Embattled California Rep. Lois Capps (D) is being viewed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as an "unfriendly incumbent," a designation placing her directly in the pro-Israel community’s crosshairs, according to political insiders.
Facing her first competitive election in more than a decade, Capps came under scrutiny after the Free Beacon reported on her lengthy record of hostility towards the state of Israel, according to sources on the ground. She is now struggling to defeat GOP heavyweight Abel Maldonado, a trusted figure in the pro-Israel community.
"AIPAC has decided that Lois Capps is a ‘unfriendly’ incumbent," said one source familiar with AIPAC’s inner workings.
That places Capps in "the same category as [former Rep.] Cynthia McKinney when she was defeated," noted the source, referring to the former Democratic lawmaker and champion of the anti-Israel left.
As a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, AIPAC does not publicly endorse, rate, or donate to politicians. AIPAC did not respond to a request for comment.
"This is one of those moments of truth, and Democrats are going to have to decide: Am I a pro-Israel activist first, or am I a Democratic activist first?" said one pro-Israel operative who has been tracking the race. "The pro-Israel community has been waiting for years for the right opportunity to take on Lois Capps and her anti-Israel voting record."
Pro-Maldonado fundraisers have been held across California, a telltale sign in a tight race that has garnered national interest.
On Sunday, Michael Tuchin, a member of AIPAC’s board of directors, will cohost a Maldonado fundraiser in Los Angeles—a sign that shows AIPAC views Capps negatively, insiders say.
The Los Angeles event is sponsored by numerous pro-Israel groups, including the World Alliance for Israel PAC and the American Principles PAC, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a national GOP group that liaises with the Jewish community, also has hosted a fundraiser for Maldonado and donated $5,000, the maximum amount permissible by law.
Other events have been scheduled for the coming weeks, sources said.
Republicans first eyed the race with optimism after redistricting shifted Capps’ district from predominately liberal to more evenly split. Since then, the issue of Israel has helped galvanize activists in Maldonado’s corner.
"I know [Maldonado is] passionate about Israel," said Lisa Cohen, a Republican organizer who hosted a San Francisco-area fundraiser for the candidate on Saturday. "It’s really important."
Capps and Maldonada have starkly different records when it comes to the Jewish state, Cohen explained.
"She’s dangerous and you need to just look at her record for the past 10 years," Cohen said. "She’s completely ignored attacks on Israel."
Yehuda Shmidman, a Maldonado confidante from New Jersey, believes that the race has taken on national significance.
"What's going on here is that this is one of the key races being impacted because of the redistricting," he said. Capps, "for the first time, is having a real contest. The undertone is the difference in viewpoints towards Israel and the Middle East."
Lois Capps, he added, "is a cause of tremendous concern for people in the know."
Capps emerged as a critic of Israel early in her political career.
She’s taken heat from pro-Israel activists on both sides of the political aisle for refusing to endorse multiple Congressional measures affirming support for the Jewish state.
Capps also gained notoriety as a member of the "Gaza 54" after backing a J Street-orchestrated letter asking President Obama to pressure Israel to ease its barricade of the Gaza Strip.
Since that time, Capps has emerged as a leading figure in J Street, a far-left lobbying group that advocates for increased U.S. pressure on Israel to concede land to the Palestinians. J Street had donated more than $50,000 to Capps.
Eytan Laor, the founder of American Principles PAC, said his group endorsed Maldonado as a way to minimize J Street’s influence in Congress.
"Among other objectives, we target races where there is a J Street member or candidate who we believe can be defeated," said Laor, whose PAC is cohosting Sunday’s fundraiser in L.A.
Capps’ record on Israel "is abysmal, the lowest tier among sitting members of Congress," Laor said.
Maldonado, he added, is an ideal alternative.
"Having spoken with him, I’m very comfortable he’ll be a huge upgrade from the current disaster we’ve got there," Laor said.
The Capps campaign maintains that the lawmaker has always been a friend to Israel, and that her Republican challenger is attempting to politicize support for Israel.
"It's unfortunate that Abel Maldonado is attempting to make Israel a partisan wedge issue, when in reality both parties have been united in their support for our ally, Israel," said Jeff Millman, a spokesman for the Capps campaign. "Congresswoman Capps most recently voted for the ‘United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012' to assist Israel's military. She has always been a strong voice for Israel and will continue working to strengthen our close alliance to safeguard the Jewish state."
J Street appears to be concerned that Capps is on the ropes.
In a fundraising e-mail sent to supporters last week, the group condemned the Free Beacon’s earlier report and urged its members to defend Capps.
"Our candidates are facing an onslaught of lies and smears about their positions on Israel—just because we’ve backed them," the e-mail stated. "For holding these positions [on Israel], our candidates are being attacked for ‘hostility towards the Jewish state.’"