Congressman Joe Sestak’s signature on what is now known as the Gaza-54 letter has been at the center of attacks launched against him by Republicans and right-wing groups as he campaigns now for the Senate in Pennsylvania.
The letter, signed by 54 Democratic members of Congress, called for an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip on humanitarian grounds. With the November elections approaching, the Emergency Committee on Israel has been targeting some of the signatories and putting out TV ads questioning their support for Israel.
Sestak, the Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania Senate seat currently held by Arlen Specter, has been on the receiving end of a lot of this criticism.
Earlier this month, it seemed that Sestak was having second thoughts about the wisdom of signing onto the Gaza letter. In a meeting with Pennsylvania Jewish voters organized by the Orthodox Union, he reportedly expressed regret for signing the letter and said he would have been better off sending his own letter.
Bloggers on the right celebrated what they saw as Sestak’s caving in to pressure, while J Street, the dovish lobby that supports Sestak, claimed it would be a mistake to read too much into Sestak’s comments, since he did not change his views on the issue of the Gaza blockade.
So what did he really say?
The Orthodox Union, sponsors of the Sept. 2 event, promised that all would be clear once the video of the meeting is posted online. But a careful look at over 50 clips the group posted on YouTube leaves the question unanswered. You can see Sestak talking about a variety of other issues. You can even see him being asked about signing and not signing other letters – but not a word about the Gaza letter.
“We did not tape the entire meeting,” was the explanation provided by the OU, and as luck has it the one controversial statement was not caught on tape.
Still, there is a bonus for those questioning Sestak’s relations with what is known as the pro-Israel community.
Joe Sestak may be endorsed by J Street’s Political Action Committee, but who does he phone when he needs advice on issues relating to Israel? The other lobby.
Here’s what he said: “There’s no letter that I ever sign or don’t sign, that I don’t contact AIPAC, that’s just the way it is. It doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I want to let them know what I’m doing.“
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
When You Need Israel Advice, Who Ya Gonna Call?