United States Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, came to Yale Monday to address U.S. policy toward Israel and the state of American politics in front of about 200 people.
During the talk, sponsored by Yale Hillel and the Yale College Democrats, Frank, who is Jewish, argued that Democrats have compelling reasons to support Israel given the Jewish state’s liberal values. Following his address, the openly gay congressman answered questions about LGBTQ rights, the 2012 elections, his impending retirement and his July marriage to partner James Ready.
Although he said he disagrees with some aspects of Israel’s government policies — he wishes Israel were “more restrictive” when choosing to build new settlements — Frank said he is a strong supporter of the country.
“Based on the values I have as a man of the left, Israel is by a very large margin the best country in its part of the world,” Frank said. “I am troubled when I see people who claim to share the values of the left join in Israel-bashing.”
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He cited Israel’s commitment to gender equality and freedom of religion as two reasons the nation should have more in common with the American left than the right. He also addressed the issue of gay rights, contrasting LGBTQ citizens’ open service in the Israel Defense Force with the United States’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was repealed last year.
Frank also described Israel as a premier example of democracy, arguing that it contradicts the notion that democracy is only possible for states that are unthreatened.
“The high court in Israel has a better record of protecting civil liberties than the United States,” Frank said. “Israel stands out as a stunning refutation to the idea that democracy is only for the secure.”
The congressman also defended President Barack Obama’s handling of relations with Israel, describing Obama as a “very good friend” of the country, citing the administration’s diplomatic handling of the Palestinian request for statehood at the United Nations as an example of how the president has fought on Israel’s behalf. Frank stressed that criticism of Israel from Obama and the left comes out of a “friendly” responsibility for the country’s well-being.
“Frank made a strong case in support of our ally — one that ought to resonate with Democrats and Republicans Alike,” Dems President Zak Newman ’13 said. “Alliance and friendship does not disallow disagreement and constructive conversation, and Democrats understand that.”
Elizabeth Henry ’14, a member of the Yale Political Union’s Tory Party, said she thought Frank gave one of the more conservative talks the Dems have ever sponsored.
“So many liberal Yalies think that as liberals they should automatically support Palestine and that Israel is the human rights violator,” Henry said. “Frank eloquently shot down those beliefs — pointing out that Israel is the nation that is the most respecting of human rights in the entire Middle East and that liberals should stand up for Israel.”
After his address, Frank, who co-sponsored the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, was asked why, three years after the financial crisis, nobody has been prosecuted for illegal actionsthat led to it. Frank explained that, at the time, much of what was done was not illegal and thus could not be prosecuted, much like how monopolies went unregulated in the 19th century until the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
Frank, one of the most outspoken advocates for gay rights in Congress, said he never thought he would see gay marriage legalized in the United States when he first ran for state office 40 years ago. Then, he said, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a gay marriage case as a unsubstantiated challenge — a far cry from the current state of gay rights in the country, with the state of Washington this week becoming the seventh to allow gays to marry.
Last month, after his district was redrawn, Frank announced that he would not seek re-election this year after serving in Congress for 32 years. Nearly 71 years old, and facing one of the most polarized political climates in the nation’s history, he said he was tired of reading about the financial sector and did not want to work to meet new constituents.
“Campaigning sucks,” Frank said. “I’m going to be married in July. I want a life.”
Frank said he plans to lecture, write and give television commentary after he retires, adding that he and partner Ready will split their time between Maine and Massachusetts, where the two have homes.
In 2010, Frank was voted the “funniest,” “brainiest” and the “workhorse” member of Congress in a survey of Capitol Hill staffers published by the Washingtonian.