Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is Someone Friendly to AIPAC Trying to Paint Donna Edwards as Anti-Jewish?


Rep. Chris Van Hollen defending Simpson-Bowles as a "balanced approach" at the Pete Peterson Fiscal "Summit"

by Gaius Publius

If you've been following Democratic politics lately, you know that Party leadership–favorite Rep. Chris Van Hollen is running for the open Maryland Senate seat against progressive favorite Rep. Donna Edwards.

As noted, Van Hollen has the leadership of the Party on his side, having been endorsed by Harry Reid and sorta-endorsed by Nancy Pelosi. He also has his personal history not on his side, having been a headliner for Pete Peterson's "Summit" to reduce Social Security in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and also an advocate for the deadly Simpson-Bowles budget plan.

Donna Edwards, on the other hand, has never advocated for reducing Social Security, and endorses plans to expand it. Van Hollen, recognizing that this issue is against him, has switched sides, though perhaps not entirely. At least on the issues, the "centrist" Van Hollen is playing catch-up.

Suddenly we find a set of stories like the two below, both of which suggest that Donna Edwards may be vulnerable to ... the Jewish vote, a vote which can only come from 4% of the population of Maryland. Note that African-Americans account for at least 30% of the population.

Does something look wrong with the point these articles make? If so, let's try to find out what. First, from The Guardian (I've emphasized the points that will be commented):
Maryland Senate race: Israel divides liberal Van Hollen and Edwards
House Democrats Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards have support from progressive groups, but Edwards’ votes on Iran and Israel could sink her

Van Hollen’s views on the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians are rather mainstream. A former staffer on the Senate foreign relations committee, Van Hollen has long been viewed warmly by Jewish Democrats in Maryland. He was described to the Guardian as “a classic progressive Democrat who was not in lock step with AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] but very much within their space”. ...

[T]wo Democratic members of Congress from suburban Washington, Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, have announced their candidacy. Both have very liberal records and are well liked by progressive groups. However, there is one distinct policy difference between the two of them: their views on US policy in the Middle East. And this difference could doom Edwards on election day.

In contrast, Edwards has long been close to J Street, the leftwing Jewish group which takes a very dovish view of the peace process, and has long voted against efforts to toughen sanctions on Iran and its nuclear programme. In 2013, she was one of only 20 members of Congress to vote against the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, a bipartisan bill which contained measures to strengthen sanctions.

She also was one of 21 members to vote present on a 2009 resolution that recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza. The resolution, co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, passed by a margin of 390-5.
So, to total up the "spin" — yes, this reads like spin:
  • Both are cast by the writer as "liberal," despite Van Hollen's long-term wedding and recent divorce from the New Dem darling, Simpson-Bowles budget recommendations. 
  • Van Hollen is "not in lockstep" with AIPAC (very moderate of him, considering their recent self-tarrings) but still "very much within their space" (they like him), while Edwards has "long been close" to J Street, the "leftwing" Jewish group. Message: They're both "liberal" but Edwards is also "leftwing."
  •  Donna Edwards didn't vote Yes to a resolution recognizing Israel's right to "defend itself against attacks from Gaza" — perhaps her real crime, as we'll soon see.
  • All of this straying from AIPAC political orthodoxy could "sink" Edwards, "doom" her, in a 4% Jewish but 30% African-American state. Edwards is African-American.
If this doesn't look like a hit piece and not news, I don't know what does. A writer of a news piece — even if he was pitched this by a pro-AIPAC public relations peddler, would have noted for the readers the population discrepancy and avoided the "sink her" and "doom her" language — which makes no logical sense.

I'll say this more plainly. If the writer was pitched this story and its illogical conclusion, he printed both uncritically. It appears that his goal was not to inform, but to sell. The writer, by the way, is Ben Jacobs, reporting from Washington.

And Just One Day Earlier, This "News"...

The day before the piece above came out, the following analysis (or "analysis") appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times. Start with just the headline:
Vastly Different Candidates
Can you see already where this is going? "Vastly"?
As politicians throughout the state contemplate the wisdom of mounting a bare-knuckle Senate campaign, only Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards have officially declared their candidacies for the seat being vacated by outgoing Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski. But while both are longtime Democrats, they could not be more different in how they are perceived by voters, both in terms of their relationship to Maryland’s Jewish community and in their support for Israel.
Pause for a moment. Is that a true statement, the one I've bolded? Keep your eye on the word "voters."
On Israel, observers say the candidates hold vastly different records.

“Looking at their pro-Israel record closely over the years, there’s a huge contrast between Van Hollen’s excellent record and Edwards’ very poor record,” said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “There were times when you had 350 co-sponsors and she wasn’t one, or good letters where 317 members signed and she did not.”

Edwards, who represents the 4th Congressional District in Prince George’s County, has received campaign contributions in her previous congressional races from J Street PAC, the political funding arm of the left-leaning pro-Israel organization.
Jewish Americans as a group tend to be "left-leaning." J Street is pro-peace; big difference, and perhaps a tell in both of these articles.

But go back to the beginning of the article. In the space of three sentences, we go from how they are perceived by "voters" (the lede), to how they are perceived by "observers," to how they are perceived by a former Executive Director of AIPAC. That's quite a leap, from "voters" (and no polling data) to one named guy. Now move to the sentence about how Edwards' views "may be outside of the mainstream Jewish community’s pro-Israel outlook." Which views? It doesn't matter. Whether they are or are not outside the Jewish mainstream is supported, not by polling, but by the word "maybe," by the author's own speculation. She could be "maybe"–speculating on Edwards views about building a space station and find them different from Van Hollen's.

Where did the writer's "speculation" come from? There's only one real source for Edwards' supposed anti-Israel views in this piece — a man formerly associated with AIPAC.

Is Someone Associated with AIPAC Trying to "Sink" Donna Edwards?

The spin, the AIPAC sourcing and praise, the making of this small difference into something "vast" on the part of both writers — and the fact that both articles appeared within a day of each other — these have all the earmarks of an AIPAC-inspired op, a "hit" if you will. If so, what could be the goal? Not just to swing the Jewish vote against Edwards. Even if she loses all of that vote — and she won't; many Jews are leery of AIPAC (and Netanyahu's Likud) — it can't hurt her overall vote totals.

Considering how overblown the claim, that Edwards could be "doomed" by her Israel policies, this has to be a hit on her candidacy itself — as "vastly different candidates" — an attempt to influence non-Jewish voters as well (note all the "left"-bashing). If I'm right, consider who may be organizing that hit. If you guessed, someone who wants the pro-AIPAC Van Hollen to enter the Senate instead of the "peace-loving" pro–J Street Edwards, you'll have made the most likely assumption.

Will this spin matter in the long run? Likely not, though you never know. African-Americans still make up 30% of the state, and Van Hollen is still tarred with Simpson-Bowles, something Edwards is doing a good job of reminding people of. (Look for "no if's, and's, but's, or willing-to-consider's" in the video below. That's a Van Hollen reference, and that is what this race is ultimately about.)

But we've been going meta on the media lately — showing you that not all "news" is news, but spin from a friend doing a friend a little favor. This one almost jumped out, so I thought I'd share.


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