A new pro-Israel group has launched one of the hardest-hitting commercials of America’s 2010 campaign season. It will run in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Joe Sestak faces Republican Pat Toomey in a battle for the Senate seat formerly held by Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.
Over images of masked gunmen and grainy footage of anti-Israel protests, a narrator’s voice demands: “Does Congressman Joe Sestak realize Israel is America’s ally?
“Sestak raised money for an anti-Israel organization the FBI called ‘a front-group for Hamas.’ Sestak signed a letter accusing Israel of ‘collective punishment’ for blockading Hamas in Gaza. Sestak refused to sign a bipartisan letter affirming U.S. support for Israel.
“Call Joe Sestak: Ask him to stand with Israel.”
That’s tough medicine, and a departure from the traditional behind-the-scenes advocacy of groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The departure signals a coming shift in the American Jewish community. While most American Jews vote Democrat, those Jews most passionately involved with Israel have felt ever-increasing mistrust of Barack Obama, his administration and his party.
The anti-Sestak ad, for example, was produced by the newly launched Emergency Committee for Israel (EIC). The EIC is governed by a three-person board: Bill Kristol of Fox News and the Weekly Standard; Gary Bauer, a stalwart of the Christian Right; and Rachel Abrams, a writer married to former senior Bush administration official Elliott Abrams. It is raising funds from donors increasingly alienated from the Obama administration, not usually by any one single big thing, but by an accumulation of ominous signals and warnings of trouble to come.
Here is the trouble that these Obama-skeptics fear.
For months, the Obama administration has been nudging Israel and the Palestinian Authority toward a resumption of direct talks on Palestinian statehood. I won’t recapitulate here the reasons why the nudges have failed, but fail they have.
In the absence of direct talks, the administration (it’s widely believed) is developing a Plan B: a U.S. plan for an independent Palestinian state that will be imposed on Israel sometime after the mid-term elections, as long advocated by former Jimmy Carter national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
And if Israel does not like the dictated settlement — well, its arm will have to be twisted.
The new pro-Israel advocacy group wants to act in advance of the crisis. It is anxious for indications of the intentions of current candidates.
The candidate targeted by the EIC’s first ad is a case in point. In 2007, then-congressman Sestak delivered a speech to a Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) fundraiser. (That’s the anti-Israel group referenced by the TV ad.) An extract from his speech:
“CAIR does such important and necessary work in a difficult environment to change such perceptions and wrongs — from racial profiling and civil rights to promoting justice and mutual understanding — at a time when it is challenging to be an American-Muslim and pass, for example, through an airport checkpoint. The Jewish people have passed through — and still confront — many of the same challenges, some so horrific that one gentle man was moved to write after visiting the horror of Auschwitz: ‘Forgive them not Father, for they knew what they did.’ “
Equating airport checkpoints to the Holocaust at a CAIR fundraiser raised eyebrows among pro-Israel groups. So too did Sestak’s signing of a Jan. 21, 2009, letter urging a lifting of the Gaza blockade — just days after Israel had unilaterally ended its Operation Cast Lead operation in Gaza.
Does all of this add up to a profile of hostility to Israel? Not exactly. But it sure sends a significant message. Better to read those messages now, in advance, rather than wait to lobby and argue when it is too late.
Originally published in the National Post.