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August 26, 2020 11:51 pm

Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Vows to ‘Strengthen’ Iran Nuclear Deal, Keep Israel’s Military Edge

avatar by Ira Stoll

US Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination during a speech delivered for the largely-virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, Aug. 19, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque.

If elected, a Biden-Harris administration would seek to “strengthen” President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and would “guarantee that Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge,” the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, said Wednesday.

She made her comments at a fundraiser billed as a “Virtual Conversation with the American Jewish Community with Senator Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff.” Emhoff, who is married to Harris, was introduced by Florida congressman Ted Deutch as the “next Jewish mensch.”

“Our Jewish engagement team is fighting for every Jewish vote in every swing state,” Deutch said, according to a pool report by Daniel Strauss, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper. Strauss included Hebrew lettering for the word “mishpacha,” or family, in the pool report distributed by the campaign to national political reporters.

Emhoff told the group, “A Biden-Harris administration will stand strong against antisemitism. Period.”

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Some elements in the Democratic Party have sought to make US military aid to Israel conditional on Israel cutting back settlement activity or improving conditions for Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank. Responding to a question, Harris rejected that idea.

“Joe has made it clear he will not tie security assistance to any political decisions that Israel makes and I couldn’t agree more. As vice president Joe Biden helped ensure unwavering support for Israel’s security. During the Obama-Biden administration he was a key advocate in securing support for life-saving technologies which I have seen. Iron Dome. David’s Sling. The Arrow. Three anti-rocket and missile defense systems. And Joe has also helped shape the unprecedented $38 billion a year MoU -memorandum of understanding- for defense assistance to Israel that was signed in 2016 which, as you know, was the largest military aid package in US history,” Harris said. “I pledge to you the Biden-Harris administration will sustain our unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security including the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation pioneered during the Obama-Biden administration and the guarantee that Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge.”

Even though she had probably been prepared for the question with talking points, Harris misspoke. The US-Israel aid deal is not “$38 billion a year,” but rather is $38 billion over a decade. And whether that was actually the “largest military aid package in US history” depends on whether you adjust for inflation and whether you count the cost of wars America fought to defend Saudi Arabia from Iraq or defeat Saddam Hussein, or the cost of the troops that America maintains in Europe to defend Europe against Russia and in South Korea to defend against North Korea. Describing the American aid to Israel as the largest in history makes the Obama-Biden administration seem pro-Israel, which by that definition it may have been, but it isn’t necessarily helpful to sustaining the aid politically to emphasize that it is outsized by comparison to other expenditures. It actually is not.

A second question began by asking “I was wondering now that we’re mishpacha—family—can we call you Mamala,” a nickname with Yiddish resonance used for the California senator by some of her family members.

“You can, yes, but I think we also should get permission from the kids but yes,” Harris laughed.

The questioner went on to ask about the threat of a nuclear Iran. Harris vowed to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. “Let me be clear, we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period. We will continue to ensure that Israel has the unbreakable support of the United States,” she said.

She defended the nuclear deal. “Joe Biden actually took historic steps as vice president to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Obama-Biden administration imposed what were described as crippling multilateral sanctions which brought Iran to negotiations which paved the way for the JCPOA and prevented a nuclear armed Iran,” she said. “That nuclear deal, as we all know, blocked Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and it was working as was verified by international inspectors and the US intelligence community. But Donald Trump withdrew from it and he withdrew from it promising a better deal and a cowed Iran but instead Iran is revving up its nuclear activity and becoming more provocative.”

Whether the deal was “working” is also contentious, as critics said Iran was using the money from sanctions relief to make trouble regionally and advance its missile program. Harris faulted the Trump administration’s approach. “The Trump administration took the issue of arms embargo against Iran to the security council recently and only one other country voted with us. I think it’s fair to say this America First approach has been America alone which is not in our best interest or in the interest of our allies.”

Harris said that if elected, “Our administration will hold Iran’s government accountable and rejoin a diplomatic agreement if Iran comes back into compliance. And we will work with our allies, of course, to strengthen the Iran deal and push back Iran’s other destabilizing actions.”

Speakers at the Republican convention have touted the scrapping of the Iran deal and the moving of the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem as two of President Trump’s key foreign policy achievements. There are substantial numbers of Jewish voters in Florida and Pennsylvania, two battleground swing states in 2020. These foreign policy issues are also significant for many evangelical Christian voters.

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