Ben Smith reports today that Joe Sestak is distancing himself from the J Street sponsored, "infamous" (in the words of the Orthodox Union), anti-Israel letter accusing Israel of "collective punishment" for defending itself against Hamas terrorists bent on murdering Israelis. Collective punishment is specifically designated as a war crime by the Geneva Conventions, and the term's use was rejected by all but 12 percent of the House, all Democrats now known as the Gaza 54. That number dropped to 53 when Yvette Clark distanced herself from the letter almost immediately after it was sent to President Obama.
Sestak had been the target of an apparently effective ad campaign by the Emergency Committee for Israel, chaired by my very own boss, Bill Kristol. Sestak's decision to distance himself from the letter marks a major reversal from his earlier posture, as reported by Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent back in February of this year:
Sestak acknowledged that signing on to the letter was politically risky, and that it could be used "against me." But he said that it was more important to him to stand up for his convictions.
It's possible Sestak's ‘convictions’ have changed in the last six months, but more likely that we are seeing the proverbial campaign trail conversion of a desperate candidate facing bad poll numbers (the latest survey out of PA had Sestak down 10 points to Republican Pat Toomey) and struggling to raise money (Sestak's recent ad buy was for just under 50k, a paltry sum in PA).
The letter's sponsor, the anti-anti-Hamas J Street, launched a new micro-site today, at 3 in the afternoon the day before Labor Day weekend, lashing out at the group's pro-Israel critics, including Kristol and Gary Bauer (who has an excellent op-ed in Politico today expressing his support for Israeli democracy and his skepticism about the prospects for a two-state solution). The site's tag line is "They Don't Speak for Us." Whoever "us" is, apparently it no longer includes Joe Sestak.