(Photo: Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate in Georgia’s 6th District, lost the most expensive US House race in history.)
Pundits and politicians billed Democrat Jon Ossoff versus Republican Karen Handel as a major referendum on the first few months of the Trump administration.
Democrats poured tens of millions of dollars into the effort to flip Georgia’s 6th District, helping to make it the most expensive US House race in history. But on Tuesday Republicans held the conservative stronghold by a margin of 52-48 percent.
Democrats have now lost all four special elections to replace Republicans who joined President Donald Trump’s cabinet, including in Montana where the Republican candidate physically attacked a journalist just hours before election day.
Ossoff ran a centrist campaign, trying to pull right-wing voters – exactly the kind of strategy that failed to put Hillary Clinton into the White House. Ossoff was also cautious in referencing Trump – one of the most unpopular presidents since polling began.
According to Kamau Franklin, editor of the Atlanta Black Star, this strategy “is just wrong.” By tacking to the right on issues like healthcare and the economy, Ossoff failed to galvanize the Democratic base.
Franklin predicts that Ossoff’s defeat will reignite the “civil war” within the party between the centrist Clinton-Obama wing and the more progressive wing that gravitates toward Senator Bernie Sanders.
Tough and ignorant
Domestic issues, of course, drove this vote, but Democrats also missed opportunities to distinguish themselves on foreign policy.
Like other Democrats foisted on voters by party leaders, Ossoff engaged in “me-tooism” to show just how tough – and ignorant – he could be when it comes to the Middle East, particularly the question of Palestine and the Israelis.
Both candidates emphasized their support for Israel.
Ossoff listed 13 priorities on his campaign website. “US-Israel relations” ranked sixth. Constituents might have been surprised to learn he put Israel before national security, veterans, seniors, the environment, education, criminal justice and fighting corruption.
It’s difficult to discern if Handel orders her priorities any differently. She listed eight issues on her website with “Israel” coming fourth, before “jobs and the economy.” But her list – unlike Ossoff’s – was in alphabetical order.
Ossoff declared he is “committed to Israel’s security as a homeland for the Jewish people and to strengthening the historic, unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.”
Noting he has twice traveled to Israel, he affirmed his “deep personal relationships with family who live in Jerusalem and many friends who live in Israel.” In his view, Palestinians appear to count for less.
The victor Karen Handel sounded indistinguishable, emphasizing that the “United States and Israel share a remarkable friendship” and various “shared objectives” such as to “defeat terrorism.”
Both made boilerplate nods towards “peace.” But neither offered a word about the imperative ethical need to end the Israeli occupation, let alone about respecting the right of return of Palestinian refugees and ensuring equal rights for all.
Georgia’s 6th District was previously held for 20 years by Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Republican presidential hopeful who declared in 2012 that the Palestinians are an “invented people.”
Gingrich, who was re-elected repeatedly despite – or perhaps because of – a history of bigotry, was currying favor with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and big donor to anti-Palestinian causes.
A political group tied to Adelson reportedly spent more than $6 million dollars to defeat Ossoff.
Minimally qualified, Ossoff touted that while an undergraduate at Georgetown University he “studied under Madeleine Albright and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.”
These are scarcely badges of honor, but they indicate that Ossoff, as a representative of the Democratic establishment, offered no break from interventionist foreign policies that have brought injustice and catastrophe on a global scale.
When she was secretary of state in the Clinton administration in the 1990s, Albright notoriously defended sanctions that killed an estimated 500,000 children in Iraq. Challenged by 60 Minutes’Lesley Stahl whether inflicting such suffering could be justified, Albright answered, “we think the price is worth it.”
Oren, Ossoff’s other mentor, is currently a minister in Netanyahu’s government.
Oren lied in a 2014 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the killings by Israeli forces of Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, two Palestinian children shot dead in cold blood on video during a Nakba Day protest a few days earlier.
Oren indicated on television – days after they were killed – that it was not certain that the two boys were even dead.
In order to generate this bogus doubt, he cited the videotaped shooting of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada, which generated worldwide outrage.
Oren recycled the far-right conspiracy theory that the shooting had been staged, even questioning whether the child “was shot at all.”
At the time, Oren was described by CNN as merely a “Middle East analyst,” as if he had not spent many years as a soldier in Israel’s army and an official apologist for its policies.
It is a damning indicator that Oren can be uncontroversially cited by a Democratic candidate with no party leaders challenging Ossoff for promoting his connection to an anti-Palestinian racist who engages in grotesque fabrications and conspiracy theories.
Time for radical break
Majorities of Americans also support radical breaks on domestic policy – such as a single-payer healthcare system.
Yet in the race for Georgia’s 6th District, the Democratic establishment rallied around a candidate who opposes single-payer and stuck to the traditional script on foreign policy.
Defying conventional wisdom that voters only want right-wing populism or bland centrism, Britain’s Labour Party this month surged to its most successful general election performance in years on a platform of left-wing policies championed by Jeremy Corbyn, a leader with a lifelong record of supporting Palestinian rights.
After a string of defeats, it is an example Democrats urgently need to study.
Meet Dan Lederman: South Dakota politician for Israel
Dan Lederman poses with an Israeli soldier
By Alison Weir
Former state senator Dan Lederman has just been elected chair of the South Dakota Republican Party. Lederman is a fervent supporter of Israel.
A 2011 profile in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), “Meet Dan Lederman: The Jewish bail bondsman legislator from South Dakota,” emphasizes how Lederman benefits Israel.
The profile, by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, begins with: “AIPAC photo-ops? Check. Initiate and pass Iran divestment bill? Check. Pheasant-hunt fundraisers, sandbagging for flood protection… Check. Could Dan Lederman, an energetic and peripatetic 38-year-old Republican state senator in South Dakota, set a new template for Jewish politicians?”
Kampeas quotes the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, about Lederman: “He’s somebody who clearly could be governor, congressman, senator. He’s somebody who is totally committed to his constituents.”
And, it appears, to Israel.
Like most successful politicians, Lederman has worked to develop friendly relationships with voters, participating in pheasant hunts, helping during floods, etc. These relationships are useful, Kampeas observes, in promoting Israel:
“Such first-name-basis relationships in a state with only 800,000 people,” Kampeas writes, “help Lederman advance a pro-Israel agenda, one that he prominently displays on his website’s home page, where he touts his leadership on the Iran sanctions legislation as well as a pro-Israel resolution in the wake of Israel’s 2008-2009 Gaza military campaign.”
(During that 3-week military campaign, called “Operation: Cast Lead,: Israelis killed over 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, including 318 children, and committed a number of war crimes and human rights violations documented in detail by UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and the Goldstone Report.)
Lederman’s mentor has been fellow Republican State Senator Stan Adelstein, a multi-millionaire known in the state for his philanthropy, and his commitment to Israel. A bio of Adelstein reports:
“From 1975 to 1982, and again in 1986, he was a U.S. Delegate to the World Assembly of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, which he describes as a sort of ‘Congress of Jews of the world’ and the governing body of Israel before 1948.”
Kampeas writes: “Adelstein, who is 80, said he is pleased Lederman is taking his place as a prominent Jewish voice in a region where such voices are otherwise lacking — but which deserves attention from supporters of Israel.”
Adelstein points out: “South Dakota, Montana and North Dakota have just as many U.S. senators as New York, California and Pennsylvania. And South Dakota has two more U.S. senators than it has rabbis. I’m so grateful he’s taking the positions he is.”
Another person pleased with Lederman’s ascendancy is Steve Hunegs, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, which advocates for Israel.
JTA reports: “Lederman has acted as a bridge between the Jewish community and South Dakota conservatives, said Steve Hunegs… That’s key in a state where Republicans have supermajorities in both houses.”
Kampeas reports that the JCRC provided research to Lederman that he used in promoting Iran sanctions.
Lederman was originally a Democrat, but like many neoconservatives, he switched to the Republican party over U.S. foreign policies.
Kampeas reports: “Lederman’s trajectory to Republican lawmaker is not unusual for Republican Jews: He grew up in a politically active Democratic household and switched gears in college when he found that his concerns about national security did not jibe with those of the party with which he was raised.
“It’s the same narrative that shaped nationally prominent figures like Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for President George W. Bush.”
While traditional conservatives are generally in favor of small government, balanced budgets and minimal foreign aid, neocons, like other Israel partisans, have promoted massive funding to Israel, now over $10 million per day.
Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel.