic selection,” the group told JNS. “Our movement could not be more excited to do everything we can between now and November to help elect this pro-Israel, pro-peace ticket, drive Donald Trump from office and pave the way for a bright new era for our country.”

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, ZOA president Mort Klein told JNS, “I’m concerned that (1) Kamala Harris wants to reinstate the [2015] catastrophic deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which allows a path to nuclear weapons; (2) that she refused to condemn [Minnesota Democratic] Rep. [Ilhan] Omar’s anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred while expressing concern for Omar’s safety, not the safety of American Jews; and (3) that she refused to appear at the [2019] AIPAC policy conference.”

However, Sarah Stern, founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) said that despite concerns about Harris, the senator is a preferable choice compared to other candidates under consideration for the No. 2 spot, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who advocated President Barack Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018, reimposing sanctions lifted under it, along with enacting new penalties on Tehran.

Stern said her organization is “feeling a sense of collective relief. Some of the contenders that were in the running reflected a much more radical position vis-à-vis Israel.”

She went on to say that “Harris has been described as being ‘more AIPAC than J Street.’ I think it is fair to say that she reflects traditional State Department views towards a two-state solution and would like to renegotiate with the Iranians. This was a sensible pick from the Democratic contender for the White House. He certainly could have done a great deal worse.”

While running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Harris called for America to re-enter the deal, while Biden has repeatedly said he would re-enter the accord if and when Iran returns to complying with it.

Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks denounced the selection, saying that the former vice president “has sealed the Democrat Party’s move to the extreme left with the choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate.”

“Senator Harris wants to put the U.S. back into the disastrous Obama-Biden nuclear deal with Iran. She does not stand with Israel and the Jewish community. She voted against an anti-BDS bill in the Senate that also extended an existing loan guarantee program with Israel,” he said.

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“As Attorney General of California, she received numerous letters from Jewish organizations urging her to act against anti-Semitic activities on campuses in the California public university system, but she refused to answer those pleas.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Jewish Federations of North America declined to comment.