Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday met with representative delegates of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). But while the meeting was meant to shore up bipartisan support for Israel from American Jewish political organizations, it quickly became a partisan bickering match, with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, using the platform to tell Republican Jews to stop doing what they're doing.
The RJC used their opening remarks to say that now was a historical time for the future of the Middle East, and to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for meeting with them. But while the NJDC’s chairman said essentially the same thing, he was followed by hyper-partisan comments, first from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel and then from the DNC chair, Wasserman Schultz.
Sitting in front of Netanyahu, the DNC chair asked the RJC to “pledge to refrain in 2012 from using Israel as part of the issues in campaigns,” according to RJC executive director Matt Brooks. “It started that way. Right from the get go they just jumped on it.”
“They decided to hijack these meeting in order to, in front of the prime minister, put a gag order in effect to prevent us from speaking out on Israel,” Brooks says.
It is highly unusual for a sitting DNC chair to try to use a foreign prime minister to pressure another political group to act in a way that she deems appropriate. But this seems to have been what happened yesterday.
Asked about Netanyahu’s reaction, Brooks said Netanyahu was “clearly uncomfortable and at one point said, ‘do you guys want me to leave the room and give you guys some privacy?’”
Brooks believes Wasserman Schultz is “absolutely” spooked after last election, when groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel ran ads against liberal Democrats who have supported anti-Israel measures and J Street sponsored initiatives.
“At the end of the day, if you have bad facts, which they do, you try to shut it down,” Brooks says of the DNC’s attempt yesterday to use Netanyahu to pressure Republicans to do what they want. “The one strategic tool they have is to try to stifle debate.”
While the NJDC brought sitting members of Congress and other politicos to the meeting, the RJC mainly brought donors, including Sheldon Adelson, according to press reports. It seems that leaks of the outburst to Politico’s Ben Smith came from Democratic attendees in the room.
In response, the RJC has sent a letter to Wasserman Schultz, expressing their displeasure at her crass attempt to “stifle debate”
“I do not think that the timing or the venue you chose for raising this issue was appropriate,” Brooks writes. “I recognize that now, as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, you are in a position where you must support candidates whose positions on Israel are different from yours. To that end, I understand why you would like to shield and provide political amnesty to those Democrats whose positions undermine Israel’s security.”
It’s because of her current position, chair of the DNC (thus a prominent proponent of all Democrats, whether or not they are supporters of Israel), that Brooks believes Wasserman Schultz wants to “stifle debate in the Jewish community on these issues.” Nevertheless, Brooks states, “the RJC believes they are legitimate issues and part of a healthy and vigorous debate. Indeed, the best way to avoid debating them is for Democratic candidates not to hold positions that weaken Israel’s security, in which case both parties would be fully joined together in strong support of Israel.”
Here’s the full text of Matt Brooks’s letter to Debbie Wasserman Schultz:
The Honorable Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Chairman Democratic National Committee
430 S. Capitol St. SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
By facsimile: 202-863-8174
Dear Chairwoman Wasserman Shultz:
It was a pleasure to be with you at yesterday’s bipartisan meeting involving the Republican Jewish Coalition and representatives from the National Jewish Democratic Council. It is always an honor to be with an Israeli Prime Minister and I know you are as grateful as I am for the time he gave us so we could discuss matters that involve Israel’s security.
I also commend you personally for your pro-Israel record as a Congresswoman. There is no question that when it comes to how you vote, you have always been strong for Israel. Not everyone in Congress is like you and that’s why it is important for both of us to continue to speak out freely when individuals in our parties break from a position of support for Israel. I did so just two weeks ago when Congressman Ron Paul announced his candidacy for President.
In order to maintain bipartisan support for Israel, the RJC will continue to publicly point out the records and statements of public officials who stray from this bipartisan position. I hope you will do the same and not feel pressure to sweep under the rug or whitewash the positions of anyone in your party whose positions represent a threat to Israel’s security.
I hope you agree with me that no one – in either party – whether it’s the President of the United States, a candidate for President or a rank and file member – should be shielded from criticism if their positions are harmful to Israel’s well being. Covering up anti-Israel positions by gagging debate about them doesn’t help anyone; instead it only protects those who hope to get away with their anti-Israel positions. The Jewish community has a right to be informed about people’s records and people should be answerable for the positions they take. That is the essence of democracy.
Indeed, several leading Democrats have exercised their right to free speech when they criticized President Obama’s controversial statement that, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Former New York City Mayor and lifelong Democrat Ed Koch responded, “If President Obama does not change his position, I cannot vote for his reelection.”
According to a story in today’s Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in his remarks to AIPAC, rebuked President Obama for his remarks.
However, in our meeting with the Prime Minister, you appealed to us, in front of the leader of a foreign nation, to pledge to refrain from any debate about these matters. I do not think that the timing or the venue you chose for raising this issue was appropriate.
I recognize that now, as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, you are in a position where you must support candidates whose positions on Israel are different from yours.
To that end, I understand why you would like to shield and provide political amnesty to those Democrats whose positions undermine Israel’s security.
For example, in Wisconsin, your party is likely to nominate a signer of the Gaza 54 letter, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, to replace Senator Herb Kohl.
In New Mexico, the Democrats are likely to nominate Congressman Martin Heinrich, who refused to join 344 colleagues in condemning the Goldstone report.
And in Connecticut, your party is likely to nominate Congressman Chris Murphy, who accepted major financial support from J Street in two different election cycles.
I understand that you would like to stifle debate in the Jewish community on these issues, but the RJC believes they are legitimate issues and part of a healthy and vigorous debate. Indeed, the best way to avoid debating them is for Democratic candidates not to hold positions that weaken Israel’s security, in which case both parties would be fully joined together in strong support of Israel.