‘Debate’ in PA Senate race is over who loves Israel more

The following originally appeared on Mondoweiss:

The dueling ads for the Senate race in Pennsylvania by J Street and neo-conservative outfit the Emergency Committee for Israel, headed by William Kristol, has media outlets talking about a “proxy fight over President Obama’s Middle East policy, for the right and the left.” The Forward described the two groups as “trading barbs and pointed advertisements” over Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak’s record on Israel, and quotes conservative writer Michael Goldfarb of the committee as welcoming this “debate.”

What the ads really tell us, though, is that there is no debate going on amongst political candidates when it comes to Israel and that the Israel lobby’s line is still reigning supreme in American politics. It is a demonstration of how little room there is to have a candid discussion on the United States’ policy towards Israel/Palestine.

After the Emergency Committee for Israel aired a menacing ad accusing Sestak of being affiliated with a “front group for Hamas”–a reference to the Council on American-Islamic Relations–and for apparently not being sufficiently supportive of Israel, J Street hit back, sort of.

J Street falls all over itself to point out that Sestak is indeed pro-Israel: “Sestak consistently votes for aid to Israel,” the J Street ad says, and as an admiral in the Navy, Sestak “helped strengthen Israel’s defenses.”

This is anything but a debate over Israel. It’s a narrow discussion encased in a box between one group that supports sanctions on Iran (J Street) and another that just wants to bomb Iran.

Sestak is indeed pro-Israel–he voted in support of the Israeli assault on Gaza, which eventually killed some 300 children, and signed onto the recent letter in the aftermath of the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla that signals support for the blockade, saying that it “was instituted to stop terrorists from smuggling weapons into Gaza to murder innocent civilians.”

But is it really a good thing for Sestak to support Israel when it massacres 1,400 people during “Operation Cast Lead” and commits war crimes?  Shouldn’t we be having a debate over Israel’s destructive policies of war, blockade, occupation and colonization that we fund?

The day when candidates can truly debate whether we should be funding Israeli war crimes is certainly something that I want to see. The Pennsylvania Senate race, though, with J Street defending a candidate that is firmly pro-Israel, isn’t going to be it.

As Australian-Jewish writer Antony Loewenstein recently commented, “if this is the way to move the debate forward in the US, we’re in deep trouble.”

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