By Maidhc Ó Cathail
Helen Keller's pithy observation about American democracy being little more than a choice "between Tweedledum and Tweedledee" was never more true than in the upcoming midterm elections in the ninth congressional district of Illinois.
In a district which includes the affluent northern suburbs of Chicago along the shore of Lake Michigan, the central issue is not the two wars-or is it now three?-the country is fighting, nor is it the tanking economy, in great part caused by those debt-inducing wars. No, the burning issue here is… who cares more about Israel?
"A Jewish candidate has been trying to convince the mostly Jewish voters that his Jewish opponent has not done enough to protect the Jewish interest," reports Ynetnews, the English language website of Israel's most-read newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Although less than 25 percent of the ninth district's constituents are Jewish, and there is little agreement about what constitutes "the Jewish interest," it's not a bad summary of Republican challenger Joel Pollak's campaign to oust the Democratic incumbent, Jan Schakowsky. Pollak, an Orthodox Jew born in South Africa, charges Schakowsky with being "soft on Israel's security".
Let's take a brief look at Congresswoman Schakowsky's record on Capitol Hill to see if there's any truth to Pollak's allegations.
Since she was first elected to Congress in 1998, Schakowsky has consistently backed policies sought by Tel Aviv and its unregistered foreign agents in Washington, ensuring the continuation of the US military, diplomatic and financial support on which Israel depends. As might be expected, her "100 percent" pro-Israel record has included a reflexive defence of Israeli aggression and demands for crippling sanctions against Iran.
In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, which killed over 300 Palestinian children, Schakowsky voted for a House resolution supporting Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza. Later, she co-sponsored what Rep. Dennis Kucinich dubbed the "wrong is right" resolution condemning the UN's Goldstone report, which Kucinich said his colleagues had not even read. And after Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old US citizen armed with nothing more than a small video camera, was murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos on the Gaza flotilla, she signed the Poe/Peters letter to President Obama again touting Israel's right to self-defence.
Echoing Tel Aviv's rhetoric about the "existential threat" posed by Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons programme, Congresswoman Schakowsky has long been lending her name to a raft of legislation targeting Tehran. In 1999, she co-sponsored the Iran Nonproliferation Act. In 2001, she co-sponsored the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act Extension Act. She has also co-sponsored the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act and the Iran Freedom Support Act. More recently, Schakowsky co-sponsored the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, which a former CIA officer and political analyst described as "basically an act of war".
"There's more, much more, but you get the idea," said Steve Sheffey, a pro-Israel political activist, in his Huffington Post defence of Schakowsky.
Her opponent, however, does not get the idea.
To Joel Pollak and his supporters, which include his Harvard law professor, hard-line Israel supporter Alan Dershowitz, Schakowsky is "too sympathetic" to Palestinians and the sanctions against Iran are "weak".
But the GOP [Grand Old Party, a reference to the Republicans] nominee is most concerned about Obama's feeble efforts to coax Netanyahu to comply with international law by ceasing the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. In a statement, Pollak called on Schakowsky to join him in "condemning the Obama administration's ongoing attack on Israel".
Among pro-Israelis there are concerns, however, that "efforts to transform support for Israel from a long-standing bipartisan national consensus into a divisive partisan wedge issue" could be counterproductive. "Ironically, by using Israel as a political football for partisan gain," writes Sheffey, "Pollak's supporters ignore the cardinal principle of pro-Israel advocacy: Support for Israel is and must remain bi-partisan." According to Sheffey, Pollak has broken the Republican Party's "friendly incumbent rule," whereby pro-Israel opponents are expected to "disregard all other issues and vote solely based on Israel".
Deeply concerned about the increasing use of support for Israel as a partisan issue in American domestic politics, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, reminded everyone that "bipartisan support for Israel is a strategic national interest for the State of Israel".
One rule that Pollak didn't break, however, is the tacit agreement among both major parties never to expose how profoundly corrupt the political system really is.
In 2000, the FBI began wiretapping Congresswoman Schakowsky as part of a wider investigation into foreign espionage and the corruption of American public officials. "The epicentre of a lot of the foreign espionage activity was Chicago," claimed former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, in an interview with The American Conservative magazine. "They needed Schakowsky and her husband Robert Creamer to perform certain illegal operational facilitations for them in Illinois."
One would think that Joel Pollak would relish exposing Schakowsky's entrapment by a female Turkish agent, revealed in Edmonds' testimony under oath in a court case filed in Ohio. The problem for the aspiring pro-Israel legislator, however, is that the FBI investigation "started with the Israeli Embassy".
And what choice does that leave American voters? As one frustrated commentator put it, there's "not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties." Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to their corrupt bipartisan support for Israel.
Maidhc Ó Cathail is a widely published writer based in Japan.