On the last day of the AIPAC Policy Conference 2013, AIPAC delegates from across the country descending on Capitol Hill. For the first time in AIPAC’s history, delegates lobbied all 535 members of Congress on the same day.
Before he met with the AIPAC delegates, U.S. Representative Erik Paulsen (R-MN 3rd District) met with TC Jewfolk for an exclusive interview. He discussed the future of U.S.-Israel relations, the continuing danger of a nuclear Iran, and what he would like to see from a new generation of leaders in the Knesset.
We asked the congressman to comment on the theme of this year’s conference, “Building Tomorrow Together.” He said the future for Israel is bright, so long as the United States and Israel maintain the strong friendship they currently have. He said that despite the “significant challenges” in the Middle East, he is optimistic about Israel’s future.
Echoing some of the comments made at AIPAC by leading congressional Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor and Sen. John Cornyn, Rep. Paulsen offered a subtle criticism of the Obama administration. “The United States needs to understand this, our leadership needs to understand this—Israel has a right to defend itself and enact its own policies. And we have to make sure that our country does not tread on… what Israel feels is in its best interest.”
That includes, he said, supporting Israel on the threat posed by Iran. Last year, he discussed Iran at length with TC Jewfolk. When asked if he had anything to add he said, “I got elected to the congress four years ago; we were talking then about the threat of a nuclear Iran. And here we are four years later and we’re still talking about that same issue.”
He added, “A nuclear Iran is not in the interests of Israel, and not in the interests of the world.”
Rep. Paulsen insisted that the sanctions on Iran continue to work, and he praised current legislation that will “enhance the President’s ability, and authorize him to impose additional sanctions on those that have commercial ties to Iran.”
When asked about the recent Knesset elections, he admitted to not having followed them very closely. However, he talked about the three times he’s visited Israel and praised “the diversity, the energy, the innovation,” of its leaders and people, their “accepting of other faiths,” which he said has produced a “thriving democracy.”
He said the perspective he gained by being in Israel, and seeing firsthand how the country reacted to rockets from Gaza, showed him that “the security threat is very real.” What interested him most, he said, was that regardless of political differences on other issues, all parties could immediately unify around “the security issue.”
On the recent vote in the United Nations affirming Palestine as a non-member state, he said he worries about the ramifications of the Palestinian Authority’s push to circumvent negotiations with Israel itself.
“The Palestinian Authority has to fundamentally acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state—that is really critical—and until we have that, we’re not going to have the safety and security that we need.”
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