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Debating Israel in Virginia

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.



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