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Candidates spar over incumbent's Israel remarks
Washington Jewish Week / October 20, 2010

By Larry Luxner

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Incumbent Democrat Jim Moran and Republican challenger Patrick Murray — candidates in Virginia’s 8th congressional district race — traded barbs Sunday morning over comments Moran has made criticizing the influence of the “pro-Israel lobby” and specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The two candidates were among six politicians who appeared before a breakfast audience of 100 people at Congregation Beth El, a Reform synagogue in Alexandria, Va.

The two-hour event focused mainly on local and domestic issues — everything from the future of Social Security and the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to traffic congestion in northern Virginia and the status of HOV lanes on Interstate 395.

But tensions picked up noticeably when Murray put his Democratic rival on the defensive about his track record on issues important to Jewish voters.

“Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and we need to continue to support her,” declared Murray. “Over the years, my opponent has said some very damaging things about the Jewish community. When you don’t support your allies, you give aid and comfort to your enemies.”

Moran — who has represented his district in Congress since 1990 — responded that he has no problem with AIPAC pushing its opinions, but that he simply doesn’t share those opinions.

“AIPAC is a very effective lobby, and more power to it. They’re quite clear why they do what they do, and that’s the way it ought to be. But they’re not the only Jewish lobby. J Street is another lobby, and my own personal views are more consistent with J Street’s views,” he said.

“I was very closely allied with AIPAC, but as I spent more time in Israel and more time considering the long-term implications of AIPAC’s views, I found them to be somewhat short-sighted. In the long term, they are not necessarily in the best interests of Israel’s security. That’s why I work with J Street.”

Before the breakfast began, Murray’s campaign staff distributed photocopies of a September 2007 letter from the National Democratic Jewish Coalition condemning Moran for comments he made to a Jewish magazine, in which he claimed that AIPAC had pushed for the war in Iraq.

Moran was quote in the September/October 2007 issue of Tikkun as saying that “AIPAC is the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning … because they are so well-organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful — most of them are quite wealthy — they have been able to exert power.”

The letter was signed by 16 members of the NDJC including Reps. Henry Waxman, Eliot Engel and Rahm Emanuel (who went on to become President Obama’s chief of staff).

Murray also told his audience that Moran has refused to sign a letter by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Ohio expressing strong bipartisan support for Israel.

Moran told WJW after the breakfast that his past comments about AIPAC and American Jewish influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East had been completely taken out of context.

“A number of people have accused me of being anti-Semitic. But they don’t know that my daughter — at my encouragement — converted to Judaism and is a member of this synagogue,” he said.

“Another thing people don’t know, because I thought it was classified, but only recently has it become public, is that each year I support a $100 million [appropriation] for the Arrow missile defense system for Israel. AIPAC now understands that any charge like that is unfounded.”

Murray, who also spoke to WJW following the breakfast, said there’s no question about where his opponent stands on Israel.

“He can claim his comments were taken out of context, but it’s very clear there’s been a string of [anti-Israel] statements. It’s not just a partisan thing. This is not the Republican Jewish Coalition saying this, but 16 sitting Jewish Democrats in Congress who published an open letter excorciating him,” he said.

“Wouldn’t you think 16 congressmen from his own party would make sure they had all their ducks in a row before they publish an open letter like that?”

The GOP candidates says he also has a problem “with some of the money Mr. Moran has taken from Arab concerns,” specifically Abdurahman Alamoudi, a once-influential Muslim lobbyist and fundraiser for both the Republican and Democratic parties who in 2004 was sentenced to a 23-year jail term for his involvement in a Libyan conspiracy to assassinate then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

“That bothers me,” Murray told WJW. “This is about Jim Moran not supporting Israel. When he won’t even sign a bipartisan letter from his own leadership to the Obama administration stressing the need for a strong bipartisan relationship with Israel, you have to start questioning where he’s at.”

Moran, who remains comfortably ahead of Murray in the polls, says he’s not too concerned about his rival’s charge that he’s against Israel.

“It won’t play much in this campaign, despite Mr. Murray’s efforts,” he said. I don’t think it’s going to hurt me [politically], but it does hurt my feelings.”

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