A hawkish, pro-Israel group that includes some of the most prominent neo-conservative and evangelical voices in the country is launching the second salvo in an ad campaign targeting primarily congressional Democrats.
The Emergency Committee for Israel's Leadership went up on air Thursday with a spot going after endangered Democrat, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) for signing a letter that urges President Barack Obama to put pressure on Israel to ease the Gaza blockade.
"Most members of Congress are friends of Israel," the spot goes. "That's why a huge majority, 88 percent, refused to sign a letter accusing Israel of collective punishment when Israel was defending her citizens from the terrorist group Hamas. But Mary Jo Kilroy signed that anti-Israel letter. A fellow Democratic congressman called Kilroy misinformed... Ask her why she joined an assault on Israel."
ECI's ad follows a similar one it ran weeks ago against Senate candidate, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.). That spot engendered a fair amount of controversy and pushback with a lawyer for the Pennsylvania Democrat insisting that the congressman is "willing to put his life on the line to defend Israel" and asking (unsuccessfully) for the ad to be pulled.
Asked to respond to the current variation, Kilroy's campaign offered a more substantive response, pointing out that the letter's contents found its way into substantive policy.
"What we really want to know is when Bill Kristol and his reactionary friends are going to start running ads against Prime Minister Netanyahu and calling him anti-Israel for easing the blockade in accordance with the spirit of the letter," said Brad Bauman, the campaign's communications director.
As Bauman notes, it seems disingenuous to define the letter at the crux of the debate, while sympathetic to the plight of those in Gaza, as anti-Israel. It was put together by J-Street, a pro-Israel group that has endured the wrath of the neoconservative community but argues that its version of Mideast politics is more grounded in reality than Kristol's.
"Is the Emergency Committee's next move going to be running an attack ad against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for changing policy in Gaza?" said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, in a separate statement to the Huffington Post. "After all, the Netanyahu Government has now adopted the very approach in Gaza that Kilroy and her colleagues called for last January ago."
The ECI's ad campaign, in the end, seems intended for politics beyond the current electoral landscape. The organization's board includes figures such as the Weekly Standard's William Kristol, who have spent careers (not campaigns) pushing hawkish support of Israel. And while the group has spent money on 2010 ads, the overall function is to lay the markers of the Israel-Palestine debate firmly in the pro-Israel camp.
"We will educate votes about the anti-Israel record of members like Mary Jo Kilroy who either vote against Israel, sign letters condemning Israel, or work to undermine the US-Israel relationship in any other way, because nothing can do more to advance the cause of peace, democracy and human rights in the Middle East than a strong US-Israel relationship," said spokesman Michael Goldfarb, who formerly worked on the McCain presidential campaign and with Kristol at the Weekly Standard.
Perhaps the most telling feature of ECI's first two ads has been the targets they've chosen. Both Sestak and Kilroy are not known within the Democratic caucus for being particularly critical of Israel, save the J-Street letter signed by Kilroy. Both, however, face uphill election battles, with the betting money on their defeats. ECI could have chosen a tougher race in which to invest. But a campaign win would presumably allow it to flaunt its electoral muscle once the new Congress convenes.
The ECI ad buy against Kilroy would be "significant," Goldfarb said. It will also be followed by several more ads over the next weeks targeting other signers of the J-Street letter, all of which will appear on cable news and primetime shows in target districts.