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All Politics Are Local, Except when It Comes to Israel

Although foreign policy issues such as Israel play a not insignificant role in elections for the House and Senate, it isn’t every day that a county commissioner’s race becomes embroiled in the Middle East peace process. All politics may be local, but it appears that in at least one race for countywide office in Pennsylvania, Republicans are attempting to use support for Israel as a wedge issue. Two GOP candidates for commissioners of Montgomery County outside of Philadelphia are calling out one of their Democratic opponents on his role as President Obama’s chief local apologist in the Jewish community during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Republicans Bruce L. Castor Jr. and Jenny Brown issued a press release last Friday condemning President Obama for his demand that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations. But they didn’t stop at criticism of Obama. The two specifically demanded that Democrat Josh Shapiro join them in their blast aimed at the president. So far, Shapiro has no comment on the challenge.

The reason for this maneuver is that Shapiro, a member of the state legislature, was one of the few prominent Philadelphia-area Democrats who endorsed Obama early in 2008 when most area pols were backing Hillary Clinton. After Obama won the nomination, Shapiro then spent most of the rest of the campaign speaking on the candidate’s behalf to Jewish audiences and reassuring them of Obama’s steadfast support for Israel. Republicans now appear to be saying that Shapiro should pay the price for what supporters of Israel rightly consider Obama’s efforts to distance the United States from Israel.

Not without justice some local cynics are branding this attack on Shapiro as probably the most brazen example of pandering to pro-Israel opinion on record. Shapiro is a highly affiliated member of the Jewish community (full disclosure: our children have attended the same Jewish day school and camp) so it’s not likely that too many Jewish Democrats are going to abandon him because of his past ties to Obama even if it seems as if his 2008 promises on the president’s behalf were checks he couldn’t cash. Indeed, even some Republicans are likely to think this jibe to be a bridge too far.

Nevertheless, the willingness of even county commissioner candidates to speak out against Obama’s stands on Israel is testimony to the seriousness with which Republicans are viewing this matter. Although the use of Israel as a wedge issue in local politics may be more than questionable, it may be a prelude to far more intense and less dubious attempts to call Democrats to account for their attitude of their party’s leader to the Jewish state.