The newest member of Washington State’s congressional delegation professes strong support for U.S. aid to Israel, but is undecided about two-state-solution funding for the Palestinians.
In an interview with JTNews, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R–3rd District), also said she believes her views are common among the 87 Republican House freshmen despite their nearly unanimous demands for big-time budget cutting and strong skepticism of foreign aid.
“We’ve heard strong support for Israel,” Herrera Beutler said.
“When I think about foreign aid to Israel, I think about long-term relationships,” she said. “I think it’s in our interests to retain that relationship…. I think there’s a lot of that same kind of feeling within my freshman class.”
Herrera Beutler, 32, photogenic and well-spoken, was a Bush White House intern and served three years in the state House before winning an open seat last fall that had been held for six terms by Democratic Rep. Brian Baird.
One of the youngest members of Congress, she delivered the GOP weekly address on March 19, focusing on what Republicans consider regulatory barriers to job creation and gaining national exposure that is rare for a new arrival in the House. The Washington Post lists her as one of 10 House newcomers — eight Republicans and two Democrats — to watch in the 112th Congress.
Rainer Waldman Adkins, co-chair of the Seattle chapter of the pro-Israel peace organization J Street, said he asked Herrera Beutler during a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. last month to support foreign aid generally, and funds for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority in particular, as essential to achieving a two-state solution and peace in the Middle East.
“We were really pleased to meet with her…at a very busy time with a lot of budget votes going on,” Adkins said.
“We know that she considers herself to be supportive of Israel and we know that she’s very concerned about the budget,” he said. “She wasn’t specific. She was mostly listening.”
J Street, like the more established and hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee, supports the Obama administration’s two-state aid requests as vital to achieving agreements that lead to Palestinian sovereignty and peace for Israel.
There is “a cadre of newly elected representatives who are pushing [for cuts] on foreign aid very hard,” but two-state money should not be “isolated from the general foreign aid package, because we don’t believe that will be beneficial to Israel,” Adkins said.
Ari Goldberg, a spokesman for AIPAC in Washington, D.C., would not say whether anyone from that group had spoken with Herrera Beutler, nor would he comment on other lobbying by AIPAC among House freshmen.
“We don’t opine on the positions of individual members of Congress,” Goldberg said.
Akiva Tor, Israel’s consul-general to the Pacific Northwest, has not yet spoken directly with Herrera Beutler.
Herrera Buetler said she was undecided about aid to the Palestinian Authority because she felt she didn’t have enough information, “and that is the case of a lot of us in the House.”
“I think that there are a lot of people who hold that position” of greater skepticism about aid to the Palestinians, Adkins said. “We’re looking forward to a lot of contact with her and her staff on why we feel it’s important for the U.S. to have a strong role.”
Herrera Buetler said she considered herself a supporter of Israel before she took her seat in Congress, but added, “I’m not an expert in foreign aid. I’m not an expert on Israel.”
Her strong support for Israel might seem surprising, given that her background is not Jewish and that the 3rd District has only two Jewish communities large enough to support small synagogues, one in Olympia and one in Vancouver.
However, she has strong support from Christians who align themselves with Israel, especially state Sen. Joe Zarelli, for whom she was a student intern, and his wife Tani Zarelli, who regularly leads tours to Israel and was once featured on the cover of Ma’ariv, one of the country’s national newspapers.
Tani Zarelli, instrumental in arranging for Salvador Brotons, conductor of the Vancouver, Wash., symphony to conduct a series of performances by the Raanana Symphonette in Israel, said she invited Herrera Beutler to join her on a trip to Israel, but before that could happen the election race had begun.
Zarelli said she still hoped Herrera Buetler would be able to come to Israel with her, “not from a lobbying side but from a human side,” she said.
Zarelli also said she had not been able to discuss foreign aid with Herrera Beutler, “but it’s a conversation I would like to have with her.”
“I would be giving stronger foreign aid to them for military support, for protection,” Zarelli said. “It is best for our aid to go to a country that supports us.”
Herrera Beutler said she expected Congress to neither reduce nor increase the level of aid to Israel. In seeking spending cuts generally and in foreign aid, she added, “I’ve been an advocate for using a scalpel and not a blunt instrument.”