First, let’s drop all of the faux-surprise about Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter jumping to the Democratic Party.
Anyone who’s been paying attention saw this coming miles away; as the Senator himself said yesterday, his ideology just doesn’t fit with that of today’s strongest Republican voices.
Add to that a serious 2010 Republican primary challenge from former Congressman Pat Toomey, and Pennsylvania’s rule that a candidate who loses a primary cannot run indepedently in the same election, and the writing was on the wall in letters large enough for Belshazzar to read it unassisted.
So for an Israel supporter, where are Senator Specter and former Congressman Toomey, in terms of Israel and the Middle East?
When I first moved to Allentown (2001), Pat Toomey was our local Congressman. I met him a few times, when he came to speak at Jewish community events as well as in at least one meeting in his office arranged by the ZOA.
When Toomey ran against Specter in the 2004 Senatorial primary, I was lobbied by a national Jewish organization to support Specter. Part of their argument was that Toomey would not support Israel, but in this I believe they were incorrect.
Congressman Toomey was always staunchly pro-Israel, understanding the need for Israel’s security as well as the perfidy of the Arafat government. He did place one priority above all, and that was his focus on fiscal responsibility; I recall that at one point he voted against a Foreign Aid budget bill, which included aid for Israel, because the budget had not been slashed overall as he wished. But, still, he was a supporter of Israel, and I believe he likely remains the same.
On the other hand, Senator Specter is solidly pro-Israel as well.
I have met Senator Specter a couple of times, when he has spoken locally. There is no question in my mind that he supports Israel; AIPAC certainly thinks so, having invited him to speak at their national events more than once. He does get accused, from time to time, of being weak in his support – several months ago he was accused of unthinkingly providing Syria’s Assad a photo op while on a message-carrying mission - but I don’t give those accusations too much credence; his track record is simply too solid for that.
I do worry about the way this party-change will empower Israel’s opponents in the Senate. There are many legislators who would prefer to win the favor of the world rather than stand up for America’s values, and most of those legislators inhabit the Democratic Party. But as someone who has heard both of these men, who has tracked their careers and who has met them up close, I believe that both will solidly support the State of Israel.
I pray that I am right.