On a beautiful Monday afternoon at the Thoreau Center, a frequent campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa, J Street hosted the second in its series of 2020 town halls with Congresswoman Cindy Axne (IA-03) and National Security Action’s Rebecca Brocato. J Street has hosted these events in early primary and caucus states to discuss how foreign policy is playing on the 2020 campaign trail.
Staff had to pull out extra chairs to seat all of the Iowans who attended, including representatives of a number of presidential campaigns. There were folks who were new to J Street’s issues, as well as those who were excited about the event and J Street’s nascent presence in Iowa.
The conversation started at 30,000 feet: what would a values-based foreign policy look like for the Democratic Party? From there, the panelists dug in on Jared Kushner’s so-called “peace plan”, how Democrats can distinguish themselves from Republicans on Israel-related issues, and how to better message the success of the JCPOA.
The Congresswoman highlighted her recent vote on the Khanna amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which clarified that the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs do not apply to Iran, and the importance of limiting Trump’s ability to engage militarily with Iran. She also spoke about how support for Israel has traditionally been bipartisan, but has recently become a political wedge issue, and cited the frequency with which Republicans attach motions to recommit (MTRs) on BDS or anti-Semitism to unrelated bills in an attempt to paint the Democratic Party as anti-Israel.
During audience Q&A, the topic of settlements came up, and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami reminded the crowd that the last three Republican presidents opposed settlement construction. A good friend prevents their friend from running off a cliff, Ben-Ami said, and so the United States has a responsibility to warn our ally Israel when they engage in activities that jeopardize a peaceful solution to the conflict — like unrelenting settlement expansion.
This conversation, viewed in conjunction with last week’s New Hampshire town hall with Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02), signals that 2020 candidates and party activists are coming together around a new playbook on Israel issues: charting a middle ground between believing that “Israel is always right” and “Israel is always wrong.”
These and other issues will be discussed in more detail at the J Street National Conference on October 26-29, in Washington, DC. The conference offers an opportunity to learn from US, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders working to resolve the conflict, to hear from presidential hopefuls about their visions for the Middle East, and to make our voices heard on Capitol Hill.