by Alisa Roberts.
Congressional hopefuls Ted Lieu and Elan Carr faced off Tuesday night at the Jewish Community debate at Beth Jacob Congregation. Moderated by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal center, the debate covered a range of topics but centered largely on questions of anti-Semitism and US/Israel relations.
Carr and Lieu both presented impressive resumes, including active duty military service and years spent in various leadership roles. Carr, the Republican candidate, has served for the past years as a criminal gang prosecutor in the LA County District Attorney’s office while Lieu, the Democratic candidate, has served for years on city and state governments, including his current position as State Senator.
Rabbi Cooper opened the debate by asking each candidate why they were running and what their top two issues were. “One issue that compels me to run for Congress at least as much as any of the others…is Israel,” said Carr, who listed education as his other top issue. Lieu also linked Israel to one of his top issues, “I believe that one of the great responsibilities of a member of Congress is America’s national security, [which is] inextricably linked with Israel’s national security, and I think the greatest threat facing Israel today is a nuclearized Iran.” Lieu cited the economy as his other priority.
The candidates seemed to agree more than they disagreed. When asked what could be done about aggressive anti-Israel campaigners on college campuses, both candidates stressed that this was an issue of bigotry and anti-Semitism. “Now, in America we let people say bigoted things,” said Lieu, adding, “But if that crosses over into harassment or bullying, then you can take action on campuses.” Carr supported a more aggressive approach: “You enforce the regulations the universities already have in place,” he said, citing instances where federal funding was used to successfully exert pressure on campuses.
Jews weren’t the only minority group under discussion; Rabbi Cooper asked what the candidates would do about the growing disaster for Christians in Syria and elsewhere. “I support the US airstrikes in Iraq,” said Lieu. “When you have folks like ISIS, they don’t just go after the Jews…I would support whatever the US would do to reduce that threat and protect all religious minorities.” Carr began by saying that the US must be a leader. “The reason why they are in danger now is because the United States has disengaged from the Middle East,” he said. “We have to get back to rebuilding those relationships; we have to get back to leading.”
In one of the briefest but also most charged moments of the evening, Rabbi Cooper asked the candidates if they support a two-state solution. Lieu’s answer was short and to the point: “I do. I support a two-state solution: a Jewish State and a Palestinian State,” and Carr’s response was only slightly longer: “I support a two-state solution only if that two-state solution results from negotiations between the two parties and would include a comprehensive end to the conflict, and would not involve US pressure on Israel to set terms.”
The final question regarding Israel was what the candidates would do about constituent groups who question Israel’s right to exist. “I would tell them they’re wrong,” said Lieu, adding that he has done so publicly many times. “I tell them – just go read the charter of Hamas…to me it is unacceptable that people have that view.” Carr spoke about leadership. “People show their leadership not when it’s easy, but when it’s tough,” he began. “I happen to think it’s not tough at all to reject anybody who thinks Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.” He went on to tell a story about his time serving in Iraq. “I noticed there was a listing of services posted…it was very ecumenical, but there was something missing. So I went to the chaplain, a little irritated…and I said, ‘Sir, there are no Jewish services, is there a reason for that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, there’s a reason for it. I had no one to lead them. Can you lead them?’” While he was warned that this could increase the danger he was already facing, he accepted the challenge. “By the way, we had a minyan every week in the former Presidential Palace of Saddam Hussein.”
Immigration, education, and raising the minimum wage were among the other topics covered, but when it came time for closing remarks, both candidates returned to Israel. After speaking about his bipartisan record, Carr said, “I represent leadership on Israel…We need game changers in Congress.” Along with his bipartisan record, Lieu spoke about his history of support for Israel. “One of the principle uses of leadership is action, and I have taken action to protect Israel,” he said, listing bills he has co-authored in support of Israel and against Iran. “I was doing it not because it was politically helpful, but because it was the right thing to do.”