WASHINGTON – Several American Jewish officials are expressing concern that a new
pro-Israel organization could further polarize the debate over Israel at a
sensitive time in US-Israel relations.
The group, the Emergency Committee
for Israel, plans to start running TV ads next week against Pennsylvania
Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak as part of its critique of the Obama
administration and certain politicians they deem harmful to
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Though the group hasn’t revealed the names of other candidates it
will be targeting ahead of the November midterm elections, the organization’s
board is headed by neoconservative thinker William Kristol and evangelical
political activist Gary Bauer, and isn’t expected to back Democrats during the
“I think it will have an effect on the political debate.
That’s troubling in the sense that what we’ve always striven to do is make sure
that support for Israel in the United States is a bipartisan effort,” said Abe
Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“To the extent
that this fractures it and makes it a politicized issue is troubling,” he
continued, though he stressed that he supported the right of any group to speak
on Israel and welcomed pro-Israel activism.
“To the extent that this is
perceived as a partisan effort [it’s] a concern,” said another Jewish official
at a mainstream organization who asked not to be named. “We must not allow the
debate on the US-Israel relationship to devolve into a partisan
Emergency Committee executive director Noah Pollak said that
the organization was not partisan and wouldn’t want Israel to be a party-line
issue, even though he thought that given the group’s conservative leadership it
was “unlikely” the group would back a Democratic candidate this
“This is not a Republican group but a pro-Israel group.
welcome all supporters of Israel,” he emphasized, adding that he has received a
“phenomenal” response from a wide range of people excited about the
But Pollak noted that, in contrast to Jewish groups
that prefer to work out differences with the administration behind the scenes,
“We don’t have to pull any punches. We can go after people as hard as we
Mainstream Jewish organizations have mostly liked to discuss
problems behind the scenes, with powerful lobbies such as the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee going so far as to call for the US and Israel to “work
closely and privately” with each other after the Obama administration publicly
berated Israel for east Jerusalem housing construction in March. The lobby then
backed a letter making the same point by Democrats and Republicans in
Morrie Amitay, a former executive director of AIPAC and current
head of Washington PAC, agreed that partisanship on Israel is unfortunate, but
argued that vocal pushback from both parties is a positive
“It’s good to have strong voices on either side,” he said,
defending the Emergency Committee’s approach.
“I definitely think it will
be helpful... in bringing to light some of the policies of the administration
that could be harmful to both Israeli and American interests in the Middle
East,” he added.
Amitay labeled Sestak, who served as a representative
before winning the Senate primary, as having “one of the worst records on
David Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council
challenged that characterization, however, saying that Sestak had a “strong,
long-term history” on Israel. Harris also delivered a blistering attack on the
new organization, charging that “it can only serve to make support for Israel a
more partisan issue, and that’s extremely dangerous.”
Committee’s Sestak ad, set to be released on CNN and FoxNews next week, blasts
Sestak for signing a letter criticizing Israel’s Gaza blockade while not signing
an AIPAC-supported letter defending Israel, as well as participating in a
Council on American Islamic Relations event.
Another Jewish leader
speaking on condition of anonymity voiced concern about the approach of the
Emergency Committee, but fingered the progressive J Street lobby and PAC as
being responsible for heightening the partisan nature of the Israel
The self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby formed some two
years ago and aims to donate more than $1 million to candidates this
“It’s a natural outgrowth of J Street, because when J Street has
started to create political challenges for those who aren’t particularly
supportive of Israel, it’s natural that others will try to create political
opportunities for those who are supportive of Israel,” the Washington-based
organizational official said.
J Street has supported Sestak with over
$75,000 distributed to his campaign so far.
“JStreetPAC is proud to
support Congressman Joe Sestak, who has been a stalwart supporter of
said J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami. “The choice in
clear: a candidate from the far right who has opposed aid to Israel and
supported by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, or a former naval commander
supports Israel and whose values line up with the overwhelming majority
Regardless of Sestak’s views, the Jewish official
expressed dismay at the new political activism on Israel, saying, “I’d
that neither of them exist, and we could just have the AIPAC model. I