On a J Street conference call Thursday evening, Jan Schakowsky thanked the group for its financial and moral support. Her opponent, she said, was "an Orthodox Jewish Republican, Tea Party-endorsed candidate." It wasn't the first time Schakowsky alluded to my Orthodoxy: she did it in a July fundraising letter and hinted at it again at an Israel forum we addressed in October, which she has since described as an "enemy camp."
In some contexts, there is nothing wrong with referring to someone's religion. I have occasionally drawn attention to my Orthodox Jewish faith, usually to explain where my values come from or to dispel negative stereotypes the media tried to attach to the Tea Party. But in Schakowsky's chosen context, when she addresses far-left activists and J Street donors, "Orthodox" is a proxy for "extremist" -- and she means it exactly that way.
That becomes even clearer in light of the false charges Schakowsky has made against me and the way I ran my campaign to unseat her in Illinois's 9th congressional district. Schakowsky told the J Street conference call that "the majority" of my campaign's efforts involved a "vicious" misrepresentation of her position on Israel. She also accused my supporters in the Jewish community of "vitriol" that was "shocking" and "terrible."
All of that is untrue. It is what psychologists call "projection." Schakowsky's campaign was explicitly divisive. She changed her slogan from "Fighting for Our Families" to "Fighting on Our Side." She spent a fortune on negative mailings accusing me (falsely) of wanting to dismantle Medicare and ship jobs overseas. At one point, her campaign manager referred to critics of the Ground Zero mosque as "f**king dumba**es."
She accused me of making Israel a "political football" while working throughout her campaign with J Street, which has targeted leaders (even Elie Wiesel, Joe Lieberman, and Alan Dershowitz) who have criticized the Obama administration's policy on Israel. At one stage, J Street even protested a pro-Israel event I held that had made no prior mention of J Street or Schakowsky and which had been focused on media, not politics.
There was simply no comparable behavior on our side. I never once misrepresented Schakowsky's position on Israel or her pro-Israel voting record. I did question her uncritical support for the Obama administration's policies; her associations with Helen Thomas, CAIR, and J Street; and her efforts on behalf of Manuel Zelaya, the would-be dictator of Honduras who blamed Israel and Jews for his removal from power last year.
It wasn't my campaign that forced the pro-Israel community to take sides; it was Schakowsky's policies and those of the Obama administration, as well as of the far-left more broadly. Her policies and her alliances are fair game and deserve to be challenged. Support for Israel should be bipartisan, but that also depends on the sincerity of both parties. The idea that Jews should just fall in line regardless is absurd.
Unable to answer our campaign's criticism or to stop the defection of important pro-Israel organizations like To Protect Our Heritage PAC (the largest and oldest in the Midwest), Schakowsky played the victim. She misquoted me, often and deliberately, claiming that I said she was "anti-Israel" or that I said "President Obama has made it OK to hate Israel." I offered her $2,400 to prove I said these things; she never collected.
Unfortunately, Schakowsky's friends in the local media bought her line. So, too, did some left-leaning Jewish media outlets. Since the election, for example, the Jewish Daily Forward has published two stories on the 9th district race, each reiterating the false claim that I tried to divide the community. The reporter never approached me for comment. (He says he wrote a third, balanced story and that it was never published.)
A Christian friend quipped today that Orthodox Jews are the Jews of the Jewish world. There's a kernel of truth in that. The only people to comment on my yarmulke were fellow Jews. Likewise, J Street is less concerned with Israel than with domestic identity politics. It has become, ironically, a way for the sentimental and uninformed to embrace their Jewish identity by confronting the Jewish state and Jewish leaders who defend it.
Yes, I am Orthodox in my faith, but I reject the politics of identity in favor of the politics of principle. That drew people from a variety of backgrounds to my campaign -- Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The election is over, but the task remains: to stand up for principle against far-left ideologues who are prepared to appeal to prejudice when it suits their political needs. Our country and our community cannot afford their rule.
Joel Pollak was the Republican candidate for Congress in the 9th District of Illinois.