Racism, Immigration and Human Rights

Question 1: The murder of George Floyd is prompting a national discussion concerning our nation’s failure to fully address historic racial injustice. What is the role of Congress in defining and addressing historic injustices? What measures will you promote as a member of the United States Congress to combat racial injustice?

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, at a time when COVID-19 is disproportionately killing Black Americans, has created an important moment where the U.S. could make real change to address historic and ongoing racial injustice. As a social epidemiologist, I have spent years researching, advocating for, and implementing reforms to end systemic racism and documenting how government policies have resulted in segregation and inequitable outcomes. When I was Science Advisor to the New York City Health Commissioner, we explicitly worked to change the narrative from one purely focused on socio-economic status to one explicitly about racism and health. As a member of the COVID-19 Health Justice Committee for the Poor People’s Campaign, I continue to utilize my expertise to improve health and racial justice. Racism claims lives every day, not only through police violence, but through the disproportionate rates of maternal and neonatal deaths, through environmental racism, and through lower life expectancies of Black Americans.

Congress’ role and what I will promote as a Congresswoman is ensuring racial equity and justice are served through all policies by elevating the voices of BIPOC in Congress, in my office, and in the community. Congress needs to be explicit in saying that racism killed George Floyd, racism is killing Black moms and babies at disproportionate rates, and racism is letting a disproportionate number of Black Americans be unemployed and killed by COVID-19. Public health professionals know this, and Congress has a responsibility to start to repair the impact of hundreds of years of racist policies such slavery, redlining, and excluding agricultural and domestic workers from the 1935 Social Security Act. I am a strong advocate for reparations as the foundational piece of legislation to begin to address systemic racism and close the wealth and opportunity gap.

Question 2: There is widespread agreement that our current immigration system is in need of reform consistent with our nation’s economic and national security interests and its historic commitment to be a haven for the vulnerable and oppressed around the world. What do you foresee as the best pathway forward for immigration reform and how would you work across the aisle to achieve these policy goals?

I was born in the U.S. when my parents were here for their medical residencies but moved to Greece when I was a month old and came back to Massachusetts at 17 for college. So while I have always had citizenship, much of my lived experience has been that of an immigrant. I believe immigrants strengthen the U.S. and am appalled by the Trump Administration’s treatment of immigrants and refugees. As a public health expert, I have noted how our anti-immigrant sentiment is hindering our COVID-19 response as people are reluctant to get tested or share details with contact tracers if they or their friends and family are undocumented.

We must never again see inhumane child separation and deportation policies and should put in place a moratorium on the construction of new detention facilities, increase humanitarian aid to the border, and hold the government accountable with a comprehensive investigation into the deaths of children in U.S. custody. I will work to strengthen family reunification and create a more effective naturalization system by eliminating the backlog of millions of families awaiting reunification visas. I will also advocate for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and make it easier for those eligible for Citizenship to naturalize. In many cases, those coming from countries such as Honduras and El Salvador would stay in their home country if it were safe. Therefore, providing aid and support to countries of origin is also important. Globally, the U.S. needs to increase its refugee quotas. Having worked with refugees in Pakistan, Lebanon, and Greece, the U.S. not only has the means to support more refugees but is also enhanced by their presence.

Question 3: To what extent should the safeguarding of human rights, including but not limited to preventing genocide and combating racism and religious persecution, inform our nation’s international relationships, trade agreements, and diplomatic conduct?

As the Executive Director for a center of health and human rights, I am deeply committed to safeguarding human rights and see these as foundational to our international relations, trade, and diplomacy. In my 10+ years at the UN, I had the opportunity to see what U.S. leadership can be at its best. The Trump Administration has antagonized our allies while befriending authoritarian leaders and gutted the State Department. We cannot ensure our security or be a true global leader unless we recommit to our alliances with countries that respect human rights and invest more in the State Department. In addition, trade agreements should include provisions to ensure human rights and environmental protections.

Question 4: There is growing concern in the country about financial inequality and its consequences for those lower on the economic ladder.  If elected to the United States Congress, describe at least one initiative you will propose to address this concern?

Progressive tax reform should address spiraling inequality by ensuring that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share. First, I believe Congress should eliminate loopholes that shield capital gains from taxes. Second, I believe the richest Americans should contribute more in the form of a wealth tax. I would also support legislation to close loopholes that allow income to be earned or wealth to be stored “offshore” in order to avoid taxes. Finally, I believe that corporations should pay their fair share. I support efforts to reverse the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), specifically the provision that lowers the tax rate on corporate profits.

 

Antisemitism

Question 5: Antisemitism and violence against Jews are on the rise around the world. According to the FBI’s most recent Hate Crimes Statistics report, in 2018 anti-Jewish hate crimes accounted for 57% of all religiously motivated hate crimes. Nearly one third of respondents in a recent AJC survey of American Jews reported having been afraid to wear something in public that identifies them as Jews. To address this problem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance drafted a “Working Definition” of antisemitism, which has been adopted in dozens of countries in Europe (including Germany, France, and the UK) and endorsed by UN Secretary General Gutierrez and the US Department of State. This definition provides a means for assessing when given actions may involve bias against Jews, thereby reducing confusion and providing a basis for constructive action. Will you go on record to endorse the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism?  

Yes. There is no doubt that the Trump administration has ushered in a moment where hate, including and especially directed towards Jewish people, is on the rise. Supporting the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism is just one step of many we must take to make sure we can reverse this alarming rise in antisemitism and other hate crimes against Jewish people.

Question 6: In recent years, advocates for anti-Israel and, at times, anti-Jewish political agendas have demonstrated growing success in their effort to coopt the movement for racial justice.  For example, before and since the murder of George Floyd, some proponents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement have circulated a false and tendentious narrative that holds Israel responsible for law enforcement tactics that brutalize people of color. These claims undermine the fight against the current manifestations of white supremacy (e.g. voter suppression, de facto segregation, over-policing, over-imprisonment and other measures that promote inequality). They also demonstrate how readily false and malicious claims about Jews and Jewish interests can take root and spread. Should you be elected to the United States Congress, how do you propose to ensure that the quest for racial justice remains strong and that those who would undermine it through false and malicious claims are marginalized?

This is a historic time for racial justice in America. If elected I intend to strongly support the quest for equity and justice for all. I disagree with the conflation of the BDS movement and protests following the murder of George Floyd. Many groups including white supremacists use disinformation and misinformation to target both Jewish people and people of color. To combat this in all its forms, we must be unafraid to be anti-racist and ensure social media companies have a responsibility to take action to prevent dangerous misinformation and hate from spreading on their platforms.

 

Israel

Question 7: We are in the midst of another fraught moment in the ongoing struggle for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Hamas continues to advocate for Israel’s destruction. The Palestinian Authority has refused negotiations for more than 5 years. And, in the absence of a credible peace process, the new Israeli coalition government has stated its desire to apply Israeli law to West Bank settlements (albeit, it appears now, within a much smaller territory than was proposed before the formation of the current government).  For decades, a two-state solution has been a pillar of American foreign policy. Do you support a two-state solution to this conflict that will provide for a Palestinian and an Israeli state? What do you believe the role of the United States should be in resolving this conflict? As a member of Congress, what policies would you advocate for to advance your view of our nation’s role?

I support a two-state solution. As the leader of a center for health and human rights, I come at this from a human rights perspective and see that both sides have been harmed by this conflict. I am concerned about rising anti-Semitic views in the U.S. and how the Trump administration has needlessly sidelined and punished the Palestinians, who are a necessary partner in bringing about peace between Israel and Palestine. In Congress, I would advocate for diplomatic outreach to both the Israelis and Palestinians to move past the current status quo and cease hostilities.

Question 8: Israel is home to nearly half of the world’s Jewish population. Israel is a democratic country and its citizens are accustomed to robust debate, at home and abroad, concerning their nation’s policies and actions. Regrettably, in the United States and elsewhere, there is mounting support for movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign, that purport to promote Palestinian rights but do so by denying Israel’s legitimacy, refusing dialogue, and advocating for Israel’s destruction. This malicious portrayal of Israel and the reality of its conflict with the Palestinians has prompted notable acts of antisemitism; especially on college campuses. It has also polarized public discourse and dimmed prospects for a negotiated solution to the conflict. If elected to Congress, what, if anything, would you say to those who deny Israel’s legitimacy and advocate for an end of the world’s only Jewish state?

I fully support Israel’s right to exist and if elected to Congress I will fight hard through my platform of justice and equity against those who seek to delegitimize Israel. The promotion of Palestinian rights is not antithetical to Israel’s existence and legitimacy. As noted in my previous answer, I will not stand for antisemitism or any other forms of bigotry or hate speech.

 

International Relations and the U.S. Role on the Global Stage 

Question 9: Should a new administration come to Washington, a discussion may result concerning a return to the JCPOA.  Given new evidence of Iran’s secret undeclared nuclear facilities and Iran’s: (1) refusal to allow inspection of these facilities, (2) ongoing efforts to destabilize countries across the region,(3) continuing to financing and arming of  Hezbollah and other radical actors dedicated to Israel’s destruction and (4) repeated bellicose attacks on Western values and interests, are there conditions you would want to attach, beyond those stipulated in the JCPOA, to any proposal to return to the JCPOA?

The Trump administration’s decision to abandon the JCPOA was one of the worst foreign policy blunders of this administration. Unfortunately, the administration’s decision to pull out of the agreement will fuel distrust of future American commitments not only from Iran but from our allies as well. To begin to rebuild trust America’s global commitments and eventually address some of the shortcomings of the deal, I support measures to bring the US back into compliance with the JCPOA and diplomatically engage Iran. Such engagement will not bear fruit immediately, but it will begin the process of re-engagement with Iran, rebuilding global trust in US commitments, and addressing challenges that were not fully addressed by the JCPOA.

Question 10: A robust Transatlantic relationship between the United States and European democracies (AJC has 5 European offices and three regional representatives) has been a pillar of US foreign policy since the end of World War II. In recent years, this relationship has suffered strains. Some contend that this historic alliance is undergoing a fundamental change. Is it important that we sustain the United States historic post-World War II partnership with Europe or is it time to rethink this relationship? If elected, what policies will you pursue to advance your views?

Having grown up in Greece and with my parents still living there, the US and European relationship is personal for me. The Trump administration has diminished the strength of the NATO alliance, but we must maintain our common defense against authoritarian regimes and maintain diplomatic relations with our allies. If elected, I would support increased investment in the State Department to rebuild this critical relationship.

 

General

Question 11:     What experiences qualify you to represent the citizens living in your district?

Driven by a deep desire to fight injustice and inequality, I have worked for fifteen years in public service at the intersection of research and policy.  I began my career at the United Nations, working first in Lebanon and then in New York advising governments across the globe to move the needle on key global priorities from poverty alleviation to ending gender-based violence and safeguarding global health. Following my doctoral training in epidemiology at Harvard University, I led the UNDP’s work at the intersection of health and climate change, bringing together youth advocates and urging governments to take more ambitious action on climate change to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement and fight air pollution.

During the Ebola epidemic, I worked as Science Advisor to the New York City Health Commissioner and continued my work to advance equity at a more local scale. I helped shape strategy around several key initiatives, including ThriveNYC, the Mayor’s $800 million citywide mental health initiative to tackle issues like opioid overdose, depression, and suicide, and Cure Violence to end gun violence. I also contributed to launching new community health profiles for each of the 59 districts, showing how structural racism, poverty, environmental injustice and residential segregation was shaping the health of neighborhoods, and giving people information and data to advocate for greater investment in their communities.

In my current role as the Executive Director of the Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and serving on the Poor People’s Campaign COVID-19 Health Justice Advisory Committee, I continue to bring a vision that has been influenced by my firsthand experience “on the ground” and is supported with my public health and policy expertise.

Question 12: What would be your top three priorities if elected?

As a social epidemiologist, I have been warning that this COVID-19 health crisis is amplifying the deep inequities in our country. I have authored and been cited in a number of academic and news articles detailing how public health calls for solidarity, not warfare. My perspective of how COVID-19 could hit the U.S. harder than other wealthy countries because of the current political climate highlights the vulnerabilities of disadvantaged communities. I see this as a moment to re-imagine what kind of society we want to live in and re-build our economy and our country with one guiding principle: it must work for everyone.

My three main priorities are: 

  1. Building healthy communities and using science-based policies to improve the health and well-being of all;
  2. Ensuring shared prosperity by advocating for policies that meet the needs of all families and protect workers, because for too long the United States has allowed poverty, inequality, and structural racism to go unchecked; and,
  3. Protecting the environment and ensuring that we leave behind a healthy planet for our children by fighting for environmental justice and climate action today. 

These priorities support my overall vision of bringing science-backed leadership to tackle public health and science concerns, along with the underlying structural issues that leave marginalized communities more vulnerable to these concerns. I will support legislation that makes progress on these key issues and ushers in a new, progressive era of greater equality.

AJC members can learn more at www.nataliaforcongress.com.

 


American Jewish Committee (AJC) is the leading organization dedicated to Jewish advocacy at home and around the world. Through a global network comprised of 24 domestic regional offices; 12 overseas posts in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East; and 37 partnerships with international Jewish communities, AJC engages with political, religious and civic leaders to combat antisemitism and bigotry, support Israel’s quest for peace and security, and advance democratic values at home and abroad.

AJC New England recently invited all 11 Republican and Democratic declared candidates for the Congressional seat from the 4th District of Massachusetts to participate in a survey on some matters of import to our community.

AJC is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan organization and does not endorse or support any candidate for elected office, whether or not they responded to the survey. We offer this survey to educate the electorate about the views of the candidates for this office.

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