Leslie was endorsed by JStreetPAC, which organizes and mobilizes pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people. Working in American politics and the Jewish community, J Street advocates for policies that advance shared US and Israeli interests as well as Jewish and democratic values, leading to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more information about J Street and JStreePAC visit https://jstreet.org.
The 5th District of Virginia stretches from Fauquier County in the north to Danville and the North Carolina border in the south. It covers 10,000 square miles, an area larger than New Jersey. There are 21 rural counties in the 5th, with the City of Charlottesville at its heart. The Cook Political Report has labeled it a “lean Republican” district, and Swing Left calls it a swing district. The Republican incumbent, Congressman Tom Garrett, has announced he will not run for reelection. The replacement candidate, Denver Riggleman, a whiskey distiller handpicked in June by the local Republican party, has vowed to join the Freedom Caucus.
Charlottesville was the scene of the white supremacist rally last August that traumatized the city and, in particular, the Jewish community. Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and others gathered by torchlight on the campus of the University of Virginia and chanted “Jews will not replace us." The following day, the congregation of a local synagogue was alarmed to find armed men outside shouting “sieg heil." The events demonstrated the danger of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the age of Trump. (Congressman Garrett had been photographed in his office with the organizer of the rally, Jason Kessler.) The fact that hate groups on the right felt emboldened by the Administration to demonstrate openly, some of them heavily armed, underscores the need to support the Jewish community and to respect that community’s profound attachment to Israel.
The U.S.-Israeli Relationship
Israel was founded as a refuge for Jews who were the victims of genocide during the Holocaust, as well as Jews facing persecution in other countries. The special relationship between the United States and Israel goes far beyond the deep emotional ties shared by the two countries. It dates back to the vision of Reuven Shiloah, Ben-Gurion’s brilliant Chief Advisor on Intelligence and the first Director of the Mossad. It was Shiloah who, in 1951, made the key recommendation that Israel should build a strategic military alliance with the U.S. He forged the first connections to American intelligence, a bond that has weathered foreign policy shifts over the years and remains steadfast today. The intelligence agencies and military establishments of both countries are profoundly intertwined. As a member of Congress, I will respect that relationship and do everything in my power to encourage its most productive and creative use to promote peace in the region and a two-state solution.
The United States Congress is committed to supporting Israel’s security both militarily and financially. As a member of Congress, I will stand by that commitment. From the early days of helping Israel to build its now highly-advanced weapons systems, to the years of supplying the Israeli Air Force with state-of-the-art fighters and our current efforts to combat terrorism, the U.S. has been there, overtly and covertly, for Israel. At the same time, Israel has also been staunchly committed to the U.S., offering its services in the Middle East and around the world. Security, of course, cannot be maintained with guns alone. During the First Gulf War, I stood on a balcony in Tel Aviv (not in a sealed room) watching the Scud missiles raining down on the city while Patriot battery commanders did their utmost to intercept them. In a Middle East gorged with sophisticated weapons, we must encourage diplomacy. As a member of Congress, I will do what I can to help facilitate a dialogue with Israel and its neighbors. I believe there are untapped resources to further peace. In other intractable conflicts, economic incentives have offered the means to reimagine relationships. In the meantime, U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority is essential for building the foundation that can lead to negotiations.
The Two State Solution
I believe the U.S has a critical role to play in encouraging Israel and the Palestinians to cease hostilities and find a two-state solution. As a member of Congress, I would support American engagement in such negotiations and vote for American financial support to guarantee secure borders and a workable agreement for peace. I would urge the implementation of a settlement freeze, as the expansion of settlements is the single greatest threat to the two-state solution. Checkpoints and settler-only roads have eroded Palestinian confidence that negotiations are even possible. A majority of Israelis oppose settlement expansion. Countless Israeli leaders have come to the conclusion that a two-state solution is the only way forward to guarantee the security of Israel, the future of the state and peace with its neighbors. A peace deal would have very positive repercussions for all American relationships in the Middle East and would significantly restore the leadership role of the U.S. abroad.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump Administration has now abandoned, will have my full support in Congress if there is an opportunity to restore it. It unquestionably enhanced the security of both Israel and the United States. In exchange for the dramatic reduction of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the agreement lifted some of the heavy sanctions imposed on Iran. The Iranians fully complied with their obligations and reduced their stock of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms, less than a third of what is needed to build a nuclear weapon. They reduced the number of centrifuges and put their plutonium production reactor out of service. International inspections of their facilities have been both highly intrusive and broad. The International Atomic Energy Agency certified several times that Iran had fulfilled its obligations. Carmi Gillon, former head of Israel’s General Security Service, the Shin Bet, wrote in Foreign Policy last July that “the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is more remote than it has been in decades. Thanks to the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program has been defanged and all its pathways to a bomb blocked.” He praised the JCPOA for having removed the need to plan for potential military operations that “might have triggered a major escalation and cost many lives.” Gillon added that the major world powers “came together to ensure-without a single shot being fired-that Iran dismantled key nuclear infrastructure and submitted itself to thorough monitoring and inspection.” Once in Congress, I will encourage all members to restore this successful multilateral agreement.
Foreign aid to Israel is a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. I support both U.S. foreign aid to Israel and U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority. I also believe in open discussion of areas of disagreement such as settlement expansion in violation of existing agreements. I do not support U.S. foreign aid being used for settlement expansion. Our aid should be used to support a strong, democratic Israel with shared values: freedom of expression, respect for human rights, gender rights and rule of law. Israeli institutions that promote democratic values should be supported generously by Congress. As a member of Congress I would urge our continued support of the United Nations as our funding guarantees influence and the airing of American views that could otherwise be ignored or dismissed. Trump’s threat to withdraw U.S. aid from countries as punishment for their stand against the recent move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem diminishes U.S. influence rather than enhancing it. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without a two-state solution is divisive and, as generations of statesmen have understood, will lead to violence. The U.S. must also restore funding to the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be addressed urgently. The U.S. should play a role in easing the blockade and rebuilding the economy of Gaza with its nearly 2 million inhabitants.