While election day was pretty bad for Dems everywhere, it wasn't nearly as bad for the Democratic pro-Israel community. There is one lesson that until 2010 has been a standard in the pro-Israel community (and was violated in 2010 on both sides)...Israel must be a bipartisan issue.
It should not be made into a partisan election issue by either side. What you saw on Election Day is that key pro-Israel members endorsed by bipartisan PACs did very well. But members that were endorsed by the single-party partisan groups, Emergency Committee for Israel and J Street underperformed. More after the jump...
Good News. Priority #1, Harry Reid (D-NV) won. He's simply an outstanding pro-Israel leader, and one of the best friends our community has. He was given money by almost every 'real' pro-Israel PAC out there. I hope he is not challenged by Schumer, despite Schumer's excellent pro-Israel credentials. Other key Democrats survived, like Bennett (D-CO), Boxer (D-CA) and Schumer (D-NY). Historically, the pro-Israel community has preferred incumbents, and many of our closest friends in the Senate won reelection for six year terms. Even some of the Republicans who won, aren't bad on Israel issues (they just suck at everything else). And it looks like Joe Miller (R-AK) was defeated, which is good. The Gaza 54 is down to 48, and I think a few more will be retiring before 2012 (the converse, though, is that if that letter was recirculated tomorrow, there might be a few more Republicans on the list--see below). David Cicilline (D-RI) was elected to Congress. Believe it or not, there are 4 elected GLBT folks in Congress (at least openly). 3 of the 4 are Jewish. No f'in clue what conclusion to make there, but its interesting, no? Its o/t but I'd love for someone to diary that one!
Bad News. Republicans got Rand Paul (R-KY) elected. Rand Paul will be a huge thorn in our side. I simply cannot understate how bad Paul is for the pro-Israel community. Even the RJC has run away from him, and they'll work for any Republican no matter how bad he is. The Senate now has its first and only anti-Israel member. Not cool. Among other things, he can place 'holds' on pro-Israel legislation. Second, we lost some great pro-Israel Democrats, most notably Grayson (D-FL), Adler (D-NJ) and Klein (D-FL). I'll get to this later, but it is absolutely pathetic that neither ECI nor J Street gave money to these fabulous Congressmen--like their refusal to endorse Harry Reid, it shows that neither ECI nor J Street are really pro-Israel--instead each merely serves to perpetuate their own narrow ultra-partisan agendas. I note that some mainstream bipartisan pro-Israel candidates give most of their money to Senate candidates--and they should be excused--neither ECI or J Street fit in that category. Third, Justin Amash (R-MI) was elected. While Amash hasn't publicly (to my knowledge) taken many anti-Israel positions, he's Palestinian, and more importantly, he publicly seeks to be the next Ron Paul. That can't be good for the pro-Israel community. You just don't get more anti-Israel in the Republican party than Ron Paul. Finally, a number of tea party candidates were elected from the "liberty" wing of the tea party. While the tea party's raison d'etre isn't foreign policy, it is likely that some of these candidates will turn out to be paleoconservatives, isolationists and anti-Israel. This might be the only time someone says it on daily kos, but lets hope these tea party-ers follow Jim Demint on Israel instead of Ron Paul. The other downside of the tea party takeover is that you're already hearing whispers from Majority Leader-elect Cantor that Israel should be stripped out of the foreign aid bill. That would be a long-term disaster for the pro-Israel community. In fact, it is an issue on which AIPAC and J Street ought to be aligned.
ECI. Historically, most pro-Israel PACs (and all of the important ones) have been bipartisan. 2010 is the very first year that 2 large Israel-related PACs weren't bipartisan. These two PACs sought to make Israel an electoral issue. Yikes! The first, Emergency Committee for Israel, was started by right wing Republicans and Christian Zionists. It didn't endorse a single Democrat. It only endorsed 5 candidates, but its results were a dismal failure. While they were 3 for 5, that doesn't tell the whole story. ECI took on many incumbents. If the pro-Israel community is going to take on an incumbent, it better beat him/her (see, e.g. noted anti-semite Cynthia McKinney). If it doesn't, it has likely created a long-term enemy. ECI lost in their challenges to Jim Himes (D-CT) and Rush Holt (D-NJ). I fear that Himes and Holt are going to move even further against Israel in their future voting records. Geez, thanks for nothing, ECI.
J Street. As you might know, J Street has a notorious habit of using one of its board members (who doubles as a pollster) to release poorly constructed faux polls to justify its existence. In fact, J Street immediately removed the list of endorsed candidates from their website and used one of these faux polls to 'prove' their point instead on running on their record. Luckily, I saved J Street's list of endorsed candidates--61 of them, not a single Republican. For the record, J Street endorsed 3 Senate candidates. J Street was 0 for 3. Yep, not a single win. Thanks for nothing, J Street. They endorsed 58 House candidates. A majority of those were in safe seats. Only 3 were not sitting incumbents. Of the non-incumbents (NH-2, FL-25, CA-45), they lost all 3. Not a single win here either--thanks for nothing, J Street. CA-45 was especially bad because it took on a sitting Congressperson Bono Mack (R-CA). Like Himes and Holt, J Street likely created an future enemy of the pro-Israel community. Of the House seats in vulnerable districts, J Street candidates similarly got destroyed. They lost PA-3, IL-14, IL-11, WI-8, OH-15, CO-4, NY-20, VA-5, and NH-1--all Democrats who might have done better had they not accepted the J Street stain. There are 2 seats (VA-11, NY-25) that are too close to call. In fact, there really aren't many close seats (e.g. ~10) that the J Street candidate pulled out (most of the J Street endorsements were in very safe seats like unopposed Capuano (D-MA) or McDermott (D-WA) or districts with very significant D-weighted PVIs like Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Yet, I think you need to look behind the numbers. Many of the J Street-endorsed districts aren't that Jewish. As such, the J Street endorsement isn't that relevant to the Jewish voting in these seats, though it might make a small difference on the edges. I don't make the argument that Jews voting against the J Street candidate lost Dems districts like IL-14 or VA-5. The J Street endorsement has a much more insidious effect. It becomes a stain--a Scarlet A--on a candidate. This stain attracts fundraising to the opponent (in the form of ECI and others). In each of J Street races, the pro-Israel community donated to the opponent of the J Street candidate. This is even true in WI-8, where the candidate was Jewish. And so, the lesson is clear--if you don't want to attract pro-Israel money against you, don't accept the J Street endorsement. If you accept the J Street endorsement, you might attract some fundraising from J Street, but you're likely to get a more significant amount of funds from pro-Israel groups against you. Seems like a bad trade-off for any Congressional candidate other than the unopposed.
Conclusion I have three points to summarize with.
- If you're not endorsing candidates like Harry Reid and Ron Klein, you're just not a pro-Israel PAC. I don't know what you are, bu you're definitely a PAC with a different agenda.
- If you accept an endorsement from one of these partisan PACs, it is likely that you will draw money from the other side of the pro-Israel spectrum. As a candidate, it is much safer to accept an endorsement from a mainstream bi-partisan pro-Israel PAC. The converse, however, is that there are dozens of small pro-Israel PACs and in their short lifetimes, J Street and ECI have done a very good job fundraising.
- The anti-Israel wing of the Democratic party shrunk in the 2010 elections, but the anti-Israel wing of the Republican party grew. This is a trend that bears very close watching.