July 26, 2010
Joe Sestak is a friend of Israel
The smear campaign that suggests otherwise disserves voters and Israel
A smear campaign, led by a group titled Emergency Committee for Israel, wants Pennsylvania voters to believe that Rep. Joe Sestak has anti-Israel views and does not recognize Israel’s security concerns.
At first glance, the attacks on Mr. Sestak’s record on Israel appear as the usual mudslinging Washington politics in the midst of a hotly contested Senate race. But this misguided campaign is especially troubling not only in its falsehoods, but in its reckless use of Israel as a political tool to divide Pennsylvania voters.
The charges against Mr. Sestak have no merit whatsoever. In fact few members of Congress can match Mr. Sestak’s intimate understanding of Israel’s legitimate and significant security concerns and appreciation for the U.S.-Israel relationship.
In his 31-year career in the Navy, Mr. Sestak traveled to Israel numerous times to work in conjunction with counterparts in the Israeli Defense Forces. As admiral of the USS George Washington, Mr. Sestak facilitated the installation of early warning radar systems off Israel’s coast at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. As director of defense policy at the National Security Council, Mr. Sestak worked intimately with Israeli security officials to plan and carry out joint military exercises.
Mr. Sestak would never compromise Israel’s security, which he himself has worked to ensure. Such deep experience with Israel’s security needs is exactly what is needed in Washington today.
While Mr. Sestak’s positions in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are consistent with the stated positions of the state of Israel and of the United States, those of the so-called Emergency Committee for Israel are not.
With the promulgation of the 2002 “road map,” President George W. Bush established the goal of two states for two peoples as official U.S. policy. In a historic speech at Bar Ilan University last summer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraced the concept of a two-state solution, based on negotiations leading to the establishment a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, living side-by-side in peace and security with a Jewish, democratic state of Israel. It is a position that Mr. Sestak steadfastly supports.
However, in a recent interview with Politico, a spokesman for the Emergency Committee for Israel refused to endorse the goal of two states. The U.S. and Israeli governments have officially chosen a two-state solution as the preferred path to securing peace and security in the region. So has Mr. Sestak. Why hasn’t the “emergency committee”?
Those behind the smears have pointed to Mr. Sestak’s signature on a congressional letter earlier this year calling for an easing of Gaza’s blockade as evidence of his anti-Israel leanings. This too is nonsense.
The letter in question states: “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. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals.”
This is exactly the message I heard repeatedly from high-level officials in numerous meetings in Israel earlier this month. In fact, many Israeli officials have been calling for adjusting the Gaza policy for months.
Unfortunately, the policy was only amended after a deadly episode aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla, which has effectively emboldened Hamas and deeply strained Israel-Turkey relations. Had the advice of these Israeli officials—and of Mr. Sestak—been heeded earlier, the change in blockade policy could have been used to bolster moderate Palestinians in an effort to advance peace and security in the region. It is dishonest to attack Mr. Sestak for promoting a position that is now the official position of the Israeli government.
Finally, most troubling in this swift-boat-style campaign is the cynical use of Israel as a political instrument.
A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is a staple of American foreign policy, one supported by Democrats and Republicans alike for decades. Today, the United States and Israel face serious threats to our national security interests and must work closely together to ensure a more stable, secure and prosperous future for the entire region. As Mr. Sestak recently told the Jewish Exponent, “The more secure Israel can feel about our support, the more secure we will be able to feel as we engage the world to work toward a two-state solution.” The recent meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Barack Obama is a welcome sign of the kind of close cooperation that is necessary at this time.
Attempts to jeopardize bipartisan consensus support for Israel by using it as a political tool designed to divide Americans is both irresponsible and reckless. Besides, there are plenty of legitimate and important issues for Pennsylvanians to debate in this campaign. Mr. Sestak’s well-demonstrated support for Israel shouldn’t be one of them.
Peter Joseph is president of the Israel Policy Forum, an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes U.S. engagement to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (www.israelpolicyforum.org).
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