Kamala Harris* was born on October 20, 1964, in Oakland, California, to a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father. Harris’s parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother was granted custody of the children. After the divorce, when Harris was 12, her mother moved with the children to Montreal, Québec, Canada.
After graduating from Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec in 1981, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in political science and economics.
Harris returned to California, where she earned her Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, in 1989 and began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
In 2003, Harris became the District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco. After serving for two terms, she was elected as the first African-American and first woman to serve as California’s Attorney General.
She met her Jewish husband, Douglas Emhoff, on a blind date in San Francisco. They married in 2014.
In a profile of Harris, journalist Ron Kampeas described her as “more AIPAC than J Street.”
Harris has been to Israel on more than one occasion. In 2017, she shared a Shabbat dinner with a group of Israeli activists, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, the Supreme Court and Al-Quds University. “Having grown up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember those Jewish National Fund boxes that we would use to collect donations to plant trees for Israel,” she said in a speech to AIPAC. “Years later, when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the fruits of that effort and the Israeli ingenuity that has truly made a desert bloom.”
“I soaked in the sights and sounds and smells of Jerusalem,” she added. “I stood in Yad Vashem, devastated by the silent testimonies of the 6 million Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust, and we must always remember that solemn promise. Never again.”
In 2017, Harris was sworn in as a United States Senator for California, the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in history. She serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget.
“The terms of any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be imposed by others in the world. The U.S. and our allies in Europe and the Arab world can and should help facilitate an agreement to create peace and bring both parties to the table, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves must negotiate and approve the terms of any peace agreement. Lasting peace can only be found through bilateral negotiations that protect Israel’s identity, ensure security for all people and include the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” (Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2019)
Asked by the New York Times, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” Harris responded, “I think Israel as a country is dedicated to being a democracy and is one of our closest friends in that region, and that we should understand the shared values and priorities that we have as a democracy, and conduct foreign policy in a way that is consistent with understanding the alignment between the American people and the people of Israel.”
On whether Israel meets the human rights standards: “Overall, yes.” (New York Times, June 19, 2019)
“As a member of both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I am deeply involved in insuring the American Israeli relationship remains strong. And I am proud to stand strongly with America’s most important allies. So let me be clear about what I believe. Israel is a critical friend and ally to the United States. I stand with Israel both because of our shared values, which are so fundamental to the founding of both our nations, and I believe the bonds between the people of the United States and the people of Israel are unbreakable and we can never let anyone drive a wedge between us.
And I believe, Israel should never be a partisan issue. I will do everything in my power to insure broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense. That is why I strongly support America’s security assistance to Israel and I am committed to strengthen the American Israeli security and defense relationship.
I believe that the only viable resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the only way Israel can remain a Jewish and democratic state is two states for two peoples living side by side. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state in peace and dignity just as Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people. I believe that a resolution to this conflict cannot be imposed by outside parties. It must be agreed upon by the parties themselves. Both sides will have to make difficult decisions. Peace can only come through a reconciliation of differences, and that can only happen at the negotiating table.
I believe that when any organization delegitimizes Israel, we must stand up and speak out against it. Israel must be treated equally, and that is why the first resolution I cosponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israeli bias at the United Nations and affirm and reaffirm that the United States seeks a just, secure and sustainable two-state solution.” (Comments to American Jewish Committee, June 3, 2019)
- “Her support for Israel is central to who she is,” Harris’ campaign communications director, Lily Adams, told McClatchy... Adams said that the California senator has no plans to stray from the positions she has laid out on Israel since being elected to the Senate. “She’ll continue to support the U.S.-Israel alliance and peace through a two-state solution as a senator, as a candidate, and as president. For the senator, Israel should not be a partisan issue,” Adams said. She also opposes cutting foreign aid to Israel.
Harris “believes taking unilateral action to annex the West Bank would be a mistake and would jeopardize the peace process,” according to Adams.
“She’ll continue to support the U.S.-Israel alliance and peace through a two-state solution as a senator, as a candidate, and as president. For the senator, Israel should not be a partisan issue,” Adams said. (McClatchy, April 16, 2019)
- In an off-the-record discussion with members of AIPAC, she said: “The vast majority of people understand the importance of the State of Israel. Both in terms of its history and its present in terms of being a source of inspiration on so many issues, which I hope we will talk about, and also what it means in terms of the values of the United States and those values that are shared values with Israel, and the importance of fighting to make sure that we protect and respect a friend, one of the best friends we could possibly have. And I do believe, walking the halls of the United States Senate these last several months, that this is a shared value,” she added. “I do believe this is one of the issues that is more obviously not even a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan issue.” (Huffpost, February 24, 2019)
- Harris has described Israel as being a “beautiful home to democracy and justice.” (Arab America, January30, 2019)
- “I believe that a resolution to this conflict cannot be imposed,” she said. “It must be agreed upon by the parties themselves.” (JTA, January 11, 2019)
- Harris co-sponsored a Senate resolution in 2017 criticizing President Obama’s refusal to veto a U.S. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies. (JTA, January 11, 2019)
- In June 2017, she joined in the unanimous vote for a resolution marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. The resolution called on President Donald Trump to “abide by” the 1995 law calling for the U.S. Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It also said, “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.” Further, it advocated a two-state solution based on direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. (Arutz Sheva, June 6, 2017)
- Harris insists that lasting peace can only take place if the Palestinians not only uphold their recognition and security guarantees to Israel but explicitly recognize Israel as “Jewish state.” (Arab America, January 30, 2019)
- She believes “Israel is America’s friend and we should support Israel,” adding that she also believes “very strongly in a two-state solution and the need for doing everything we can to encourage that the leaders in that region move toward that end.”
- “Senator Harris strongly supports security assistance to strengthen Israel’s ability to defend itself. She has traveled to Israel where she saw the importance of U.S.-Israeli security cooperation firsthand. (JTA, February 7, 2019)
Interview with John Favreau:
- Spokesperson: “Senator Harris has said keeping the American people safe is her top priority and that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. The president’s actions increase the likelihood of a military confrontation, and do not make us safer. She believes that firm diplomacy is the best path to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid war. The Iran Deal was not perfect, but the president’s decision to unilaterally abandon it was driven by political motives and it hurts our ability to hold Iran accountable. She believes the U.S. should work with the international community to ensure Iran complies with the terms of the deal and place new limits on their missile program.” (Jewish Insider, May 15, 2019)
- “Obviously Iran is a big source of concern for many reasons and in terms of — what I have concerns about is the president’s approach to it all.” (Jewish Insider, May 8, 2019)
- She supported the Iran nuclear deal, although she was not a senator when it was signed in 2015. (JTA, January 11, 2019)
- After the Trump administration pulled out of the deal, she issued the following statement: “Today’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies. This nuclear deal is not perfect, but it is certainly the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East. As the international community and the Administration’s own national security team has confirmed multiple times, Iran remains in compliance with the deal. In the absence of an Iranian violation, it is reckless to break this agreement without presenting any plan on how to move forward. Instead of establishing a comprehensive, strategic national security policy, this Administration is far too focused on scoring political points.” (Kamala D. Harris, May 8, 2018)
- According to a spokesperson for Harris, she “would rejoin the Iran deal if the U.S. could verify Iran is not cheating and is complying with the strict requirements detailed in the agreement…. She believes we must engage in tough, forceful diplomacy to combat Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.” (Al-Monitor, March 19, 2019)
“As someone who’s personally prosecuted hate crime, I also believe that we cannot stand by while antisemitism, hate crime and bigotry is on the rise, whether that’s a swastika on a Jewish family and children’s services bus in San Francisco or the burning of a mosque in Tampa. No one should have to be afraid to put a menorah in their front window or on their front lawn.” (Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2019)
- “I also believe that we need to speak the truth that antisemitism is real in this country. We cannot stand by while antisemitism, hate crimes and bigotry are on the rise, this violence and hate are alarming and simply unacceptable. No one should have to worry about their children’s safety when they drop them off at the JCC.” (Comments to American Jewish Committee, June 3, 2019)
- Harris opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel (JTA, January 11, 2019), which she said is “based on the mistaken assumption that Israel is solely to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” She believes “the BDS movement seeks to weaken Israel, but it will only isolate the nation and steer Israelis against prerequisite compromises for peace [...] I believe we should not isolate Israel, the only democracy in the region” (Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2019). Nevertheless, Harris was one of 22 Democrats who voted against the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (76 senators voted aye) a bill that authorizes state and local governments to demand that contractors declare they do not support boycotts of Israel or its settlements in the West Bank. She and other Democrats who opposed the bill said they did so because of their concern that it could limit Americans’ First Amendment rights. (JTA, February 7, 2019)
Regarding anti-Semitic remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar: “We all have a responsibility to speak out against antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America,” she said. “But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.” (Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2019)
Sources: Kamala D. Harris;
“Kamala Harris,” Wikileaks;
Ron Kampeas, “5 Jewish things to know about Kamala Harris,” JTA, (January 11, 2019);
Stephen Zunes, “More AIPAC Than J Street’: Kamala Harris Runs to the Right on Foreign Policy,” Arab America, January30, 2019);
Ben Ariel, “Senate approves resolution on Jerusalem reunification,” Arutz Sheva, (June 6, 2017);
Maxwell Strachan, “Kamala Harris Releases Off-The-Record AIPAC Comments,” Huffpost, (February 24, 2019);
John Favreau, “2020: Kamala Harris On American Identity And Secret Recipes,” PodSaveAmerica, (April 17, 2019);
Ron Kampeas, “Why these Democratic presidential hopefuls voted no on an anti-BDS bill,” JTA, (February 7, 2019);
“Harris Statement on Trump Violating the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Kamala D. Harris, (May 8, 2018);
Bryant Harris, “2020 Democrats vow to re-enter Iran nuclear deal,” Al-Monitor, (March 19, 2019);
Emily Cadei And Michael Wilner, “On Israel, Kamala Harris breaks with liberal 2020 pack,” McClatchy, (April 16, 2019);
“Daily Kickoff: 2020 Dems criticize Trump’s approach to Iran,” Jewish Insider, (May 15, 2019);
Comments to American Jewish Committee, (June 3, 2019);
“18 Questions. 21 Democrats. Here’s What They Said,” New York Times, (June 19, 2019);
Omri Nahmias, “What’s Kamala Harris’s Record On Israel?” Jerusalem Post, (July 12, 2019);
Alayna Treene and Barak Ravid, “Top 2020 Dems wouldn’t reverse Trump’s Jerusalem embassy decision,” Axios, (July 14, 2019);
Al-Monitor, (September 13, 2019).