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December 7, 2011

It’s Time for the Emergency Committee for Israel to Drop the Charade

Listed in: Israel, Other Domestic Policy, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally published in The Hill

By Marc R. Stanley, Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council

Last summer, a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) made a splash on the political scene by touting themselves as Americans solely concerned for Israel’s security. But a quick rundown of their leadership—Republican luminaries Gary Bauer, William Kristol, and Rachel Abrams—made it clear that ECI was something other than a group of concerned ordinary Americans. 

Their subsequent malfeasance included narrowing the definition of “pro-Israel,” lying in campaign ads against Democrats, and engaging in McCarthyite tactics against those who they deem as “merely pay[ing] Israel lip service,” among other actions. ECI’s behavior made it crystal clear that the organization is nothing more than a Republican front group bent on turning Israel into a partisan wedge issue. 

During the 2010 election, Pennsylvanians had a choice between Democratic Representative and retired Admiral Joe Sestak (D-Pa.)—who had personally contributed to the strengthening of the U.S.-Israel relationship during his service in the Navy—and former Republican Representative Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)—who consistently put partisan politics above supporting aid packages to Israel. 

ECI made it its mission to destroy Sestak’s credibility by spending millions of dollars to run television ads that contained blatant falsehoods. The ads were so out of line that Comcast was approached to cease running them. In New Jersey, ECI did the same thing against Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) with an ad that was so poorly researched that ECI was accused of lying. 

But their 2010 behavior pales in comparison to ECI’s stunts in 2011. In May, the organization intentionally spread falsehoods about President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech, even though its leadership knew they were untrue. On the eve of President Obama’s passionate defense of Israel in front of the United Nations’ General Assembly, ECI ran an ad campaign that listed five steps for a “pro-Israel presidency”—criteria that President George W. Bush may not even have met. The timing of their campaign was so out of bounds that the non-partisan American Jewish Committee rebuked ECI for attacking Israel’s most powerful advocate mere days before he firmly defended Israel in front of the entire world. 

If ECI’s past behavior doesn’t scream Republican front group loud enough, then their silence over multiple Republican Presidential candidates pledging to zero out all foreign aid—including aid to Israel— should. 

When Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed to start all foreign aid at zero on national television—and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney agreed—alarm bells likely went off for Israel supporters who understand that robust foreign aid is critical to America’s and Israel’s interests. When Perry enthusiastically confirmed that Israel would be included in his plan, many pro-Israel advocates were shocked that someone seeking the Presidency would make such a reckless and irresponsible proposition. But the so-called Emergency Committee for Israel stayed silent.  

Imagine if President Obama or other targets of ECI’s vile attacks had the poor judgment to say that all foreign aid,  including aid to Israel, should be recalibrated to start at zero. ECI—and for that matter their kissing cousins in the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC)—would be screaming at the tops of their Republican lungs. 

But these concerned pro-Israel supporters were strangely silent after Perry’s remarks. Their silence continues to be amplified with each day that ECI and RJC do not press the candidates to clarify their views, especially on the 10-year, multibillion dollar Memorandum of Understanding on American aid to Israel that Obama has upheld and exceeded.

By giving a free pass to Perry, Romney,  and the other Republican candidates who have pledged to lower, if not eliminate the entire foreign aid budget, these Republican leopards cannot change their spots. ECI is now fully exposed for what they really are: “The Emergency Committee to Deceptively Scare Jews into Voting Republican.” 

With their record of behavior, it’s time for ECI to drop the charade that they are advocating for Israel.  They’re advocating for Republican candidates. The time has come for them to be honest about it.