Clinton Running Mate Tim Kaine’s Record on Israel Under Fire

Critics: Boycotting Netanyahu speech to Congress, J Street ties raise questions

Tim Kaine / AP
July 26, 2016

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s views on Israel are being criticized after Hillary Clinton named him to the Democratic ticket on Friday as her vice presidential pick.

Conservative Jewish organizations and other critics were quick to say after the announcement that Kaine’s record on Israel while serving in Congress shows he is not a strong supporter of the Jewish state, while many liberal groups and publications touted his pro-Israel credentials.

Kaine was one of nine Democratic senators to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March 2015. Former House speaker John Boehner had invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress to discuss the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. The invitation caused several congressional Democrats to skip the speech because Boehner did not consult the White House beforehand, which some argued was a violation of unofficial protocol, and the prime minister was known to oppose the direction in which the negotiations were heading.

Kaine defended the boycott to the Jewish Daily Forward at the time as a principled decision.

"I’m not dumb," he said. "I knew not going to the speech might make some folks mad with me–there would be a political price, but I felt so strongly as a matter of principle that this was done in an entirely inappropriate way."

He supported the Iran nuclear deal, saying in September 2015 that the agreement "achieved a dramatic improvement over the status quo that will improve global security for at least 15 years, and likely longer." Kaine also worked with the Obama administration and other Senate Democrats to keep the landmark arms control agreement from being brought to the Senate floor.

Some critics of the nuclear deal have said the accord compromises Israel’s security, among other arguments, and voiced their concern about Kaine’s role in the debate after he was named Clinton’s running mate.

"Mr. Kaine was one of the Senators who, in effect, sided with Iran and blocked the deal from going to the floor, where it faced defeat," the conservative New York Sun wrote in an editorial on Saturday, the day after Clinton picked her vice president. "Mr. Kaine was absolutely no help on any of the Iran deal, which was opposed by both Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud [Party] and the leader of the left opposition."

"As for the price Mr. Kaine has supposedly paid for his willingness to boycott Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, he can now count his selection as his party’s vice presidential nominee. What a cost," the editorial concluded.

Kaine was also one of 12 senators who refused to sign a bipartisan letter in June 2014 warning President Obama about funding the Palestinian Authority after it formed a unity government with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization based in the Gaza Strip whose founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews.

The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a harsh press release against Clinton’s vice presidential pick.

"After leading President Obama’s disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East, Hillary Clinton’s selection of Senator Kaine as her running mate further proves she cannot be trusted to keep our country safe," the RJC’s executive director Matt Brooks said in a statement.

"Whether it’s his vote for the Iran deal, which paves the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, or his proud support of the progressive anti-Israel J Street agenda which earned him their enthusiastic endorsement, Senator Kaine has shown how out of touch he is on the dangers facing our country," Brooks added. "A Clinton-Kaine White House would continue the same failed policies that have made the U.S. and our allies around the world less safe."

Liberal groups, including J Street, a lobbying group with a reputation for being hostile to Israel, have had a more positive view of Kaine’s record on Israel.

J Street praised Kaine in a statement Friday, saying he "has consistently advocated the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the only way to ensure that Israel can survive and flourish as a Jewish and democratic state and that Palestinians can live with independence and dignity."

The advocacy group also called Kaine "a great friend of Israel" who was "a leader in the successful effort to defang the Iranian nuclear program through tough sanctions and effective diplomacy that produced the JCPOA agreement," using the official acronym for the nuclear deal.

J Street’s official PAC actively supports Kaine and solicits donations for his campaign on its website. The J Street PAC gave $133,382 to Kaine’s campaign committee from 2011 to 2014, making it the second highest donor during this period, and gave $178,283 from 2011 to 2016, making it the single highest donor to Kaine during this period and for his congressional career.

J Street was one of the strongest proponents of the Iran nuclear deal, spending approximately $5 million to push the agreement in a public relations effort.

Noted liberal lawyer Alan Dershowitz has described J Street as "the most damaging organization in American history against Israel."

"It has been the most damaging, more damaging than Students for Justice in Palestine [and] more damaging than the early anti-Zionist Council for Judaism," Dershowitz said. "J Street has done more to turn young people against Israel than any organization in the whole of history. It will go down in history as one of the most virulent, anti-Israel organizations in the history of Zionism and Judaism. It has given cover to anti-Israel attitudes on campus and particularly its approach to Israel’s self defense."

Kaine spoke at J Street’s 2016 National Gala and told the audience, "There is no organization, no NGO, in the United States now that so stands for the values of diplomacy as J Street."

Other liberal outlets have also championed Kaine’s record on Israel. The Jewish Daily Forward published an article the same day Clinton announced Kaine as her vice presidential pick, titled "5 Reasons Tim Kaine Will Be the Jewiest Vice Presidential Pick for Hillary Clinton."

The head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Greg Rosenbaum, told the Times of Israel that Kaine "showed his deep concern for finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine question and finding a solution in that two-state answer that has been the keystone of American foreign policy regarding Israel for decades."

He went on to criticize the RJC for endorsing Donald Trump for president.

Kaine has been criticized in the past for appointing the president of the Muslim American Society, Esam Omeish, to the state’s immigration commission while serving as governor of Virginia. Court filings from 2008 revealed the Muslim American Society to be a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Islamist organization that advocates for Islamic law.

Omeish said in a video from 2000 that he would help Palestinians who believe "the jihad way is the way to liberate your land."