Steven J. Israel (born May 30, 1958) is an American politician who served as a U.S. Representative from New York from 2001 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected in New York's 2nd congressional district until 2013 and New York's 3rd congressional district until his retirement from Congress.
Since redistricting in 2012, the district includes portions of northern Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island, as well as a small portion of Queens in New York City. Israel chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015 and Democratic Policy and Communications Committee from 2015 to 2017. Prior to his election to Congress, he served on the Huntington Town Board, starting 1993. In 2017, he joined CNN as a political commentator.
Early life, education and private career
Israel was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Long Island community of Levittown, New York. He attended Nassau Community College and Syracuse University from 1978 to 1979 and graduated from George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1982. He then became a staff member for U.S. Representative Richard Ottinger from New York. Israel was elected to the town council in Huntington, New York, in 1993.
U.S. House of Representatives
After Rick Lazio left his House seat to run for the United States Senate in 2000, Israel was elected to his seat, receiving 48% of the vote, defeating Republican Joan Jonhson, who received 34%, and four independent candidates. He was reelected six times with relatively little difficulty, despite representing a swing district on paper.
On January 5, 2016, Israel announced that he would not seek reelection in November 2016.
- Committee on Appropriations
- Co-chair and founder of Congressional Center Aisle Caucus
- House Cancer Caucus (Co-chair)
- Long Island Sound Caucus (Co-chair)
- Assistant Democratic Whip
- House Democratic Caucus Task Force On Defense and the Military (Chair)
- House Democratic Study Group on National Security Policy (Co-chair)
Israel voted to authorize George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq, even though more than 60 per cent of his Democratic colleagues in the House voted against the bill.
In his second term, Israel was tapped for a leadership position as Assistant Whip. In his third term, Israel was appointed to chair the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Defense and Military, a group of 15 Democratic House members who reach out to the defense community and advise the House Democratic leadership on military policy.
Israel supported a study on the feasibility of switching from Tuesday to weekend voting.
- Occupy Wall Street
Israel's support for Occupy Wall Street drew criticism from conservatives, who claimed the movement harbored "anti-Semitic" elements. In response Israel pointed to his support for the nation of Israel as well as his own Jewish heritage.
As an ally of Nancy Pelosi, Israel was mentioned in 2010 as a possible successor to Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the DCCC; he declined to speak about it until after the midterms were over, saying he was "just completely focused on supporting Nancy Pelosi."
It was reported that Pelosi's selection of Israel to head the DCCC had much to do with the district he represents, where "Democrats hold a modest registration edge but independents decide elections." Israel had gained respect through fundraising and recruiting candidates for the campaign committee. Israel is one of the few Democrats who has run campaign ads in defense of his vote on health care.
Israel has said he supports legal abortions in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother, though he does not support abortions being legal in all cases. He has voted against bills that would prohibit federal funding for abortions, against a bill that would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions, and against the Abortion Pain Act, which would have prevented abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Since 2004 he has consistently received 100% ratings from the pro-choice groups NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, as well as a 0% rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
On July 4, 2013 Israel announced legislation that would require all U.S. national parks to sell merchandise that is Made in the USA.
Israel supports increased regulation on gun ownership. He voted against several bills and amendments which would decrease federal regulation of safety precautions of guns and decrease federal regulations on the sale of firearms. He also cosponsored the 2009 "No Fly, No Buy" Act, stating "Gun safety measures like the 'No Fly, No Buy' Act should be a no-brainer for every member of Congress. It's common sense legislation." He has received 0% ratings from the pro-gun rights NRA and the Gun Owners of America, as well as 100% ratings from the pro-gun control Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Israel was an original cosponsor of the bill To extend the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 for 10 years (H.R. 3626; 113th Congress), which passed the House on December 3, 2013. The bill allowed for a ten-year extension of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, but did not expand any of its provisions (related to plastic guns).
Israel voted for the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and against several bills repealing it.
Israel supports same-sex marriage. In a press release in June 2009, he said, "I'm proud of what Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont have done for marriage equality. I hope that my home state of New York will soon follow." New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011.
J Street controversy
Steve Israel was an honorary member of the gala host committee for a Gala dinner on October 27, 2009 by J Street, a liberal, nonprofit lobbying group. In the weeks leading up to the Gala dinner, those aligned with the Likud, the political party of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, criticized Steve Israel and those supporting J Street. The Weekly Standard blogger Michael Goldfarb called the J Street dinner an "anti-Israel bash." In response, Steve Israel's spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said, "It's absurd that this has become a controversy...The Congressman agreed to be on the gala host committee. That doesn't mean he agrees with every viewpoint of every speaker at the event".
New York election law allows for fusion voting, where a candidate can run as a member of multiple parties. In 2000 Israel ran only as a Democrat in his winning bid for Congress, but since 2002 he has also run as the candidate for the Independence Party and the Working Families Party. In 2000 the Republican candidate ran only as a Republican, but since 2002, every Republican has also run as the candidate for the Conservative Party of New York.
|2000||Steve Israel||Democratic||48%||Joan B. Johnson||Republican||35%|
|2002||Steve Israel||Democratic||58%||Joseph P. Finley||Republican||40%|
|2004||Steve Israel||Democratic||67%||Richard Hoffmann||Republican||33%|
|2006||Steve Israel||Democratic||70%||John W. Bugler||Republican||30%|
|2008||Steve Israel||Democratic||67%||Frank J. Stalzer||Republican||33%|
|2010||Steve Israel||Democratic||56%||John Gomez||Republican||43%|
|2012||Steve Israel||Democratic||58%||Stephen Labate||Republican||42%|
|2014||Steve Israel||Democratic||54%||Grant Lally||Republican||45%|
Israel has two adult daughters and is also an author. In 2018, he released his second novel, Big Guns.
The sale of his marital home was and is the subject of some considerable controversy. This is because Israel has received financial contributions from the lenders who gave him a favorable deal on a short sale of his marital home following his second divorce.