Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been the chief executive of South Bend, Ind. — a community home to a growing Orthodox Jewish population — since 2012. He made waves for being the first openly gay candidate in a presidential debate, and is outspoken on his Christian faith. Let’s see where Mayor Pete stands on Jewish issues.
First: What has Pete Buttigieg said regarding anti-Semitism?
In May 2019, at a meeting with Jewish community groups, Buttigieg accused the White House of welcoming people who “are blatantly anti-Semitic” and excusing “people who walk the streets chanting ‘Jews will not replace us.’” He was implicitly referring to the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, when President Trump said there were “very fine people” on “both sides.” (Joe Biden has made these remarks a central part of his campaign.) While not explicitly discussing anti-Semitism, Buttigieg’s Twitter account wrote in August 2017, “No, ‘both sides’ are not responsible for a neo-Nazi terrorist murdering a woman in Charlottesville,” and that what happened was “beyond politics.”
But, other than that, he hasn’t really said much about anti-Semitism. His Twitter, @PeteButtigieig, tweeted about anti-Semitism, referring to the “deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history” on the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. As a point of reference, in the aftermath of the attack, on October 27, 2018, his account tweeted: “South Bend stands united with the people of Pittsburgh, the Jewish community, and all who have suffered from gun violence in other cities as in our own.”
Anything else with regards to anti-Semitism?
Well, Buttigieg stumbled into his own anti-Semitic controversy in April 2019, when he continued to refer to Vice President Mike Pence as a “Pharisee.” Long story short: The Pharisees are among the intellectual forebearers of modern Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explains that his use of the word is anti-Semitic, telling JTA, “When you use that as an insult, you’re saying that Jews are bad. It perpetrates anti-Semitism: Jew as bad guy, as Christ killer, is one of the ways people have justified murder and pogroms and the Inquisition and the Holocaust for centuries.” After increased attention, communications advisor for Buttigieg, Lis Smith, tweeted that Buttigieg would no longer use the term.
But that’s it, right?
Wellllll, then there was the time that Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, shared a photo on his Instagram of Pete at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial with the caption, “This guy.” Many people found that to be just a bit inappropriate.
Speaking of controversies, where does Buttigieg stand on BDS, the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel?
Mayor Pete has never addressed BDS.
So what’s Buttigieg’s relationship with Jewish organizations?
Unlike many of his primary peers, Buttigieg has no long history with many of the prominent national Jewish organizations that court presidential candidates, though he spoke at the J Street Conference in 2019 and a former AIPAC president, Steve Gorssman, has endorsed Mayor Pete.
However, he does have a relationship with the American Jewish Committee; in May 2018, well before declaring his run for president, he participated in AJC’s Project Interchange tour of Israel with a group of U.S. mayors.
“Engagement is very important,” Buttigieg said after the trip. “Part of it is things like Project Interchange, and the chance to make sure leaders and figures from both parties have a chance to get on the ground in a balanced way, making sure, as this trip made sure of, that we saw what was going on in the West Bank as well [and] that we were able to meet with a range of people, so we weren’t asked to hear somebody’s party line. That’s very important.”
Alright, let’s turn to Israel. What has Buttigieg said?
In November 2019, after missiles were fired from Gaza into Israel, Pete Buttigieg tweeted, “I strongly condemn the rocket attacks on the citizens of southern and central Israel. Israel has a right to defend itself against acts of terror that set back any progress towards peace and will only serve to inflame the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
He’s also said he would not move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv, telling Axios, “What’s done is done.”
However, he is also critical of Israeli policy at times: In a Q&A with the New York Times, Buttigieg called Israel’s human rights record “problematic” and “moving in the wrong direction under the current right-wing government.”
In October 2019, Buttigieg told the Council on Foreign Relations, “I disagree with … overreach in the West Bank and Gaza and short-sighted focus on military responses. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has gone on far too long and provides a ripe environment for the very extremist violence that threatens Israel.”
In spite of all this, Buttiegieg thinks support for Israel should be non-partisan: “There’s a risk that support for Israel could come to be regarded as a partisan issue and I think that would be really unfortunate,” he said in 2018, after that AJC trip mentioned earlier. “One of the first things you realize when you get on the ground is that this is not a left vs. right issue — at least it shouldn’t be. The Democratic Party is, I think, ultimately committed to the idea of peace and security and stability and fairness for everybody.”
So, what I’m hearing is that Buttigieg does not agree with Netanyahu.
No, he does not. In April 2019, when Netaynahu announced ahead of the Israeli elections that he will begin annexing the West Bank if he were to be elected, Pete Buttigieg tweeted, “This provocation is harmful to Israeli, Palestinian, and American interests. Supporting Israel does not have to mean agreeing with Netanyahu‘s politics. I don’t. This calls for a president willing to counsel our ally against abandoning a two-state solution.” In clear terms, Buttigieg laid out that he supports Israel, but does not support Netanyahu, and is against the idea of annexing the West Bank.
In a foreign policy speech in June 2019, he reiterated this, stating, “If Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat to annex West Bank settlements, a President Buttigieg will take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t foot the bill.”
What has Buttigieg said about a two-state solution?
Buttigieg said that “a two-state solution that achieves legitimate Palestinian aspirations and meets Israel’s security needs remains the only viable way forward.”
Only viable way forward!
You heard the man.
“This is not a zero-sum game. The security of Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are fundamentally interlinked. To visit the West Bank and Gaza is to understand the fundamental need for a two-state solution which addresses the economic, security and moral rights of both Israelis and of the Palestinians who live there,” Buttigieg told the Council on Foreign Relations.
One of the biggest issues, he told Jewish groups in May 2019, is that “we don’t have the right kinds of partners in leadership on the Palestinian side … we have to invest more energy in constraining their worst impulses than in trying to get a good outcome.”
Would Buttigieg leverage U.S. aid to Israel?
After Warren said “everything is on the table” to get Israel to support a two-state solution, Buttigieg said that aid to Israel is “leverage to guide Israel in the right direction.” However, he did not elaborate.
“We need to make sure that any such cooperation and funding is going to things that are compatible with U.S. objectives and U.S. law,” Buttigieg said at a J Street conference in October 2019. “[W]e need to have the visibility to know whether U.S. funds are being used in a way that is not compatible with U.S. policy, and U.S. policy should not be promoting this kind of construction precisely because it is incompatible or at best detrimental to [the two-state solution].”
Jewish fun fact:
According to JTA, while Buttigieg would be the first openly gay major ticket nominee, he’s not the first candidate: Fred Karger, who is Jewish and gay, sought the Republican nomination in 2012.
Image of Pete Buttigieg by Scott Olson/Getty Images; design by Grace Yagel