NYT Asks 2020 Candidates About Israel's Human Rights Record

Posted by Tess Waggoner on June 21, 2019 in Blog

Earlier this week the New York Times published an online interactive feature in which they asked twenty-one participating 2020 Democratic candidates 18 different questions, including, "Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?"

We were glad to see candidates asked about the issue of Palestinian human rights. 

Here's how each candidate responded:



I have great concerns about the role Netanyahu is playing in Israel and their relationship with the Palestinians. As I’ve said many times, I believe 100 percent in the right for Israel, not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security. But the role of the United States is to work with all of the entities in the region, including the Palestinians, and to do that in an even-handed way.





I think that Israel is in a really tough neighborhood. I understand that. They face enormous challenges, and they are our strong ally, we need a liberal democracy in that region and to work with that liberal democracy. But it is also the case that we need to encourage our ally, the way we would any good friend, to come to the table with the Palestinians and to work toward a permanent solution. I strongly support a two-state solution and I believe that a good friend says to the Palestinians and to the Israelis: “come to the table and negotiate”. The United States cannot dictate the terms of a long-term settlement with the Palestinians and the Israelis. But what it can do is urge both of them to go there and to stay out of the way, to let them negotiate the pieces that are most important to them for a lasting peace.

The current situation is not tenable. It maybe be tenable for a week, it may be tenable for a month, but it is not in the long-term interests of either the Israelis or the Palestinians to continue on the path they’re on. They need to come to a two-state   solution.


I think Israel’s human rights record is problematic and moving in the wrong direction under the current right-wing government. Look, the US can be committed to Israeli security and to the US-Israel alliance, while also guiding our ally in a direction that leads toward peace. And I’m very worried especially with some of the latest talk about annexation of the West Bank that their government is moving away from peace in a way that is damaging in the long run to Israeli and Palestinian and, for that matter, American interests.





I think that Israel as a country is dedicated to being a democracy, and is one of our closest friends in that region, and that we should understand the shared values and priorities that we have as a democracy, and conduct foreign policy in a way that is consistent with understanding the alignment between the American people and the people of Israel.

Reporter: Does Israel meet human rights standards to your personal satisfaction?

Kamala: Well, talk in more detail. What specifically are you referring to?

Reporter: As a county overall, in terms of how they-

Kamala: Overall, yes.



I think we have a problem right now in America with the way that we are debating issues surrounding Israel and Israel’s security. We have a president that seems to not support this idea of a two-state solution, which has had bipartisan commitment and conviction over decades in our past. My commitment right now is to affirming Israel’s right to exist, and affirming Israel’s right to defend itself against enemies which they have virtually surrounding them, but also to affirm the dignity and self-determination of Palestinian people. I believe that we can get back to the kind of policies that affirm that two-state solution, affirm human rights, and that America can be a force to accomplishing that in Israel.



I know that Israel attempts to meet international standards of human rights. I know that they could do a better job. And that’s not just my opinion, that’s from listening to people in Israel say that about their own country. I think we have a role to play to ensure the safety, the human rights, and the dignity of the people of Israel, as well as the people of what will become the state for the Palestinians, right now the Palestinian Authority.


We cannot compel or force a two-state solution, but it should be our diplomatic goal. And every resource we invest, every diplomatic effort, should be toward that end. That’s the best way in the long term to guarantee the peace, the stability, and the human rights of all people in that region.


I think that there are some challenges with Israel that need to be addressed.

Reporter: could you expand on that?

Tulsi: I think that ongoing issues that we continue to see in the conflict between Israel and Palestine are complicated, but there needs to be progress made ultimately to make sure that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are able to live in peace and securely.




I do, and I believe that Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East, but we also have to care about her neighbors and make sure that we address humanitarian crises throughout communities, including those where the Palestinians live right now. I think we have to do far more to relieve the suffering in places like the West Bank and Gaza. I think it’s important that we continue to provide humanitarian support.


But I think what President Trump has done in the Middle East is very damaging. He’s done things prematurely, outside of a long-term negotiation for a two-state solution, and I think that’s created enormous problems and issues for long-term stability.



Yes. I think Israel, however, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, has been doing things that are not helpful to bringing peace to the Middle East. The way that he has come out in favor of annexing the Golan Heights, what he has done when it comes to the settlements, the fact that we’re not engaging in serious discussions for a two-state solution, our country and the Palestinians and the Israelis. I think that this is setting us back. What I would do is reach out to restart those negotiations again. I think that President Trump has politicized this issue and has not helped in terms of American support for Israel. Israel is our beacon of democracy in the Mideast, and we have a role to play that is very important, and it shouldn’t be politicized the way the Trump administration has politicized it. And when Israel does things that I think are against public policy and international policy, I will call them out on it, and I will work with them. But again, I think the way President Trump has done this has made it harder and harder for people to support Israel, and you’re seeing a lot of young people that have fallen away from supporting this beacon of democracy in the Mideast, and I think that needs to change.


I believe that Israel, like a lot of other countries, wants to do the right thing, that they can get better. I do believe that we need to recognize and respect the human rights of Palestinians.

I agree with Former Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel has to choose: It’s going to be a Jewish state, or a democratic state. That’s why I believe a two-state solution is the best solution for Israel. I recognize that that has been made harder over the years through the increase in settlements. My hope is that in the upcoming elections the Israeli people will send a stronger message about the need for a two-state solution.



I believe in the state of Israel, and I think that Israel is not only a crucial ally, they’re the one true democracy in the Middle East, and they do respect the rights of all people. There’s always more work to be done, and I’d like to see a two-state solution. I think that’s the best way to move forward for peace and human rights for Israel and for the Palestinian people.

I think there’s a lot of work to be done, but it begins with a strong commitment to Israel. Look, as a New Yorker where the ties to Israel are so strong, I’ve been to Israel four times, I’ve spent a lot of time seeing the threats that Israel faces, I firmly believe that we have to defend the state of Israel, and that we have to fight against the movements that would undercut Israel like BDS. But at the same time, I believe the current Israeli government has made a lot of mistakes that have hindered the peace process, and I believe in a two-state solution, I believe that’s where America should put its energy. That’s the best way to address both peace and human rights concerns for Israelis and Palestinians.

When you’re addressing the issues around Israel, one has to look at their evolution. And for me, they’re at a point now where they are at a crossroads, and really have to push towards, you know, how are they going to get to that two-state solution, which pretty much every, (hesitates) almost every Israeli I know believes in, and I think most Americans support that. But that’s the, I mean that’s the magic, how are we going to get from here to there.

Reporter: But in terms of Israel’s behavior as a country, do you think they meet your personal standards of how a country should behave in terms of human rights?

There are instances where you can find, in almost every country, places where there is disagreement with how they treat people or how they resolve internal conflicts. I continue to look at Israel as one of our strongest allies, they have been partners with the United States for a long time. Our challenge is to build on that foundation and to help them be able to move towards that two-state solution which, again, I think almost every Israeli believes is the ultimate goal.

I think Israel often does, but not always. And it’s incumbent on us, as an ally, to hold them accountable. And I’ve done that, in congress, I’ve signed legislation that is sometimes controversial, to say that we will not supply Israel with weapons and goods if they do not uphold standards for the treatment of Palestinian kids in prison, for example. Now it’s not that hard for them to do this, and Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East. They are a democracy that we have sworn to protect, and we should. But we also have to hold out friends and allies to the same standards that we should uphold ourselves.





I think Israel does meet international standards of human rights. I think Israel is in a very difficult situation, when they are surrounded by countries who are effectively threatening their existence and don’t believe they have a right to exist. So I think that puts them in an exceedingly difficult situation, in many respects.


I think it is always in the best interest of Israel, to make sure their response to people who are threatening them is as measured and appropriate as possible. But, in terms of your direct question, I think the answer is, I do think they meet human rights standards, absolutely.



Israel is a very, very important ally of the US. Certainly, some of the actions that are being taken there are deeply problematic and run afoul of some of the standards that we’d like to see countries meet. I’d be hesitant to say they are in violation of those standards.







I think that Israel is a trusted partner, a trusted friend to our country, and will continue to [sic]. I think there have been certainly, in the territories, there have been challenges with the decisions that currently Netanyahu has made. But I also believe that here’s a place where we need to step back and turn around and say: “we could get things back on track, work with our allies, and get to a two-state solution.”





I think that there are many countries, including the United States, that behave in ways that do not always meet international standards of human rights. As President of the United States, I would have an equally robust commitment to both the legitimate security concerns of Israel, and the human rights of the Palestinians, and the economic hopes and opportunities and dignity of the Palestinian people.






Bennet: Yes.

Reporter: do you wanna say anything more?

Bennet: Yeah, I mean, I think Israel, I’ve said before, and I believe this, Israel is the one essential country on the planet. I say that because of my family history during the Holocaust. And that doesn’t mean Israel’s perfect, and where we have disagreements, we should be able to articulate those disagreements, and I do articulate the disagreements that I’ve had with Benjamin Netanyahu over the years.




I’m a longtime supporter of a democratic Israel, and I believe we have to have a two-state solution, and I would work with all parties to make sure we have that, of justice for people in Palestine, and democracy in Israel, and that depends on a two-state solution, and I would work with everyone to achieve that.

Reporter: and what about whether Israel meets international standards of human rights?

I think all countries can improve in all respects. Certainly our ability to foster a future for the Palestinian people needs all of us to up our game. I do not believe the present government of Israel has followed policies, and those policies can improve to encourage the ability and maintain the access in the future to a two-state solution, and we all need to be dedicated to that.


You know, I think it’s a very complicated relationship that Israel obviously has with Hamas, and with dealings with the Gaza strip and the West Bank, and I think the United States needs to play a much bigger role in trying to resolve that problem. I think the President has been very disengaged, and we need to be a neutral broker, but recognizing the importance of Israel and the relationship that we have with them for all of the other relationships we have in that region.

Reporter: But just on a personal level, do you feel like it meets the standards of human rights that you’d like to see them meet?

Well, I think they could do a better job, and we need to all, I think, participate in the discussion.

The United States needs to maintain, in some level, its ability to broker these peace agreements. The problem today is, we’re not even really trying.

Israel is a country that needs to work with the Palestinian people to find a two-state solution. I support putting the US back into the UN commission on human rights. I support increasing aid to the Palestinian people. And I’m going to fire Jared Kushner on day one, because he has no business being on the job of seeking a two-state solution or finding peace in the Middle East. It requires serious scholars and a serious leader committed to making it happen. That’s what I’m gonna do on day one on that issue.

Reporter: Sort of, within the large issue of the two-state solution, do you feel that, are you personally satisfied that Israel meets human rights standards?

I would like to see Israel not conduct any further settlements into the West Bank. I don’t [sic] oppose any geographical changes in either region, Israel or the Palestinian area, until we have a two-state solution, and so I would press both sides, the Palestinians to sort out who speaks for them, whether it’s the PA or Hamas, and for the Israelis to negotiate and have a partner on the other side to seek that two-state solution. But I’m more interested in the future, I’m not going to go back into the past because the future depends on a stable and secure Middle East.

We will continue to keep you updated on candidate views of key issues for Arab Americans as 2020 approaches.