Home > Bruce S. Ticker, Gaza, Iran, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Uncategorized, United States of America > Commentary: U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania becoming a Middle East referendum

Commentary: U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania becoming a Middle East referendum

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA –A dual loyalty test approaches that Jews in Pennsylvania do not need.
 
Old conservative hands William Kristol and Gary Bauer are being abrasive…er, gracious…enough to spend time reminding us that we could be choosing between policies that will better America and those that imperil the security of Israel. How generous of them.
 
As is usual in mid-term elections, President Obama’s policies will be reconsidered by voters this November through Democratic surrogates running for House and Senate seats. Jewish voters in Pennsylvania must choose between Obama’s slow-moving progressive agenda and deep concerns over the White House’s depth of support for Israel.
 
The vast majority of American Jews – roughly 75 to 80 percent – nearly automatically vote for Democrats or moderate Republicans because of their support for centrist and liberal policies. Nearly 80 percent of Jews were estimated to vote for Obama in 2008 at a time when we had a right to wonder about Obama’s position on Israel.
 
During the special Senate election in Massachusetts last January, the majority of voters in most towns with large Jewish populations, especially Newton and Brookline, cast ballots for Democrat Martha Coakley over Scott Brown, the Republican who won the election. However, there were no known reports of Israel being raised as an issue.
 
This year, the dual loyalty test for Pennsylvania Jews is more sharply defined.
 
Injecting part of that sharper definition is U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is accused by some supporters of Israel of anti-Israel attitudes. He beat Sen. Arlen Specter in last May’s Democratic primary and faces Republican Pat Toomey in November. Toomey is an ultra conservative former congressman, and Republicans claim to staunchly back Israel.
Kristol and Bauer have formed the Emergency Committee for Israel which targeted Sestak with hardhitting television ads, reported Politico and The New York Jewish Week.
 
Team Kristol/Bauer’s initiative could prove a double-edged sword. Maybe it will serve as shock therapy for Obama and Democratic senators and representatives who stubbornly assail Israel’s blockade of Gaza, peace-process policies and Jerusalem housing. American Jews have understandable reasons to be upset with the White House and some congressional Democrats. However, invoking Israel as an election issue could get messy.
 
Sestak was among 54 Democrats criticizing Israel’s blockade of Gaza without mentioning the four-year imprisonment of Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was seized by terrorists in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
 
However, Sestak was subsequently a co-sponsor of a House bill urging the immediate release of Shalit.
 
Obama repeatedly calls the conditions in Gaza “unsustainable,” yet critics ignore the fact that Israel no longer runs Gaza. Hamas governs it, and that makes them responsible for the welfare of their citizens. Hamas has launched thousands of rocket attacks against Israel, which is positioned to advance or devastate Gaza’s economy as it pleases.
 
Vice President Biden’s outburst last March over housing plans in Jerusalem triggered anger among Jews because the project was proposed in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, and many supporters of Israel oppose giving up any part of Jerusalem to the Arabs. Biden’s complaint would have been understandable if he referred to West Bank settlement expansion, which has far less support among Jews.
 
Granted, a vocal Jewish minority adamantly opposes any peace settlement, adheres to the biblical proclamation that God gave all this land to the Jews and refuses to criticize any Israeli failings. Most American Jews are flexible and rational – to varying degrees – in assessing the situation and for now believe Israel is in the right on most basic issues.
 
Obama and Congress deserve credit for persistently contesting Iran’s nuclear ambitions; standing behind Israel’s response to attempts to breach its blockade of Gaza; and being deeply involved in the peace process. Sestak has pointed to many of his strong pro-Israel positions.
 
Nonetheless, Obama and Sestak invited the wrath of Kristol and Bauer – respectively, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, and a former Republican presidential candidate – because of their aforementioned positions. It would benefit everyone, except political opportunists, if Obama and other members of Congress would rethink their past actions.
 
This emergency committee already struck with an advertisement carried on Comcast blasting Sestak’s letter on the Gaza blockade while refusing to sign a petition of defense of Israel circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and for his appearance at a fundraiser for the Council on American Islamic Relations, which the FBI called a “front group for Hamas,” Politico reported.
 
The ad’s narrator asks, “Does Congressman Joe Sestak understand Israel is America’s ally?”
 
Sestak spokeswoman April Mellody tells Politico of Sestak’s pro-Israel record, but adds this dismissive statement: “It’s political silly season so it’s not surprising these conservatives are trying to distort Joe’s record.”
 
Israel is fair game in an election. Though conservatives can be shrill on many issues, Kristol and Bauer raise legitimate concerns on Israel’s fate. Shamefully, rational discourse is hardly the outcome when Israel is raised as an issue. Any American Jew can be rightfully apprehensive that mention of the Middle East in this election could become ugly and chaotic.
 
Remember that Republicans’ most sincere intentions have not always translated into the best outcome for Israel. President Bush created a monster when he drove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, which freed up Iran from its historic tensions with Iraq. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – the monster in question – emerged as Iran’s president and focused his government’s attention on threatening Israel with nuclear annihilation.
 
Less than two weeks following the committee’s formation, The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Sestak said his campaign asked Comcast to cease running the ad because it is “harming Israel’s security.” How does an advertisement jeopardize Israel?
 
Just as puzzling are these words, also quoted in The Daily News, uttered by committee spokesman Michael Goldfarb: “We were outraged that they tried to get our ad taken down through legal threats.” Sorry their feelings were hurt.
 
Rational discourse this isn’t. So far, absurdity trumps reason. Kind of like life in the Middle East.
 
*
Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia freelance journalist.

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