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July 15, 2012

What Congress candidate Sinema’s emails reveal about her Israel position

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/what_congress_candidate_sinemas_emails_reveal_about_her_israel_position_201/

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Kyrsten Sinema (Photo: Kyrsten Sinema/Wikipedia)

Kyrsten Sinema is running for Congress in the 9th District of Arizona. She is a Democrat in a newly created district that seems likely to fall into Democratic hands. She is also possibly - as some believe - a rising star in the party. She might even become a Congresswoman.

There are some observers of this district’s race that are highly concerned about former state senator Sinema and Israel. Not that she alone would be able to tip the House against Israel, but considering her record, they say, she can make trouble. She can become one of the more vocal voices against Israel if she wins.

Primary day is getting closer, and Sinema is not standing alone. Current Senator David Schapira and the former leader of the Arizona Democratic Party, Andrei Cherny, are also in the race (these two candidates are Jewish, and the race is included in our list of Jewish House Projection races). On the top of the agenda for this district: economy, economy, economy, and immigration. Israel? Why would Israel be on the agenda of Arizona voters?

Cherny is already on the record voicing his suspicions about his opponent:

“Cherny’s campaign argues that Sinema’s longtime associations with far-left-wing groups make her a dangerous woman to put in Congress, or to nominate for a seat the Democrats could win. ‘On Israel,’ Cherny said of Sinema, ‘she has a 10-year track record of taking positions that are at odds with American policy and administrations of both parties.’ Nor is this ancient history: ‘She was involved with groups and individuals that questioned Israel’s existence up to last year, 2011,’ he said.”

And Cherny, Sinema’s rival, is not the only concerned observer of Sinema. I spoke over the weekend with two pro-Israel Washington notables and both said they are familiar with this Arizona race, and are watching it with some sense of nervousness.

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Sinema, no doubt, is a woman of the far left – or used to be one – when it comes to Israel-related activities and policies. Marc Tracy did a fine job of tracking some of Sinema’s past associations, but there’s more to be covered, among other things her ties with Marwan Ahmad, a man supportive of the Holy Land Foundation, and hardly an avid Israel supporter. But that was then, and not wasn’t election-time. Leftist activism were gone, as centrist positions become Sinema’s new game. She went to an AIPAC conference. She has a position paper that is undeniably as pro-Israel as one would expect.

Viewing a turn-around as sharp as Sinema’s one can choose from three possible options:

1. She’d matured, educated herself, and changed her mind.
2. She’d matured, decided to be a successful politician, and was willing to scrap past opinions and associations related to an issue she didn’t much care about to begin with.
3. She’s hiding her real views, but is going to go back to being very critical of Israel as soon as she’s elected.

One recent story related to Sinema makes the question of her true motivations and beliefs even more difficult to answer. In her position paper, Sinema says this:

I believe that Israel has the right to defend herself from her neighbors and from terrorist organizations. I also believe that the best path to long-term peace for Israel is a two-state solution – one a secure Jewish state of Israel and the other, an independent, demilitarized Palestine.

Note her specific language: she is supportive of a “demilitarized” Palestine. But does she really believe what her paper says? A while ago, a Palestinian activist sent Sinema and all other candidates an email, asking to open a dialogue to “educate” them on “the importance of human rights in Palestine”. He also asked the candidates to “send a one paragraph statement on their position on Palestinian issues”. The activist, Ahmed Al-Sidawi, began a correspondence with Sinema – that is quite interesting.

Al-Sidawi wrote:

I’ve recently been sent an email saying that you condemn statehood for Palestine. This is very upsetting to me- you talk about how there should be a “demilitarized Palestine.”  Please explain- this is no different than saying you cannot have a state for Palestine.

Sinema’s response, dated June 22:

My position is the same that it has always been.  I support a two-state solution that Israel and Palestine broker with each other. My personal opinion is that a two-state solution based on the 1965 lines is a reasonable and fair place to start. However, I do believe that only Israel and Palestine can make a lasting agreement - outside states can’t force a lasting agreement.

Al-Sidawi replied the same day:

The email- false rumors I now understand- said that you will only support a demilitarized Palestine. That is inconsistent with a two-state solution and I’m glad that is not your opinion.

On Saturday, Sinema wrote:

I have never even used the term demilitarized Palestine, so I have no idea where that came from. I believe in a two state solution negotiated and determined between Israel and Palestine. This has always been my position.

Al-Sidawi has the reference:

I have consulted with the person who initially had alerted our community to your position. He informed me that you did in fact use the term “demilitarized Palestine” in your Middle East policy as it stands today on your website…

Sinema didn’t hesitate much:

You are right, staff writes position papers. I will ask staff to edit and get an updated and accurate position uploaded to the website this week. I apologize for the oversight… Thank you SO much for contacting me. Running a campaign for Congress is busy and difficult, and one relies on staff immensely. I also rely on friends in the community to help ensure that all our materials accurately reflect my opinion. Thank you for being that friend.

I’m not sure if supporting a “demilitarized” Palestine should be the litmus test defining which candidate is or isn’t “pro-Israel”. In fact, my assumption would be that Sinema can hardly explain the differences between these two positions, and the significance attributed to each of them by Palestinians and Israelis. But going back to the three possible options with which to understand Sinema’s Israel-friendly reincarnation (change of mind/ political realism/win then hit) one has to wonder about these emails.

Why did she feel the need to rush to correction her positions, why did she feel the need to blame her staff for this position, why did she apologize for supporting a demilitarized Palestine –  the official position of President Obama?

My answer: gut feeling. She doesn’t have it. If one wants a candidate that is instinctively pro-Israel, Sinema is probably not the one – at least not in the sense most people understand what “pro-Israel” means. But she is a politician, as the response from her campaign aptly proves. Her office provided us with the latest email sent from Sinema to Al-Sidawi, dated July 11 – the one email we didn’t have:

Hi Ahmed - I am eager to hear more from you and the Palestinian and Muslim communities about your perspective. After researching the issue, I do stand by the terminology used in the position paper and I’m eager to talk about why—and hear your concerns—with the Muslim community. 

So now you know: Sinema officially supports a demilitarized Palestine. That’s the kind of shifts on which once one said: I was for it before I was against it. That’s the kind of shift that leaves one with a satisfying position, but without much trust.

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