Bad News: Trump will give Netanyahu a blank check: Youngest Jewish Congresswoman on Israel, Gaza and the election


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Progressive Democrats initially might have been wary of Sara Jacobs when she came to Congress in 2021. The Center for Responsive Politics showed that in 2020, she was the fifth most self-funded candidate, a product of the fact that her grandfather co-founded the semiconductor company Qualcomm. She also beat a candidate who had the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders, who had won the California primary. It would be easy to dismiss her as a moneyed “nepo baby” with nothing to offer to the left of the party.

But since becoming a congresswoman, the 35-year-old California Democrat has distinguished herself as one of the more progressive voices in Congress.

When members of the Squad slept on the steps of the US Capitol in 2021 in protest of a rent moratorium coming to a close, Jacobs brought protesters pizza. She has been a consistent voice for defending women’s reproductive rights, always by leading with her own examples — she was the first member of Congress to discuss her own period on the House floor and has also openly talked about freezing her eggs.

But as the youngest Jewish American member of Congress, it is Jacobs’ support for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that stands out.

For Jacobs, the decision is personal. Some of her own relatives from Israel are currently staying with her family in San Diego, following the violence of October 7th.

“I have family members who are members of Jewish Voice for Peace and have been part of the protests [against the war in Gaza],” she tells The Independent at her office in Washington, DC. “I have my Israeli family living with my family in San Diego. My parents are longtime supporters of the San Diego Jewish community and are very involved in it.”
She is a big believer in Israel’s right to defend itself, which is why she supports the Iron Dome missile defense system and the United States’ assistance when Iran fired missiles into Israel last month.

“But how they defend themselves matters,” Jacobs says. “And I don’t think that what is happening in Gaza right now, what the Israeli government is doing in Gaza right now actually makes Israel any safer. I think it undermines their credibility in the world. And I know from my own experience working in conflict resolution that civilian casualties, human rights abuses actually just fuel more extremism.”

Jacobs says that she does not believe that there can be a military solution to the war in Gaza that has led to more than 35,000 deaths, most of them civilians and many of them women and children.

“The only way you’re going to be able to do that is by taking away the underlying grievances that [Hamas] are able to prey upon, which is the Palestinians’ inability to have a say in the decisions being made about their lives,” Jacobs continues.

Doing so, she adds, would be good for Israel — it would “actually be a great act of love for a country that is supposed to represent the best of Jewish values.”

The war in Gaza has caused some young voters to lead protests and demonstrations against the Biden administration. The day that The Independent spoke to Jacobs, protesters heckled Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling him the “butcher of Gaza” as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In Democratic primaries, President Joe Biden has seen “uncommitted” votes not just from heavily Arab areas of swing states like Michigan, but also in college towns.

“As one of the youngest members of Congress and the youngest Jewish member, I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that I am expressing views of my generation that don’t often get told in these rooms because they’re not well-represented,” Jacobs says.

Most importantly, she thinks the views of ordinary Jewish Americans — and indeed most Americans in general — are failing to be heard above the noise of political fighting: “Here in Congress, the conversation has become very binary. And I don’t actually think that that is where most Americans are at in the conversations I’m having. What I hear the most is both that October 7 was horrific and inexcusable, and that what we’re seeing in Gaza is unacceptable. And that that is what I hear the most from the Jewish community that I’m talking to.”

Jacobs is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee. Earlier in the week, the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor announced he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and senior officials in Hamas. The Biden administration and leaders of both parties condemned the announcement, specifically for creating a false equivalence between Hamas and Israel.

Jacobs has a solid background in international affairs: She holds a Master’s degree in international conflict, she worked as a foreign policy adviser on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and she is the top Democrat on the Africa subcommittee on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Given that background in working within international conflict zones, she has thoughts on the ICC. Indeed, she frequently speaks with leaders from the African continent who say they feel they are held to a different standard by the ICC than other countries.

“I think supporting the ICC is important for the broader global context,” she says. “And frankly, if, the Israelis truly believe that they’re not committing any war crimes, then they should welcome an investigation”.

Doing so “could be definitive” in a way that investigating themselves never could, she continues, “and they should be providing evidence that they aren’t [committing war crimes] because that could actually be very helpful for them” in terms of how they are viewed on the global stage.

“I think one of the most important things that we need to be doing for our standing around the world is to be seen as holding our friends to the same standards we’re holding everyone else,” she adds.

The numbers do show that Jacobs’ view is similar to that of many other younger Jewish Americans. A Pew Research Center survey from last month showed that while 62 per cent Jewish people overall thought Israel’s response to Hamas was acceptable, only 52 per cent of Jewish people between the ages of 18 to 34 thought so: 42 per cent found it unacceptable, the largest disapproval of any age group. The poll also showed 47 per cent of Jewish people in that group stopped talking to someone because of something they said about the war.

“There are a lot of young people who feel like what they’re seeing the US do does not reflect their values, and they’re speaking up about that, and I think we should welcome that,” Jacobs adds.

The walls of Jacobs’ office are adorned with photos of her with prominent Democratic party members, including Barack Obama and Joe Biden. When I ask her how she feels about Biden, who is hardly on the progressive side of the party, she is clear. Despite the concerns of young voters, she believes supporting Biden in this election is crucial.

“I am having a lot of conversations with young people about why I still think it’s important to support President Biden, even if you aren’t happy with everything he’s done on the conflict,” she says. “I absolutely think things will be much worse if Donald Trump is president, because we know he’ll just give Netanyahu a blank check to do whatever. We saw him do that when he was president.”

But like many young progressives in Congress, and even some more experienced Democrats, Jacobs also has a track record of criticizing the Biden administration’s approach to Gaza. Most recently, the White House released a National Security Memo, known as an NSM-20, which found “reasonable” evidence that Israel had violated international humanitarian law while using US-made weapons in Gaza. But the memo stopped just short of using language that could have required the US to stop sending weapons to Israel.

“There’s all these different legalese explanations that we get from the administration,” she says. “But at the end of the day, the fact that we have to do air-drops [of humanitarian aid] and the fact that we have had to build this pier [to make sure aid gets delivered] and the fact that when Biden did apply pressure, more aid was able to get in, to me is clear evidence and all the evidence we should need that the Israeli government… did not facilitate that provision of humanitarian assistance,” which is required under international law.

Last week, 16 Jewish Democrats — including Lois Frankel and Jared Moskowitz of Florida, as well as Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey — voted for legislation proposed by House Republicans that would restrict Biden’s ability to withhold aid to Israel. The vote came after the Biden administration paused the shipment of some arms over concerns they could be used with devastating effect on civilian areas in Rafah.

Jacobs opposed the bill, just as she voted against censuring Rashida Tlaib — the only Palestinian American congresswoman — for her comments about Gaza. She believes Republicans are, in many cases, weaponizing “Jewish pain” over antisemitism to push a conservative agenda.

“I’m incredibly angry at all of the politicians who are using the very real rise in antisemitism and Jewish pain and manipulating it and politicizing it for their own political gain,” she says. It hasn’t escaped her notice that many of those same politicians “say there’s good people on both sides [as Trump did about Charlottesville] and traffic in conspiracy theories and replacement theory and have given platforms to white supremacists and white nationalists”. After all of that, she says, they “then try and say that it’s the Democrats who are antisemitic because we’re standing up for free speech,” which “to me is not only disingenuous, it actually is very harmful to the American Jewish community.”

Over the weekend, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik addressed the Israeli Knesset, criticizing the Biden administration. Stefanik has been mooted as a possible running mate for Donald Trump and, although she is not Jewish herself, has spoken at length about American Jewish concerns and Israel during the war in Gaza. It is difficult to square her apparent support for Jewish people while Trump, who Stefanik explicitly endorses, sends out social media posts that make use of Nazi language about bringing in a “unified Reich”.

Ultimately, Jacobs believes “we need to be thinking about the long-term consequences of the decisions that we’re making.”

“And that’s true when it comes to the conflict in Gaza,” she adds. “And it’s also true of all these bills that we’re seeing on antisemitism. Because while I don’t think that the Biden administration would misuse them necessarily, these same things, these very bills that are being passed could be the things that I’m sure Trump or another, future administration could actually use to go after the Jewish community and to undermine civil rights.”

Publishing from 12 countries and in six languages, The Independent is a truly international news organisation. The first of the quality news brands to embrace a fully digital future in 2016, The Independent is the UK’s largest quality digital news brand, and a top ten news brand by reach in the US.


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