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Connecticut's Congressional candidates speak out

Jewish Ledger 10/16/10

By Judie Jacobson

Two weeks ago, the Ledger asked the Democrat and Republican candidates aspiring to become Connecticut’s next U.S. Senator to answer several questions on a variety of issues, especially those concerning the Middle East. This week, we turn our attention to Connecticut’s congressional candidates.

Since space does not allow us to feature the candidates running for office in all five congressional districts in one issue, we plan to feature one or two races over the course of the next three weeks. We begin this week with the Fourth Congressional District – one of the most hotly contested races in Connecticut – where first-term Congressman Jim Himes, a Democrat, is being challenged by State Senator Dan Debicella.

JIM HIMES (Dem.)
Jim Himes is currently serving his first term in Congress where he is a member of the House Committees on Financial Services and Homeland Security.
Born in Lima, Peru in 1966 to American parents, he spent the early years of his childhood in Peru and Colombia while his father worked for the Ford Foundation and UNICEF. After his parents divorced, he moved with his mother and sister to the United States.
A graduate of Harvard University, Himes attended Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar, where he continued his studies of Latin America, including research in El Salvador.
Prior to his service in Congress, Himes ran the New York City branch of The Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the challenges of urban poverty. He credits his experience at Enterprise with spurring his involvement in politics. He served as a commissioner of the Greenwich Housing Authority, and went on to become a member of the town’s finance board. He has also served as chairman of his local Democratic Town Committee.
Himes began his professional career at Goldman Sachs & Co. where he worked his way up to vice president over the course of a 12-year career. There he worked extensively in Latin America and headed the bank’s telecommunications technology group.
Jim lives in Greenwich with his wife Mary and two daughters Emma and Linley.

DAN DEBICELLA (Rep.)
Dan Debicella is serving his second term as the state senator from Connecticut’s 21st District, which includes Stratford, Shelton, Monroe, and Seymour.
The son of a policeman, Debicella grew up in Bridgeport and Shelton and was the first person in his family to attend college full time. During his two terms in the state senate, he authored or co-authored several bills including legislation calling for job creation tax credits; anti-dumping environmental legislation; and increases in state aid for education.
Debicella spent five years as a management consultant for McKinsey & Co., where he advised Fortune 500 companies on sales and marketing issues. He also ran his own small Internet business, Textbooks Online, during the high tech boom of the late 1990’s.
Active in numerous community organizations, he serves on the board of directors of Junior Achievement for Western Connecticut, the Kennedy Center in Trumbull, and the Board of Incorporators of both the Shelton/Derby Boys & Girls Club and the Birmingham Group. He is a lifelong member of St. Lawrence Parish in Shelton.
Debicella graduated magna cum laude from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance, and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in Boston. He lives in Shelton with his wife Alexandra.


ON ISRAEL

Q: The Obama administration is pressuring Israel to extend the recently expired moratorium on settlement construction, which was instituted as a precondition to the peace talks. The Israelis say, however, that the moratorium has placed an undue burden on families living in those areas and, in any case, believes the talks should carry no preconditions. Where do you stand? And, if you support extension of the moratorium as a precondition to the talks, would you also support, as a precondition, asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

HIMES: Negotiations proceed best when they are undertaken without preconditions or ultimatums. Which settlements will fall within and without the borders of a post-negotiation Israel is one of the subjects of negotiation itself. “Settlements” are a far more complicated topic than the word implies, encompassing as it does cities of many tens of thousands of Israelis and much smaller enclaves. If Israel believes an extension of the freeze will serve the purpose of creating a more trusting, constructive context for negotiations, it should do so at its own election, not under external pressure.

DEBICELLA: I do not believe that the U.S. should be imposing any pre-existing conditions on Israel as a condition for talks. They are our ally, and we should stand by them throughout the talks (see answer below for details). However, Palestinians must recognize Israel as part of any two-state solution that develops out of these talks, and remove all terrorist elements from Palestinian life.

Q: What role, if any, do you think the U.S. should continue to play in the talks?

HIMES: The U.S. should encourage both the Israelis and the Palestinians to persevere in negotiations and, with the international community, provide the security guarantees and incentives that will make a just, secure and lasting peace possible.

DEBICELLA: The United States’ role in this process should be one of backing Israel as they determine what is the most sustainable solution for them. In the past, the U.S. has tried to play “mediator” rather than backing our ally–often resulting in failed agreements and increased tension in the region.
In January 2010, my opponent Congressman Jim Himes signed a letter with 54 other Congressmen calling for Israel to unilaterally lift sanctions against the Gaza Strip, and presumed to tell Israel how they should best defend themselves from terrorists. Apparently Congressman Himes believes he knows better than Israel how they should defend themselves — a position I find condescending and counterproductive. Instead, we should continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself economically and militarily against those who seek its destruction.
It is not America’s role to tell Israel what is in its own interest. Israel is in the best position to determine how to negotiate a lasting peace with the Palestinians that will succeed. It is America’s role to support any nation or people with national aspirations that wishes to live in peace with its neighbors, establish a civil society under the rule of law and to recognize the individual rights of its populace. America should back our ally as they negotiate the details of how Israel and the Palestine Authority can co-exist peacefully.

Q: Have you been to Israel? If so, what were your impressions? If not, do you have any plans to go?

HIMES: I have been to Israel many times. My first visit to Israel was in 1982. I was an American Field Service (AFS) exchange student, traveling the region. It was a deeply moving experience. The physical presence of so much that I knew only from scripture, the confluence of religion and history, and above all, the stunning and improbable achievements of Israel were overwhelming.
My interest has deepened over the decades, as I have traveled the region and done business with a variety of Israeli companies. I have seen first-hand how the Middle East’s only democracy shares many important values with the United States: a free press, due process of law and respect for minorities. I have been perhaps most impressed by Israel’s ability to grow and thrive, despite its unique security challenges and was particularly excited by Israel’s accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
I visited Israel with my wife one year ago as a member of an American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) Congressional delegation, meeting with Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Fayyad, touring Israel and the West Bank, and hearing directly from everyday Israelis about their experiences and ideas.

DEBICELLA: I have not been to Israel yet, but plan on doing so within the next two years.


ON IRAN

Q: Do you believe the sanctions on Iran are proving effective in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons? If not, what do you think the Obama administration’s next move should be?

HIMES: I was proud to have offered my own amendment to, cosponsored, and voted in favor of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010. The strength of these sanctions is already apparent. Oil companies like Total of France, Statoil of Norway, and Eni of Italy, among many others, realize that the price of doing business with Tehran is too great, and continue to pull out of the Iranian-related activities.
It is imperative that President Obama continue to tighten sanctions and increase international cooperation in doing so. The Administration must continue to penalize companies that do business in both the U.S. and Iran, deny any government contracts to companies doing business in Iran, and continue to isolate Iranian government entities from the global financial system. The President should continue to work with our allies in Europe, in Asia, and around the world to increase the pressure of sanctions.
It is my most sincere hope that as Tehran sees the impact of sanctions on its petroleum sector, its economy, and, most importantly, its already dissatisfied public, it will get off the path to nuclear weapons development. Although no one relishes the possibility of a military solution to Iran’s illegal behavior, it is important that Iran never believe that that option is off the table.

DEBICELLA: The sanctions have been a case of “too-little, too-late.” We need to take aggressive action to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The U.S. should lead a coalition of allies in rapid escalation of actions to stop Iran from obtaining this technology. We should start with current economic sanctions, leading to a “Desert Shield”-type blockage, and eventually air strikes to neutralize any threat. We cannot take any actions off the table. America should not do this unilaterally, but in conjunction with our Democratic allies. However, we should set definitive timelines for Iran to respond with clear escalating results for failure to cooperate with the international community.

Q: There is ongoing speculation that Israel may ultimately take military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Would you support such action?

HIMES: Since taking office, my commitment to supporting Israel’s need to maintain its qualitative military edge has been unwavering. I voted in favor of the Obama Administration’s request for $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel. I am proud to have introduced the U.S.-Israel Rocket and Missile Defense Cooperation and Support Act, which will send $205 million to support Israel’s deployment of the Iron Dome rocket defense system to protect Israeli civilians, living in cities like Sderot, who have been terrorized by rocket and mortar attacks.
The President of Iran has publicly called for the elimination of the State of Israel. He is pursuing the means to achieve that end. Israel, like any other nation, has the right to defend itself from the possibility of such catastrophe. Many other nations, including Sunni Arab states and in the West have a profound interest in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. I have always stood by Israel’s right to defend itself from existential threats, and I continue to do so.
We must recognize that the consequences of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities are potentially catastrophic. Attacks on Israel, skyrocketing oil prices, and terrorism unleashed throughout the West are all real possibilities. As such, a military solution, while never off the table, must be a last resort.

DEBICELLA: Yes, although my preference would be for an international coalition to join together to undertake any military action.

Q: Hillary Clinton seemed to suggest recently that we may have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran, and the way to do that would be to help Middle Eastern countries, like Israel, develop the capacity to defend themselves against this nuclear threat. Do you agree?

HIMES: Defense against a nuclear threat assumes deterrability, which is not an assumption one should make about Iran. Iran is a sponsor of global terrorism, an existential threat to the State of Israel and a grave threat to the entire international community. A nuclear Iran would set off an arms race that would end with many Sunni Arab states nuclear-armed. That scenario must be avoided.

DEBICELLA: Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear capabilities under any circumstances. Iran as a nuclear power would pose a threat to both Israel and the United States, both from direct threat of attack and the high probability of nuclear technology finding its way into the hands of terrorist organizations.


ON DEFENSE

Q: Cutting spending will be a priority for the next Congress. There are those promoting cuts to the defense budget in order to sustain domestic programs and/or cut the deficit. Where do you stand on this issue? What actions can or will you take to retain Connecticut’s stake in this budgetary item if defense programs need to be cut?

HIMES: The next Congress will have to make many tough decisions regarding the budget; however, I commit to supporting the full administration’s requested international aid for Israel, pursuant to the ten-year Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Israeli government. While cuts will have to be made to next fiscal year’s budget, I will not support any cuts that could potentially weaken the safety and security of our people and allies.

DEBICELLA: Defense spending will need to be reviewed along with all other spending if we are to eliminate the deficit without raising taxes. Specifically, I want to ensure that there is no “congressional pork” in the defense budget–items that congressmen continue to fund although they are not a priority according to our military.

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