June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Jewish Link Interviews Andy Kim, New Jersey Candidate for US Senate

Congressman Andy Kim interviewed over Zoom by the author.

Congressman Andy Kim brings significant experience for voters to consider as he seeks to become the U.S. senator from New Jersey. Since 2019, the Democrat has represented New Jersey’s third congressional district, which includes parts of South and Central Jersey. The son of Korean immigrants, he is a Rhodes Scholar and a career public servant who worked as a diplomat and a civilian adviser to the commanding generals in Afghanistan.

He served on the White House National Security Council under President Barack Obama before returning home with the goal of unseating one of the leading authors of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Tom MacArthur. With his second win in 2020, Kim won a district that voted for Donald Trump, and he became the first Democrat to be reelected from this district since before the Civil War. In 2022, he won a historic three-peat by double digits.

The representative has made it his goal to champion lower costs for American families, including by authoring legislation to lower prescription drug costs. He has also been one of the strongest voices in the fight against corruption in politics. He is the proud father of two young boys, raising them just a few miles from where he grew up in New Jersey.

The Jewish Link recently spoke with Kim via Zoom.

What contacts and connections do you have with the Jewish community of New Jersey?

I grew up in the public schools of Cherry Hill and went to a lot of bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. At one point, I asked my parents: “When is my bar mitzvah?” We lived across the street from Temple Beth Shalom, so I had a lot of contact with the Jewish community.

As congressman, I represent large parts of Ocean County, including Lakewood and Toms River. We have lots of issues with antisemitism, and I work with leaders in the community to address this.

What are your thoughts on the troubling rise of antisemitism in New Jersey and across the U.S.? What steps do you propose and/or support to counter antisemitic activities?

Lots of people have reached out to me to share concerns on this. They are very fearful, and parents are concerned for their kids. We’ve never seen antisemitism this bad and the high level of fear. People ask if it’s safe to wear jewelry with the Magen David, because it might make them a target. It’s awful to live at a time with so much fear; it breaks my heart.

A few years ago, we saw a rise in anti-Asian hate, and we were grateful to members of the Jewish community who came to our defense.

Building coalitions are some of the best ways to fight back against the rise of antisemitism. We have an interfaith group in Ocean County that formed a rapid response team to do this. We were talking about how we could strengthen our response. Securing federal resources for security is one way. Adding my voice, and having Congress condemn antisemitism, was another.

I have some humility here, because I know that no single piece of legislation can solve this difficult problem. We must try many different things.

Do you support the U.S. Homeland Security Department grant program for houses of worship? Would you support an increase in funding for this program?

We want to significantly increase the pot of money for this program, and I am opposed to any efforts to decrease it.

I was talking with a congregational rabbi and he told me that security costs are one of the largest items in their annual budget. We must significantly increase the funds in this program. There is a long list of religious institutions that have not yet received support. So we want to keep growing this program.

Have you viewed the video compilation of Hamas atrocities in Israel on October 7, compiled by the Israeli government? If not, would you view it?

I’ve seen a good portion of it and I’m open to seeing more.

It’s one of the most horrific things I’ve seen. I’ve worked in war zones, I’ve seen bad stuff, and this is so shocking. It hits home, the brutality and the savagery.

I’ve talked with lots of families of the hostages and the victims who’ve visited Washington. It’s really hard to grasp what allows someone to do that sort of damage to other human beings. It’s tough to watch but important to see it.

What are your thoughts on the value of the State of Israel as a strategic partner of the United States?

I come from an immigrant family, which has family members in South Korea, near the border with North Korea. We know that the country next door to them is heavily fortified and led by a crazy dictator. The idea of the possible destruction of our family members is not far-fetched to us. And we remember how the United States came to the defense of our country.

This has helped me grapple with what Israel faces. They’re in a dangerous region, with real threats of terrorism. I get the existential threat that Israel faces.

This is especially worrisome when an enemy has nuclear weapons. I’ve worked hard in my career to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The only country I’ve visited twice as congressman is Israel. I serve as one of the leads in Congress for Iron Dome funding. I recognize on a deep level the value of the strategic bond between Israel and the United States. The existential threat they face is different than the security threats that other countries face. This is not some other issue; it’s something fundamental for Israel.

How would you advise President Biden to approach Israel regarding the continuing conflict in Gaza?

I’ve worked in counterterrorism and diplomacy. I understand the value of military action and deterrence. Yet those tactics alone don’t address the need for long-term security.

I encourage the president and his team to see this moment as an opportunity to transform the situation facing Israel. It’s not easy. It’s very complicated.

I’ve talked with lots of leaders of Arab countries, who see openings here. I’ve spoken with Secretary Blinken and they see this.

In response to the drones and missiles attack from Iran, we saw that Jordanian pilots shot some down. This was really remarkable. The threat from Iran can push regional transformation further and further.

The Biden administration should explain this to the American people more clearly. We have to try to seize this moment.

What would be your top three legislative priorities as U.S. senator?

I approach this job [U.S. senator] with humility; it’s a chance to represent a state of 9 million people. I’ve held 73 town hall meetings and I draw my priorities from what I hear.

I’m focused on the high cost of housing. Some families pay 50% of their paychecks for rental costs. I’ve worked to lower prescription drug costs.

I want to bring resources back to New Jersey. We are not getting our fair share of federal funding. I’m concerned about the backsliding of rights in this country. I’m thinking of reproductive rights for women and equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. It feels like this country is getting addicted to anger. I want to address this, too.

Who are your closest legislative allies in the U.S. Congress?

I’m probably closest with members of the class of 2018, the people who came to Congress when I did. People like Jason Crow from Colorado, a former Navy Seal, and Elissa Slotkin from Michigan. They come with a different angle on public service and are less inclined to be partisan.

After the initial interview, and in response to recent events, The Jewish Link posed several follow-up questions to Congressman Kim. His campaign offered the following statements in response.

The Jewish Link asked for Congressman Kim’s comment on his troubling “No” vote for HR 8038, “The 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act,” which passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 360-58 and seeks to authorize the president to impose certain sanctions with respect to Russia and Iran. Kim’s campaign offered the following response, which did not address the question:

There are very real security concerns about TikTok and the protection of Americans’ information, but there are more steps and deliberations needed before we in Congress should take the proposed action in this legislation. I was unable to be in DC this week but would have voted NO. I believe the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is best positioned to make a recommendation on the issue of divestiture and encourage them to do so quickly. If we are concerned about what TikTok can do with accessing and controlling American’s data, I’m concerned about what any corporation or entity can do with it. I previously called on my colleagues in Congress to take a comprehensive approach instead of this piecemeal effort to protect data privacy writ large and address the serious concerns about the public safety risks of social media. I hope to work with my colleagues on those larger issues moving forward.

On May 1, Congressman Andy Kim issued the following statement on the protests on college campuses:

When I was in college I, along with many others, protested against the 2003 Iraq War. As we had the right to peacefully protest then, so do students now. I understand the enormity of what many young people feel right now watching violence consume the lives of tens of thousands. I also understand the fear that many Jewish students and community members have in the wake of the October 7 attacks that antisemitism could be normalized and Israel’s right to exist could be put in doubt. Every student deserves to be able to study and attend classes free from intimidation and discrimination. Whether affiliated with the colleges or not, no one should make harassing statements blatantly aimed at scaring students and others. Raising voices publicly should be a means to persuade and build coalitions rather than to divide. There is a difference between those raising legitimate concern and those spewing hate, and let us work to separate and not conflate those motivations. It is core to our American values that each of us has the right to express our opinions; attempts to shut down voices of dissent only weakens our standing and our ability to find common ground. We must condemn those who only use their voices to suppress and repress, and we must listen to and lift up those who wish to find solutions.

On May 1, Congressman Andy Kim issued the following statement on the Antisemitism Awareness Act:

The rise of antisemitism should deeply worry every American and requires us to come together to confront its causes and its impact with tangible action. This bill, while potentially well intentioned, could be used to limit speech in a way that runs contrary to our values as Americans and doesn’t include the common sense critical steps that I’ve long advocated for, like surging resources to houses of worship to help protect congregations against targeted hate.

Instead, I call on the Speaker to immediately bring up Congresswoman Manning’s bipartisan bill, the Countering Antisemitism Act. This bill doesn’t just condemn antisemitism, it takes critical actions such as establishing National Coordinator to Counter Antisemitism at the White House, requiring law enforcement to coordinate on threat assessments on antisemitic violence, and ensuring the Nonprofit Security Grant Program is sufficiently funded. These threats are real, and we need tangible responses that not only forcefully condemn antisemitic rhetoric, but ensure that Jewish communities across New Jersey and the entire country are protected from the unacceptable rise in hate.

Harry Glazer is the Middlesex County editor of The Jewish Link. He can be reached at [email protected]

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