April 19, 2019

Guest post: Can Jews believe Kyrsten Sinema?

This guest opinion piece by Jay K. Footlik follows a Rosner’s Domain expose on Arizona Congressional hopeful Kyrsten Sinema’s statements about Israel. You can find the original piece here, and Sinema’s response here. Additional reading, from Commentary, is here.

One of the great features of America’s Jewish community is our ideological diversity. On just about every issue, foreign and domestic, you can find American Jews taking opposite positions. We argue about everything.

Yet we, as a community, do unite around certain core concepts and principles. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, there is a consensus on some very basic things. The importance of religious freedom. The value of every life. The vital contribution of Judaism to civilization. And, of course, Israel’s right to exist as a secure state.

Anyone who seeks to receive the community’s support must agree to these core principles. This does not mean ideological conformity. Far from it. Some American Zionists feel that Israel can afford to do more at the peace table to assure its security. Others say it should do less than it has done or promised to do. But that Israel should be a homeland for the Jewish people, secure in its borders, is beyond debate. Anyone disagreeing with that idea places themselves outside the community.

Which raises the question of whether American Jews should support the candidacy of Kyrsten Sinema, one of two leading candidates for Congress in Arizona’s new ninth district.

Sinema has courted Jews, both for votes and financial contributions. She is telling them that she is broadly supportive of Israel.

But Sinema has a troubling history of anti-Israel bias and activities. And any American Jew asked to support her should know what they’re getting. In Sinema’s case, what is troubling is not merely her words. It’s also her deeds.

First, she was a leader in anti-Israel organizations.  After supporting Ralph Nader’s anti-Israel platform as a Green Party leader, Sinema founded the Arizona chapter of Women in Black, an anti-Israel group started during the first intifada, and promoted their protests.

Second, Sinema promoted speeches by Lynne Stewart, the “lawyer for terrorists” who was convicted of helping Sheikh Rahman attempt to kill Americans and Jews outside America. 

Third, she hailed the 2003 Palestinian Truth Tour as a “great tour” despite the fact that the Anti-Defamation League labeled it anti-Semitic for its comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany.

Fourth, as a state legislator, she filmed a promotional video for a Muslim TV show put on by Marwan Ahmad, an extremist who openly raised money for Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation. Ahmad was kicked off of a Phoenix human relations commission for his anti-Semitism. 

Despite this background, Sinema has presented herself to the Jewish community as supportive of Israel. She has issued a policy paper that says things that would make many left-leaning Zionists more comfortable.

Should we believe her? Even she says no. In a private email exchange with a Palestinian activist reported by the Jewish Journal, Sinema distanced herself from her policy paper. She said that “staff” – and not she – wrote it, and assured the activist that she did not believe some of the pro-Israel policies her campaign had promoted. 

She has declined on-the-record interviews with local Jewish newspapers to explain whether to believe her policy paper, choosing instead to issue prepared statements.

It’s perfectly possible that Sinema has had a change of heart when it comes to Israel. But she has given us scant reason to think she has. And this is troubling. Who we support to send to Washington D.C. is a fundamental part of how we support Israel. If we do not have certainty on one of our most important issues, we face the great risk of putting in Congress one who may act against one of our community’s core principles.

This does not mean we can’t support critical thinkers. Support for Israel does not have to mean agreeing with everything Israel ever does. But it does mean agreeing with the idea that Israel should exist within secure borders and should exist as a Jewish state. That’s what the Jewish community expects, at a bare minimum.

Nothing in her biography or recent statements suggests Sinema can meet that basic test. And if she can’t do that, she doesn’t deserve our support.

Jay K. Footlik is a former Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton, and served as Clinton’s liaison to the American Jewish community. He also worked as Senior Middle East Advisor for John Kerry’s Presidential campaign in 2004. He lived in Israel where he worked with the Shimon Peres Center and Seeds of Peace.