Last night, I attended a meeting with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, widow of Senator and Presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, for a “discussion about strengthening the US-Israel relationship.” The meeting was held outside her district and most of the attendees were not her constituents. The meeting was organized by Alan Leifer, whose involvement in public service includes advocacy for Israel. No direct solicitation of support was made by Representative Tsongas.
Rep. Tsongas serves on the House Armed Services Committee and Middle East affairs is a key issue for her. Though there is little on her website, Alan summarized her position on Israel and linked a her position paper on Israel:
When one stands on the Golan Heights and looks out as I did at the slender strip of land that Israel occupies between her adversaries and the Mediterranean, the primacy of security as the overriding factor in Israel’s relations with its neighbors is brought vividly home.
[It is] important … for the United States to support this vital democracy, both for Israel’s sake and our own. Israel is a model of the values we seek to promote around the world, including her recognition of her female citizens as full participants in all aspects of society.
It defies logic to expect Israel to ever accept a Palestinian “right of return” that would undermine Israel’s demographic balance and its character as a Jewish state. Ultimately, no outside power can or should dictate the terms of peace; the parties involved must decide that.
She is clearly a true friend of Israel, a minority position in the Massachusetts delegation. She is also a politician, adopting careful language so as not to offend any potential voters.
Much of the discussion centered on Iran and what could be done. Rep. Tsongas feels the sanctions process should play out, despite the evidence that the administration is not serious about it, having let multiple deadlines slide and pursuing a policy of weakening potential sanctions to get China and Russia on board. Another part centered on the administration’s irrational policy of beating up on Israel over ‘settlements’ which disincentivizes Palestinians from making any concessions and encourages them that the US will eventually demand even more concessions from Israel. I put the quotes to show how ludicrous it is to lump established neighborhoods in greater Jerusalem that no Israeli could ever abandon with a tent city right-wing extremists put up on a Judean hilltop.
Rep. Tsongas tried to explain away some of the lack of progress on Iran as due to Congress being busy with other things like the financial crisis and healthcare. While as a loyal Democrat she praised the accomplishment of passing healthcare legislation, it was telling that she stated she is open to changes in that law as she is approached by lots of people pointing out problems. It is clear she heard the message of the Scott Brown election.
All in all, it was depressing to see my views of the administration as almost hostile to Israel echoed by most of the attendees, and to hear no real intention to confront the administration from a very friendly Congresswoman. Rep. Tsongas did urge us to contact our Congressional representatives, as they listen to the pulse of their constituents. As a businesswoman I met this morning volunteered, we can also send a message this November.