Days after being designated the Democratic candidate for New York’s junior U.S. Senate seat, and a day after Israel’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara ship, Kirsten Gillibrand visited The Jewish Week to discuss the latest news and issues. Gilliband, 43, was a member of the House of Representatives from upstate, representing parts of the Adirondacks, Catskills and Hudson Valley when she was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Below are excerpts from the interview, part of which is featured in the MetroPolitics video blog on the Jewish Week Web site.
Q: Nine people are dead off the coast of Gaza. Who do you think is to blame?
A: Israel has a right to defend herself. It is very concerning to me there has been a rush to judgment. It’s important that Israel have the ability to check cargo going into Gaza for their security. I have had the benefit of visiting Sderot when I was in Israel and I can tell you as a mom of two young children, there’s nothing more disturbing to me than the fact that people have to worry when they drop their kids off to school if their kids are going to survive that day.
How do you feel in general about President Barack Obama’s Mideast policy?
It’s important that all parties bring something to the table. Just to focus on something that Israel must do without a fuller discussion is not the way forward. Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has put a lot on the table already, he’s called for a two-state solution and he has given a lot on the West Bank in terms of [freedom of] movement, in terms of the settlements. We have yet to hear from the Palestinians about a two-state solution. The U.S. focus should continue to be measured in that regard.
You are running for your first elected term as senator. Top Democrats, including the president, have worked to clear the field for your re-election. Why not have a primary?
A lot of candidates have chosen not to run. They have made those judgments based on whether they can win. I’m very grateful for the president’s support. He’s made statements saying he thinks I’m a strong senator. I take a back seat to nobody.
Now that J Street has joined AIPAC on the lobbying scene, what is your sense of what it means to be pro-Israel these days?
There is always a debate about what is the best strategy for peace, but I think the goals are absolutely shared.
Social services are reeling because of the recession. Can more federal dollars be found to help?
We’ve had a reduction in charitable giving of 5 percent, which means $15 billion in the last year. We are struggling with cuts to senior centers, to day care, to special-needs children and drug addiction programs … What we are trying to do on the federal level is bring more resources to bear. I’ll be working to fill the gaps and trying to get funding in the next emergency supplement for at-risk at-need populations. Whether I’ll be successful I don’t know.
You are in favor of deducting up to $10,000 for private education for preschool and college. Would you favor such a deduction for parochial schools? Or vouchers?
I do think parochial education is important, but I favor funding it through charitable giving. There are ways for government funding of all schools, such as if a yeshiva wants to be more energy-efficient they would be eligible for a grant for greening just like every other building. I have a grant guide specifically for religious institutions and charities. I don’t support vouchers.
Interview with Jewish Week staff, edited and condensed by Adam Dickter.
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