Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is a good friend of Israel who deserves our enthusiastic support over self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican Joel Pollak.
Maybe I'm old-school, but the pro-Israel community has historically judged incumbents on their record in Congress. Jan's record on Israel is perfect:
There's more, much more, but you get the idea. (Remember the hoopla about the letter sent to President Obama by 54 Democrats about the Gaza situation? Jan did not sign it.)
Does Pollak have a problem with Jan's record on Israel? I hope not, but I'm certain he would have voted against the foreign aid bill that Jan voted for and that AIPAC lobbied hard for in December 2010. Every Republican voted no. Other issues come and go, but foreign aid to Israel remains a cornerstone of the pro-Israel agenda. Ask Pollak whether he would have been the only Republican to vote yes or what specifically in the bill he felt outweighed the necessity--for the United States--of aid to Israel.
Pollak says he'll be good on Israel. If we take him at his word, then Israel should not be an issue in this election, given that he's running against a Jewish incumbent with a perfect record on Israel. Pollak's problem--a problem shared by many Republicans in Illinois--is that he can't win without making Israel an issue because his radical right positions on other issues and his vocal support for the Tea Party movement make him anathema to most Jewish voters.
Pollak is anti-choice; he would give states the right to ban abortions and opposes federal funding of abortions. He believes that "the right to bear arms is essential for our freedom." If you're anti-choice and consider the right to own a gun an essential freedom, then the Tea Party and Joel Pollak are for you.
Ironically, by using Israel as a political football for partisan gain, Pollak's supporters ignore the cardinal principle of pro-Israel advocacy: Support for Israel is and must remain bi-partisan.
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has expressed deep concern over the increasing use of support for Israel as a partisan issue in American domestic politics. Oren has stressed that bipartisan support for Israel is a strategic national interest for the State of Israel.
When pro-Israel Republican incumbents are challenged, our friends on the right are quick to excuse their stands on other issues by citing the "friendly incumbent rule," under which we must somehow disregard all other issues and vote solely based on Israel. Let's see if they swallow their own medicine. They might not like Jan's progressive stands on a wide variety of issues, but she's a pro-Israel Jewish incumbent with a perfect record on Israel running against an opponent without a record. Or maybe the "friendly incumbent rule" only applies to Republicans.
Jan's record on Israel, reproductive rights, and separation of church and state earned her the endorsement of JACPAC, a bi-partisan national PAC, because Jan's record is 100% in all three areas.
Jan's critics cite her support from J Street. I have been a member of AIPAC my entire adult life. I'm no fan of J Street, which I believe is based on a profound misunderstanding of AIPAC's role and a profound misunderstanding of what it means to be a friend of Israel. So how do I square my concerns about J Street with my support for Jan? I do what the pro-Israel community has done for decades: I judge Jan on her record, which is 100% pro-Israel. Yes, Jan spoke at the J Street conference, but read her remarks: This speech would win applause at any AIPAC conference (yes, Jan attends the AIPAC conferences).
If J Street wants to contribute to a candidate with a record like Jan's, then that's fine with me. If all J Street candidates vote like Jan, the U.S.-Israel relationship will remain rock-solid for years. That someone with a strong record of support for Israel reaches out to a broad spectrum of the Jewish community should be a cause for celebration, not criticism.
J Street knows nothing about Jan that we don't know. J Street is a young organization looking for credibility it has yet to earn by backing a winner. The Cubs will win the World Series before Joel Pollak beats Jan Schakowsky. J Street would like nothing better than to say it beat an AIPAC candidate (which is actually impossible since AIPAC does not rate or endorse candidates). Pollak's supporters are playing right into J Street's hands when they frame this race as J Street v. AIPAC, which is ironic because aside perhaps for foreign aid (and that's a major aside), Pollak would not have taken different positions from Jan on any of the aforementioned bills and resolutions.
Pollak's supporters will remind us until election day that Helen Thomas spoke at a fundraiser for Jan attended by many Illinois Democrats. Pollak's supporters may be delusional about his chances of winning, but even they must know that time machines are science fiction. Yet they still want to hold Jan accountable for not traveling into the future to observe the hateful remarks Thomas made several weeks after Jan's fundraiser--at which Israel was not discussed at all.
It's true that Thomas has never been considered good on Israel, but until her vile outburst, there were no reports of Thomas making anti-Semitic remarks. She was invited because at the time, she was a journalistic icon who had an amazing career. The idea that Jan and the other Democrats at her fundraiser share Thomas's views on Israel, or would have invited Thomas after Thomas made her ugly comments, is itself outrageous and obscene, especially given Jan's actual record on Israel.
Can you imagine the reaction if Jan had invited Thomas to speak after she made her disgusting remarks? You don't have to imagine. The week after Mark Kirk was re-elected in 2006, Kirk voted to elect Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to the post of Republican Policy Committee Chairman even though Issa had previously accused Israel of apartheid (Issa lost to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI)). And what was the reaction from our Republican friends? Silence. The hypocrisy is deafening.
I'm a Jan Fan because she's pro-Israel and because she fights for the other causes I believe in. If the Republican Party and the Tea Party speak for you, then vote for Joel Pollak. But if you care about Israel, don't let anyone bully you into thinking that Jan Schakowsky is anything but a good friend of Israel.
Note: This post was edited on July 2, 2010 to correct an unintentional misspelling of Joel Pollak's last name.