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Israel Becomes an Issue for Jewish Democrat

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
GOP candidate Bob Turner waits to address a gathering of the Ohr Natan congregation of Bukharian Jews in the Rego Park section of Queens.

In a later interview with Roll Call, Kaziev stressed that as the leader of a nonprofit, he wasn’t officially endorsing anyone but said the Bukharian Jewish community — 35,000 strong in the district, by his estimate — had deep concerns about Weprin. Kaziev said the three main issues the community had with the Democrat were his connection with Obama, whose leadership on the economy and Israel many are greatly disappointed by, Weprin’s public support for gay marriage in the New York State Assembly and his lack of help for the community when Weprin was a member of the New York City Council.

It’s clear that Israel — and Obama’s policies toward that country — has become an important issue in the short campaign. More opaque is whether the Turner narrative will move the needle in a Democratic district that, while estimated to be a quarter Jewish, is mostly composed of non-Jews. And even among Jews, it’s unclear how important an issue Israel policy will be.

Weprin has positioned himself as strongly pro-Israel in the race. Indeed, in an interview with Roll Call, he took a stance that placed him to the right of most Members of Congress, Republican and Democratic.

“I think the settlement issue is not a real issue,” he says. “Settlements have not been an obstruction to peace at all.”

But that’s a position that doesn’t necessarily jibe with reality.

“It’s demonstrably false,” says Aaron David Miller, a former State Department analyst on the Middle East and an adviser to six secretaries of state, Republican and Democratic.

“It’s disingenuous, it’s not true and it’s also obviously not credible,” he says. “In the mind of anybody with any knowledge of challenges and obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, the settlements are a huge obstacle.”

Weprin says he will be an advocate for the Jewish state.

“I don’t think Israel could have a better friend in the United States Congress than David Weprin,” he says.

But asked if Israel could have a better friend in the White House than Obama, Weprin does his best to tiptoe around an answer.

“I’ve disagreed with some of the statements that the president has made on Israel,” he says. “So look, you know, the president is a Democrat, I’m a Democrat.”

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