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Israel Crops Up in Chicago Suburb Race

But issue’s real resonance may appear in ’12

Marc Tracy
October 25, 2010
Joel Pollak and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.(Andrew A. Nelles/Chicago News Cooperative/NYT)
Joel Pollak and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.(Andrew A. Nelles/Chicago News Cooperative/NYT)

Both the Emergency Committee for Israel and J Street appeared to make the Pennsylvania Senate race between Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak their prime proxy war when it came to translating President Obama’s Mideast policy into the electoral language of the midterms. But that race (which Nate Silver projects Toomey to win narrowly) has largely turned on other issues, and instead the midterm race in which Israel looks to play the biggest role is that between Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who has represented Chicago’s northern suburbs (including a significant Jewish population) for over a decade, and Republican Joel Pollak, an Orthodox Jew who first popped on our radar when he became the first Republican ever to be endorsed by influential Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.

The New York Times’s Chicago News Cooperative reports that the main reason America’s Israel policy has become a leading issue in the race—or, more precisely, the main reason that Pollak was successfully able to make it a leading issue—is that the debate really concerns the president, who hails from the city to the south; received much of his early support from the Jewish community in the city’s north and north of the city; whose adviser, Alan Solow, a Chicagoan, is now arguably the most powerful man in American-Jewish institutional life; and whose ex-chief-of-staff, also an Orthodox Jew, is about to run for mayor of that city. Put it all together, and it makes sense that Pollak has been able to gain some traction by constantly bringing up the Jewish state and questioning Schakowsky’s support for it, among other ways by tying her to J Street; nevermind that Schakowsky has long been a staunch supporter of Israel by nearly anyone’s metric (AIPAC is a fan of hers).

Or has Pollak been able to gain traction? Attention might be the better word. Despite the heavily pro-Republican trends, Schakowsky will win re-election. Which is yet further evidence that when we’re talking about Israel in the 2010 elections, what we are really talking about is Israel in the 2012 elections.

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