St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri iStock

Republican Senator Bob Onder is a sitting Senator representing Missouri and a clear pro-Israel advocate. He passionately believes in the Israel-American alliance, and as an advocate myself I looked forward to this interview which he was kind enough to find the time to hold.

Q: Can you tell me about how and why you co-sponsored and fought so hard for the anti-BDS bill in your state?

Senator Onder: It was a two-three-year battle, but we got the anti-BDS bill passed in Missouri this year.

It is interesting when the bill was in committee and the testimony, most of the anti-testimony against Senate Bill 739 and its predecessors came from Palestinian activists; there was often a tinge of antisemitism in some of their testimony. But when we got to the floor one of our biggest opponents was a senator of a libertarian stand who said the government should not be getting involved in these sorts of things.

The point I made is that anti-BDS bills and SB 739 in no way infringes on anybody’s free speech, it determines how Missouri taxpayer money is going to be spent. Folks have a right to take a position on whatever they want on Middle Eastern issues, or any other issues for that matter, but they do not necessarily have the right to taxpayer money.

The Stand with Israel Act made the statement that as Missourians, if you are going to receive taxpayer money, you should not be participating in this destructive boycott and sanction effort against America’s most faithful ally in the Middle East; and really in the world, Israel. Ultimately, that point-of-view won the day and we were happy to be able to get it done.

Q: What major influences did you have in your life?

Senator Onder: I came of age during the Cold War, where Israel was one of America’s most staunch allies in the Middle East; and of course, the world, in that battle between freedom and Soviet communist tyranny. As the Cold War wound down, in the post-cold-war world things have not gotten any safer or more stable in the Middle East.

America’s interests are a threat and Israel stands as a lone democratic republic in a part of the world that is not known for its democratic institutions or for freedom or for liberty.

What I really felt was that it was politically the right thing to do, was to stand with Israel.

\As a Christian I really do feel that Israel is a part of a Judeo- Christian heritage and part of the Western freedom, dignity, and rights of the individual; without Judaism there would be no Christianity.

Without Israel, Judaism, and Christianity there is no Western world. We live in a world in which, throughout human history, freedom is the miniscule exception to the rule. Most human beings have lived under harsh tyranny. Truly little respect is paid to the rights of individuals in most political systems throughout history and today throughout most of world.

I think it is natural for Americans to feel an infinity for Israel.

Q: Israel is an important economic partner whose share amounted to 43 million dollars of trade with the state of Missouri in 2017. Can you explain in further detail how this helped your state’s economy?

Senator Onder: Another thing I did add during the debate is that Israel is an important economic factor for the United States. It is our 18th-24th import and export partner. Six Israeli companies call Missouri their North American home. That relationship is close, and that relationship has been recognized in many states.

Agriculture is Missouri’s biggest export. I think a lot of it has to do with partnerships between Israeli bio-tech companies, agriculture bio-tech companies, and Missouri companies. So, Israel of course, is an enormous player in the world-wide pharmaceutical industry and I think a lot of it [economic growth] is because of those partnerships in addition to agriculture.

Q: In congress we have Democrats like Ilhan Omar, AOC, Rashida Talib, and Pressley who have continuously voted against Israel and the Jewish people. With more congressional candidates who align with their ideology (anti-Jewish, pro-BDS, anti-Israel) running in this year’s election what do you see happening in the future? Cori Bush for example.

Senator Onder: I cannot imagine that Cori Bush will not be one of the squad’s members, will not follow AOC, Omar, and the others to the letter. So, what do we do on the national level? Fortunately, none of them are in the U.S Senate. It is just like last year, when anti-BDS legislation in Congress had 58 co-sponsors- 42 Republicans and 15 Democrats, 292 co-sponsors in the house.

Q: Why can’t it get done?

Senator Onder:I think Nancy Pelosi is just afraid of her left flank and I do not think she wants a rebellion on her hands from these younger members.

So I don’t see, as long as the Democrats keep control of Congress, getting anti-BDS legislation through. It’s a lot like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, almost everyone endorsed it in theory, but when it came around to getting it done it took Donald Trump to do it.

Q: We now have BLM in America, an organization that is anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist, pro-BDS, who compare our police negatively to IDF soldiers; They accuse U.S police of beating up African Americans and accuse IDF soldiers of beating up Palestinian Arabs… can you comment on this?

Senator Onder: Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, of course we all broadly; Democrats, Republicans, black activists, police unions condemn police brutality against anyone, of course including young black males. Throughout our cities, St. Louis recently took the unenviable place of having the #1 murder rate in the country, last year 194 people were murdered, this year with several months left we already have 194 murders and as far as I know, I do not believe one of those was a young black male whose life was taken by a police officer.

Mostly these victims are African Americans; while again, as far as any policing reform that is necessary to minimize the chance of these things happening… and I say minimize because there are bad actors in any profession… but anything we can do to minimize and end inappropriate police practices we should do.

At the same time, the Defund the Police Movement, the protests turning into riots, this is counterproductive, it is hurting the people that the BLM most claims to want to help.

And as you alluded to, the BLM movement more broadly has an agenda that goes way beyond police reform… there seems to be a strong Marxist element and as you said, strong antisemitic elements among some of the leaders of the BLM movement.

I think we must look very cautiously at that organzition, and I think it is kind of sad to see that slogan being embraced so widely by corporate America, when it is a highly controversial political movement.

Q: Quite honestly the BLM organization makes a lot Jewish Americans feel unsafe.

Senator Onder: You have a violent movement in the streets that is openly antisemitic in many cases. Thank goodness their targets so far have been hard targets like police stations. I am sure you are afraid for your synagogue, that this increasingly violent movement might take a turn in a bad direction for American Jews. I understand that completely.

Q: President Trump last month brokered two peace deals with Israel and the UAE, as well as Bahrain. How do you think this will affect the U.S, Israel, and our relationship?

Senator Onder: I think that it is exceptionally good for our relationship with Israel. The Arab world had said for a long time that the only way there could be peace is with a two-state solutionn. Given the stance and the actions of many Palestinian leaders, it is hard to see how that is a viable path to peace. It is good to see peace deals brokered with the help of the United States between Israel and Arab countries where there is mutual recognition; recognition of Israel’s right to exist without Israel having to make major concessions that would threaten her sovereignty and her safety.

Q: College campuses are very hostile for young American Jews today due to the Israel Apartheid Week and the pro-BDS movements. What is your best argument in addressing this, what would be your advice on how to handle it, because it is a very difficult situation?

Senator Onder: Of course, individual people have the right to take whatever position they want. If a young college student does not want to take medication… that is his or her right. If they want to boycott soda stream that is their right. The Stand with Israel Act had to do with the State of Missouri contracting, purchasing with Israel. Missourians decided to stand with Israel.

But I completely reject this "aparheid" comparison and using the word “apartheid” comparing Israel to South Africa. I would point out that Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress never called for the destruction of the state of South Africa; they never called for uts elimination or extermination. The BDS movement is quite different. There is no analogy there whatsoever.

These movements, like the BDS movements, are not just symbolic movements encouraging students to not buy products made in Israel. They have much bigger ambitions. That is why states like Missouri passing anti-BDS legislation can really make a difference to really push back.

Senator Onder co-sponsored the sb 739 bill in Missouri; a bill that passed anti-bds legislation. It is one step towards combatting anti-Israel rhetoric. It may have taken a few years for this bill to go through the necessary channels, Senator Onder made sure it was done. He was never deterred from his mission. With people like the Senator in our government American Jews and Israel may be able to breath a little lighter than before.

Angela Van Der Pluym is a Jewish girl from Chicago. She has a Political Science degree with an emphasis in Public Law and is part of the Young Leaders cabinet of Herut Noth America.