The anti-Iraq War challenger in Connecticut’s upcoming Democratic primary has issued strong statements backing Israel’s military operations in Lebanon, but his campaign boosters are being painted as anti-Israel by supporters of Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Greenwich, Conn., businessman Ned Lamont, who holds a slight lead in the polls over Lieberman, told the Forward that he supports Israel’s current operations in Gaza and Lebanon, and that he disagreed with the European Union’s declaration that criticized Israel’s actions as a “disproportionate” response.
“When we’re dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas, who are both dedicated to the elimination of Israel, it’s a little presumptuous of us to say what’s proportionate and what’s not from over here on this side of the Atlantic,” Lamont said. “I don’t think it’s for the United States to dictate how Israel tactically defends itself.”
On July 22, Lamont campaigned with two Democratic members of the House of Representatives — Maxine Waters of California and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio — who also have called for an end of American military involvement in Iraq. Some Lieberman backers are pointing to the legislators’ support of Lamont in an effort to raise doubts about Lamont’s commitment to Israel.
Over the years, the two lawmakers have backed several measures pushed by the pro-Israel lobby, and both have supported American aid to Israel. But they were among a small group of House members who did not vote in favor of a July 20 resolution supporting Israel and condemning Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.
A willingness to campaign with Waters and Kaptur “raises a question about his commitment” to Israel, one informal adviser to the Lieberman campaign told the Forward. “The Lieberman-hating community has relentlessly attacked him for, you know, talking to conservatives, as if that’s a cardinal sin. If that’s the standard,” then when Lamont is “embracing two noted opponents of Israel, then he must share their views, and it’s up to him to tell us that’s not so, and why he is embracing them.”
In response, Lamont said, “I’ve been very clear from the get-go that [I’m] a supporter of Israel.”
“I think both Maxine and I think that the invasion of Iraq did nothing for America’s security, nor did it do anything for Israel’s security,” Lamont said. “But in regard to her vote on any given resolution, give her a call.”
A spokesperson for Waters declined to comment.
The back-and-forth between the competing Democratic camps comes less than two weeks before Connecticut’s August 8 primary, as Lamont enjoys a razor-thin advantage. He leads Lieberman among likely Democratic primary voters, 51%-47%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released July 19. The margin of error was 3.8%.
Lieberman has said that if he loses the primary, he will run in the November general election as an independent. Polls show that Lieberman would win a three-man race easily against Lamont and the Republican nominee.
In his interview with the Forward, Lamont said that he did not agree with calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.
“I think first and foremost, return the kidnapped soldiers, Hamas and Hezbollah,” Lamont said. “And I think that would be sort of a prerequisite for everything that goes on beyond.”
In addition to blasting Israel’s enemies, the challenger blamed the current escalation on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and on the failure to be more engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We took our eye off the ball,” Lamont said. “The invasion of Iraq… we got bogged down. We didn’t deal with the peace process in a serious way over the last five years — that’s part of the reason that Israel is under attack today.”
Lamont said that he supported burgeoning plans to put an international force on the border between Israel and Lebanon.
On July 20, Waters and Kaptur voted “present” in response to the House resolution in support of Israel. In May, Waters voted for the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, a measure restricting American funding to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority; Kaptur was one of 37 representatives to vote against the bill. In December 2005, Kaptur supported a resolution urging P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas to bar terror groups from elections, while Waters was one of 17 representatives who voted against the measure.
In October 2003, Waters voted for the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act; Kaptur voted “present.”