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.
BUCKING U.S. PRESSURE
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
United State 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 this 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
fundraiser for a well-known anti-Israel group.
Sestak, a retired U.S. 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
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
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 U.S. 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
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
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
This is not a partisan issue. Democrats such as House Speaker Rep. Nancy
Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. 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 résumé. 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.
DON'T GIVE HIM A PASS
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
Compared to Sestak's folly, a little well-prepared pandering looks less like
an "insult" and more like wise public policy.