Last night was a good night for the US-Israel relationship, with supporters of a strong alliance prevailing over a number of incumbents who had received financial and rhetorical support from anti-Israel [sic] groups. In Pennsylvania in particular, there was a close Senate race that resulted in the defeat of a candidate who had accused Israel of war crimes and helped raise money for an organization the FBI later called a front group for Hamas. ECI ran ads informing voters of that record, and no doubt many of those voters share our concerns. We are delighted with the result.
ECI is a Bill Kristol operation, so it’s unsurprising that they’ve thus far had a very loose relationship with the truth, but this statement from Pollak is simply a lie. Neither Joe Sestak, nor any member of Congress, has accused Israel of war crimes. What Sestak did, along with 53 of his colleagues, was sign a letter to President Obama in January 2010 advocating a loosening of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The letter acknowledged Israel’s serious security concerns, but suggested that those concerns “must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”
It’s worth pointing out here that, amid the international outcry over the Gaza flotilla incident, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to do precisely what Sestak and his colleagues asked, and loosen the blockade to allow in such dangerous and previously excluded materials like cumin and pasta. (I’ve contacted Pollak for an explanation, will update if/when he responds.)
Regardless, ECI and other right-wing groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition tried to make the “Gaza 54” a big issue, running millions of dollars of ads against those signers up for re-election. It was a huge failure — some 90% of the “Gaza 54” signers seeking re-election won their races — but beating these incumbents was probably a secondary goal. The main one was to try and head off the growing progressive challenge from J Street, and attempt to enforce a very narrow, Likud-oriented definition of what constitutes “pro-Israel” by signaling that deep-pocketed right-wing groups are willing to spend millions of dollars and make all kinds of wild accusations against anyone who steps out of line. We’ll see how that goes.
A final point on the attacks on Sestak for being “anti-Israel” is that, even though he narrowly lost, he still carried over 70% of the Pennsylvania Jewish vote, and 49% of the vote overall. These numbers provide ECI and RJC with a few options: Either 70% of Pennsylvania’s Jewish community, and 49% of Pennsylvanians, are “anti-Israel,” or ECI and RJC are working with a ridiculous bad faith definition of “anti-Israel.” Or maybe people just aren’t keying their voting decisions on Israel at all.