Jane Harman's Opponent on the Injustice of Israel, the Taliban and Henry Waxman's Alleged Perfidy

When I first read about Marcy Winograd, the political activist challenging Rep. Jane Harman (D.-Calif.) in the Democratic primary on June 8th, she struck me as not your typical Jewish candidate for office. Jane Harman, who has been in Congress for 18 years, is more the typical Jewish candidate for office; liberal on domestic policy, and solidly pro-Israel. Winograd leans pretty far left on domestic issues, and is avowedly anti-Israel. In fact, she got into an ugly spat with Henry Waxman, who represents a nearby congressional district, after she said in a speech, "As a Jew, I do not want my name or country associated with occupation or extermination." Waxman responded in a fundraising letter for Harman: "In Marcy Winograd's foreign policy, Israel would cease to exist. In Marcy Winograd's vision, Jews would be at the mercy of those who do not respect democracy or human rights."

Winograd is obviously outside the American Jewish mainstream, but by how much? I'm very interested in the question -- brought to the fore last week by Peter Beinart --  about whether American Jews are slipping away from Israel - so I thought it would be interesting to ask Winograd about her challenge to Harman, and about her views on the Middle East. This is Winograd's second attempt to wrest the seat from Harman; in 2006, she won 37.5 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Now, she has the backing of Howard Dean's grass-roots group, Democracy for America, and stands to pose more of a challenge to Harman in this season of anti-incumbent feeling.
I spoke with Winograd by telephone a few days ago. In our conversation, she said she personally supports the replacement of Israel with a bi-national state; she also argued that the U.S. should engage Iran in "people-to-people" diplomacy; that aerospace companies in her district should re-orient themselves away from manufacturing weapons and to the pursuit of green technologies; and she suggested that Henry Waxman is treasonous. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Jeffrey Goldberg: What originally motivated you to challenge Jane Harman?

Marcy Winograd: My original motivation had a lot to do with her covering for the Bush Administration's crimes, covering for the invasion of Iraq and covering for the massive illegal wiretapping program.  Jane Harman failed  in her duty to provide oversight as the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. She either didn't read or didn't take seriously doubts raised by members of the intelligence community about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and she recklessly took us to war on the heels of that. Then I saw her on "Meet the Press" attacking The New York Times for finally releasing a story on illegal wiretaps and I thought to myself that someone has to challenge her, someone has to challenge Democratic incumbents who are complicit in the crimes of the Bush Administration. We need real representation, not someone who is in the pocket of special interests.

JG: What special interests is she in the pocket of?

MW: Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, Israel. Not Israel, but AIPAC, because it's not necessarily the same.

JG: Talk about the Obama Administration and Afghanistan.

MW: When he ran he talked about redeploying troops to Afghanistan so it's no surprise. I would hope sooner rather than later that the Administration would understand that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. There has to be a diplomatic one involving the stakeholders and the neighboring countries.

JG: Did you support the original invasion?

MW: I had deep misgivings about it because it didn't address the root causes of the problem.

JG: What are the root causes?

MW: Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and were angry at the proliferation of U.S. bases and forces in Saudi Arabia, so I think there's a great degree of pushback over the presence of U.S. troops all over the world. We have bases in three-quarters of the countries of the world. Rather than being an occupier, we should reassess our role and become a global partner.

JG: What would you do if you controlled foreign policy? Would you immediately redeploy from Afghanistan?

MW: Yes. Ninety percent of our budget in Afghanistan is military, for big contracts, weapons and mercenaries. For every innocent person killed by a drone, we multiply our enemies ten times. It becomes a recruiting tool.  I think we should be investing the lion's share of our resources in humanitarian aid, and partnering with NGOs, particularly if they are led by women, or who are encouraging women to be leaders in the NGOs.

JG: But if we left Afghanistan, wouldn't the Taliban shut down these women-led NGOs?

MW: Well, that would be the whole point in investing in women-led NGOS, to make them stronger and to help women emerge in leadership positions politically. Under the Soviet-influenced government in Afghanistan, women had far more freedom than they do today, after how many years of American occupation?
JG: Talk about how you would fight terrorism.

MW: I would work very hard for a peace agreement in the Middle East with Israel and Palestine. I think that is part of the problem, certainly not the whole problem, but it creates a great deal of tension which fuels this kind of opposition. I would, as I said, reassess whether we need all these bases, or whether we would be better off investing our resources in working with NGOs to improve local economies. I mean, in Afghanistan, forty percent of the adult population is unemployed. The biggest enemy is poverty and unemployment.

JG: Is there anything you would do against terrorism militarily?

MW: I would join the International Criminal Court. I believe in diplomacy and the rule of law. When people are perpetrating acts of terrorism they should be tried before the world in the world court or tried in absentia. The strongest defense is when you create coalitions of people around the world, not when you have divided the world.

JG: Go this Henry Waxman question. Are you for a bi-national state or are you for a two-state solution?

MW: I consider myself a realist, okay? I'm Jewish. I've labeled myself as a Jewish woman of conscience who is compelled to speak out because of the suffering in the world. I support peace, so whatever both sides can agree to, which would probably be an agreement on a mutual exchange of territory, I would fully support, because I want peace. However, and let me share this with you, I grew up in a strong Zionist family, I sang at my brother's Bar Mitzvah, I sent my daughter to Jewish pre-school, I went to Israel when I was in my 20s. That's my background, and all that being said, I know that Israel was born on land where a million Palestinians lived. For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There's no safety or security in barring people from their homeland. Ultimately, Jews and Palestinians need to learn to live together, just as they lived in peace for many years.
JG: Can you be a liberal and a Zionist at the same time?

MW: Well, there's a less-harmful Zionism. I don't see Zionism as liberal. Zionism categorizes Jews as a race, which makes it easier for Jews to be targeted.

JG: Zionism doesn't categorize Jews as a race, it categorizes Jews as a nation.

MW: To me, there's no safety in creating a nation predicated on either racial or ethnic supremacy.

JG: How did you come to this view?

MW: I've been torn about this for a long time, and not really wanting to look at it, which a lot of Jews probably feel, wanting to turn away from it because it's too painful. It's too tied to our identity, to our neighborhoods, to our whole orientation. I My primary concern is peace. I don't feel comfortable advocating for a country based on ethnic and racial supremacy. Personally, I'm a believer in equality, one voice, one vote, Israelis and Palestinians, one voice, one vote, that's my personal position.

JG: Eventual bi-nationalism.

MW: Yes.

JG: Tell me what you would do about Iran. Do you want to stop it from getting nuclear weapons?

MW: I would reach out to the youth of Iran. Two-thirds of the population is 30 and younger. I would promote people-to-people diplomacy, all sorts of university and cultural exchanges, in order to create a better relationship between our countries.

JG: How would you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

MW: I don't know if we can stop Iran. I think the genie is out of the bottle. If it's not Iran, it will be another country.

JG: Let's talk about what Henry Waxman said about you.

MW: I appreciate Henry Waxman, the fact that he pioneered generics, that he's concerned about the environment. However, on foreign policy we have strong differences. I would hope that all of our lawmakers would pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.

JG: Are you saying Waxman isn't loyal?

MW: I don't know. That's a question you have to ask him.
JG: Talk about Jane Harman's motivations. Is she in the same camp?
MW: I think she is a strong Zionist. I think she also profits off of war. She has helped build the aerospace industry's involvement in U.S. wars. She's a big supporter of aerospace in its present incarnation. I talk a lot about expanding aerospace into green technology.
JG: You want aerospace companies in California doing green technology?

MW: Yes, we should be building solar-powered cities and wind farms. There's no reason we can't harness the wealth of talent in our district to build mass transit or wind farms.
JG: What if one of the aerospace companies came to you said that it needed your help to land a bomber program and that it would create 2,000 jobs in your district. What would you do?

MW: I would ask what else we could do to create 2,000 jobs in our district. Someone would have to show me why these bombers were necessary, other than job-creation. It should be tied to productive, life-affirming endeavors.

JG: Would you be willing to sacrifice jobs if you thought the product was destructive - drones, for instance.

MW: I would hope that that would not be the choice. I would work hard to expand aerospace into green technology. So the choice is not just to build a rocket or a bomb, but to build a solar-powered city.