With a new Democratic majority poised to be seated in the House of Representatives come January, current House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi appears to be closing in on becoming Speaker of the House, for the second time.
Mrs. Pelosi, 78, served in that capacity from 2007 to 2011, during parts of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Her bid for reappointment to the post is being opposed by some House Democrats, and she must secure 218 votes to become the leader again. But the opposition to her quest — largely on the vague grounds that “it’s time for a change” — seems to be waning, and it appears increasingly likely that she will serve as Speaker once again.
As a liberal Democrat, Mrs. Pelosi has taken some positions that are at odds with the Torah-based values of the Orthodox Jewish community.
But she has also demonstrated not only the legislative and negotiating skills that her backers tout, but also staunch support of Israel, something that, unfortunately, can no longer be taken for granted among some in the Democratic Party.
In 2005, she applauded the “hopeful signs” for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict born of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and criticized Palestinian “threats” and refusals to embrace the possibility of negotiating peace. Only, she said at the time, “if the Palestinians agree to coordinate with Israel on the evacuation [of agreed-upon territory], establish the rule of law and demonstrate a capacity to govern, [might] the world… be convinced that finally there is a real partner for peace.”
While meeting with then-Israeli Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik in 2008, Mrs. Pelosi held up the dog tags of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped in 2006. She said she kept them as a “symbol of the sacrifices made, sacrifices far too great by the people of the state of Israel.”
In fact, Mrs. Pelosi’s views on Israel have at times even outflanked those of the GOP.
In 2009, during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead action against Hamas in Gaza, Mrs. Pelosi sponsored a resolution that passed the House by a 390-5 squarely blaming the Palestinian side for the violence and reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The language in that House decision was even stronger than that of the Bush administration, which simply supported the U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned “all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians” but did not place the blame for the conflict on the blameworthy.
Although Mrs. Pelosi was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress denouncing then-President Obama’s nuclear deal, which she supported, there is no question that she sincerely believed that the deal was in Israel’s best interest.
Unlike some new members of her caucus who criticize Israel for “occupying” the West Bank or for what they consider human rights abuses, Mrs. Pelosi represents the Democratic establishment’s traditional position on Israel, coupling unwavering support for Israeli defense and the two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It is a stance that appeals to both AIPAC and J Street, and doesn’t really diverge from that of centrist Republicans.
Mrs. Pelosi’s strong support for Israel is, in fact, in her genes. Her father, the late Congressman Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., a Democrat from Maryland, broke ranks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II on the issues of rescuing Jews from Hitler and creating a state for Jews. D’Alesandro was one of the congressional supporters of the Bergson Group, which coordinated the 1943 “Rabbis March” on Washington, thereby risking his career, as he was a Democrat backing a group that was publicly challenging a Democratic president.
Fresher in our memory is the role Mrs. Pelosi played in President Trump’s commutation last year of Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence. Although a fierce political opponent of the president, Mrs. Pelosi put aside politics and wrote a powerful letter of support for the commutation effort. The White House itself at the time cited support for the move “from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch.”
Our community owes Mrs. Pelosi a debt of gratitude for both that advocacy on behalf of a beleaguered and mistreated Jew, and for her longstanding and unwavering support for Israel.
Whether she will receive the 218 votes she needs to reassume her position as Speaker of the House is dependent on her Democratic colleagues and remains to be seen. But if she is successful in her current quest, Israel and the Jewish community will have a trusted friend in that most important position.