Steve Sheffey: Jan Trumps Pollak at KINS Debate

Steve Sheffey: Jan Trumps Pollak at KINS Debate
October 18th,  2010
By Steve Sheffey

Quick Summary
: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky proved at last night's debate that she is a strong friend of Israel. Joel Pollak proved that he's a smooth talker who needs to get his facts straight. The format of the debate did not allow Jan to correct all of Pollak's misstatements, but Jan reiterated the need and the reality of strong U.S. support for Israel, and took Pollak to task for dividing the community and turning Israel into a partisan football.
Last night Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky debated her Tea Party challenger, Joel Pollak at Congregation KINS in Rogers Park. Jan again demonstrated that she is a true friend of Israel, in word and deed.
Pollak's delivery is very smooth. Picture a professorial version of Jerry Seinfeld minus the sense of humor. 
One gets the sense from listening to Pollak that he read Barry Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative" on the way to the debate. His worldview and his views on domestic policies are frighteningly similar to Goldwater's.
But of more concern, Pollak, for all his smoothness, made an astonishing number of factual errors for someone who is campaigning as a pro-Israel advocate. Documenting all of them would require an email longer than even I'd care to write, but here are some of them:
Pollak singled out President Obama for criticizing Israel on settlements, ignoring the fact that it has been U.S. policy since 1967 to oppose settlements and to oppose building in disputed parts of Jerusalem. Many of us, including me, disagree with this policy. But for Pollak to lay this long-standing U.S. policy on President Obama's doorstep demonstrates either a worrisome ignorance of history or a willful use of Israel for partisan gain. Let's be very clear: American policy on settlements is not Democratic or Republican policy. It is U.S. policy, for better or for worse.
Pollak also said that "President Obama has made it okay to hate Israel" and he criticized Obama's speech in Cairo.
In response, Jan pointed out that the opposite is true. Jan said that President Obama deserves praise for being the first President to tell the Arab world, on Arab soil, that the bond between the U.S. and Israel is "unbreakable."
President Obama also told the Arab and Muslim world, a world rife with Holocaust denial, that to deny the Holocaust is "baseless, ignorant, and hateful." He told them that threatening Israel with destruction is "deeply wrong." He said that "Palestinians must abandon violence" and that "it is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus." And he said that "Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist." If those are not pro-Israel statements, I don't know what are. Yet Pollak had the chutzpah to criticize President Obama's speech.
Pollak repeated the now thoroughly discredited canard that President Obama said that the only reason Israel exists is because of the Holocaust. That's just plain wrong.
Pollak claimed that this Congress is not pro-Israel. Mr. Pollak is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts. Click here for AIPAC's list of pro-Israel measures passed by the Democratic Congress in 2009. And anyone who thinks that President Obama is not fighting against those who would delegitimize Israel at the United Nations just isn't paying attention.
Pollak repeatedly accused President Obama of pursuing a failed policy of appeasement, using the typical far right talking points to make his case. Congressman Gary Ackerman is one of Israel's best and most powerful friends in Congress. Here's what he says about charges that President Obama's policies amount to appeasement:
And from the policymakers and supporters of the previous Administration, who in decency ought to have slunk off in shamed silence for having watched fecklessly as this disaster--like Iran's steady march toward nuclear weapons-capability--unfolded under their watch, what do they have to say today?
"Appeasement! Appeasement!" they cry, attempting to evoke the days leading to World War II.

This charge is grotesque. Apart from the indecency of comparison with the unique horror and evil of Nazi Germany, the cheap demagoguery of the word utterly fails to capture what the Obama Administration is actually doing. Where, one might ask, is the long list of concessions from America to Syria? Where is the surrender and sell-out of allies? Where is the retreat in the face of challenge? A few airplane parts? A few inconclusive meetings?

The string of defeats and failures that brought us to the current impasse occurred, let us not forget, during the previous Administration. The seeming limits of American power were brutally exposed well before Barack Obama was even elected to his high office.

Appeasement? Shameless nonsense. And more empty words.

It is true that the Obama Administration is pursuing a different policy than the spectacular failure of its predecessor. But that's just good sense. Everywhere but Washington, not repeating mistakes is considered a good, or even a very good thing.
Rather than engage in demagoguery, Jan urged U.S. pressure on Palestinian President Abbas to accept Prime Minister Netanyahu's offer to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Jan also questioned the wisdom of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The greatest succor we could give to our enemies is the impression that America is divided along partisan lines when it comes to Israel. It isn't. Aside from Pollak's factual errors, there was much more agreement than disagreement last night. Pollak and his supporters are doing the pro-Israel community a grave disservice by using Israel as a partisan football. There are very real differences between Jan and Pollak on a host of issues, from health care to social services to freedom of reproductive choice, and that is what this election should be about.
During Jan's closing statement, a Pollak supporter rudely shouted "Talk about Israel," seemingly oblivious to the fact that Jan had been talking about Israel for nearly an hour at that point. He failed to understand that while Israel is rightly at the center of the Jewish agenda, it is not the only item on the Jewish agenda. As is the case in so many elections, both candidates are committed to the safety and security of Israel, but only one candidate--in this case, the Democrat, and typically, the Democrat--fights for Israel and the other values we cherish. That's why so many Jews vote Democratic and will continue to vote Democratic, especially as the Tea Party moves the Republican party even further to the far right.
Pollak would be a great used-car salesman. He's slick, and if you don't know any better, you might buy what he's selling. But residents of the 9th district do know better, and that's why Jan will win.
Here is what State Senator Ira Silverstein wrote on October 6:
Jan's record on Israel is unmatched, and unfortunately it is being attacked unfairly by individuals in the press and the community. At a time when Israel needs as many friends in Congress as possible, we must remember that Jan is that person. She will continue to fight on behalf of Israel once she s re-elected.
Jan has sponsored and co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation protecting Israel, such as condemning the biased Goldstone Report. Moreover, she has co-sponsored legislation to increase sanctions on Iran, one of Israel's primary adversaries in the area. And something dear to my heart is that she sponsored House Resolution 1359, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is being held by Hamas for no other reason than that he is Jewish.
Jan Schakowsky stands with Israel, and that is why I stand with her. I ask for your support of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Me too. On every vote, resolution, and letter that AIPAC supports, Jan has been there 100% of the time. AIPAC does not rate or endorse candidates, but when you look at the measures AIPAC supports--which to me is the definition of pro-Israel--Jan's record is perfect. It is ashanda that Pollak and his supporters are using Israel as the reason to remove a staunch supporter of Israel from Congress. That's unacceptable.
Please--if you are concerned about the outcome of this election--take the time to read Jan's opening and closing statements:
I am glad to be here tonight to discuss with all of you my number one foreign policy priority, the U.S. Israel relationship. This is my old stomping grounds. I grew up not far from here, in West Rogers Park, and spent much of my time at Temple Menorah, where I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah. It is wonderful to see that building, which was such a big part of my life, now home to reform, conservative and orthodox congregations, a great example of how those of us with a shared heritage can share space as well.

It has been 62 years since the U.S. became the first country to recognize the state of Israel, a mere eleven minutes after her founding. Since that day, the hallmark of our country's relationship with the democratic Jewish state has been remarkable bi-partisanship and inter-faith support.
Any effort to divide our community or the American people along partisan lines endangers the necessary consensus that has existed for over 40 years. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren himself expressed deep concern over the increasing use of support for Israel as a partisan issue in American domestic politics. The Ambassador stressed that bipartisan support for Israel is a strategic national interest for the State of Israel.

Out in front, overseeing the solid Congressional support for Israel is the Jewish delegation in Congress, never bigger than it is now, with 31 Jewish members of the House of Representatives and 13 Jewish Senators, all but one a Democrat. I am the only Jew on the House Intelligence Committee and I am Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. I recently met, in Israel, with top intelligence leaders, and I am pleased to report that U.S. Israel cooperation on intelligence has never been stronger. Israel's National Security Advisor, Uzi Arad, told me and later the Knesset that President Obama's dedication to Israel's well-being and security was "Israel's insurance policy." I have contributed to that "insurance policy" with my 100% pro-Israel voting record.
I know there's some distrust in our community about President Obama and the depth of his commitment to Israel. I've known the President for a long time and I have met and talked with him on this very issue many times. I know he is committed to Israel.
But you don't have to take my word for it. The proof is in the pudding. The fact is that U.S. support for Israel's Qualitative Military Edge over its neighbors has been strengthened to new, unprecedented heights. Deals have been finalized on the sale of 20 F-35 stealth fighters, Israel's Iron Dome and David's Sling, two systems of that strengthen Israel's missile defense capability. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "I trust Barack carry out with me the policies that have joined Israel and the United States...what Barack Obama has called the 'unbreakable bond'."
We cannot speak about Israel's long-term security without addressing the subject of Iran. Iran must not achieve nuclear weapons capabilities. The President has called that "unacceptable", and I agree. Sanctions, crippling sanctions, have been a critical part of American led efforts to isolate and weaken Iran's ability and resolve to develop nuclear weapons. Intensive and sustained diplomatic outreach by the President and Secretary Clinton played a critical role in securing tough new international sanctions approved by the United Nations, the European Union, on top of the Iran Sanctions Act that passed the Congress overwhelmingly. This is a dynamic situation, one that I monitor closely on the Intelligence Committee. But one thing is certain, the clearest winner of the Iraq war, which I opposed from the first day and my opponent continues to defend -- the big winner was Iran which has, as a result of the war, greater strength and influence in the region.
I believe that just as Iran is an existential threat to Israel, so is the status quo when it comes to the lack of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians. I remain hopeful that the United States will be able to help our closest ally, Israel - not impose or force on her - but help Israel reach a solution that provides long-term security for the Jewish state and stability and economic opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
I have been disappointed that my opponent has tried to achieve partisan advantage by stoking divisions in the Jewish community and making Israel a political football. Labeling lifelong Israel supporters like me as "anti-Israel" sends exactly the wrong message to those who actually are Israel's enemies and undermines the welfare and security of the Jewish state. Bottom line, the bonds between Israel and the United States are unbreakable, or as Secretary Clinton stated, "rock-solid, unwavering, enduring, and forever." 

I want to thank all of you - so many people - for coming out tonight and addressing these critical questions. It is obvious that most of you feel passionately and personally connected to Israel and the issues that affect her. That is true for me as well. Israel has been a part of my life for all of my life, from my summers at Camp Herzl, my religious education, to my long time support of the Jewish Federation and the programs we sponsor for the sick through Mt. Sinai Hospital where I was born, the elderly, the children and the poor in our community and beyond.
Our Jewish community has very pressing domestic priorities as well. Part of our tradition is Tikkun Olam, the mandate to heal the world - the commitment of the prophets to justice. Joel and I agree on many things when it comes to Israel. Where we have a fundamental disagreement is over whether, in our society, everyone deserves access to health care and a quality education; whether big Wall Street Banks should be allowed to continue the reckless activity that sunk our economy and cost 8 million Americans their jobs; whether America's biggest corporations should receive tax breaks to send our jobs overseas; whether guaranteed benefits of Social Security should be replaced by a risky privatization scheme and whether Medicare should be replaced by a system of voucher for private insurance.
I understand that some of you here will find the disagreements that I have with Joel compelling and you will be voting for him. That is the American way. That is the Jewish way. But I want to assure you of two things:
First, should I be re-elected, my door will always be open to you. My office is renowned for our effective and thorough constituent service. My advocates have helped over 25,000 individuals with their problems, often in life-changing ways - uniting families suffering under a broken immigration system, untying the bureaucratic knots in Medicare, Social Security and the Veteran's Administration, dealing with your local post office, and helping avoid foreclosures. We help everyone, regardless of political party, ethnic background, and certainly whether or not they have contributed to my campaign. I'm always open to hearing your ideas and opinions as well.
Second, you can count on my continued support and advocacy for a strong U.S. Israel alliance. My 100% AIPAC voting record is not due to political expediency. I vote the way I do because the future of the Jewish state is at stake. My votes are based not only on my love and concern for Israel, but also on the knowledge gleaned from regular meetings with the Ambassador and other Embassy officials, top Israeli leaders from the Prime Minister on down to members of the Cabinet and Knesset, and our Administration officials who are involved in day to day, up to the minute contact with our Israeli allies. We should not let our differences be overstated. We are all here tonight because we share a common goal: security and stability for Israel. Right here in this room there are differences of opinion. Of course, there are. We're Jews. You know the saying - 2 Jews, 3 opinions. But we should not characterize differences of opinion as differences of commitment to Israel.
I want to call your attention to the Sun-Times and Tribune endorsements of me which address this very point. The Sun-Times said, "Where Pollak, a legal researcher and write, completely runs afoul of the truth, however, is in his effort to portray Schakowsky as insufficiently pro-Israel. What nonsense. Schakowsky, who is Jewish, calls the insinuation "hurtful". She has been an unwavering friend of Israel, with an overwhelmingly strong pro-Israel voting record." And the Tribune, which often disagrees with me, said about Joel, "But boy, he needs to dial down his disdain for people who disagree with him."
I welcome robust debate. But not a debate that is intended to make Israel a political football or divide the Jewish community in the United States. After 62 years marked with tremendous progress but also sacrifice and danger, I believe that the best days for Israel and for the United States are ahead of us. I believe that through strength and commitment to one another, we and our children and grandchildren can live in a world that is prosperous and peaceful, and I will do everything in my power to make that vision a reality.

Take care,
Steve Sheffey

You can join his mailing list by clicking