Senator Lindsey Graham goes to Jerusalem // An exclusive conversation about his support for Israel

Senator Lindsey Graham

This past Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Netanyahu thanked Graham and declared, “There is no person who has done more for Israel than you.”

“He is a stalwart champion of our alliance, and we have no better friend,” Netanyahu said of the senior senator from South Carolina. “I want to thank you for everything you have done over the years on the issues of Israel’s defense and security, as well as on the Iranian issue.”

He concluded by welcoming Graham to Israel, saying, “You are a devoted friend and an excellent ally.”

I spoke to Senator Graham about his unshakable support for Israel, as well as his strong relationship with Trump and assessment of the Biden administration.

The world has changed quite a lot in the two years since we last spoke.
It sure has. Two years ago, Donald Trump had unleashed the American military on ISIS and we destroyed the caliphate. Then the Abraham Accords came about, leading to several historic agreements between Arabs and Israelis.

The border between the United States and Mexico was also secure for most of that time. The real question is, how has the world changed since January 20, 2021? And the answer, in my opinion, is all for the worse.

We are going backwards in terms of border security, we are providing money to the Palestinians without demanding change, and the efforts to rejoin the Iranian nuclear agreement are sending the wrong signals to Iran and all of the other bad guys in the region.

These are all very ominous things, and I fear that all of the gains we made will be lost or certainly diminished.

You’ve been in Washington, DC, for quite some time. Have you ever seen such dramatic change happen so quickly?

In the modern age of politics, information cycles last only 15 minutes. But I think that the Biden administration came in with the idea that if Trump did it they were going to undo it, which is a bad approach. Look how quickly things have deteriorated. This latest effort by Hamas to shoot 4,000 rockets into Israel is an indication that the recent changes in policy are emboldening terrorist groups like Hamas, and that our ally Israel is feeling a little more isolated. I’m hoping that this desire to reengage Iran at all costs will slow down.

Iran announced that they’re pretty close to a new accord. Are you still holding out hope that it won’t work out?
I don’t know the exact state of play, but I do know this: The Biden administration wants to reengage Iran much too badly. I thought that the JCPOA was fatally flawed, so I’m going to be talking to the Arabs about a Middle East construct whereby they would agree to nuclear power plants, but the fuel would be provided by the international community. That way, no one would need to enrich, and I would make that offer to the Iranians as well. If they really want a nuclear power program, there’s no reason to enrich. The only reason to enrich is to make a bomb. With the Arabs saying that they would live with that kind of agreement, I think that smokes Iran out.
(Graham’s phone rings.) Excuse me, but I have Trump on the line, so I’m going to call you back a little later.

* * *

Can you share what you spoke about with Trump?
(Laughs.) That will need to remain private.

Okay. So let’s talk about the Middle East. Israel has gotten mixed messages from the Biden administration over the last week and a half. What’s your analysis of the situation?
I think that what you just said is a good analysis. We vetoed the UN’s ceasefire resolution, but at the same time, every Democratic voice was pushing for a ceasefire. They were leaking details of phone calls between Biden and Bibi, indicating that he was putting pressure on Bibi. So yes, they were definitely sending mixed messages. Hamas would drive Israel into the sea if they could; they are not a partner for peace. There can never be a two-state solution as long as Hamas controls Gaza and has power over the Palestinian people. So if you’re Israel, you have to deter Hamas and destroy their capability to destroy you. The thing that bothered me the most about this last interaction was the moral equivalency argument between Hamas and Israel that was getting stronger and stronger.

Do you think that the Democrats have turned much further to the left?
There are two ways to look at it. When it comes to Israel, I try to be bipartisan. Senator Menendez has been a great partner on a lot of things regarding Israel, and there are a lot of strong pro-Israel voices in the Democratic Party. But it’s clear to me that the emerging left actually considers Israel to be the bad guy here. That concerns me a lot. It’s important for pro-Israel Democrats to continue to speak out, and I was glad to hear President Biden say that he’s pro-Israel and that the Democratic Party is a pro-Israel party.

What do you find most disconcerting about the direction of the Democratic Party?
The buy-in to the moral equivalency—the idea that Israel brought this on itself because of its right-wing policies, as if that somehow justifies Hamas’ actions. That’s a misunderstanding. Hamas is a terrorist group that would destroy Israel if it could. The only reason there aren’t more dead Israelis is thanks to the Iron Dome, which has nothing to do with Hamas. If it were up to them, they would kill every Israeli. And the only reason that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians weren’t killed is that Israel doesn’t want to do that. They try to limit their military response to protect civilians as best as they can, whereas Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

There’s been a recent upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks. Do you have any proposals to counter that?
Just to have a strong voice that the one and only Jewish state is an ally of the United States; that my Jewish brothers and sisters are equal members of American democracy; and to put pressure on every politician in America to stand up and make sure that those who are responsible are prosecuted. Now is the time to stand up to a wave of growing anti-Semitism. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, there are voices out there that are just unbelievable. Could you have ever imagined this wave of anti-Semitism throughout democracies? We have to keep our guard up. When our friends in Israel say, “Never Again,” they mean it.

Do you think the Republican Party is sufficiently united, or is there some work to be done?
Every party has factions, but this is the party of Trump. Improving the economy and national security are its guiding principles. I would say that the Republican Party’s pathway forward is to bring out the best in the America First agenda, contrasting our view of how to grow the economy and protect our citizens with that of our opponents. This defund the police effort is backfiring on Democrats, and we have a real opening in 2022. The Israeli issue is going to be a big issue as well. Everyone running for the Senate has to be put on the record for where he or she stands when it comes to Israel. There has been no better president for Israel in my lifetime. There are a few outliers, but not many.

I know you’ve said this in the past, but what you’re saying to me now is quite powerful. Has Trump really changed the mandate of the Republican Party?
Yes, I think so. The party now has a more populist agenda economically; we shouldn’t be taken advantage of when it comes to trade deals. And when it comes to foreign policy, there should be burden sharing. We have to be honest brokers and stand behind our friends without equivocation. What I like about President Trump is that he never for a moment gave into the idea that Israel was anything other than our best ally.

I would like your opinion on social media having silenced Donald Trump and other conservative voices.
I think that’s the biggest challenge to conservatism right now, that these platforms have more power than cable, TV and print journalism combined. If they can silence you, your message can’t get out. I’m a big advocate for Section 230 reform so you can sue them if they try to take down your content. The main thing is that they have to be treated like common carriers. The phone company can’t tell you whom to call, and social media companies need to be seen the same way under the law. I’m working with Democrats and Republicans to try to do that, because if we don’t rein in this power, it could really put a damper on conservatism.

Do you think we’ll have to wait for the Republicans to regain the majority before we see action on that front?
Maybe. I think it’ll be a big issue in 2022, because most Americans are not only getting worried about censorship, but also about privacy issues and how much information they have on all of us.

Alan Dershowitz told me that when he was growing up, the biggest challenge to the First Amendment was from the right, but now it’s from the left. Do you share that perspective?
All of these social media outlets are run by liberal people. They have a disproportionate bent against Trump, and some of the content they take down astonishes me. The people who run these companies are certainly not friends of conservatism, and they are definitely not neutral.

What do you feel was Donald Trump’s biggest accomplishment during his time in office?
There were several: resetting the world order; weakening Iran—the largest state sponsor of terrorism; standing up to bad guys like China; and being tough on Russia when it mattered. He brought a new order to the world, fostering peace by being strong. It was all about having a strong America First presence, and he stood behind our friends while taking the fight to our enemies. Domestically, I would say that his biggest accomplishments were the appointment of judges and creating the vaccine.

Do you believe that there’s a future in politics for Trump?
I think there’s a dramatic future for him. We have to look to the 2024 election and not re-litigate 2020. It’s okay to reform our election system, but we can’t retry the last election. My belief is that Donald Trump is very viable, and that if he ran for election he would win the Republican primary and have a great chance at a second term.

What are your feelings regarding China and COVID? It seems that Dr. Fauci has flip-flopped on that issue.
Yes. It’s been painful to watch how the media gave Trump such a hard time—although some of it was deserved—about the virus. When he first raised questions about it coming out of a lab in China, Twitter went after him and everyone called him a racist, but now it seems to be more likely than not. The media coverage of Biden has been noticeably different. The Washington Post and New York Times cover stories are all puff pieces. But I think that people can see through the media. One of the consequences of the Trump presidency is how Republicans and conservatives in particular have just written the media off. They’ve lost all credibility.

I believe that exposing the media for what they are is also one of Trump’s accomplishments.
Absolutely. It just sort of broke their backs in terms of conservatives pushing back. I think a lot of conservatives are following President Trump because he doesn’t take the media’s garbage.

What’s your prognosis for the economy right now?
Biden’s tax-and-regulate agenda is throwing cold water on our economy, which wants to recover. Inflation is a problem because of excessive spending, but the biggest problem is that almost every government agency is practically declaring war on business. The cost of doing business is going up, the unemployment benefits have lasted too long at the federal level, and it’s almost impossible to find workers right now because they can make more money by not working. So I think that the policies of the Biden administration are slowing down a recovery that wants to move forward. Uncertainty is not the friend of the economy, and with Biden, we don’t know what he’s going to do on taxes, tariffs when it comes to China and steel. All of the policy choices seem to be more regulation and more taxes. People are worried about jumping into growing their business, not knowing what the consequences are going to be.

When Trump ran for president in 2016, one of the things he promised was to take care of the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. I don’t think he was all that successful.
I think every president talks about infrastructure, but we never got around to doing it.

Do you support any part of the Biden Infrastructure Plan?
Yes. I think the Biden Infrastructure Plan has very little to do with infrastructure and a lot to do with the liberal wish list, but I would support an $800 million to $900 million bill for roads, bridges and ports. I don’t want to raise taxes—that hurts the overall economic growth—but we can find ways to pay for it because I think it will help our economy recover. Our infrastructure is in decline, as you indicated. This is one area where Republicans and Democrats have a decent chance of coming together.

Let’s discuss race relations, which really got out of hand towards the end of the Trump presidency. It was unrelated to what the president was doing, but it was on his watch. What do you suggest be done, and where do you see it going?
The Democratic Party is trying to make every issue about race. They made a calculated decision to cast election reform as combatting Jim Crow, but HR1 is a federal takeover of the election process. Almost every issue seems to have a racial element. I’m certainly not a racist, but I believe in election reform. I believe in police reform, but I don’t want to declare war on the police. There’s just this constant effort to cloak their policy agenda in racial terms, and I don’t think it’s going to work.

You’ve dedicated your life to helping this country. Where do you see the United States today?
That’s a great question. I see us as the strongest military power on the planet and as a vibrant democracy. I wouldn’t bet against America, even though we’re more polarized than we’ve been in a long time. I believe that we are still fulfilling our destiny as the strongest voice for good on the planet. I see the glass as half full. I know that a lot of people see it as empty or broken, but I don’t.
The strength of the American experiment is the goodness of the American people. I really believe that we are a good people. We may be polarized right now, but I don’t view Washington’s political dysfunction as a reflection of who we are. We’re still the most generous people on the planet. We have incredible talent, and there’s no other place I’d rather be.
Having said that, we need to up our game and get our house in order. But this liberal agenda being pushed by elements of the Democratic Party would transform America in a very detrimental way, so we have a fight on our hands to keep America the same country in which we grew up. Packing the Supreme Court would erode confidence in the rule of law, because it would then become a political football with the numbers changing every time a different party takes power. That’s a horrible idea that must be stopped. Changing the Electoral College would deal out small states who were given a voice by our Constitution. There are a lot of system changes being proposed by the left that would fundamentally change America as we know it, and I intend to fight back. But in spite of all of these problems, America is still the strongest force on the planet for good.

Do you think that the divide between Democrats and Republicans can ever be bridged?
It’s important to remember that we’ve always had different political camps, but the agenda being pushed by the Squad and other groups is beyond what I have seen in the past. It’s a transformational agenda that would change the institutions that we have accepted as normal. That to me is the biggest difference, the fact that the policy proposals from the left are more extreme than they ever were.
I think 2022 is going to be a check-and-balance election, where people want to slow down this Democratic train. The Biden they voted for isn’t the Biden who is actually running the country. I think the US-Israel relationship will be on the ballot. I also think that the effort to defund the police has backfired on Democrats, and this rhetoric coming from the left wing of the party, putting Hamas on the same playing field as Israel, is going to backfire as well. So I really feel good about 2022, and if we take back the House and/or the Senate, a lot of this radical stuff will stop.

Any final thoughts?
Just one: The enemies of Israel are our enemies, and I can’t think of a group that wants to destroy Israel that wouldn’t want to come after us as well. Israel is the only democracy in the region, and they give us more actual intelligence than probably any single country on the planet, so we have every reason in the world to support our friends there. ●



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