Israel has taken center stage in the elections for Congress in the Ninth Congressional District in Illinois.
This is largely because of Joel Pollak, an Orthodox Jew who is the Republican candidate seeking the seat which has been held by Democrat Jan Schakowsky for six terms.
Pollak spoke last week at a reform synagogue in Deerfield. As he introduced himself to the audience, which was made up of several hundred people, a Google Map of the Middle East was right beside him.
“My focus tonight will be Israel,” said Pollak and asked the audience members to note the thin border between Israel and the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. He said that voters would need to have representatives in Congress who would put their weight behind the protection of the Jewish state.
The Ninth Congressional District of Illinois is made up largely of Jewish voters. Pollak’s opponent Schakowsky is also Jewish, and her voting record for Israel has been praised by the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Despite this, Pollak is claiming that she does not do enough for Israel.
“It certainly is disturbing as a life-long pro-Israel Jew, not to mention pro-Israel public official, to be labeled that way,” Schakowsky told the New York Times, but added that Pollak’s claims are representative of what she called “some of the tension within the community,” which is centered around a debate over whether President Obama’s policies have been sufficiently supportive of Israel.
Schakowsky and Obama have been criticized by some Jews for their connections to J Street, a Jewish organization which describes itself as strongly pro-Israel but also criticizes Israeli government policies. The group has recently come under fire due to its connection with Judge Richard Goldstone, who led a United Nations Human Rights Commission team in investigating Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. Goldstone had accused Israel of committing war crimes against Arabs during the operation, yet avoided labeling Hamas as a terrorist group.
J Street has also been under fire for receiving $750,000 from George Soros, a controversial figure who has previously given to Arab groups, but not to Israel, and has funded U.S. liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. He criticized former U.S. President George Bush for refusing to accept a Palestinian Authority ruled jointly by Fatah and Hamas. A recent Washington Times report said that J Street is losing support both within the Obama administration and from its own members due to these two factors.
However, despite her support of J Street, some political analysts believe that Schakowsky seat is safe.
Israel is also a major issue in the race in the adjacent 10th District in northern Chicago, and also comes up often in the fight for the senate seat that was previously occupied by Obama.
Chicago lawyer Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the New York Times: “Because of the current discussions involving Middle East peace, there is a heightened scrutiny of American policy. And there is some angst in the community in terms of how this is going to turn out.
Solow said that the Israel issue is especially influential in Chicago-area races because “somebody from our community is president of the United States.”