An experienced voice from Queens will be chairing the House Foreign Affairs Committee after securing the support of his party’s colleagues last Thursday. Rep. Gregory Meeks, 67, who is also the chair of the Queens Democratic organization and serves the sizable Jewish communities of Far Rockaway and Jamaica Estates, as well as areas of Nassau County, will also be the first African American at this post. “I’m extremely honored to be elected Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” Meeks said in a statement, where he called to “bring diplomacy back.” “The new era of US foreign policy will not be just a return to normal, but an opportunity to broaden the committee focus and forge new coalitions to address global challenges.”
Meeks, currently in his 11th-term serving in New York’s 5th Congressional District, defeated Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas for the chairship, who was regarded as more progressive in his foreign policy views, primarily on free trade agreements. He is succeeding Rep. Eliot Engel, a 16-term incumbent and friend of the Jewish community who lost in a primary this past summer to leftist challenger Jamaal Bowman. In contrast, Meeks won his reelection primary with three-fourths of the vote, an expression of confidence in his centrist foreign policy.
Regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations, Meeks, a major supporter of the US-Israel relationship, is believed to want to focus on efforts for a Middle East peace arrangement. In recent years he has voted in favor of providing military aid for the Jewish state and consistently speaks against the BDS movement.
In an interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC on Monday, Meeks expressed support for Israel as part of a two-state solution. Rather than pressure Israel, he spoke of the Abraham Accords as a positive step that could force Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table with the recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Concerning Israeli-controlled territories, Meeks said that annexation would jeopardize the two-state solution and should not involve American funds.
Prior to being picked as chair, Meeks met with the centrist Democratic Majority for Israel and the liberal J Street to explain his positions. AIPAC also expressed support for Meeks, describing him in a statement as “a strong supporter of the US-Israel relationship.”
Meeks often stood at odds with President Donald Trump and intends on working to shift foreign policy in a new direction by addressing existing fractured relationships with other nations. “Not only will we need to re-engage with a world that has felt the marked absence of US global leadership, but we must also rethink traditional approaches to foreign policy,” wrote Meeks. These notions refer to Trump withdrawing America from the World Health Organization, Paris Climate Agreement, Iran Nuclear Deal, and other international frameworks. The representative took a jab at the president, “We will no longer be America first, but America forward.”
Brooklyn-Queens NORPAC president David Steinberg described Meeks as an ally who values cultivating relationships and understands nuance. “He is firmly pro-Israel and we can rely on him to come down on the side of the angel,” he said.
Throughout his career, Meeks has been a consistent supporter of diplomacy, recognizing that it is not perfect, but preferable to unilateral action. He voted against going to war with Iraq in 2002, and in support of the Iran nuclear deal. Concerning our allies, he spoke of accountability rather than realpolitik.
“Our moral standards must be consistent in our pursuit of peace in the Middle East,” he said in a Bloomberg News interview in 2018. “Just as we rebuke Iran for its wrong-doings, so too must Saudi Arabia be held accountable for its human rights abuses, especially when committed with US-made weapons. It is urgent we act now.”
Meeks, who once represented much of Kew Gardens and parts of Richmond Hill, won the caucus vote 148 to 78 and is expected to easily be confirmed by the entire House of Representatives in the new year. He is also projected to work closely with incoming secretary of state, Tony Blinken, whose confirmation is as well an assured choice in a Biden administration.
By Sergey Kadinsky