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Caught in Tough Re-Election, Anti-Israel Democrat Rahall Changes Tune

Once called Israel a ‘monster,’ Rahall now vocal champion

Nick Rahall
Nick Rahall / AP
• September 26, 2014 10:50 am

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Locked in a tough re-election battle, Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.) has begun making a concerted effort to bill himself as a staunch pro-Israel ally, despite a long track record of trying to sever U.S. relations with the Jewish state, which Rahall has referred to as a "monster" and a "spoiled child."

Rahall, who was first elected in 1977, is facing a tight battle against Democrat-turned-Republican challenger Evan Jenkins, who analysts say has a good shot of defeating the longtime incumbent. As the battle heats up, Rahall has begun publicly touting his support for Israel.

However, Rahall’s more recent pro-Israel comments appear to signal a break from his past statements, which include, among other things, calling the Jewish state "bullies" and referring to its military as the "Israeli Occupation Forces."

Rahall’s past comments and efforts to end U.S. arms sales to Israel could come back to haunt him among pro-Israel voters who may not be aware of the congressman’s battles against the Jewish state.

The Rahall of election year 2014 stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel’s efforts to eradicate terrorists and protect its citizens. Yet the Rahall of decades gone was a fierce and vocal opponent of what he termed Israeli aggression.

The congressman sponsored a resolution in 1982 that asked then-President Ronald Reagan to suspend arms deals with Israel and investigate its use of American-made weapons in Lebanon.

Rahall reportedly spearheaded the effort among a small contingent of lawmakers to pass a resolution to suspend arms deliveries to the region and launch an investigation of whether Israel’s 1982 military action in Lebanon violated U.S. law.

"We strongly believe that it is time to let Lebanon be Lebanon," Rahall was quoted as saying at the time by the Associated Press.

Rahall justified his resolution in the press by claiming that the United States has a "blind allegiance" to Israel and has allowed it "to use American firepower with total disregard for U.S. law and total disregard for America’s best interests in the Middle East," according to a June 1982 AP report.

Israel, Rahall would later say, is a "spoiled child," according to a United Press International report from that month.

"I am outraged that my country has permitted the Israeli government to sacrifice the people of Lebanon so as to rid itself of the" Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Rahall was quoted as saying.

The harsh criticism of Israel did not stop there.

Rahall told the New York Times that the United States has "given birth to a monster" as a result of its support for Israel.

"‘We have let that monster grow, we have armed it, and now we can't control it," Rahall was quoted as saying in the June 18, 1982 report.

Rahall picked up his campaign against Israel in 2001, just months after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The congressman voted against a popular resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism.

Rahall took to the House floor in early December 2001 to rail against Israel and refer to it as a bully.

"Getting [Yasser] Arafat is no solution. Continued humiliation is no solution. This is the method of operation of bullies, not of those who want to return to the peace process, to the negotiating table, where, as any individual involved in negotiations knows, each party has to give a little," Rahall said in comments explaining his opposition to the pro-Israel resolution. "There is a give and take in the negotiating process. Is that the real fear here?"

Israeli military efforts to stop terrorism harmed the peace process with the Palestinians, Rahall said.

"The military option will not secure a peace in the Middle East. The military option will not work," he said on the floor. "No peace can be achieved; and indeed, as I read through this resolution, and there are good points in this resolution about condemning terrorism, but I fail to find the word ‘peace’ mentioned once in this resolution."

Later in his remarks, Rahall appeared to suggest that the Israeli military intentionally harms Palestinian civilians, a claim often made by the Jewish state’s fiercest opponents.

"Certainly in the eyes of many in the region, those who suffer from this infliction of horror, their answer would be yes, that it [Israeli action] is intentional," Rahall said. "That would be their response. That is something we must understand from our perspective, if we truly want to end the horror and the violence that comes from all sides."

These days, Rahall has been on the pro-Israel speaking circuit, praising the very U.S.-Israel alliance he once opposed.

"To a strong American-Israeli strategic partnership [at West Virginia] Israel Independence Day," the congressman tweeted in May along with a picture of him speaking at a lectern draped with an Israeli flag.

In July, Rahall sponsored a congressional resolution backing Israel’s right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists—a near identical version of the resolution he opposed in 2001.

Rahall then praised Israel’s efforts to foster peace on Twitter.

"Commend Israel’s second attempt to bring a peaceful conclusion to current hostilities and the loss of innocent lives on both sides," he wrote.

The striking about face came as no surprise to one senior official with a prominent pro-Israel organization.

"This is hardly a surprise," said the source, who would only speak on background given the tight nature of Rahall’s election battle. "The American public overwhelmingly supports Israel, so their elected representatives end up supporting Israel. It's more or less impossible for a House member, who is answerable to constituents every two years, to sustain anti-Israel positions over their time in office."

Rahall’s campaign office did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment on the lawmaker’s evolving position regarding Israel.

Published under: 2014 Election