Eric Esshaki is the Republican nominee who will face incumbent Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) in the U.S. House of Representatives race on Nov. 3 in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.
His father, Steve Esshaki, is a Chaldean Christian who immigrated to the United States from Iraq in the 1970s, while his mother grew up in Michigan.
Esshaki, 36, became a registered nurse, and later, a lawyer.
He and his wife, Heather, have two children.
JNS talked with Esshaki by phone on Oct. 26. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What makes you different than Congresswoman Stevens in general and in terms of issues pertinent to the Jewish and pro-Israel community?
A: We just have very different views on what the role of government ought to be generally. She believes in bigger government, higher taxes and more dominant control, and I generally believe that lowering taxes and having smart regulatory policy is the way to move our economy forward.
One of the biggest issues that we have right now is that our Congress is broken. We have politicians playing politics instead of actually focusing on problems and finding solutions. She epitomizes the problems that we have in politics. She votes with her party 100 percent of the time, she voted to impeach President [Donald] Trump. Most people realize that, whether they liked her or not, there weren’t the votes in the Senate, and it was a political stunt.
We have to support Israel 100 percent. The rest of the world and, specifically, the Middle East needs to know that Israel is our ally. We have economic interests at stake. We have security interests at stake. The reality is that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. They’re the only country that observes and protects human rights, and so we have to protect them.
We see a lot of anti-Semitism, especially on the left these days with the BDS movement, particularly at our universities, and we need to come out strong and condemn that. We need to condemn members of Congress who make anti-Semitic comments, and Haley Stevens has refused to do that so far. She says she supports Israel, but then doesn’t take a stand when it’s important to take a stand.
Q: How crucial is the endorsement you got from the Republican Jewish Coalition? What was your reaction to getting the endorsement?
A: I’m proud to have the endorsement. Like I said, I support Israel 100 percent. Our ideals and values are aligned, and it’s important to have support of all communities, including the Jewish community.
Q: How many times have you been to Israel?
A: I’ve never been to Israel. I would love to go.
Q: Is the president doing enough to confront the Iranian threat?
A: The president has been tough on Iran. I think he’s shown strength there. He got rid of the deal that [former President Barack] Obama struck where they were giving them loads of cash. Where it wasn’t going to work they’re continuing to try to exert influence in the region. They were continuing to advance their nuclear capabilities. We need to be tough on Iran. We also need to have a pragmatic approach when it comes to the Middle East. It’s a complicated area, and we need to be constantly reassessing what we’re doing there, what our role is, what our purpose is and make sure that the plan moving forward is clear.
Q: What was your reaction to the Abraham Accords, and now Sudan, agreeing to normalize ties with Israel?
A: President Trump is a negotiator, and negotiating from a position of strength is important. The strength that the United States is exerting and that strength in terms of our support for Israel has brought those to the table that otherwise would not want to come to the table, and I think that he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for helping to facilitate those processes.
Q: What is your reaction to the rise in anti-Semitism at home and abroad?
A: It’s disgusting. As a member of a community that also has a history of being marginalized and suffers persecution in the region, I think it’s absolutely important that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. That starts with our leadership. When we have members of Congress that make anti-Semitic remarks and we have a party that refuses to condemn those remarks, I don’t think that sets the example that we need.
Q: On the far-right, what’s your reaction to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is all but guaranteed to be elected from a congressional district in Georgia, despite her support for the QAnon conspiracy theory and for making controversial, even bigoted, statements?
A: That should be condemned. I’m happy to condemn bigoted statements. I don’t deal in conspiracy theories. I think that it is unfortunate that we have those extreme elements on both sides of the aisle, and we all have a duty and an obligation to stand up and call it for what it is.
Q: If you’re both elected to Congress, would you call her out if she steps out of line just like you would call out Democrats if they step out of bounds?
A: Absolutely. My allegiance is not to a party or a person. My allegiance is to the Constitution and the voters here in Michigan in the 11th Congressional District. When Republicans are doing things that I agree with, then I’ll stand by and I’ll agree with them.
Q: Why do we see what appears to be a double standard in the media and culture when it comes to reacting to anti-Semitism, compared to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been criticized for adopting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?
A: It’s frustrating that we’ve gone down this road where we put Americans against one another. We’ve engaged in identity politics. At the end of the day, we’re all Americans. We’re all here to take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities that we have in this country, and we should all be concerned about protecting the American dream for future generations. We should all be concerned about public safety and security, and ensuring that everyone is treated justly with dignity and respect.
Q: What is your reaction to those, including Democrats, who are for conditioning U.S. assistance to Israel?
A: It’s frustrating. These are people who believe lies and propaganda that’s being pushed by bad actors in the Middle East. It’s important to recognize that Israel is a beacon for human rights and freedom, and the ideals that we share here in this country. We need to support Israel militarily. We need to continue to engage in economic endeavors. That’s mutually beneficial. Research in areas of science and technology is also important, and we have a strong partnership there.
Q: Describe your interactions with the Jewish community before and during the campaign.
A: There’s been a lot of support from the Jewish community during the campaign. Being Chaldean myself, I think we share a lot of similar values and a lot of similar stories. I have always sought to understand the issues within the Jewish community and always have been supportive of Israel and U.S.-Israeli relations.
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