Is Campbell Bad on Israel?

February 22nd, 2010 at 1:29 am David Frum | 10 Comments |

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With Democrats in trouble everywhere, the Republican nomination to face U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer has suddenly become fiercely exciting.

Former U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell has stepped into the lead in the polls. Campbell is a superb candidate: a brilliant intellect, a protégé of Milton Friedman’s, a principled and sophisticated free marketer.

In recent weeks, however, a whispering campaign against Campbell has burst into fuller view. Campbell – it’s charged – has an “Israel problem.” He is unsympathetic to Israel, or worse. He is soft on terror – or worse.

I am a national security voter, with a special concern for Israel. If I thought for a minute that Tom Campbell had a “national security problem” or an “Israel problem,” I would not care if he were the most brilliant mind in American politics, the most consistent free marketer in the entire state of California: I’d never support him.

But on the basis of Campbell’s proven public record, such aspersions seem to have arrived from somewhere outside the space-time continuum, in some outer dimension created by wild and unchecked oppo research.

Against the aspersions and insinuations, measure these facts:

When Saddam Hussein was firing Scud missiles at Israel in 1990, Campbell flew to Israel (on El Al by the way) to put his own safety on the line. He stayed at the King David hotel, one of the most obvious missile targets in the city of Jerusalem.

As dean of the University of California’s business school in the 2000s, Campbell personally invited Israeli academics threatened with boycott to transfer their studies and sabbaticals to Berkeley.

Jews believe that the merits of the father redound upon their sons. So it’s not irrelevant here to mention a story from Campbell’s family history. In April 1943, the Jewish community of Chicago organized a mass rally on behalf of the dying Jews of Europe. Senator Harry Truman addressed the mass meeting, delivering an implicit criticism of the inaction of his own party leader, President Franklin Roosevelt. The man invited to chair the rally was a prominent local citizen, a federal district court judge of Catholic faith: William Campbell, Tom’s father.

The late Tom Lantos – the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress – wrote in a July 29, 1999 personal letter to Campbell:

Since we first met, I have known of your strong support for the State of Israel and its people. You and I have spoken many times of the need to assure the survival of Israel, as well as to fight against hatred and bias around the world, including here in our own country. We have agreed on so much about the need to keep our wonderful country free from anti-semitism and from any form of state-sponsored religious bias. You have been a champion in these battles, especially in the struggles for tolerance within your own party.

During this current campaign, Campbell has put himself on the record on key issues for friends of Israel:

1. Would Campbell have voted for, against, or abstained in the Senate vote on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (S. 2799)?

Yes, I would have voted in favor. Note that I’m already on record to support Israeli military action, if it comes to that, directed at destroying Iran’s nuclear capability. This Act is an attempt to increase the pressure so that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. It’s worth trying, but my patience has already run out with all forms of sanctions.

2. Would Campbell vote in favor, against, or abstain in the vote on the full $3-billion security assistance aid to Israel in President Obama’s proposed budget?

I have always voted for the military aid portion of assistance to Israel. Like the Netanyahu government, in the past and now, I favor lowering the amount of American economic assistance to countries more able to take care of themselves, so that U.S. foreign economic assistance can go to the neediest countries.

3. Would Campbell vote in favor, against, or abstain in the repeated votes in favor of the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there?

I always favored the United States paying Israel the respect we pay other nations, of recognizing the capital city of their own choosing, and placing our embassy there.

4.A. Would Campbell require an act of Congress under the War Powers Act in order to send emergency arms and supplies to Israel if attacked?

The War Powers Act is triggered only by the presence of U.S. troops in “hostilities.” Nothing in sending arms and supplies to Israel would trigger the Act. So, no, I would not require an act of congress to send emergency arms and supplies to Israel if attacked.

4.B. Would Campbell vote in favor, against, or abstain in his vote for such an act of Congress?

I would vote in favor. My vote in favor of going to war when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait was as much a vote to defend Israel as to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. All three nations were attacked.

5. Does Campbell support, criticize, or have no public position about the Goldstone Report?

I have not read the Goldstone Report, and would need to do so before offering an informed opinion.

6. Does Campbell believe, not believe, or undecided on whether the “Israel lobby” has excess influence on U.S. foreign policy?

All Americans have the right to petition Congress and the President, and those Americans who wish to do so on behalf of a stronger American-Israeli relationship should  not be criticized for doing so. The influence of those Americans is not “excess influence.”

The criticism of Campbell’s terrorism-and-Israel record rests on 5 main claims:

1)    It’s claimed that Campbell twice voted to cut aid to Israel during his time in Congress.

2)    It’s claimed that Campbell voted against Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

3)    It’s claimed that Campbell made fund-raising appearances before radical Islamic groups.

4)    It’s claimed that Campbell employed on his staff a California Muslim with ties to radical groups.

5)    It’s claimed that Campbell wrote a letter in support of a deportable alien with ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Let’s take each in turn.

On 1: These claims turn on a relatively small amount of money, $30 million, less than 1% of Israel’s aid package. As part of the Wye River round of peace talks, President Clinton proposed a $700 million increase in Israel’s economic aid. To embarrass Clinton, congressional Republicans proposed to increase that aid by an additional $30 million. But Congress in those years was operating under pay-go rules that required every spending increase to be matched by a spending cut somewhere else. (Good rule.) So it was proposed to take the extra extra money for Israel out of the allotment for aid to Africa. Campbell happened to be a senior member of the Africa subcommittee of the House International Affairs Committee. He objected to the transfer on the grounds that it was unnecessary for Israel and injurious to important African projects.

It’s important to note – as stated in Campbell’s reply above – Campbell has always supported Israel’s military requests in full. His qualms about economic aid are shared by many Israeli free-market economists who worry that this money may harm Israeli export industries by contributing to the over-valuation of the shekel.

On 2: The Jerusalem vote occurred in 1990. It was introduced by a Democratic member of Congress to embarrass the George H.W. Bush administration. While agreeing in principle that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital, Campbell acceded to the administration’s request and voted No on this one measure.

On 3: Campbell did indeed speak to Muslim-American groups in the late 1990s. So did Gov. George W. Bush whom nobody would accuse of lack of friendship for Israel – and for the same reason: party strategists had identified Muslim Americans as potential Republican voters. As Ronald Reagan used to say when he was criticized for accepting support from odd groups: “I’m not supporting their agenda. I’m asking them to support mine.”

On 4: The person in question – Suhail Khan – would become a White House colleague of mine in 2001-2002, where he worked in the Office of Public Liaison. I heard many of the same rumors about him then that are being circulated today. I looked into them as searchingly as I could and never found any foundation for them.

Yes it’s true that some dubious characters visited the White House complex in 2001, both before and after the 9/11 attacks. But it’s ridiculous to think that Khan invited them. Khan might meet them at the gate, but the invitations came from a much higher pay grade.

By the way: Suhail Khan now serves on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union. If he’s a jihadist mole, he has also deceived John Bolton, Tom DeLay, Becky Norton Dunlap, and Allen Roth, among others.

As to Allegation 5:

Campbell’s libertarian sympathies were exploited by some very bad actors.

In 1996, Congress had amended the immigration laws to allow for the deportation of aliens based on secret information of terrorist activities.

The trouble was that for many of the worst such aliens, there was nowhere to deport them to. They ended up languishing in American jails indefinitely.

The family of one such alien appealed to Campbell for help, and he was persuaded to take up the cause.

It was in time publicly confirmed that the alien in question, Mazen al-Najjar, was very, very implicated in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as was his brother-in-law, Sami al-Arian. A deal was eventually struck to send Najjar to Lebanon. After a complex set of criminal proceedings, al-Arian is now awaiting trial on contempt charges.

Campbell has acknowledged that he was wrong and apologized for his mistake. But he did not make this mistake alone.

Candidate George W. Bush for example posed for a photograph with Sami al-Arian in the spring of 2000. Al Arian visited the White House after Bush’s election. When al-Arian’s son was barred from the White House by the Secret Service, the deputy director of the Secret Service was ordered to telephone the young man to apologize.

Bush met with another Islamic extremist, Abdel Rahman al-Amoudi in 2000: Amoudi is now serving a 23 year prison sentence.

During campaign 2000, Bush publicly demanded the repeal of the secret evidence law. He restated his pledge during one of his debates with Al Gore.

The people responsible for these much more serious mistakes have never expressed remorse. Yet they continue to play a respected part in the conservative world. Yet the one person in the affair who has said he was wrong – he’s the one who is supposedly unacceptable? How does that make sense?

Especially since he is the candidate with the clearest and most detailed pro-Israel platform in the California Senate race?

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