Commentary Magazine


Shut Up, Joe Sestak Responded

Yes, it’s a trend, apparently. Run an add that hits home and the target wants to make sure viewers can’t see it so they can make up their own minds. The ECI launched its opening salvo against Joe Sestak and Sestak’s lawyer rushes in to respond, as Ben Smith reports:

A lawyer for Rep. Joe Sestak, attesting to the Senate candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, wrote that Sestak had “put his life on the line to defend Israel” during his years in the Navy. The letter, an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Comcast not to air an attack ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel, aggressively makes Sestak’s case on several fronts, but the suggestion that his naval service* in was performed “to defend Israel” is rarely heard outside conspiracy circles.

“Congressman Joe Sestak is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race who (as an officer of the Navy) was willing to put his life on the line to defend Israel,” Sestak lawyer Jared Solomon wrote Comcast. “It is offensive and outrageous to suggest that he does not stand with Israel.”

Solomon’s letter, obtained by POLITICO,  challenges several other portions of the attack ad, including a claim that he’d helped fundraise for the Council on American Islamic Relations (his appearance was at “a portion of the event explicitly free of fundraising”) and that the group had been called a Hamas “front group” (“the characterization came a year after the CAIR event”).

This is a bizarre and telling move by Sestak on a number of grounds. First, is Sestak saying that he was in mortal peril as commander of a  naval battle group? Sensing that this is a gross exaggeration, his spokesman piped up with a “clarification”:

Sestak spokesman Jonathan Dworkin says the reference was not to any specific conflict, but to a series of operations with the Israeli Military, including a deployment in 2003 to help protect Israel from Iraqi missiles. “There is no suggestion that he served in the Navy for the purpose of defending Israel, only that he was involved in situations with the Israeli military and while serving the United States, he was willing to lay his life on the line in defense of our ally, Israel,” he writes.

Any military service, in my book, should be commended, but we’ve had enough of puffery lately about military credentials and it sure wasn’t the case that he was crawling on his belly through Gaza to protect the Jewish state. But, frankly, it’s hard to tell precisely what he did, because Sestak has refused to release his military records. If they show that he in fact risked life and limb for Israel and put to rest the controversy as to whether he was relieved of command — or told to resign (for creating a “poor command climate”) — why isn’t he putting out his Navy records?

Nor is the lawyer’s argument compelling, let along intelligible, that Sestak wasn’t really accusing Israel of “resorting to collective punishment” when he signed a letter promoted by J Street along with 53 other Israel-bashers. That letter called on Israel to figure out an approach to Gaza “without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip.” Huh? I don’t see how Sestak can escape from the text he signed off on.

But that’s not the weirdest part of the letter. He’s essentially saying: “I didn’t actually raise money for CAIR (although there was an admission fee), I just spoke at an event.” And he’s arguing it wasn’t the whole FBI who called CAIR a Hamas front group — just one agent did. Sheesh. I don’t see how that is going to fly. After all, CAIR officials have been the subject of many a legal investigation and have some rather radical views.

In the campaign Sestak’s going to have some explaining to do. Really, is he going to say it was only after the fundraising event that CAIR got the moniker of “Hamas front group”? They had been under investigation, after all, for years. More to the point, does he now understand that CAIR is in fact a front group?

Also, take a look at the letter and exhibits that the ECI submitted in response to the “shut them up” plea from Sestak’s lawyer. I’m not sure how fair-minded people can look at all that and conclude that Sestak has a pro-Israel track record, unless we are willing to concede that “pro-Israel” has no meaning.

Arlen Specter tried to raise many of these same points during the primary, so this isn’t anything new. What is surprising is that Sestak thinks he can muscle his way through the campaign without revealing his Navy records, without expressing any remorse for speaking at a CAIR event (with a Muslim activist who compared Zionists to Nazis) and without explaining what exactly makes him so attractive to J Street. We’ll see if he can pull it off.

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