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Israel Unmentioned in Sestak Profile

Even though race is a proxy war on the issue

Marc Tracy
August 19, 2010
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania).(NYT Magazine)
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania).(NYT Magazine)

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania), who is running for Senate against former Rep. Pat Toomey, gets every candidate’s dream (or, potentially, nightmare): A full-on, 4750-word profile in the New York Times Magazine. He comes out looking good: A military veteran and tireless campaigner; a genuine guy with genuine blue-collar roots; a family man who takes his work seriously; an anti-establishment figure with fairly establishment views; a social progressive, a defense skeptic, and an economic liberal.

Here is what is not mentioned in the piece: Israel.

And here is why that is notable: The Emergency Committee for Israel—the group, co-founded last month by William Kristol, whose explicit mission is to put strongly pro-Israel candidates into Congress (and, eventually, the White House)—made Sestak (who, like Toomey, is Catholic) its first and biggest target, arguing that he is weak on Israel, in turn prompting an angry response from the candidate and a war with J Street, which has endorsed Sestak and can generally be thought of, politically, as the Emergency Committee’s mirror image.

Within the Jewish community, and the broader community that places a high premium on the United States’s stance toward Israel, this is one of the biggest midterm races, precisely because of the Israel issue. And yet the Times Magazine—which isn’t exactly known for ignoring issues Jews tend to be interested in—did not think the issue even merited mention. (It is not that the piece is generally narrow: Even the gun issue comes up.) (Update: A J Street spokesperson and an Emergency Committee spokesperson said their groups were not contacted.)

You could argue that is a poor editorial decision, of course. But you could also argue, as the piece implicitly does, that Israel simply isn’t a widely resonant issue in an election year when voters are unusually worried about the jobs they have lost and the jobs they may lose. The fact that the issue is not seen as major in a classic toss-up state with a Jewish demographic (2.3 percent) nearly identical to the country’s, where several interest groups have gone out of their way to make it an issue, should tell us something about how much—which is to say, how little—impact it is thought to have on the populace.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.