Winograd vs. Harman in California Primary: Will U.S. or Israel’s Interests Come First?

(This article is based on one that will appear in the upcoming May/June 2010 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sunday, March 14, 2010, ushered in two welcome events to Southern California: the inauguration of the headquarters of the bustling Winograd For Congress primary campaign, and an extra hour of daylight to help Marcy Winograd’s swarm of supporters evict Jane Harman, the wealthiest Democrat in Congress, from her eight-term seat in the House.

This is progressive Democrat Winograd’s second run against blue-dog conservative and AIPAC insider Harman. Winograd’s first effort in 2006 resulted in a respectable 38 percent of the vote after a short three-month campaign. This time, the determined challenger has given herself ample time to meet with residents throughout California’s 36th Congressional District, hear their concerns and identify their most critical needs. Not surprisingly, her industrious boots-on-the-ground campaign has been well received by constituents who were often ignored by their incumbent whose career focused more on rising through the ranks of Congressional ‘Intelligence’ than on the needs of constituents back home.

Winograd’s grassroots momentum so concerned her opponent that Harman retaliated with an ideological assault of minor relevance to most residents in her district. Rather than going toe to toe with Winograd on constituent-specific matters, Harman chose Israel as her main campaign strategy. Though Harman and Winograd are both Jewish Americans, they hold radically different views on Israel. Winograd is co-founder of L.A. Jews For Peace and a critic of Israel’s Gaza blockade, West Bank settlement expansion, and refusal to grant Palestinians the right of return. Conversely, Harman is an AIPAC darling who believes Israel can do no wrong. Harman’s uncompromising support for Israel has brought her substantial financial rewards. In addition to individual contributions, Harman has received a career total of $103,771 in pro-Israel PAC contributions.

To launch her Israel assault and tap into the psyches and wallets of her Jewish supporters, Harman solicited co-AIPAC loyalist, Congressman Henry Waxman, to compose a letter to Jewish donors blasting Winograd on Israel. Waxman, who like Harman, disdains critics of Israel, willingly obliged. His letter excoriated Winograd, calling her views “repugnant in the extreme.” He went on to say:

“To me, the notion that a Member of Congress could hold these views is alarming. Ms. Winograd is far, far outside the bipartisan mainstream of views that has long insisted that U.S. policy be based upon rock-solid support for our only democratic ally [Israel] in the Middle East.”

Winograd, taken back by the harshness of Waxman’s attack, responded in kind with a powerful letter of her own. She stated in part:

“Like you, I am intimately aware of our Jewish history. On my mother’s side, my great-grandparents escaped the Russian Pogroms to make a better life for themselves in Europe. On my father’s side, my great-grandparents were killed in the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Because of our collective experience with persecution, it behooves us to stand in opposition to persecution anywhere and everywhere, rather than sanctify reductionist state policies that cast all Jews as victims who can only thrive in a segregated society. Furthermore, we must stand in explicit opposition to the Israeli persecution of the Palestinians; the brutal blockade of Gaza, an act of war by international standards, denying children clean water, food, and medicine. We are better than that.”

(The full text of Waxman and Winograd’s letters are available in my January 11, 2010 article on the Huffington Post)

Regrettably for Harman, infusing the highly charged issue of Israel into her primary race appears to have backfired. Contrary to incumbents’ tradition of downplaying the primary challenger, Harman’s actions have heightened interest in Winograd, resulting in an onslaught of high profile media discussions. Tikkun, Politico, Huffington Post, The Nation, Washington Examiner, Glenn Beck on FOX TV, and dozens more venues have invoked the impassioned campaign. Interestingly, the article that seems to have stirred the most interest is that of Jewish Journal editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman, who offered to host a debate on Israel between the primary challengers – an invitation incumbent Harman probably hadn’t expected.

Winograd accepted Eshman’s offer the day the offer was made, writing on the Jewish Journal:

“Thank you for inviting me to debate my opponent at a public forum on the establishment of a lasting Middle East peace. I gladly accept and look forward to engaging in a community dialogue sponsored by the Jewish Journal. Ultimately, I believe we all want peace, though we may have different opinions on how to achieve it. It is time for serious soul-searching and what better time than now.”

Harman, however, took nearly two months to respond. I contacted Eshman and John Hess, Harman’s chief of staff, numerous times by e-mail and phone to inquire about Harman’s decision. Eshman kept me up to date, stating he’d personally reached out to Harman but hadn’t heard back. Hess never responded.

Finally, on March 3rd, Hess sent Eshman this cursory e-mail declining the invitation:

“Hi Rob—thank you for your message and your invitation. However, Congresswoman Harman declines the kind offer and believes her views on Israel are very clear. John H.”

Eshman was less then pleased with Harman’s refusal, as evidenced in his article, “Harman Declines Jewish Journal Debate Invite”

Winograd again responded immediately to Jewish Journal:

“I commend Editor Rob Eshman when he calls for open and intelligent debate on Middle East peace and thank Rabbi Dan Shevitz of Temple Mishkon Tephilo for offering to host a critically-needed conversation. I hope my opponent reconsiders her rejection of Rabbi Shevitz’s offer.

“In the meantime, I would like Jewish Journal readers to know that I will support a peace agreement, be it two states or one state, which both sides—Israelis and Palestinians—acknowledge will respect equality, dignity, and human rights for all.”

It’s fairly standard in American politics for the incumbent to decline to debate a primary opponent. In this case, however, the reasons for Harman’s refusal may be more complex than traditional political gamesmanship. Jane Harman has not served herself well by rebuffing her Jewish Journal ally and turning down Eshman’s request to debate. But this debate had the potential to harm Jane Harman, whose many personal and ethics controversies would have likely been exposed by Winograd.

Harman could have feared being challenged on her wiretapped conversation with former AIPAC employees that resulted in accusations of improper information sharing and exchanges of favors with agents of a foreign land [Israel]. Harman could have feared being confronted on Israel’s widely condemned mistreatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, for which there is ample proof of brutality via the Goldstone Report and eyewitness testimonies by Sen. John Kerry, Reps. Keith Ellison and Brian Baird, and former President Jimmy Carter.

American public opinion of Israel is declining rapidly as details of the Palestinians’ plight is more widely revealed.

Israel’s growing national disfavor increases the probability that Waxman and Harman’s assault on Winograd originated not only as a political ploy, but also from their fear that electing a potential critic of Israel to Congress might weaken the United States’ middle east policy that has always favored Israel – much to the detriment of the U.S. For legislators like Harman and Waxman, whose foreign policy decisions have been predicated first and foremost on serving Israel, such a possibility could be cause for great dismay.

But Israel/U.S. relations are now on shaky ground and the current Israeli government has been damaging to America. It’s impossible to ignore that Harman declined the Winograd debate two weeks after five of her congressional colleagues, along with members of J Street (the year-and-a-half-old pro-peace/pro-Israel PAC), were snubbed and disrespected in Israel by the Israeli deputy foreign minister, and their pre-planned visit to Gaza was blocked by the Israeli army. These events would have assuredly come up in the debate since Harman and Waxman’s colleagues, in particular Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Bob Filner of California, have been outspoken in their outrage over their mistreatment by the Israelis. The question of Harman’s collegial allegiance would have been unavoidable in the debate.

In mid-March, during Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Israel, Israel announced the building of 1,600 new homes in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem – a direct insult to the United States and a rebuke of the U.S.’ demand that Israel freeze further settlement expansion. Israel’s announcement infuriated Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Adding insult to injury, a subsequent announcement by Prime Minister Netanyahu declaring that settlement expansion will continue unabated, drove a further gulf between the two nations.

Schisms are forming in American government amongst American legislators over Israel, chipping away at Waxman’s proclamation of rock-solid legislative support. And those schisms are sure to grow wider as Israel’s expansion into Palestinian territory and human rights abuses continue, figuratively spitting in the face of President Obama and ultimately forcing his and Congress’ hand. Some believe Israel is acting out because the United States hasn’t been harsh enough with Iran. But the American public and American coffers won’t readily support a third war when the American economy is in such disarray. Thus, the question of Israel’s value as an ally has more frequently come into play.

Truth be told, Harman and Waxman’s congressional districts are not immune to the eroding pro-Israel sentiment that is spreading nationwide. Also true is that Harman and Waxman have underestimated the growing support for Winograd, who is no newbie to the political scene. She’s co-founder of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, a former officer in the California Democratic Party, and her esteem amongst Jews and non-Jews traverses the boundaries of Los Angeles. She is feted by the Jewish community much like Harman – albeit Winograd’s supporters tend to be less ideological and more open-minded.

I asked Winograd what responses she’d received after the ruckus raised by Waxman and Harman’s provocative letter. Winograd answered:

“Americans, many of then Jews from across the country — from San Francisco, Portland, Washington D.C., and New York City – emailed me to express gratitude that a candidate, aware of the political minefield, was nonetheless speaking out for human rights. People of diverse religions were outraged at the attempt to censor all debate on middle east peace, to declare critical debate somehow off the table.

Congressman Waxman’s letter mobilized incredible support for my campaign, with people stepping up to host fundraisers, organize precinct walking, and volunteer at events. They felt they had no choice, that history was calling them.”

Winograd Fundraiser at Sheinbaums'

Winograd fundraiser.

On February 18th, just such a fundraiser was held by iconic Los Angeles couple Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum, leaders in the Los Angeles progressive community who hosted a well attended event for Winograd, co-hosted by prominent members of the Jewish community and keynoted by Gore Vidal. This is one of many Jewish sponsored events for Winograd, whose accolades from Jewish supporters are glowing.

Photo by Linda Milazzo

Well known Rabbi Michael Lerner, national best selling author, and publisher of Tikkun Magazine, shared this with me about Winograd:

“Marcy Winograd’s critique of Israeli policies fits right into the best traditions of prophetic Judaism. While I do not agree with her call for a One State solution, I believe that position to be a reasonable alternative to endless and blind support for the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of food, medicine, and other vital necessities from the near-starving people of Gaza (however much I deplore Hamas’ violence).

Congressional reps Waxman and Harman consistently take the low road–attacking the messenger because they can’t refute the message of the Israeli peace movement and its supporters (like Winograd) in this country: that the Occupation is immoral and self-destructive for Israel and for the Jewish people, and a violation of the highest ethical vision that has sustained Judaism for the past thousands of years. Substituting short-term political advantage for a strategy that could actually work to protect Israel and the Jewish people, Harman and Waxman jump on to the “Israel can do no wrong” bandwagon that seeks to silence all legitimate criticism and thereby fosters deep resentments toward Jews that will likely come back to haunt the entire Jewish people around the world in the form of a new anti-Semitism fueled not by ancient religious disagreements but by the behavior of Israel and the suppression of debate by its ultra-nationalist American advocates (including both Jews and Christians who think they are doing Jews a favor by their blind loyalty to Israel’s self-destructive path).

Many Jews in Congress have told me privately that they agree with this position articulated in Tikkun magazine, and perhaps if Marcy Winograd gets to Congress she will help give them the backbone to say these things publicly.”

Lila Garrett, long-time activist, J Street Board member, Progressive Democrats of America Board member, two time Emmy Award winner, host of Connect The Dots on KPFK Los Angeles and a woman who worked in Israel as far back as 1953, conveyed this to me about Winograd, speaking candidly of Waxman’s assault:

“Waxman’s blatant attack on Marcy Winograd is not only embarrassing; it’s irresponsible. It’s one thing to debate an issue; it’s another to stab someone in the back who doesn’t agree with you. And that is what Henry Waxman did with his widely distributed letter which he did not bother to send to Marcy…

As far as Waxman’s letter is concerned there is an undercurrent of hysteria about it which is extremely disturbing. He represents a large group of people. He Chairs an important committee and too many people look to him for calm, steady leadership. Times are too uncertain for us to tolerate a leader who shoots from the hip. Waxman is using the same fear tactics to justify Israeli violence against the Palestinians that Bush and Cheney used to whip us into supporting the savage wars against Iraq & Afghanistan. Marcy doesn’t use fear that way. Her views represent careful thought and a realistic knowledge of history. A two state solution cannot work as long as one side refuses to allow a second state. That’s foreign policy 101. A one state solution is not working either. Same reason. What does Waxman suggest….mass annihilation? That’s what his rant seems to imply.

This blast against Marcy should have been written by Waxman’s worst enemy not by the Congressman himself. The Henry Waxman I’ve known for over thirty years would have been a strong Marcy Winograd supporter.”

Considering current Middle East events, it appears that Waxman’s proclamation at the behest of Harman that

“Ms. Winograd is far, far outside the bipartisan mainstream of views that has long insisted that U.S. policy be based upon rock-solid support for [Israel]…”

stems more from Waxman and Harman’s personal bias than from America’s current truth. One would hope that any legislator elected to serve the U.S. would insist that U.S. foreign policy uphold the interest of the U.S. before that of a foreign nation – Israel or any other.

linda_milazzo.jpgWith Waxman and Harman, however, their foreign policy focus seems to be Israel’s interest first. With Marcy Winograd, the interest of the United States, not Israel, would undoubtedly be first.

One final note: Jonathan Tasini, U.S. Senate candidate from New York – a Jew who lived in Israel for seven years and whose father was born in Palestine – has filmed the  deeply personal video shown here that supports an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Please take a moment to view Jonathan’s touching message to grasp the extent of the growing opposition to Israel’s policies. Much like Marcy Winograd, Jonathan Tasini embodies a humane position on middle east policy that puts U.S. interests first and seeks to end the unflinching pro-Israel bias that undermines U.S. prestige and the legitimacy of our diplomacy in the region.

Linda Milazzo


  1. Paul McDermott says

    Joe, your rant makes little sense and you’ve glossed over (intentionally, I’m sure) the fact that Palestinians are second-class citizens in an apartheid state in their own land. Shills like you keep saying how Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it’s in our national interest to support this pariah state. That’s bull!
    Israel has never intended to share the land with the Palestinians and has flaunted international law and public sentiment in order to pursue its outdated, 19th-century dream of creating a “Jews only” state. Through its history Zionism has been about stealing the land from its owners and ethnic cleansing in order to create a racist state. Don’t try to sugarcoat the history of Zionism in Palestine! It’s all there if you bother to look.
    Progressives have always opposed racism and religious intolerance, whether it’s white-ruled South Africa, Jim Crow laws in the South, or an Aryan/Nazi dictatorship in Germany. Our U.S. Constitution is based on the principles of equality and separation of church and state.
    Israel, on the other hand, is following the trajectory of a Greek tragedy in which the character of the story is led finally from hubris, arrogance, into ate, moral blindness and eventual destruction. Its destructive path will take with it those diehard Christian fundamentalists who seek the “end of days” in Israel and those neoconservatives who are hell-bent on the expansion of the American imperial dream.

  2. says

    The title contrast of US and Israel is misleading and inciting – maybe even deliberately so? – as if primary genuine USA and progressive and Israel interests and values are in conflict rather than in coincidence.

    Marcy et al can continue to parrot, if they want, the Big-Oil-Soviet anti-Israel line (with now Gazans or their terrorist rocket-firing thugs featured as hapless victims).

    But I draw the line at pretense that this masochistic milquetoast line is in the best or even halfway good interest of Americans generally or American progressives in particular.

    Unless of course you equate progressivism with thugs, dictators, suppression of non-Islamic religions and even of Islamic heresies, permanent subordination of women and girls, ‘schools’ with Texas-board-of-ed-style curricula which moreover incite to hate and graduate into training for terror, etc. etc.

    [I guess the politically correct rationale for such ‘progressivism’ is that that we benighted western-progressive types should prove that we have liberated ourselves from false ethnocentric morality, and therefore have no reason to deem that our values like human rights are superior to the mid-east pattern of submission to jihadist autocracies and thugocracies.]

    VICTIMS?? For decades the Palestinian Arabs ‘Leadership’ (PAL for short) has imposed on their own people a jihadist policy to keep them as perpetual pawns and world-sympathy-arousing victims (and the leaders themselves as perpetually in power).

    Ever since at least 1937 this policy has focused not on building their own peace-able coexisting state (west of the Jordan, in addition to Jordan – the four-time-larger-than Israel+Palestine Palestinian state already existing east of the Jordan). Rather, the focus is at all costs to prevent or tear down a Jewish state, if necessary in the guise of a ‘peace’ that would have that effect.

    The consistent PAL stance has been that NOT having a viable Jewish state is far more important than maybe also having a west-of-Jordan Palestinian Arab state. Here is a summary record:

    1937 partition plan (UK Mandate Peel Commission) – 3/4 for 1.1 million Arabs. Jews: YES, PAL: NO.

    1947 partition plan UN Gen Ass) – 1/2 for Jews (containing mostly Jews) 1/2 for Arabs. Jews: YES, PAL: NO.

    1949-1967 – Arab states (Jordan, Egypt) control West Bank and Gaza.
    Campaign for separate Palestinian state? – None audible from PAL.

    1968-1993 – Ongoing PAL terror for a ‘Palestinian cause’ – but no plan or even clear demand for an actual peace-abiding Palestinian Arab state (other than one which swallows up Israel, regardless of wishes of Israelis).

    1993-2010 – Oslo experiment – featuring continual PAL promises but no action to change PLO charter phrases calling for destruction of Israel.

    2000 – Palestine Arab state proposed in almost all of west-Bank-Gaza, plus its sovereignty over prime holy places: Temple-Mount-Al-Aksa? Israel: Yes, PAL: No.

    2008 – Same again, plus even Palestinian Arab sovereignty over Western Wall Jewish holy site? Israel: Yes, PAL: No.

    ‘RIGHT’ OF RETURN? No country concedes any ‘right’ of ‘return’ or indeed entry (except as desired by its own citizens and provided by its own laws).

    Even less does a fuss about such ‘right’ make any sense in this particular case. 20% of Israelis are Arab Moslems or Christians. Yet the ‘right of return’ is being demanded as part of finally establishing a Palestinian Arab state – which for its part supposedly cannot tolerate even a few Jewish ‘return’ settlements, because somehow this new state (unlike partly Arab and Moslem Israel) just must be ethnically pre-cleansed and utterly non-Jewish.

    Meanwhile, if we speak of ‘right’ of return (or compensation therefore), why just for Palestinian Arab refugrees and their descendants??? Nearly one million Jews from the Arab and Moslem mid-east and North Africa were forced to flee – to Israel – in most cases hundreds of miles, not just ten or twenty or thirty. For the Jewish refugees and descendants, ‘return’ is infeasible. For the Arabs, resettlement WITHIN present Palestinian territory is not only feasible but would occur in most cases within ten or twenty or thirty miles of the original locale. By the way, BOTH refugee streams exist mainly just on account of the wars forced on Israel in 1948 and 1967 to defend her very existence.

    WHITHER PROGRESSIVES? So what is a poor true progressive to do? Well, before 1967, card-carrying progressives sang the praises of Israel as the only mid-east democracy, and the only one with a strong labor and socialist component.

    Meanwhile, anti-Israel propaganda was most strongly sponsored by Big Oil, beholden to the regressive jihadist Saudi and other sheikhs.

    After Israel’s 1967 survivalist victory, Moscow and Beijing decided to join Big Oil and judged that the path to influence in the mid-east was via alliance and doctrinal support to regressive Arab regimes (whose stance on Israel was ‘no peace, no recognition, no negotiations’). Soon ‘true’ progressives were encouraged to join Big Oil and portray the Palestinian Arabs as innocent victims – just of Israel, never mind the above history. Innocent victims unable to do anything (or even say anything) constructive for themselves – except of course heroic terrorist murders and hijacks of school kids and planes and cruise ships.

    The pattern continues. If the world really cared to see Gazans liberated or anyhow to lift fingers to resettle Gazans anywhere out of the clutches of Hamas – there would be no humanitarian problem in Gaza. If the world really wanted halfway fairly and realistically to end the Palestine-Israel conflict, it would tell the PAL to put up – create and operate a viable peace-seeking non-jihadist state structure – or shut up.

    But for Marcy et al it’s a lot more politically ‘courageous’ to simply continue to toe the good old Big-Oil-Soviet line – the 1001 variations on these old anti-Semitic (oh, excuse me, merely anti-Zionist) and Islamic supremacist themes:

    Israel has no right to exist unless she is perfect (including perfectly defenseless), and anyhow even if she were perfect she would be too progressive (in the old-style meaning: advanced) to have a right to exist as a non-Islamic state in the mid-east.

  3. GaryH says


    Thank you Linda Milazzo for exposing in detail yet another example of the Israeli lobby on US politics. This kind of influence peddling and pressure from a foreign government and it’s supporters goes back decades.

    If people running for public office, especially Democrats, continue to think they can win support by catering to a pro-Israel vote they may be wrong. Every year that goes by, the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) prove themselves to be a brutal occupier of native land and native people.

    The tide of public opinion is turning and people want a just peace AND voters want to live in a country where campaigning and foreign policy is not dictated by supporters of a foreign country, Israel, whose interests and the interests of the USA are often not the same.

    from an article:
    Big Drop-Off in Democratic Support for Israel

    Washington Independent / By Spencer Ackerman

    Big Drop-Off in Democratic Support for Israel Over the Past Year

    More on the Arab-American Institute’s forthcoming poll about U.S. attitudes toward Israel. I still have’t seen the full poll, but I’ve gotten one detail of it. According to its findings, not only has the partisan gap between Democratic and Republican views on Israel widened, but the Democratic drop-off in support has been severe over the […]


    Gary Hundertmark

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