Schakowsky’s Israel Question

EVANSTON, ILL. — Democratic U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky was ebullient Tuesday night, sharing a beer with cheering supporters at her re-election victory party at a local restaurant. But Schakowsky’s revelry was interrupted by a reporter asking about her opponent’s efforts to make an issue of her support for the Obama administration’s Israel policy.

“This was an effort to try to pander to Jewish donors, voters, to split off the Jews,” she said. “Of all the things that happened in this campaign, this is the one that I really want to sort out.

“Is this a trend? Is Israel going to become a political football?”

Schakowsky won her race by a comfortable margin — 66 percent to 34 percent — in a self-described “progressive district” that spans Chicago’s North Side as well as suburban Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette and several other towns. She has good ties with both AIPAC and J-Street — the mainstream and dovish Israel lobbies, respectively — and describes herself as “100 percent pro Israel.” But her opponent, Tea Party Republican Joel Pollak, cut into Schakowsky’s vote, particularly in Orthodox and Haredi communities.

Recalling one debate with Pollak at an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood, Schakowsky said she was disturbed both by her opponent’s tone and content.

“It was the oddest feeling, that somehow I was in an enemy camp. It was really unsettling. He was saying some really awful things. I mean, I went to Zionist camp as a kid.”

Her own seat seems safe for the time being. But Schakowsky was visibly worried by the prospect of the Obama administration’s Israel policy becoming a wider issue. She was particularly stunned to hear of the loss of Miami Congressman Ron Klein, whose non-Jewish opponent criticized Klein’s support for Obama’s Israel policy.

Asked if she might talk to the Obama administration about changing course, Schakowsky paused, then indicated that the Jewish caucus would have to consider it:

“We have to understand this a little better — how this went. It’s a fair discussion we should have,” the congresswoman said. “There was so much opportunism involved in this, versus real concern for Israel.”

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