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Opinion: Stevens better friend to Israel than Levin

Abraham H. Foxman

The race between Democratic U.S. House colleagues Andy Levin and Haley Stevens in Michigan’s new 11th congressional district has captured national attention. 

Some see it through the prism of defending a Democratic majority and debate the propriety of Levin declining to battle a Republican opponent in his district only to challenge Stevens for her now safe seat.

My three-decade career as national director of the Anti-Defamation League, however, directs my attention to the twin issues of antisemitism and Israel — issues for which this race is the crucible of markedly different approaches by Stevens and Levin. 

It is my belief that Rep. Haley Stevens and her like-minded colleagues promote a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and meaningfully combat antisemitism, Foxman writes.

It is my belief that Stevens and her like-minded colleagues promote a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and meaningfully combat antisemitism while Levin and his fellow travelers do not. 

Here’s why:

Our country’s relationship with Israel is unique in the world. For both Republican and Democratic administrations Israel has been one of our closest allies, a credit to the American people who are uniquely pro-Israel and consistently elect a Congress reflecting their sentiment. The international community, however, is a very hostile place for the Jewish state. 

It is within this context that we must ask the related questions of what it means for a member of Congress to be pro-Israel and a fighter of antisemitism — to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Stevens and Levin represent starkly differing approaches with Stevens’ demonstrably more constructive than the other.

As concerns Israel, Stevens’ camp understands it to be the Middle East’s sole democracy, forced to fight existential threats since its birth. It respects our two nations’ deep democratic, moral and strategic bonds and seeks to strengthen them, push back on cynical anti-Israel attacks from abroad and handle inevitable disagreements between our two countries in a way befitting close friends — in private. Stevens and her congressional coterie are pro-Israel in just this way.

The other camp — Levin’s — adopts a paternalistic and sometimes hostile view. In “protecting Israel from itself” they dismiss the country’s history and strategic challenges and eagerly pile on to international enmity publicly berating Israel as a human rights suspect seemingly solely responsible for its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. While a minority viewpoint in Congress it is nonetheless the one to which Levin subscribes and irrespective of good intentions it is damaging to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

On combatting antisemitism the analysis is simpler still. Fighting this scourge first requires recognizing it. The unfortunate truth is that antisemitism exists in this country on both ends of the political spectrum. To maintain, as Levin does, that this hatred is the exclusive province of far-right white supremacists is to ignore its place in the politics of the left. 

Neither partisanship nor ideological commitment can be allowed to excuse this form of racism, something Levin has done in his denial of its existence within his ideological cadre and his public defense of close colleagues Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. By contrast, Stevens focuses on the issue, not the politics, and consistently pushes back on antisemitism from whatever corner it emanates. To be clear, Levin abhors antisemitism no less than Stevens, but fighting it requires doing so wherever it is found, not just in your political opposite.

For but one example of how differently Stevens and Levin and their respective groups understand antisemitism and the U.S.-Israel relationship take their reactions to Amnesty International’s recent libelous demonization of Israel as “an apartheid state.” Stevens immediately condemned this “unjustifiable” slander’s “threat of delegitimization” to the Jewish state. Levin, a prolific tweeter never hesitant to condemn alleged Israeli human rights abuses, also had an instructive response to this vicious attack: silence. 

While it is not my place here to weigh in on other issues, as concerns Israel and antisemitism, the voters of Michigan’s new 11th district have a clear choice between Stevens and Levin.

Abraham H. Foxman served as the national director of the Anti-Defamation League from 1987-2015.