Arizona’s Savvy Israel Ally
Wunderkind Democrat Andrei Cherny, ‘Clinton’s heir,’ is focusing on the Jewish state in his race for Congress
Cherny’s campaign argues that Sinema’s longtime associations with far-left-wing groups make her a dangerous woman to put in Congress, or to nominate for a seat the Democrats could win. “On Israel,” Cherny said of Sinema, “she has a 10-year track record of taking positions that are at odds with American policy and administrations of both parties.” Nor is this ancient history: “She was involved with groups and individuals that questioned Israel’s existence up to last year, 2011,” he said.
Sinema, a year younger than Cherny, is her own kind of wunderkind. Soon after 9/11, at 25 years old, she co-founded Local to Global Justice, a local advocacy group. Its initial mission was to oppose the invasion of Afghanistan, but in 2007 it signed a petition calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and another in 2008 decrying Israeli “human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and against civilians in Lebanon.” Sinema joined Women in Black, a group founded by Israelis during the First Intifada to protest human rights abuses in the territories—a history of which Sinema claimed to be unaware. (That’s pretty hard to believe, since the group was founded in 1988 and is easily located on Google.) Also in 9/11’s aftermath, she helped organize the Arizona Alliance for Peaceful Justice; its motto was, “military action is an inappropriate response to terrorism.” According to The Hill, this was her position, too. At least as late as 2010, she continued to associate with these groups, speaking, for example, at an antiwar rally several sponsored. She has since severed ties.
Sinema and Schapira have in turn joined to accuse Cherny of “Karl Rove-styled attacks” and “sleazy campaigning.” A Sinema spokesman pointed me to an official position paper laying out standard pro-Israel views and insisted that much of Sinema’s awkward past derives from a simple fact: “She was 24 years old, very frustrated with the Democratic Party, [and] thought that the Green Party was more progressive on environmental issues and sustainability.” To which Cherny’s response might be: When I was 24, I was already on-message and certainly wasn’t a Green Party supporter.
Sinema’s spokesman dismissed Cherny’s attacks as spin—the result “of a campaign deciding to try to make Sinema look bad because she had the courage to be outspoken against the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.” He also pointed to Sinema’s position paper on Israel and Iran, which calls for a two-state solution and vigorous sanctions against the Islamic Republic, and mentions a trip she took to Israel in 2009, when she visited Sderot and was moved by the inhabitants living under the threat of rockets. The conservative Washington Free Beacon reported (in one of the instances in which this race has received attention beyond Maricopa County) that she attended this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference.
But the Sinema campaign has also gone on the offensive. Last week, Sinema and Schapira jointly blasted Cherny for disseminating “false attacks on his opponents.” They’ve also pointed to a mailer he used in his California campaign 10 years ago: It warned that his opponent wouldn’t make the streets safe, next to a picture of a shirtless black man pointing a gun. And they accused Cherny of making hay out of Sinema’s sexual orientation (she is bisexual). “I don’t think he’s running an honest campaign,” said Sinema’s spokesman. (After briefly touching base last week, Schapira’s campaign manager has not returned repeated requests for comment.)
Cherny’s surrogates have punched back, accusing Sinema and Schapira of “engag[ing] in the politics of personal destruction.” Though he denied that he tried to use Sinema’s sexuality against her, in our conversations Cherny stood by his criticisms of Sinema’s national-security record. “I think the discussion of an important issue like Israel and its future is something we should be talking about,” he told me. Or, as he wrote several years ago in Democracy, “The idea that ‘politics stops at the water’s edge’ has served as a club—ready to be used against opponents that crossed an invisible line.”
If you pan out a bit, the candidates fall pretty neatly into three recognizable archetypes: the local favorite who has paid his dues (Schapira); the unapologetic lefty (Sinema); and the safe establishmentarian who is, at least graded against an extremely harsh curve, an outsider (Cherny). According to Rodolfo Espino, a political-science professor at Arizona State, any of them could win, though he thinks Sinema is least likely. The National Republican Congressional Committee has ignored Schapira, and it’s hard to imagine that Republicans wouldn’t prefer to run against Sinema.
Schapira and Sinema both paint the 9th Congressional District as a toss-up. Cherny, by contrast, has taken pains to argue that the 9th by all rights should be a Democratic pick-up. The point is less who is right—The Hill rates the district a toss-up; its voters supported Obama in 2008 (despite its being Sen. John McCain’s home district) and John Kerry in ’04—than the political logic that undergirds why they describe it in different ways. Sinema and Schapira predict a close general election in order to advocate for a principled progressive who excites the base (Sinema) or a down-home guy who can draw on grassroots support (Schapira), and not a milquetoast outsider (Cherny). By contrast, Cherny sees a logically Democratic seat, because he can then argue that Democrats should nominate the safe, smart, well-endowed, responsible candidate (Cherny) instead of the radical (Sinema) or the nice guy who isn’t ready for prime time (Schapira).
It’s eerily reminiscent of the dilemma left-wing voters faced in the 2000 presidential election: Vote for the outside-the-system lefty whom you support but who might hand victory to the Republicans, or vote for the safe, slightly boring Democrat who would be superior to George W. Bush? Green Party nominee Ralph Nader’s voters likely denied Gore a number of state wins (though not in Arizona), practically any of which would have given him an electoral college triumph to match his popular-vote advantage and handed him the presidency. That year, as Cherny worked hard for Team Gore, Sinema was Nader’s Arizona spokesperson.
When I asked Cherny if this irony resonated, he replied, “I laugh about it, but certainly.” He continued: “The 2000 election was, looking back on it, probably one of the most consequential. If you play out the past decade with Al Gore as president instead of George W. Bush, we’d be living in a very different America and different world.” And, possibly, a very different Andrei Cherny.
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