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Westside congressman facing first re-election bid discusses Israel

Los Angeles Rep. Ted Lieu is quick to shoot off a friendly tweet. With a computer science degree from Stanford University, he’s one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress.
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June 29, 2016

Los Angeles Rep. Ted Lieu is quick to shoot off a friendly tweet. With a computer science degree from Stanford University, he’s one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress. 

After a panel on cybersecurity at Politicon, a political convention held June 26 in Pasadena, Lieu stuck around to shake hands, pass out business cards, connect digitally with his constituents — and speak with the Jewish Journal.

Five members represent the Jewish population centers of Los Angeles in Congress. Lieu, who immigrated with his family from Taiwan when he was a child and represents the 33rd District, is the most junior among them. In November, he’ll face his first bid for re-election, against South Bay surgeon Kenneth Wright in a district stretching from Malibu to Palos Verdes and jutting into Beverly Hills.

As a Democrat, he is expected to again win the heavily liberal district. His predecessor, Henry Waxman, who is Jewish, maintained his seat for 40 years.

A large portion of the voter base is Westside Jews, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lieu takes a staunchly pro-Israel position. A reserve Air Force colonel, his military service also may contribute to his desire to see Israel maintain a qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Sitting down with the Journal after his Politicon panel, Lieu took stock of the national security issues his Jewish constituents care most about — namely, Israel and its less-than-friendly neighbors.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jewish Journal: You participated in the Democratic sit-in last week on the House floor calling to reform gun laws in this country. Why should voters care about gun violence in places like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, which you represent?

Ted Lieu: There are some common-sense reforms we can do right now that don’t take anyone’s guns away, but makes America safer. … If you’re going to be on a no-fly list, 85 percent of Americans believe you shouldn’t be able to go in and buy an assault rifle. The reason people should care in the 33rd District is that every single day, 297 people in America are shot. That means every five minutes someone gets shot. Who will that be? Will it be someone you know? Will it be a child? Will it be an acquaintance or relative?

JJ: What do you say to people who feel the issue Congress should be discussing is Islamic terror, or perhaps mental health, rather than gun reform?

TL: Mental health is an incredibly important issue, and I believe we can get bipartisan support on both mental health, in terms of providing more funding to people who are doing the work of delivering mental health services, and also addressing it in the context of gun violence. Unfortunately, right now there is no bill moving. The Republican majority has pretty much put a hammerlock on any sort of gun-safety legislation. … In terms of terrorism, I served active duty in the Air Force. I’m still in the reserves. My view is we need to hunt down terrorists and kill them. And there are a lot of ways to try and mitigate terrorism in the United States, but clearly, having easy access to guns is something I think that benefits terrorists more than it will hurt terrorists.

JJ: It’s been about a year since the Iran deal was ratified. You opposed that deal. Are you confident that you made the right choice?

TL: Yes, but not because of the last year. We won’t actually know for about five to 10 years whether this was a good deal, a bad deal or something in between. But what the last year showed is that Iran has in fact not moderated. They have continued to launch ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations sanctions; they have continued to fund terrorist networks. In the elections they had, they basically hand-selected those who could run. … So to me, there is no indication that they are any closer to moderation than they were a year ago.

JJ: Are there any steps that could be taken to change that?

TL: Iran needs to suffer consequences for violating United Nations sanctions in a far greater way than they have. And I also think we need to reauthorize the expiring U.S. sanctions so that if, in the future, Iran were to violate the Iran deal, the president, whoever she may be, can implement those sanctions immediately.

JJ: The Obama administration has hesitated to sign a memorandum of understanding that would grant Israel an increase in military aid. What’s your view on military aid to Israel?

TL: Let’s take a step back. One of the predictions I had for the Iran deal was that it was going to increase military sales to the Middle East, that it was going to cause a Middle East arms race. We are starting to see that happen. The U.S. has sold large amounts of munitions to Saudi Arabia. We’ve sold them ships. We’ve sold them rockets. Other countries are asking for military equipment from the U.S., as well, and you’re going to see, I believe, a buildup of military arms at exactly the wrong time, when the Middle East is on fire. It’s like putting fuel on the fire. Having said that, I think it’s critical that Israel retains its qualitative military edge, and I fully support the U.S. military aid to Israel. … It’s very clear to me that Israel is at the tip of the spear. They’re the only democracy in a very troubled region of the world, and they are a bulwark against terrorists and terrorism networks, and the U.S. needs to do whatever we can to protect Israel and her security. 

JJ: In terms of the amount of aid, do you support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for an increase?

TL: I would support Israel’s request.

JJ: You were a member of the California State Assembly, where a proposal is now floating around to legislate against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeted at Israel. What is your view on legislating against BDS at the state and federal level?

TL: At the federal level, I am one of the founding members of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Anti-Semitism in Congress. The goal is to push back against the false facts of BDS. … One way to fight back is to talk about the enormous benefits of a U.S.-Israel relationship, across a whole variety of different areas. So I have legislation that talks about the economic benefits of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and all the technologies that California, the U.S. and Israel work on together, such as technology to help the drought. It passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a bipartisan basis. One reason I introduced that legislation is to try and reframe the issue so that people have a much fuller understanding of the U.S.-Israel relationship instead of just focusing on one narrow issue.

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