FLASHBACK: Sestak Took Fire for Israel Record in Failed 2010 Senate Bid

Latest 2020 candidate regretted signing J Street letter condemning Gaza blockade

Joe Sestak
Joe Sestak / AP
June 24, 2019

Former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak, the 25th Democratic presidential candidate this year, took sharp criticism in 2010 for his Israel record en route to losing a U.S. Senate election that year.

In the summer of 2010, the newly founded pro-Israel outfit Emergency Committee for Israel released its first ad, blasting Sestak for speaking in front of the Council for Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2007, as well as signing a left-wing J Street letter to President Barack Obama criticizing the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Sestak was also hit for not signing a defense of Israel circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Sestak erupted at the charges, saying he had a pro-Israel record and the ads were a smear. He said the CAIR event was not a fundraiser and rejected the notion the group was a front for the terrorist group Hamas. He pointed to letters in his career calling Israel a "vital ally" and J Street jumped to his defense in an ad touting his support for Israel and a two-state solution. His campaign asked Comcast to stop running the ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel.

However, Sestak admitted in September of 2010 he was wrong to sign the J Street letter, which Politico called a "win for the hawks and a blow to J Street's attempt to create political space on a pro-Israel left of the Middle East conflict."

Nevertheless, J Street touted that Sestak did not back off the policies outlined in the letter. The Gaza blockade, imposed by Israeli-Egyptian forces in 2007, is for security reasons, due to the governance of the terrorist group Hamas in the Palestinian territory.

Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) went on to defeat him in the wave Republican year.

Sestak served two terms representing Pennsylvania's Seventh District in Congress from 2007 to 2011. After his failed 2010 Senate bid, Sestak ran again in 2016 but lost the Democratic nomination to Kate McGinty, who was also defeated by Toomey.

Sestak joins two-dozen other candidates for the 2020 nomination, the majority of whom are polling at 1 or zero percent. The retired Navy admiral said in his announcement that the U.S. was retreating from the world and described himself as a champion of the working class.