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Group solidarity is one trait that has earned Jews both plaudits and criticism. But according to a spokesman for a national Jewish organization, it's long past time to stop the group-think.
M.J. Rosenberg, the director of the Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center, wrote last week on the eve of the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington to register his disgust at the rituals of pandering politicians who seek to win Jewish votes. While he affirms that we should care deeply about Israel, he is down on those who seek Jewish votes by carrying on about their views on the issue.
"To suggest that an American Jew living in New York or Des Moines votes based on considerations entirely different from his non-Jewish neighbors is insulting," wrote Rosenberg.
What Rosenberg is mad about is not so much the concern for Israel that he says he shares, but the fact that many American political leaders feel constrained to register their support for Israel's stands against pressure to make concessions. They also speak out about the shortcomings and general mendacity of would-be Palestinian peace partners more than he seems to like.
As the representative of a group that is not shy about its desire to see the US use its leverage over Israel to push the Jewish state to make still more concessions, the idea of Americans lining up to say that they want no part of such a process is antithetical to his purpose.
Rosenberg's stand seems also rooted in the partisan debates that have been waged during recent elections as Republicans have vainly sought to make inroads on the Jewish vote. Israel has been their wedge issue. Democrats claimed the entire idea of debating support for Israel during elections was "divisive" because their own record made it a consensus issue. Rosenberg seems to be taking this a step further and delegitimizing the very notion of evaluating candidates on the basis of this issue at all.
That would, of course, be a terrible mistake. The essence of democracy is accountability. Candidates who want the votes of those who care about Israel - whether it is their priority or just one of many concerns - must understand that if they do or say the wrong thing, there are going to be consequences.
ALL THIS was put into sharp relief last week when a freshman Democratic Congressman from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-7th District) found himself embroiled in a controversy over his decision to appear at a fund-raiser for a well-known anti-Israel group.
Sestak, a retired US Navy admiral, had agreed to speak at a Philadelphia event for the Council on American Islamic Relations on April 7. CAIR is a longtime antagonist not merely of Israel, but of the war against Islamist terror itself. A group founded largely by supporters of the Hamas terrorist organization, CAIR has worked hard to worm its way into the mainstream of American politics.
ACCORDING TO Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the United States, a recently published book by leading expert Steven Emerson and his Investigative Project on Terrorism, the purpose of groups like CAIR is to "subvert the interests and safety of American and Western interests behind a veil of false moderation."
These organizations "operate in the United States," Emerson writes in his textbook-style volume, expressly "for the purpose of supporting radical Islamist causes throughout the world."
CAIR is a legal public-advocacy group with deep connections to pro-terror groups like the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas-fundraising front that was shut down by the US government. Many of its board members and activists openly support Islamist terrorist actions and the destruction of Israel. The group steadfastly refuses to disavow or condemn the murderers fostered by Hamas and Hizbullah.
Far from from being the legitimate voice of local Muslims, as Sestak mistakenly believes, CAIR's entire purpose is, Emerson reports, "to drown out the truly moderate and diverse voices within the American Muslim community." It seeks, he says, "to influence top lawmakers" while concealing, even from many of their own members, their origins, true sympathies and intentions. These organizations embody radical Islamist ideologies" that stem from Egypt's murderous Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan's equally bloodthirsty Jamaat e-Islami movement.
In other words, this is not a group to which a congressman should be lending the prestige of his office. Instead, it is one he should be vigorously opposing.
This is not a partisan issue. Democrats such as House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have also made it clear that they will have nothing to do with the group. Yet when called to account for this error, Sestak refused to back down, and naively claimed he would use his time with CAIR members to impress upon them his support for Israel. His subsequent attempt to revise the schedule so as to make it appear that his part in the program had nothing to do with raising funds for this despicable group was similarly lame.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the appearance was arranged by a Sestak staffer who is apparently a former employee of CAIR and related to a board member of the group.
THE TRUTH is that the congressman is something of a political novice, whose upset victory in last year's election had more to do with his opponent's implosion in the wake of a corruption scandal than with either the Democratic tide that swept the nation or Sestak's own impressive r sum . His Navy background does not appear to have prepared him for navigating the shoals of the political waters into which a staffer, whose background should have been more thoroughly vetted, has steered him.
We must hope his refusal to be seen as backing down to pressure - even in the face of what even he now must realize is a blunder - will eventually be overcome by common sense, or a stern lecture from more senior and wiser Democratic leaders. Either way, he needs to cancel his appearance to retain any credibility on terror or Israel-related issues.
But one obstacle to that sensible outcome would be the reluctance of some of his local supporters to hold him accountable. If, because they support him on withdrawal from Iraq or on domestic issues, Jewish and non-Jewish friends of Israel decide to give him a pass for this egregious mistake, it will be sending the wrong message not only to Congress, but to CAIR and its backers. That would be a setback not merely for those of us who love Israel, but for anyone who still takes the battle against Islamist terror seriously.
If the Sestak fiasco teaches us anything, it is - contrary to the advice of some in the "peace" camp - that the last thing we need to do is to start backing off on making sure our leaders understand that we are watching what they are doing.
Compared to Sestak's folly, a little well-prepared pandering looks less like an "insult" and more like wise public policy.
The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org
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