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Jan Schakowsky Deserves Pro-Israel Support

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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:
  • Jan co-sponsored of H.Res. 1359, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Introduced by Congressman Gary Ackerman, this resolution marks the fourth anniversary of Shalit's kidnapping, condemns Hamas for seizing and holding him contrary to international law, and expresses support for Israel.
  • Jan co-sponsored the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, which greatly expanded sanctions against Iran. Introduced by Congressman Howard Berman and passed on June 24, 2010, this bill imposed the toughest sanctions on Iran ever passed.
  • Jan voted for H.R. 5327, the U.S.-Israel Rocket and Missile Defense Cooperation and Support Act. Introduced by Congressman Glenn Nye and passed on May 20, 2010, this bill authorizes assistance to Israel for the Iron Dome Short Range Artillery Rocket Defense system, which is intended to intercept short-range rockets, missiles, and mortars launched at Israel.
  • Jan signed the Poe/Peters letter to President Obama supporting Israel's right to self-defense in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident. Sent in June 2010, this letter urged the President to remain steadfast in support of Israel and to oppose and, if necessary, use U.S. veto power to oppose any Security Council resolutions condemning Israel.
  • Jan signed the Jackson/Pence letter urging President Obama to impose crippling sanctions on Iran. Jan has long recognized the threat posed by Iran. She co-sponsored the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, and the Iran Freedom Support Act. This is nothing new for Jan. In 2001, she co-sponsored the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act Extension Act. In 1999, she co-sponsored the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 1999.
  • Jan signed the Hoyer/Cantor letter to Secretary Clinton urging the Administration to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship. This letter was on sent March 26, 2010 in the wake of Vice President Biden's visit to Israel, and it urged Sec. Clinton to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to ensure that future differences were resolved as befits longstanding allies.
  • Jan signed the Hoyer/Cantor letter to President Obama supporting Israeli/Palestinian peace. Sent May 1, 2009, this letter urged the President to pursue peace based on the principles that parties themselves must negotiate any agreement, the U.S. must work closely with our ally Israel, we should promote greater participation of Arab states, and the Palestinians must commit to end violence, terror, and incitement and to build institutions necessary for a viable state.
  • Jan voted for the December 2010 bill that provided foreign aid to Israel. Jan consistently votes in favor of foreign aid, which is more than most Republicans can say. Standing up for Israel means voting for aid to Israel even if the bill includes other programs you might not like (this typically does not present a problem for most Democrats, who believe in helping people both at home and abroad).
  • Jan cosponsored and voted for H.Res. 867, a resolution condemning the biased Goldstone report. Passed on October 23, 2009, this resolution also expressed support for Administration efforts to fight anti-Israel bias at the U.N. and called on the President and Secretary of State to oppose any further action on the Goldstone report in multilateral organizations.
  • Jan signed the Sherman/Royce letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, urging him to work toward peace with Israel. This letter, sent in July 2009, expressed disappointment with the Saudi insistence on the return of all Arab lands as a precondition to any negotiations, and instead urged the Saudis to take an active leadership role in pursuit of peace.
  • Jan voted for H.Res. 34, a resolution recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza. Passed during Operation Cast lead in January 2009, this resolution, introduced by Speaker Pelosi, also called for protection of civilian life and urged Hamas to end rocket and mortar attacks against Israel, recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence, accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and dismantle terrorist infrastructure.
  • Jan stood up for AIPAC by signing the 9/19/07 letter that reprimanded Rep. James Moran (D-VA) for irresponsibly and falsely accusing AIPAC of lobbying for the Iraq war.

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 may not realize it, but the Tea Party movement is bad news for Jews.

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.