Buttigieg to Anti-Israel Activist: 'I Respect Your Activism'

January 30, 2020

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg ended a confrontation with a far-left anti-Israel activist at a campaign event by saying, "I respect your activism and I appreciate your joining us."

Elias Newman identifies himself on Twitter as a "proud organizer" with IfNotNow, an anti-Israel activist organization that recorded his interaction with the presidential candidate. Newman asked Buttigieg about comments the former mayor had made concerning the potential leverage of U.S. aid to Israel.

"Recently, I was really happy to see that you said that if annexation happens, that you'll make sure the U.S. doesn't foot the bill. So I want to know, now that annexation is happening in full force," Newman said, "are you ready to commit to make sure the U.S. doesn't send a blank check to Israel?"

Buttigieg said he wants to make sure the United States is pushing away from "annexation" and criticized the Trump peace proposal as one-sided and created without input from the Palestinians.

"I'm not talking about withdrawing aid or withdrawing our support for Israel," Buttigieg said.

When Newman asked whether Buttigieg had changed his position on support for Israel, the candidate said he wasn't interested in debating but did respect Newman's activism.

"If you'd like to get into a debate with me, I'm not sure that this is our best format for that," Buttigieg said. "But I hope you will continue to see consistency in my policies. Thanks for joining us. I respect your activism and I appreciate your joining us."

Newman pushed Buttigieg on comments in which the former mayor appeared to endorse leveraging military aid to "guide Israel in the right direction."

"I think that the aid is leverage to guide Israel in the right direction. And if, for example, there is follow through on these threats of annexation, I'm committed to ensuring that the U.S. is not footing the bill for that," Buttigieg said in October. IfNotNow praised Buttigieg's statement in a press release.

At the campaign event, Buttigieg said to Newman, "If you're asking me to commit to withdrawing American support for Israel, the answer is no."

Newman posted a video of the interaction on Twitter.

Newman has previously confronted former vice president Joe Biden about whether he considered the Israeli "occupation" a human-rights crisis. Biden demurred on the question, but said "occupation is a real problem, a significant problem."

IfNotNow has a history of confronting Democratic politicians on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In August 2019, an activist connected to the organization accused a Jewish Democratic congressman of dual loyalty.