Ben Smith reports that the Emergency Committee for Israel is up with a new ad hitting Democratic Rep. Rush Holt. In a new twist, ECI goes after Holt his 100 percent rating from CAIR. Smith writes, “The ad seeks, in part, to establish the boundaries of acceptable American politics on the issue of Israel.” That is off-base, I think, in an important respect.
ECI isn’t declaring that “no member of Congress has a right to hold these views.” The group is saying that if the candidate himself is going to declare himself “pro-Israel,” it is fair game to look at his voting record and see if that is the case. ECI is not trying to define “boundaries of acceptable American politics” but rather to recapture the term “pro-Israel” from those who invoke the label but who take positions that are antithetical to Israel’s interests and that are supportive of Israel’s enemies. You can take whatever stance you like, but if you’re going to call yourself “pro-Israel,” says ECI, then you’d better be so.
Why is the distinction important? Well, the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel-haters like to claim that the “Israel Lobby” — that would be the pro-Israel Jews and Christians and the majority of Americans — wants to shut people up or drive them out of the public debate. But there is no evidence of that. In fact, the position that you can’t “politicize” Israel or make that a legitimate issue on which to evaluate candidates is a not a very subtle way of giving anti-Israel candidates a free pass. One reason why J Street, the National Democratic Jewish Council, and the leftist blogosphere wigged out when ECI appeared is that, until now, they have been able to shield candidates with a record of hostility to the Jewish state from scrutiny.
Well, those days are over. If candidates want to keynote for CAIR, or take money from CAIR, or sign letters bashing Israel, they can (to the extent CAIR is not found to be engaged in illegal activities, an investigation that Ben Smith points out is ongoing). If they want to cajole Israel to lift the Gaza blockade or urge an imposed peace deal, they can. But then they must expect to be criticized for it. That exercise — about any domestic or foreign policy issue — is not only legitimate but necessary in a democratic political system.