Why is This NY Congressional Election All About Israel?

What about the economy, jobs, the environment, reaffirming the rights of workers, preventing NY jobs from going overseas? Nope, none of that matters apparently.

The special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s vacated congressional seat has turned into a contest of who can love Israel more, complete with some good old-fashioned racial/religious politics and Islamophobia:

In the special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s vacant New York congressional seat, the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, is out with a new ad attacking Democrat David Weprin on the “ground zero mosque” — a full year after the controversy over that project


…Why is the Turner campaign harping on such an old issue at this particular moment? Even Park51’s developer recently acknowledged that the project — a generous term, as it’s more of an idea at this point — is at least five years away from any sort of construction; in real world terms, that means it may well never be built.

The real explanation for the ad can be found in the demographics of the district and the dynamic of the Turner-Weprin race up to this point.

According to a recent Siena poll, 29 percent of likely voters in the Brooklyn/Queens-based 9th District, are Jewish. Turnout is always low in special elections, and that means the sizable and tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community has been a “high-value target of both campaigns,” WNYC recently reported.

Much of the campaign up to this point has been about Israel, with Weprin scrambling to assure voters that he opposes President Obama’s perceived slights against the Jewish state (’67 borders, etc.) just as strenuously as Turner. Weprin, for example, has publicly called Obama’s treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu “outrageous.” But his campaign was dealt a blow when former Mayor Ed Koch endorsed Turner, arguing that electing a Republican from New York City would constitute a strong message to Obama about his Israel policies.

Turner’s message seems to be getting traction. A Siena poll this week showed him trailing Weprin by just six points — this in a district where enrolled Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3-1. The poll also showed Weprin winning likely Jewish voters by a 56-35 percent margin. But that’s significantly less than the 78 percent of Jewish voters who cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2008.

Turner’s new ad is clearly designed to reach Jewish voters who are suspicious of both Obama and — the campaign is hoping — Muslims.

Ah yes, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” But think about it, what does the Mosque That Doesn’t Exist and Probably Never Will have to do with Israel?

Well, it would seem to be a dog-whistle of sorts for Islamophobes. Unfortunately, some people have started to conflate hatred and fear of all things Muslim with being “pro-Israel” and that is disturbing indeed. It would seem to me that this tactic is no less noxious than the infamous Southern Strategy used by some Republicans to appeal to White voters by inflaming fears of African Americans, particularly in Southern states.

Is this really how the Jewish community wants to be viewed? Because while we should not fall into the trap of stereotyping the entire population of American Jews with some of the Jewish NY voters or candidates described in this article, this is becoming a rather common theme- an almost exclusive focus on Israel, successful appeals to Islamophobia and a distrust of the U.S. President for reasons that have little to do with his actual policies at least with respect to the United States. All of the above would seem to play into some rather anti-Semitic tropes about dual loyalty and selective liberalism- human rights are all well and good except if those rights are aimed at Muslims or Arabs and then it somehow negatively impacts Jewish people. That’s illogical.

This kind of thing is also problematic because it plays an obvious role in our nation’s foreign policy. I know nobody wants to say that out-loud for fear of being called anti-Israel or anti-Semitic but lets be honest, there is a reason 81 members of Congress are currently in Israel right now, compliments of an AIPAC shell group.

By the way, if you find the influence of AIPAC to be destructive to your foreign policy, you may want to give your members of Congress a call, particularly if they are on this lobby-funded junket to Israel.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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7 Comments on “Why is This NY Congressional Election All About Israel?”

  1. thainjacobs Says:

    I had heard about this but I’m glad it’s getting more coverage (ie. in Salon). It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. If most or all of NY wants to run around and worry about nothing but Israel and try to out-hawk each other, that’s their business but don’t f*ck with our foreign policy.

    I’m beginning to think a lot of liberal Jewish people don’t really even know all that much about what is going on over there. When I read articles where they are discussing how Obama threw Israel under the bus or how Obama unfairly sides with the Palestinians the only thing I can conclude from that is all they know is the bumper sticker slogans that are fed to them. I have less and less tolerance for people who yap on about things they know nothing about.

    I agree that using the Park 51 controversy to prove loyalty to Israel is pretty telling and not in a good way. I can tell you that at my college, pro-Israel groups like Hillel have blurred the line between being pro-Israel and being anti-Arab/Muslim. If an Arab speaker comes to campus, their ears prick up and they start their letter-writing campaigns and get monied alumni involved to threaten the school and they go to the local papers, get local synagogues and Jewish organizations involved. It’s so predictable. I tried to get some of the progressive groups to which I belong to open up a dialogue with Hillel to try to turn down the animosity a notch and because the progressive groups want [school] divestment from Israeli companies. I thought it would be good to explain to Hillel that disagreement with Israeli policies wasn’t opposition to Judaism but Hillel blew me off.


  2. thainjacobs Says:

    I know a lot of people have read the book by Walt & Mersheimer ‘The Israel Lobby’- wasn’t sure if anyone had seen this European documentary about the book. It’s almost an hour long but it’s worth watching when you have a few extra minutes:

    There is a critique that the book’s scholarship was shoddy. I find that weird because while I’m no scholar I did notice that the authors back up their information with sources and a lot of references. Also most of the most damning information in the book is the result of the Lobby’s own words and actions- emails the authors received, interviews they did with former AIPAC officials etc. It seems to me like the people who dont tolerate any criticism of Israel use that as an excuse because they don’t want to deal with the actual claims in the book.


    • tovah8 Says:

      Thanks for the video thain, I hadn’t seen that. I’ve watched half of it so far. It’s pretty balanced. I read The Israel Lobby and I thought that the assertions/claims etc. were backed up by facts/sources. Walt & Mersheimer had to know that given how controversial the topic, they’d better have their t’s crossed and i’s dotted if you know what I mean.


  3. tovah8 Says:

    I’m trying to find a list of all the members of Congress who are in Israel right now. Talk about inappropriate. It’s inappropriate for Obama to heading to Martha’s Vineyard for vacation right now and it’s inappropriate for members of Congress to go on an all expense paid trip to another country and pledge their blind loyalty and financial support. Steny Hoyer assured Israelis that even despite US financial problems not one dime of the budget for Israel will be cut. As a Jew I find this embarrassing.

    As for this NY race, it’s even more embarrassing. Stacy is right that it plays into every stereotype about Jews. How can we complain when people accuse us of being loyal to Israel first when we unabashedly talk about nothing but Israel in a Congressional US election?

    I have a confession- I live in the NY 9th district. I think both of the candidates stink and I have already written two emails to Weprin’s campaign about this. I should probably call them- it’s harder for them to ignore a phone call.

    Did you guys see that Ed Koch is trying to get people to vote for the Republican candidate in this election in order to send a message to Obama that his anti-Israel policies are unacceptable?!? Koch has played a big role in this local election getting so much media coverage and also he’s part of the reason it’s focused almost entirely on Israel- he keeps fanning the flames. Koch is a has-been and all he does these days is whine about how victimized Israel is. Methinks he’s angling for a lucrative position on the AIPAC or the Zionist Organization of America board or something.


    • discourseincsharpminor Says:

      How victimized Israel is? Give me a break! We’re still sending them 3 billion dollars a year even while the Cut-Cut-Congress is trying to find ways to make sure every social program is well on its way to privatization. Three cheers for Congress’ ability to prioritize!


  4. Pilgrim Says:

    Thain, thank you very much for that video.

    They made reference to a piece in the London Review of Books, but I couldn’t quite get the title. Perhaps the London Review was a review of their book, “The Israel Lobby.” I guess I can google around a little on that.

    Also, I got the impression that this was one of, perhaps first of, about six parts of a major documentary on the same issues. I would like to know where or how one could learn more about that. Or maybe, Thain, you will be supplying future links like this one. It was really excellent. I could also get the book from the library.


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