By James Russell
Special to the TJP
Republican Senator John Cornyn and Democratic opponent MJ Hegar made the case for their candidacies during a virtual forum Oct. 14 sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council and AJC–Dallas.
The forum was moderated by Jeffrey A. Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and professor of history. Hegar and Cornyn appeared separately and audience questions were not permitted.
Hegar has campaigned as a decorated combat veteran and outsider candidate who has the willingness to buck her own party. Cornyn is seeking his fourth term. He sits on the Finance, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees and previously was Majority Whip.
Both unequivocally supported the United States’ partnership with Israel, and denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“The U.S.’s special relationship with Israel [is] unique and it’s special. And it’s something we have to protect,” Hegar stated. “I greatly respect Israel’s position as a democracy in a very volatile area of the world. This alliance is strategically and morally and ethically important to us.”
The BDS movement does not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, Hegar said and “its leaders have too frequently deployed antisemitic rhetoric that I don’t think that we’ve done a good enough job calling out.
“There is no better friend or ally of Israel than the United States, certainly in the Middle East,” said Cornyn. “It’s important for us to continue to support Israel in every way we can both through military weapons sales and defensive weapons. But also [by fighting] back against efforts to marginalize Israel on the world stage through things like the BDS movement.”
Of those seeking to destroy or delegitimize Israel, Cornyn said, “all roads lead to Tehran,” calling Iran “the number one state sponsor of international terrorism and of course a nuclear threat.”
Both condemned antisemitism and bigotry as well. Hegar is concerned about the rise of white nationalism as well as antisemitic violence. “There has been a rise of vandalism of Jewish businesses, cemeteries, on college campuses, etc. The violence obviously is the most concerning thing but it is the rise of white nationalism that really bothers me. We’ve seen swastikas and hateful literature. These things can’t be overlooked,” she said. “The hate speech that is allowed and is sometimes stoked by politicians for political convenience means that violence is right on its heels. We have to stand against hateful rhetoric and actions, whether it’s from people on the left or the right.”
For Cornyn, “antisemitism is abhorrent, as are racism, xenophobia and bigotry. I think people of goodwill need to speak out against it and we need to reject them.”
He added that he spoke at last year’s Anti-Defamation League summit in Washington, D.C., and noted his friendship with San Antonio Pastor John Hagee, who leads Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “While I’m a Christian, I think our values align: Unity, generosity, peace, dignity, courage, gratitude, learning, and growth are all things that we value.”
The two differ on their number one domestic priority, however.
Health care is Hegar’s top domestic priority.
“We have to just stop playing politics with this. We have to protect preexisting conditions. John Cornyn has ads out saying he’s protecting preexisting conditions. It has been fact-checked false,” she said, referring to a Washington Post review of his statements. While Cornyn opposes the Affordable Care Act, which banned denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, he says he supports protecting those with preexisting conditions.
COVID-19 is worsening the situation. “The pandemic is really showing us what the implications of having a broken health care system are,” she said.
COVID-19 is Cornyn’s top issue.
“Congress has passed four successive pieces of legislation totaling $3.8 trillion and about $20 billion has been delivered in federal aid to our hospitals, schools for testing and personal protective equipment,” he said.
Facing an unprecedented pandemic during an election year has only added to Americans’ polarization.
“What makes it even more difficult is coming during an election year when the American people are already polarized. We’ve tried to do everything we could. We’ve gone big and bold to try to deal both with the virus and an eventual vaccine but also the economic consequences of this pandemic,” he said.
Cindy Sweet Moskowitz, chair of the JCRC, noted how valuable it was to hear from both candidates.
“The JCRC and AJC were pleased to collaborate on this unique program, featuring both candidates for the Texas senatorial election. Our U.S. Senators make decisions on issues that impact U.S. foreign policy, relations with Israel, as well as national and local concerns. It is an incredibly important election and we were glad to provide this opportunity to members of our Jewish community,” she said.
Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting ends Friday, Oct. 30.