Jeb Bush foreign policy adviser James Baker warned that Israel could lose its "democratic character" if it continues to "occupy Arab lands" in a carefully worded keynote address at the J Street conference on Monday evening.
"It seems to me Israel’s future absent a two-state solution could be very difficult at best," said Baker at the J Street gala. "I fear Israel risks losing either its Jewish character or its democratic character as long as it occupies those Arab lands."
The comments echoed a speech by President Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough at the conference earlier in the day. He said the Israeli "occupation that has lasted more than 50 years" could lead to "further isolation" of the Jewish state.
Baker’s scheduled speech to the left-wing Middle East lobbying group had already drawn controversy before Monday night due to his role on Bush’s foreign policy advisory team. Former President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state weighed in on Israeli settlements and the Iranian nuclear negotiations in the keynote address, which was tepidly received by the J Street audience.
Baker said it was unreasonable to expect Iran to agree to cease all of its enrichment, something that Israel has said is necessary for a deal. He said the goal of negotiations should be to limit Iran’s program in a way that can be verified by outside observers.
Baker also said an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would only delay Iran’s program, not destroy it. He said no Israeli intervention could take place without explicit U.S. government support, such as the use of airspace, and that the Bush administration "decided it was not in the interest of the United States to cooperate in such a matter." He added that he "cannot imagine" the current U.S. administration acting differently.
However, Baker said a U.S.-led strike on Iran should not be ruled out if negotiations fail.
He also praised the U.S.-Israel relationship.
"Since gaining their independence of 1948, Israelis have built one of the most impressive states in the entire world," he said."In doing so, they have fulfilled the age old dream of the Jewish people. They have created a robust democratic polity in a very undemocratic corner of the world."
The former secretary of state also had some kind words for J Street.
"Since its founding, your organization has consistently promoted open debate within the American Jewish community," he said.
The pro-Israel community criticized Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 contender, for bringing on Baker as an adviser. "F—k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway," Baker reportedly said during the George H.W. Bush administration.
"[Baker’s] antipathy toward Israel is well documented," said radio host Mark Levin last week. "This is the guy, the leading adviser to Jeb Bush on foreign policy, who Jeb Bush asked to be his leading adviser, and now he’s the keynote speaker to this left-wing hate group J Street."
Bush’s camp has distanced itself from Baker and J Street.
"Governor Bush finds J Street’s advocacy to be inconsistent with his views and to the interests of a safe and secure Israel," Bush spokesperson Kristy Campbell told the Washington Free Beacon on Sunday.