Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin made international headlines this week when grilling David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel, at his confirmation hearings. In particular, Cardin questioned Friedman about his dismissal of a two-state solution in the Middle East as a “damaging anachronism,” and told him his views “constitute an unprecedented break” from American policy.
“I’m having difficulty understanding your use of those descriptions and whether you really can be a diplomat, because a diplomat has to choose every word that he or she uses,” said Cardin, the senior senator from Maryland and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
During the hearings, Friedman apologized for his usage of the term “kapo” during the campaign season to attack J Street, the nonprofit liberal Middle East peace advocacy group. (Kapos were Jewish prisoners forced to work for the Nazis in the concentration and death camps.) Friedman also apologized for calling former President Barack Obama “an anti-Semite” on the campaign trail.
Jmore recently spoke with Cardin, who won his Senate seat in 2006.
In your opinion, what should be done to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
We need to promote the Jewish state, Israel, and a Palestinian state with security for all of the people. Israel is a Democratic country, and the Palestinians deserve to have their own state. The Palestinian state must be established in ways that keep Israel secure from attacks.
I think the boundaries of the two states are fairly well understood. Of course, there need to be adjustments. We cannot simply revert to the boundaries of 1967. The state of Israel will include the current boundaries, but there will be certain areas where there are settlements that will become part of the Palestinian state.
How we deal with Jerusalem is critical. There needs to be an understanding that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is open to all faiths, and it is important to the three major religions that practice there with all their different denominations.
I support our embassy being in the capital of any country, and in Israel Jerusalem is the capital, so I support moving our embassy there. This move needs to be done with the help of our partners in the region.
What needs to be done about the increase in anti-Semitism in Maryland and around the nation?
Over many years, I have led efforts to fight anti-Semitism, not just in the U.S. but also in Europe. In 2004, for example, I was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism [run by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]. In Europe, in the U.S. and everywhere, the fight against anti-Semitism starts with leaders speaking out against hate crimes, hateful language, discrimination against someone because of religion.
It’s important to put a priority on education and teaching. For example, I’ve been to classrooms in Israel with both Jewish and Muslim children, and they get along well. But we see the opposite in some Palestinian classrooms where students are taught to hate Israelis and Jews.
The United States must play a role in fighting anti-Semitism. We see this in interfaith actions throughout the country. When a synagogue is desecrated, that is a crime in and of itself. Underlying that type of activity is hatred. We need law enforcement to identify, track and seek to eliminate that activity.
The BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement is an effort to delegitimize Israel, and it is also used to spread anti-Semitism. Of course, it’s our right to have views that differ from Israel, but there’s a difference between criticizing particular policies and actions and talking against the Jewish state.
I think [White House chief strategist] Steve Bannon is well understood to be a supporter of white supremacy, and white supremacy leads directly to many kinds of discrimination, including anti-Semitism. I am concerned about some of the people who surround the president. I’m not suggesting that the president harbors anti-Semitism, but there are people around him who are intolerant. That can lead to policies that are not in keeping with America’s values.
How are your priorities as a senator impacted by your Jewish values?
My background has affected my priorities. My grandparents came to America because of its values, because they believed they could develop their full potential here. They knew that this is a remarkable country, and look what we have — their grandson is a United States Senator.
As Americans and as Jews, we believe in diversity, we welcome people from all over the world. That’s our strength. And when they are here, we help them build communities. So I’m against a ban on entry to the United States from certain countries based upon religion. Remember that in 1939, the St. Louis [ocean liner] was denied entry into the U.S. for more than 900 Jewish refugees from Germany. Turned back to Europe, a large percentage of these passengers perished in death camps. The United States is, and must remain, a beacon of hope.
What can be done to improve the quality of life in Baltimore’s troubled neighborhoods?
I’ve lived my whole life in Baltimore. I grew up in a very strong Jewish neighborhood. In fact, until I was about 6 or 7, I thought the whole world was Jewish. So it’s very disheartening today to see the serious challenges faced by people in some of our communities. Life expectancy can vary as much as 30 years depending on your zip code.
The quality of life in different neighborhoods depends on many things: law enforcement, health care, grocery stores, education, to name a few. Baltimore’s efforts for good schools and good policing are important to everyone, not just those who live near Baltimore, but everyone who lives in Maryland.
I see great hope in Under Armour developing Port Covington and Johns Hopkins growing in Baltimore.
Baltimore needs partnerships to grow, and I’m proud of The Associated [Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore], which is a longtime partner in building the strength of Baltimore. We need the Jewish communities in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, in Howard and other counties to help Baltimore even more.
Peter Arnold is an Olney-based freelance writer.
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