(This article is based on one that will appear in the
upcoming May/June 2010 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East
Sunday, March 14, 2010, ushered in two welcome events to Southern
California: the inauguration of the headquarters of the bustling
Winograd For Congress primary campaign, and an extra hour of daylight to
help Marcy Winograd's swarm of supporters evict Jane Harman, the
wealthiest Democrat in Congress, from her eight-term seat in the House.
Photo by Linda Milazzo
This is progressive Democrat Winograd's second run against blue-dog conservative and AIPAC insider Harman. Winograd's first effort in 2006 resulted in a respectable 38 percent of the vote after a short three-month campaign. This time, the determined challenger has given herself ample time to meet with residents throughout California's 36th Congressional District, hear their concerns and identify their most critical needs. Not surprisingly, her industrious boots-on-the-ground campaign has been well received by constituents who were often ignored by their incumbent whose career focused more on rising through the ranks of Congressional 'Intelligence' than on the needs of constituents back home.
Winograd's grassroots momentum so concerned her opponent that Harman retaliated with an ideological assault of minor relevance to most residents in her district. Rather than going toe to toe with Winograd on constituent specific matters, Harman chose Israel as her main campaign strategy. Though Harman and Winograd are both Jewish Americans, they hold radically different views on Israel. Winograd is co-founder of L.A. Jews For Peace and a critic of Israel's Gaza blockade, West Bank settlement expansion, and refusal to grant Palestinians the right of return. Conversely, Harman is an AIPAC darling who believes Israel can do no wrong. Harman's uncompromising support for Israel has brought her substantial financial rewards. In addition to individual contributions, Harman has received a career total of $103,771 in pro-Israel PAC contributions.
To launch her Israel assault and tap into the psyches and wallets of her Jewish supporters, Harman solicited co-AIPAC loyalist, Congressman Henry Waxman, to compose a letter to Jewish donors blasting Winograd on Israel. Waxman, who like Harman, disdains critics of Israel, willingly obliged. His letter excoriated Winograd, calling her views "repugnant in the extreme." He went on to say:
"To me, the notion that a Member of Congress could hold these views is alarming. Ms. Winograd is far, far outside the bipartisan mainstream of views that has long insisted that U.S. policy be based upon rock-solid support for our only democratic ally [Israel] in the Middle East."
Winograd, taken back by the harshness of Waxman's attack, responded in kind with a powerful letter of her own. She stated in part:
"Like you, I am intimately aware of our Jewish history. On my mother's side, my great-grandparents escaped the Russian Pogroms to make a better life for themselves in Europe. On my father's side, my great-grandparents were killed in the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Because of our collective experience with persecution, it behooves us to stand in opposition to persecution anywhere and everywhere, rather than sanctify reductionist state policies that cast all Jews as victims who can only thrive in a segregated society. Furthermore, we must stand in explicit opposition to the Israeli persecution of the Palestinians; the brutal blockade of Gaza, an act of war by international standards, denying children clean water, food, and medicine. We are better than that."(The full text of Waxman and Winograd's letters are available in my January 11, 2010 article on the Huffington Post)
Regrettably for Harman, infusing the highly charged issue of Israel into
her primary race appears to have backfired. Contrary to incumbents'
tradition of downplaying the primary challenger, Harman's actions have
heightened interest in Winograd, resulting in an onslaught of high
profile media discussions. Tikkun, Politico, Huffington
Post, The Nation, Washington Examiner, Glenn
Beck on FOX TV, and dozens more venues have invoked the impassioned
campaign. Interestingly, the article that seems to have stirred the most
interest is that of Jewish Journal editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman, who offered to host a
debate on Israel between the primary challengers - an invitation
incumbent Harman probably hadn't expected.
Winograd accepted Eshman's offer the day the offer was made, writing on the Jewish Journal:
"Thank you for inviting me to debate my opponent at a public forum on the establishment of a lasting Middle East peace. I gladly accept and look forward to engaging in a community dialogue sponsored by the Jewish Journal. Ultimately, I believe we all want peace, though we may have different opinions on how to achieve it. It is time for serious soul-searching and what better time than now."
Harman, however, took nearly two months to respond. I contacted
Eshman and John Hess, Harman's chief of staff, numerous times by e-mail
and phone to inquire about Harman's decision. Eshman kept me up to date,
stating he'd personally reached out to Harman but hadn't heard back.
Hess never responded.
Finally, on March 3rd, Hess sent Eshman this cursory e-mail declining the invitation:
"Hi Rob--thank you for your message and your invitation. However, Congresswoman Harman declines the kind offer and believes her views on Israel are very clear. John H."
Eshman was less then pleased with Harman's refusal, as evidenced in his article, "Harman Declines Jewish Journal Debate Invite"
Winograd again responded immediately to Jewish Journal:
"I commend Editor Rob Eshman when he calls for open and intelligent debate on Middle East peace and thank Rabbi Dan Shevitz of Temple Mishkon Tephilo for offering to host a critically-needed conversation. I hope my opponent reconsiders her rejection of Rabbi Shevitz's offer.
"In the meantime, I would like Jewish Journal readers to know that I will support a peace agreement, be it two states or one state, which both sides--Israelis and Palestinians--acknowledge will respect equality, dignity, and human rights for all."
It's fairly standard in American politics for the incumbent to decline to debate a primary opponent. In this case, however, the reasons for Harman's refusal may be more complex than traditional political gamesmanship. Jane Harman has not served herself well by rebuffing her Jewish Journal ally and turning down Eshman's request to debate. But this debate had the potential to harm Jane Harman, whose many personal and ethics controversies would have likely been exposed by Winograd.
Harman could have feared being challenged on her wiretapped conversation with former AIPAC employees that resulted in accusations of improper information sharing and exchanges of favors with agents of a foreign land [Israel]. Harman could have feared being confronted on Israel's widely condemned mistreatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, for which there is ample proof of brutality via the Goldstone Report and eyewitness testimonies by Sen. John Kerry, Reps. Keith Ellison and Brian Baird, and former President Jimmy Carter.
American public opinion of Israel is declining rapidly as details of
the Palestinians' plight is more widely revealed.