The story goes that after New Times magazine labeled Virginia Sen. William L. Scott the country's "dumbest" congressman in 1974, he confirmed this judgment by calling a press conference to deny it. Is Rep. Joe Sestak in the same league?
After one of Pat Toomey's ads accused Sestak of voting "100 percent" with Nancy Pelosi, Sestak howled that this was a lie. He voted with her 97 percent of the time. Hmmm.
Sestak displayed the same unwise litigiousness after a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel ran ads calling attention to his poor record on support for Israel. Sestak's lawyers contacted Comcast and insisted that the ads be pulled. In so doing, he has invited closer examination of his record.
It is false and "offensive," Sestak's lawyer argues, to say that the congressman "raised money for an anti-Israel organization that the FBI labeled a 'front group for Hamas.'" Oh, did Sestak not deliver the keynote address at a fundraiser for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)? Well, yes, he did, admits the lawyer, "but during a portion of the event explicitly free of fundraising." Please. People paid $50 to attend the banquet and hear a speech by Congressman Joe Sestak. That he didn't personally solicit funds is quite irrelevant.
Sestak certainly had notice, before agreeing to deliver the speech, that CAIR was a problematic group. In 2007, the founders of the Holy Land Foundation were indicted for funneling money to terrorist organizations including Hamas. (They received life sentences in 2009.) CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Repeatedly, over the course of two decades, CAIR has justified terror, condemned Israel, and declined to denounce suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians. Mustafa Carroll of the Dallas chapter of CAIR stressed in 2007 that "the root cause of terrorism is oppression."
Sestak might have consulted with Sen. Barbara Boxer, a fellow liberal Democrat, who rescinded an award to an Islamic activist in California after learning of his association with CAIR. Several former CAIR officials have been deported or indicted on terror-related charges.
Sestak himself said, in an interview with the Exponent, a Philadelphia Jewish weekly, that "I don't just speak to groups that I support ... I think that is the job of a congressman in order to have a dialogue. And I went to CAIR and I criticized their failure to condemn terrorists by name, Hezbollah and Hamas, and the fact that they had not dissociated themselves."
Commentary's Jennifer Rubin examined the speech, looking for that "criticism." The speech doesn't bear close reading. It contains pages upon pages of praise for Muslims, which is fine, but also praise of CAIR, which isn't. Here is Sestak's endorsement of CAIR's hypersensitivity to any and all security measures in the wake of 9/11: "We need to claim our values, not betray them, by ensuring there is not a psychology that 'pulls out' of the rich fabric of our American community those who look like 'one of them'? We are better than that. CAIR does such important and necessary work in a difficult environment to change such perceptions and wrongs -- from racial profiling and civil rights to promoting justice and mutual understanding -- at a time when it is challenging to be an American-Muslim and pass, for example, through an airport checkpoint."
And here is Sestak's confrontation with CAIR: "This is why it is my, and your, just duty to condemn not just terrorism -- as you have done -- but also condemn the specific acts, and specific individuals and groups by name, associated with those acts, such as Hamas and Hezbollah." Hardly heroic.
The ad to which Sestak so hotly objects also noted that he signed a letter to President Obama in February of this year asking the president to intervene with Israel to loosen the blockade of Gaza. Acknowledging Israel's security needs, the letter nevertheless referred to the blockade (which permitted humanitarian aid) as "collective punishment" of the Palestinian people -- a favorite accusation of the anti-Israel left, as "collective punishment" is defined as a war crime by the Geneva Conventions. At the time, Sestak boasted that he knew the letter might "be used against me" in a political campaign but that he had to "stand up for" his "convictions." He signed, he said, because "I think we should be looking at this because I think it's part of what we stand for as a nation."
If Sestak retains any self-respect at all, he should justify his actions or apologize for them -- not whine that truthful ads be pulled from the airwaves.