May 24, 2019

Rep. Sherman on Anti-Semitism and Foreign Policy

Rep. Brad Sherman and Eitan Weiss; Photo by Aaron Bandler

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch) discussed the various forms of anti-Semitism as well as Israel, the Palestinians and Iran at an April 22 town hall at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills.

Sherman, who spoke alongside Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Israel, and Temple Aliyah’s Rabbi Stewart Vogel, told around 250 attendees that he has been serving in Congress since 1996 and is currently the second-ranked member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said that under current law, over a 10-year period the United States is giving Israel $3.8 billion per year for its security.

 “I consider that a floor, not a ceiling,” Sherman said, adding that he hoped to add another $750 million to the annual payments toward Israel.

“It’s got to be the best investment we make in our national security,” he added, arguing that it’s necessary to have the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on the front lines “protecting us from those who want to do us harm.”

He then commended President Donald Trump’s April 22 announcement ending exemptions on China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey from sanctions for buying oil from Iran. Sherman touted the fact that he was one of the first members of Congress to oppose the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but he pointed out that the deal was nonbinding.

“A treaty is like there’s a rabbi and a bride and a groom and a chuppah, and you smash a glass,” Sherman said. “This version of the agreement was like you’ve got five margaritas … at a singles bar.”

“A treaty is like there’s a rabbi and a bride and a groom and a chuppah, and you smash a glass. This version of the agreement was like you’ve got five margaritas … at a singles bar.” 

— Rep. Brad Sherman

The congressman added that “a better deal” could be reached with Iran by applying pressure on the regime in Tehran.

He also acknowledged that “a few in my party who are freshmen” are undertaking efforts to “delegitimize” Israel; however, he pointed out that most of the 62 new Democratic congressional members are staunch supporters of Israel. “In Congress, support for Israel is very strong on both sides,” Sherman said.

The congressman said that the general American populace should care about Israel because “Israel is a place where pancreatic cancer or colon cancer or heart disease could be cured. In the future, when you think of Israel … you’ll think of science instead of Palestinian terror attacks,” Sherman said.

During the Q&A session, which featured Vogel reading out written questions from audience members, Sherman was asked about the various forms of anti-Semitism. He highlighted three: acts of anti-Semitism done just to grab media attention, far right “Nazi anti-Semitism,” and “left-wing anti-Semitism” masquerading as criticism of Israel.

In the first instance, Sherman said that there are “punk kids just looking for a reaction, people who would put up flyers saying ‘I hate Albanians’ except they know they won’t get a lot of press.”

On right-wing anti-Semitism, Sherman said that it manifests in extremists “feeling empowered” when they see Nazis chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” as they did during the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., march.

“Those marchers then made someone on the internet in Pittsburgh go one step further,” Sherman said, referring to the October shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.

When it comes to delineating between legitimate criticism of Israel and criticism of Israel that crosses the line into anti-Semitism, Sherman suggested using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by the State Department in 2010. Under the IHRA definition, using images and symbols associated with Nazism and saying that Israel is the only country in the world that should be “abolished” constitutes anti-Semitism, Sherman said.

Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) remarks that American support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins” and her use of the “dual loyalty” trope is “emblematic of this effort to delegitimize Israel and in this case try to delegitimize American support for Israel,” Sherman said. 

He pointed out that among the strongest supporters of Israel are evangelical Christians, but they’re not being given “bags of money” to support Israel; they support Israel because they recognize that it’s in America’s best interests to do so, he said.

In response to an audience question about what the federal government is doing to fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Sherman joked that he supported BDS … against Iran. He proceeded to call BDS “a symbolic effort to delegitimize Israel” since the movement has been ineffective in slowing Israel’s burgeoning economy.

Sherman went on to state that he co-sponsored the Combating BDS Act of 2017, which was passed by the Senate in February as part of Senate Bill 1 — as well as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act in 2017. The former protects the rights of state and local governments to not provide contracts to businesses that boycott Israel; the latter prohibits companies from engaging in foreign government-led boycotts against Israel.

Anti-BDS legislation, Sherman argued, doesn’t violate the First Amendment because it doesn’t “prevent anyone from doing anything as an individual or a group,” it simply says that “international pressure” isn’t going to affect U.S. businesses.

The BDS movement inhibits progress toward a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestinian conflict because the movement is “opposed to the entire country” of Israel, Sherman said.

However, Sherman did tell attendees, “It is critical that you advocate for a two-state solution. Whichever side is dedicated to a two-state solution will gain support in Europe and the U.S.,” he said, adding that “the world will never accept” Israel potentially annexing all of the West Bank. He also argued that even if the push for a two-state solution proves to be futile, there is “no harm” in continuing to advocate for it.