National Security

Israel Emerges as Issue in California Primary

Carl DeMaio, Darrell Issa / Twitter, Getty

Former Republican congressman Darrell Issa is being attacked for a litany of anti-Israel comments he made early in his political career, statements his current campaign says don't represent his record as a friend and ally of the Jewish state.

"Darrell Issa claims he's a conservative, but every time he talks about Israel he sounds more like Ilhan Omar than President Trump," the new ad from American Unity PAC states, pointing to comments Issa made during his first terms in Congress. Among them is a 2001 statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Israel would be "an apartheid state" if it failed to achieve peace with the Palestinians. It also points to Issa's 2006 proposal for the United Nations to redraw Israel's borders, in which he argued that Israel was drawn with "artificial lines" in the first place.

"We've drawn artificial lines before, not the least of which is the very creation of the state of Israel, so let's finish drawing that part of the map," Issa told the Washington Post.

The new line of attack comes a week before the primary in California's 50th Congressional District, where Issa is attempting a return to the House after retiring his seat in the neighboring 49th District in 2018. The group behind the ad is American Unity PAC, a Republican group that supports pro-gay rights candidates and is supporting Carl DeMaio to be the party's candidate in November.

The ad also takes issue with a July 2006 accusation by Issa that Israel was bombing Hezbollah targets in Lebanon "just so they can have a July Fourth fireworks event."

A spokesman for Issa's campaign says the quotes pinpointed in the ad do not adequately portray his record of support for Israel, which is "unassailable."

"Darrell Issa’s record as a friend and ally of Israel is unassailable: he cosponsored the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, voted to fund the Iron Dome and David’s Sling, and supported the updated long-term Memorandum of Understanding on military assistance to Israel," Issa spokesman Greg Blair said in a statement.

The campaign questioned why a super PAC focused on gay rights is running ads on Israel.

"This entire issue is a farce, with partial quotes from 20 years ago, launched by a group that describes itself as a ‘super PAC dedicated to protecting and promoting Republicans who support LGBT freedom,' and is suddenly interested in the issue of Israel," Blair said.

A senior adviser for American Unity PAC defended the group's interest in Israel and said the remarks highlighted in the ad make clear that Issa doesn't support Israel's interests in the region.

"American Unity PAC is a conservative Republican super PAC now in our fifth election cycle," Tyler Deaton said. "Like all true conservatives in America, we support Israel."

"From his long-standing anti-Israeli remarks, it is obvious that Issa is not a conservative, he doesn't support Israel, and he does not support President Trump's policies to promote peace in the Middle East," Deaton said.

Reached for comment on the ad, Issa's Republican opponent said his remarks on Israel were "atrocious."

"Darrell Issa’s pattern of attacking our ally Israel is atrocious—and typical of a swampy politician who lies to cover up his own history on the issue," DeMaio told the Free Beacon.

Issa's critical comments of Israel extend beyond the ones spotlighted in the ad. In 2001, he argued during a dinner hosted by the Orange County Arab American Republican Club that Israel was operating "the only form of apartheid in the world," according to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

"Apartheid is the Achilles’ heel of Israel," Issa said at the dinner. "It is easy for Americans to understand, if the word gets out, that Israel is holding millions of people captive without the right to vote."

Issa also argued critically at the time that the United States "has been an unconditional, almost blind supporter of Israel."

Issa has, however, taken Israel's side on a number of issues of great importance to the Jewish state. He slammed the Obama administration for snubbing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his 2015 visit to the United States, calling Netanyahu a "staunch ally." He also aligned himself with Israel against the Obama administration's Iran nuclear deal and praised President Trump for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Dan Schwimmer, a former chairman of San Diego's AIPAC Council, vouched for Issa as a longtime ally to the pro-Israel community.

"I’ve been talking to and working with Darrell for over 18 years on pro-Israel issues and he is one of the staunchest supporters of Israel I have ever met," said Schwimmer in a statement supplied by Issa's campaign. "The pro-Israel community has always been able to rely on Darrell’s support and his voting record reflects that."

DeMaio's campaign touts him as a strong supporter of Israel. On his campaign website, DeMaio declares Israel "a critical partner of the United States," labels Iran the most serious threat to peace in the Middle East, and pledges to support continued military assistance to Israel.

The primary between Issa and DeMaio has devolved in the final weeks, with both sides attacking the other as NeverTrumpers.

"[American Unity PAC is] desperate to prop up Carl DeMaio in the final days of the campaign because they know he’s a pro-abortion Never Trumper whose message is failing with the voters of the 50th District," Blair, the Issa spokesman, said of the new ads.

DeMaio has questioned Issa's support for President Trump and pledged to be a staunch ally of the president if he's elected.

Polling shows a close race between Issa and DeMaio ahead of the March 3 primary. The seat has been vacant since January of this year, when Republican Duncan Hunter resigned after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.

Both will appear on the ballot alongside Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, with the top two vote getters advancing to the general election in November. The winner of the primary is expected to easily prevail over Campa-Najjar, whose grandfather Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar was the terrorist behind the deadly attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Campa-Najjar has rejected his grandfather's actions as a member of Palestianian terrorist organization Black September, saying, "I will never be able to understand or condone the actions and motivations of my grandfather."

Campa-Najjar was the Democratic nominee last cycle and narrowly fell to Hunter, who had already been indicted for dozens of criminal charges.