When Israel attacked the Gaza aid flotilla, Congresswoman Jane Harman was engaged in a parallel assault. Israel's government relied on the efficacy of violence; Harman's campaign was counting on the power of paid media. In both cases, the targets were advocates of human rights for Palestinian people.
Brandishing guns and stun grenades, in international waters, Israeli commandos rappelled from a helicopter and boarded from a fast-moving boat onto the flotilla's largest ship. The mission was to halt a Gaza-bound expedition carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid.
The mission of Harman's campaign strategists -- targeting her progressive opponent with a slick TV commercial -- was to achieve a related goal in California's 36th congressional district. Stopping the Gaza flotilla and stopping the congressional campaign of Marcy Winograd are similar agenda items.
Harman, a powerful member of the center-right Blue Dog Coalition, is one of the Israeli government's most valued allies on Capitol Hill. She's a standout -- even in a Congress teeming with fervent apologists for Israel's relentless suppression of Palestinian rights.
In sharp contrast, her opponent Marcy Winograd -- an outspoken advocate of human rights without regard to race, religion or ethnic background -- has been unrelenting in her support for Palestinian rights.
And so, less than two weeks before California's June 8 election, Harman hit the airwaves with a slimy TV commercial aimed at her challenger in the Democratic primary.
After claiming that Winograd "wants to kill the defense budget, putting thousands more people out of work and exposing our nation to attack," the commercial declared: "Congressman Henry Waxman says in Marcy Winograd's vision, Israel would cease to exist."
Yes, liberal Congressman Waxman has distinguished himself by supplying the most demagogic ammo in Harman's re-election arsenal. And endorsements from several other members of the Progressive Caucus -- including John Conyers, Barney Frank, Jim McGovern and Lynn Woolsey -- have given Harman more cover.
The basic difference between Harman and Winograd on human rights is clear in the aftermath of the killing of Gaza flotilla activists.
Harman stayed silent. Not a word about the massacre on her campaign website.
Winograd quickly released a statement. "I suspect the murders were committed as a warning to others who might want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza," she said. "Ironically, the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza."
And Winograd added: "Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just and lasting peace."
Subsidized with a few billion dollars from the U.S. Treasury each year, the Israeli government depends on support from high Washington places. And that support, in turn, gets reinforced by the kind of propaganda weaponry that Harman is now firing at Winograd. In the process, the salvos amount to preemptive strikes, aiming to dissuade others in politics who might be tempted to speak up for Palestinian rights.
The so-called smart money is on Harman in next Tuesday's primary, but the incumbent -- like the Israeli government -- has reason to worry. Sometimes, moral revulsion can topple defenders of the indefensible.
In any event, no amount of advertising firepower can bring down the high moral ground of Marcy Winograd's grassroots campaign for Congress.