Recently we posted on the outrageously misinformed remarks about Israel delivered by U.S. congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) at a conference in St. Paul, At extremist event, Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum accuses Israel of practicing ‘apartheid’.

Now another poorly informed Democrat has slandered Israel’s robust and vibrant democracy.

This week it was congressional candidate—Antonio Delgado—who is trying to unseat the GOP incumbent—Rep. John Faso—in New York’s 19th Congressional District.

It’s one of the country’s tightest races for the House (a Sienna College Research Institute poll released this week has Faso in the lead by just 1 percentage point). Jews make up about 9% of this upstate NY district, which covers the Hudson Valley.

At issue are comments that Delgado made during a debate with Faso this past Monday at the Linda Performing Arts Center in Albany, NY. Specifically, Delgado said that “Israel is not a Jewish democracy.” You can watch that part of the debate, when he makes this remark and then doubles down on it, in the 4-minute video embedded below.

The video clip also features Faso’s comeback, which in my view was brilliant in terms debunking Delgado’s ridiculous comments and reminding people that Israel offers its citizens a host of rights and liberties that other people in the Middle East region can only dream about.

Since we wrote about Rep. McCollum’s disgraceful remarks, various prominent American Jewish community groups and individuals have weighed in to condemn them. This week some have recycled those statements to lambast Delgado for also being so abysmally ignorant about Israel’s democratic nature.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), which claims to represent Jewish Democrats and left-wing, pro-Israel values, has also reportedly denounced McCollum. But as far as I can tell, the group didn’t issue any response to Delgado’s inflammatory remarks and is still giving him their enthusiastic backing.

This is important to note because earlier this week the JDCA released its latest list of candidate endorsements ahead of the midterms, bringing the total to 58 candidates for crucial House, Senate and gubernatorial races where the Jewish vote could be critical to ensuring Democratic victories. Antonio Delgado is included in this latest round of JDCA endorsements for House candidates.

But a JDCA response may now be moot. At another campaign event in Woodstock this week Delgado walked back his comment that Israel wasn’t a “Jewish democracy.”

New York House candidate Antonio Delgado says ‘Israel is not a Jewish democracy’

During a debate with his Republican rival this past Monday, Democrat Antonio Delgado claimed that Israel couldn’t be termed a ‘Jewish democracy’ on account of ‘settlements’.

He made this remark in response to a question about President Trump’s decision to honor U.S. law and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Delgado says doing this was a bad move because it “sends the wrong signal to that region” and shouldn’t have been done “unilaterally.” He then gave a bizarre description of Israel’s regime type:

Being pro-Israel and being pro-peace is critical, but I’m also pro-democracy. And as currently constructed, you know, Israel is not a Jewish democracy. Those settlements make it so that it can’t be.”

Faso’s response to this absurd comment was terrific and is well-worth watching. He starts by saying that he is “astonished” by Delgado’s views about Israel and explains why:

Israel is not a democracy?! Israel is a strong democracy. It is a vibrant democracy. It has got a vibrant free enterprise system. It has got a vibrant agricultural system, culture. Israel is a democracy. They are our main democratic ally in that region.”

When Delgado was offered the chance to respond, he could’ve taken the opportunity to say that he “clearly misspoke” and “just screwed up” (which is what one Democratic Party insider thinks happened). But instead Delgado “stood by his statement” and dug himself even deeper into the hole:

I said it is not a Jewish democracy. Meaning that given the fact that we have settlements currently in the region, it is not to be deemed a nation of Jewish democracy until we deal with the settlements. Until we deal with the settlements we are gonna [sic] have that issue.”

Delgado also noted that his wife and children are Jewish and that his spouse “goes to Israel a lot”. He took umbrage at Faso’s insinuation that he was anti-Israel and then incongruously said that he thought “Israel has always been a beacon of what democracy can be in a violent region”—which made no sense given what he just said about Israel being basically nondemocratic.

Faso delivered a great rebuttal correctly noting that “Israeli Arabs are represented in the Knesset” and again calling out Delgado’s “outrageous misinformation.” To my mind, Faso also did a good job of correctly identifying the Iranian threat in the region and pointing out that, while he’s had his “differences with Donald Trump”, moving the embassy was the right decision because “Congress had passed laws” to do it.

At the very end of the video clip you can just make out Delgado responding to Faso with the comment “You’re not making any sense.”

The reality though is that it’s Delgado who didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

As Faso rightly noted, his rival exhibited a marked lack of understanding of Israel’s government and laws, which preserve the Jewish character of the state while also providing individual civil liberties to its minority citizenry.

In addition, Delgado’s view that Jewish settlements in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria and east Jerusalem somehow render Israel into a Jewish nondemocracy is total gibberish. As we noted in a prior post, Jews living their lives and raising their families in these areas isn’t ‘illegal’ much less a problem for Israel’s democratic character, The Legal Case for Israel’s ‘Settlements’.

And even Israeli leftists only maintain that Israel could risk in the future its democratic character if it can’t negotiate with the Palestinians a solution along the lines of the two-states-for-two-peoples formula—not that Israel is today a nondemocracy because of settlements.

Rep. McCollum is slammed for accusing Israel of ‘apartheid’

As we highlighted in our prior post, congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) received a congressional leadership award on September 29th from the virulently anti-Israel and pro BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) group US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) at their annual convention. During her acceptance speech she slandered Israel by defining its government structure as akin to ‘apartheid’ on account of the nation-state law which Israeli lawmakers passed this past July.

We noted how McCollum’s use of the apartheid smear was a gross mischaracterization of the State of Israel in general and of its recently passed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People in particular. We also pointed out that by defaming Israel as ‘apartheid’, McCollum was buying into a false claim that has long served as a key underpinning of the intellectual foundation of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement:

The smear actually originated in anti-Zionist campaigns that were initiated by Communist states during the Cold War. Since the 2001 UN conference in Durban, which launched the BDS movement, the comparison of Israel with racist apartheid-era South Africa has also been a leitmotif of anti-Israel activists. Today, this apartheid smear has become a key strategy of the Islamist-Leftist coalition arrayed against Israel.”

U.S. congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) is now facing a ‘backlash’ from Jewish American organizations and various Democratic party strategists and organizational heads over her absurd accusations leveled at Israel.

Among those lambasting McCollum for her use of the ‘apartheid’ smear was Dan Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, who stated that her comments were “a slander and a grotesque mischaracterization of the State of Israel, which is an exemplary member of the community of democracies.”

Calling McCollum a “racist, prejudiced disgrace”, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Mort Klein reportedly said that:

McCollum’s bigoted and absurdly false propaganda claim only proves her ignorance and her unhinged hatred of the Jewish State of Israel.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas also rightly blasted Rep. McCollum for accepting an award from, and appearing at, the USCPR’s conference in the first place:

…we are very troubled by her embrace of an organization which labels itself as a champion for Palestinian rights, but is primarily focused on the delegitimization of Israel, denying the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, and advancing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction [BDS] movement.”

The JCRC was correct to mention this because, as we discussed in a prior post, the USCPR is a leading anti-Israel group that works to isolate and weaken the Jewish state through boycott and divestment drives across the country, ALERT: Anti-Israel coordinating group to launch municipal-level campaigns against Israel in June.

[USCPR Campaigns]

The JCRC’s executive director Steve Hunegs also correctly pointed to the fact that McCollum’s mere presence at the event, as a separate matter to her inflammatory remarks, worked to legitimize the incendiary comments of others who spoke there.

He noted that just before McCollum rose to the podium to accept her award and deliver her speech, George Mason University Assistant Professor Noura Erakat

praised the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—an avowed terrorist organization responsible for the murder to scores of civilians, including children.”

Here, Hunegs was referring to Erekat’s calling the now deported terrorist murderer and U.S. immigration fraudster Rasmea Odeh “our dear sister [and] freedom fighter.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) have issued reports (see here and here) about several other speakers at the USCPR conference who also “sanitized terrorist attacks” and even made a case for violence.

Particular noteworthy in this regard were CNN commentator and Temple University named professor Marc Lamont Hill’s comments at the conference (audio recording here). At one point, Lamont Hill literally urges his audience not to “romanticize nonviolence” or to allow non-violent protest to become so “normative” that it undermines the ability to “resist in real robust ways.”

Delgado is rebuked for saying ‘Israel is not a Jewish democracy’

In addition to American Jewish groups, Democratic Party leaders have also reacted strongly to McCollum’s comments. Democratic strategist Mark Mellman reportedly said that her views are idiosyncratic:

Her comments represent only her own poorly informed and intellectually dishonest opinion. It does not reflect the views of Democrats at large, Democratic members of Congress or the Democratic Party.”

Ron Klein, chairman of the JDCA, basically said the same thing, calling McCollum’s ‘apartheid’ smear “inflammatory and wrong.”

Neither Klein nor anyone else at the JDCA has had anything to say about Delgado’s cockamamie remarks though, or about whether his rhetoric also doesn’t “reflect mainstream views” within the party. (Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile did rebuke Delgado noting that “Israel is our ally and a democratic state, as in small ‘d’”).

Various Jewish American groups and individuals have recycled their statements condemning McCollum, which is possible to do because Delgado’s slander of Israel was just as offensive and off-the-wall and the same retorts—highlighting the realities of Israel’s society, government, and legal structure—are appropriate in the case of his comments too.

For example, the ZOA’s Mort Klein explained how Delgado “is absurdly wrong” and ignorant of Israel’s democratic nature. Klein’s statement is similar to the one he gave in responding to McCollum’s calumny:

Everyone in Israel, including Arabs and Christians, have a right to vote and fully participate in Israeli society, including being members of the Knesset…Delgado should be condemning Palestinian leaders—not Israel—for not being democratic and running an Arab dictatorship.”

Delgado walks back his inflammatory remark about Israel

It’s possible that Delgado took all the criticism to heart because he’s just walked back his absurd statements about Israel’s democracy.

https://nypost.com/2018/10/24/congressional-candidate-walks-back-israel-flub-after-debate/

[credit: NY Post]

At a campaign pit-stop in Woodstock, NY Delgado changed his tune, reportedly stating that “Israel is a democracy and it is a Jewish democracy”. He also noted that in his debate with Faso, his point was to say that:

if it is to remain one for generations to come, it is urgent, critical that we have a two-state solution. As a man who is married to a Jewish woman, raising two Jewish children, I care deeply about the fate of Israel”.

Conclusion

Rep. Betty McCollum’s and now New York House candidate Antonio Delgado’s recent remarks about Israel’s state and society are an insult to the people of Israel and to American Jews and Jews worldwide. They reflect a profound absence of basic knowledge about an important U.S. ally and even about the nature of democratic governance.

That said, it’s important not to conflate these two Democrats—despite their similar ludicrous recent remarks about Israel.

That’s because McCollum’s remarks were deliberate—not some gaffe or screw up. She has a long history of hostility toward Israel, consorts with vehemently anti-Israel groups, and willingly spreads misleading and deceptive propaganda about Israel. For instance, she initiated and is now pushing a viciously anti-Israel bill that rests on bogus ‘data’ provided by BDS-promoting Palestinian NGOs, at least some of which allegedly have ties to terrorist organizations.

By contrast, during his campaign, Delgado has repeatedly said that he is “pro-Israel and pro-peace”, has “deep personal and family connections” to Israel, and has pledged to safeguard Israel’s security, which he claims is “profoundly in America’s national interest.” So, it’s entirely reasonable to treat his outrageous remarks this week as a blunder—especially now that’s he’s clarified what he meant and says that he didn’t intend to disparage Israel.

Bottom line: Congressional hopeful Antonio Delgado’s comments about Israel this week during a debate with Republican Rep. John Faso were nonsensical and Faso knocked it out of the ballpark in his rebuttal. Still, that doesn’t mean that Delgado wants to destroy the “strong relationship between the United States and Israel” in the way that Rep. Betty McCollum and the extreme left-wing of the Democratic Party do.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Recently, Elman was included on the Algemeiner newspaper’s 2018 list of the top 100 people worldwide who are “positively influencing Jewish life.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman