Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, formally declared his candidacy for the White House on Sunday, April 14.

Last year, Buttigieg spoke at length with AJC Passport podcast host Seffi Kogen about the vital relationship between the United States and Israel and the danger of making support for the Jewish state a partisan issue.

Buttigieg traveled to Israel with a delegation of U.S. mayors last May with AJC Project Interchange. In the AJC Passport interview, he discussed the value of listening to different viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the ground and why American support for Israel should be above partisan politics.

Interview Highlights

How traveling to Israel informed his views

“There are a few things that look different once you have a chance to see for yourself. One of them that’s often mentioned, but it bears repeating, is understanding just how compact the region is, and seeing how close you are to the Syria border, how close you are to Lebanon, really to all of the borders in a challenging neighborhood. That was pretty eye opening.”

“I also appreciated [how] we understood there’s a real range of views and opinions within Israeli society and within the Israeli political space. It’s important to understand that because, so often, some of these issues are portrayed as if every group is monolithic. We know that our own communities and our own cities aren’t that way. It was really helpful to see directly [that] the same is true in Israeli society and among the leaders we had a chance to meet.”

“AJC promised that we’d leave with more questions than answers and that promise was kept. Unfortunately, that’s just not the style of American politics at the moment. It’s going to have to be, though, if we’re going to figure out how America as an ally and as a partner can still also be a broker for peace there.”

On Israel Becoming a Partisan Issue

“One of the first things you realize when you get on the ground is that this is not a left vs. right issue. At least it shouldn’t be.”

“American credibility, in terms of being able to be helpful and be a meaningful interlocutor for multiple players and parties in the Middle East – that’s an important thing that we have to contribute. If we begin to look like our partisan politics have aligned with sides in the Middle East, that’s really bad, not only for all concerned in the region, but also for any credibility we would have as an honest broker. … There’s certainly, I think, a chance for the U.S. to exert influence and be a constructive player when it comes to a lot of states in the region that, frankly, just haven’t lived up to their responsibilities.”

On Democrats’ Views of Israel

“The Democratic party is ultimately committed to the idea of peace and security and stability and fairness for everybody. I don’t think that has to automatically put you on one side or the other of the divide, especially when you see how seriously all of those issues are taken by the Israeli counterparts that we met when we visited.”

“Engagement is very important. Part of it is things like Project Interchange, and the chance to make sure leaders and figures from both parties have a chance to get on the ground in a balanced way, making sure, as this trip made sure of, that we saw what was going on in the West Bank as well [and] that we were able to meet with a range of people, so we weren’t asked to hear somebody’s party line. That’s very important.”

“One of the first things that was very clear to us is that there is not a unified or single voice for the Palestinian people. Most people aren’t aware of the difference between what’s happening in Gaza, run by Hamas in a way that is contributing to a lot of misery there, but also totally different than an environment where you would have a negotiating partner across the table. … I don’t think that’s widely understood and I think if it were, you would see more Democrats maybe asking more questions as we face these kind of 90-second cable news versions of what’s going on over there.”

On Republican Views of Israel

“The Republican complex of attitudes on Israel is complicated too. Because the evangelical embrace of the Israeli right is maybe not the same thing as an authentic commitment to the well-being of the Israeli people or the Jewish people. I don’t know that either party’s got it right. I know that the current administration is certainly aligning itself with the Israeli right and making some sweeping gestures that may well move public opinion to some extent. But I’m not so sure they’re serious or committed to peace. The thing you take away more than anything is that that’s what everybody wants – especially those in the region. Those who seem to have the most clear-cut answers and the most strident opinions seem to be the ones who are on the outside looking in. That’s one of the reasons that the trip was so valuable.”



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