Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must have scored a big win in his speech to Congress. In a Monday meeting at the Blair House between Netanyahu and Jewish political leaders from both parties, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz pressed Matthew Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), to “pledge to refrain in 2012 from using Israel as part of the issues in campaigns.”
Yesterday, Brooks issued a full response in a letter to Wasserman Schultz:
May 24, 2011
The Honorable Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Democratic National Committee
430 S. Capitol St. SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
Dear Chairwoman Wasserman Shultz:
It was a pleasure to be with you at yesterday’s bipartisan meeting involving the Republican Jewish Coalition and representatives from the National Jewish Democratic Council. It is always an honor to be with an Israeli Prime Minister and I know you are as grateful as I am for the time he gave us so we could discuss matters that involve Israel’s security.
I also commend you personally for your pro-Israel record as a Congresswoman. There is no question that when it comes to how you vote, you have always been strong for Israel. Not everyone in Congress is like you and that’s why it is important for both of us to continue to speak out freely when individuals in our parties break from a position of support for Israel. I did so just two weeks ago when Congressman Ron Paul announced his candidacy for President.
In order to maintain bipartisan support for Israel, the RJC will continue to publicly point out the records and statements of public officials who stray from this bipartisan position. I hope you will do the same and not feel pressure to sweep under the rug or whitewash the positions of anyone in your party whose positions represent a threat to Israel’s security.
I hope you agree with me that no one – in either party – whether it’s the President of the United States, a candidate for President or a rank and file member – should be shielded from criticism if their positions are harmful to Israel’s well being. Covering up anti-Israel positions by gagging debate about them doesn’t help anyone; instead it only protects those who hope to get away with their anti-Israel positions. The Jewish community has a right to be informed about people’s records and people should be answerable for the positions they take. That is the essence of democracy.
Indeed, several leading Democrats have exercised their right to free speech when they criticized President Obama’s controversial statement that, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Former New York City Mayor and lifelong Democrat Ed Koch responded, “If President Obama does not change his position, I cannot vote for his reelection.”
According to a story in today’s Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in his remarks to AIPAC, rebuked President Obama for his remarks.
However, in our meeting with the Prime Minister, you appealed to us, in front of the leader of a foreign nation, to pledge to refrain from any debate about these matters. I do not think that the timing or the venue you chose for raising this issue was appropriate.
I recognize that now, as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, you are in a position where you must support candidates whose positions on Israel are different from yours.
To that end, I understand why you would like to shield and provide political amnesty to those Democrats whose positions undermine Israel’s security.
For example, in Wisconsin, your party is likely to nominate a signer of the Gaza 54 letter, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, to replace Senator Herb Kohl.
In New Mexico, the Democrats are likely to nominate Congressman Martin Heinrich, who refused to join 344 colleagues in condemning the Goldstone report.
And in Connecticut, your party is likely to nominate Congressman Chris Murphy, who accepted major financial support from J Street in two different election cycles.
I understand that you would like to stifle debate in the Jewish community on these issues, but the RJC believes they are legitimate issues and part of a healthy and vigorous debate. Indeed, the best way to avoid debating them is for Democratic candidates not to hold positions that weaken Israel’s security, in which case both parties would be fully joined together in strong support of Israel.
Wasserman Schultz’s cynical attempt to silence debate about Israel’s security comes at a time when congressional Democrats, as well as President Obama, have found themselves vulnerable to attacks from the pro-Israel community. Republican presidential candidates have jumped at the chance to accuse Obama of weakness on Israeli security. Mitt Romney recently attacked Obama for “throwing Israel under the bus,” and Tim Pawlenty has called Obama’s position “very naive and very dangerous.”
Even as Democrats in Congress step back from Obama’s Israel policy, considerable damage has already been done to the party’s support among Jewish Americans. The combination of Obama’s recent remarks and his continuing refusal to visit Israel has left donors frustrated. Robert Copeland, a developer from Virginia Beach, VA and a frequent Democratic supporter told the Wall Street Journal, “I’m very disappointed with him. His administration has failed in Israel. They degraded the Israeli people.” It remains to be seen to what degree Republicans will be able to make Israel an issue in 2012. But in Pennsylvania and Florida, battleground states with relatively large Jewish populations, Democrats will have some explaining to do.