Locked in her first tough re-election battle in nearly a decade, California Rep. Lois Capps (D) finds herself under fire from pro-Israel activists for what they say is a lengthy record of hostility towards the Jewish state.
Capps—a darling of the far-left J Street and the mother in law of Bill Burton, the head of the Obama-affiliated Priorities USA Super PAC—has spent her political career on the outskirts of Congress’ pro-Israel majority, refusing to back numerous measures affirming the U.S.-Israel alliance.
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Her antagonistic stance towards Israel, as well as her association with individuals and organizations that are openly hostile to the Jewish state, could lead voters to embrace former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a moderate GOP heavyweight who is a member in good standing of the state’s pro-Israel community, political insiders say.
Democratic observers are becoming concerned that Capps’ controversial minority views about Israel could become a liability in a race that has grown increasingly close in recent months.
"There are few members of Congress like [Capps]—in either party—but Jewish Democrats will surely sit on the sidelines in this race," lamented one Democratic strategist who has been following the race. "Of course we don't want the Republican to win, but her record has largely not been helpful for the pro-Israel community or the US-Israel relationship."
For years, Capps abstained from numerous pro-Israel votes in Congress, feeling secure that her heavily Democratic congressional district would continue to send her back to Washington D.C.
But redistricting shifted her longtime district from reliably liberal to more evenly split. Independent voters could now decide the race, experts say.
"The district changed quite a bit in redistricting, going from a 66 percent Obama district to a 56 percent one, which has made it competitive," said Kyle Kondik, House editor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. "The Crystal Ball rates it as ‘leans Democratic,’ but it’s one worth watching. This is the kind of seat Democrats need to hold on to if they have designs on retaking the House majority this year or later this decade."
While Capps maintains a slim edge in the race—leading Maldonado 48 percent to 46 percent, according to one recent poll—Republicans believe that the issue of Israel could be a deciding factor for some Jewish voters.
"Her voting record is an abomination of our alliance with Israel," said Barbara Goldsmith, a Santa Barbara-based Republican activist who has been represented by Capps for more than a decade. "She is not a friend of Israel."
Capps raised eyebrows in the pro-Israel community from the outset, lending her name to a 2002 congressional measure expressing support for a United Nations resolution ordering the "withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities."
The Capps-endorsed measure also condemned the "Israeli military campaign against the Palestinian Authority, and incursions into Palestinian cities," which "resulted in a significant number of civilian deaths."
The trend continued in 2003 when Capps teamed up with a delegation of her colleagues to introduce a measure "expressing sympathy for the loss of Rachel Corrie," a college student who stepped in front of an Israeli bulldozer as it attempted to raze an illegal Palestinian home. The incident turned Corrie into a cause celebre among anti-Israel activists.
Capps also has spoken passionately against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
"I think we tread on dangerous territory when Congress adopts positions that run counter to issues that have yet to be negotiated," Capps stated, echoing the official State Department position that the final status of Jerusalem will be decided in peace negotiations.
When war between Israel and the terror group Hamas broke out in late 2008, Capps condemned Israel for defending its citizens from deadly rocket attacks.
"I fear the current military operation in Gaza represents a vastly disproportionate response that will further destabilize the region," Capps said in a statement, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
"Simple humanity demands that we grieve for the dead Palestinian child as much as we mourn the dead Israeli child. The numbers of dead and injured in Gaza, and the televised images of the humanitarian crisis now unfolding are truly shocking."
The next year, Capps declined to lend her name to a resolution both affirming Israel’s right to defend itself and also denouncing the Goldstone Report, a heavily criticized United Nations report that incorrectly accused Israel of committing war crimes. The report’s author, Richard Goldstone, later retracted his claims, dubbing them false.
At the time, Capps stated that she was opposed to the anti-Goldstone measure due to Congress’ haste in siding with Israel during the conflict.
"We’ve overlooked some of the depth of unspeakable tragedies that have occurred during the war on Gaza," she said.
Capps refused to support a bi-partisan missive reaffirming the U.S.-Israel alliance later that year.
Capps also has stressed the importance of diplomacy with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, has declined to affirm Israel’s right to protect itself from terror attacks, and has petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder to meet with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)—a group that was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal trial that exposed a network of groups funneling money to the terror group Hamas.
Capps’ stance towards Israel has earned her favorable ratings from out-of-the-mainstream advocacy groups such as CAIR, the American Arab Institute, American Muslims for Jerusalem, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, an anti-Israel organization that once placed Capps in its Congressional "hall of fame."
Capps, however, is most closely aligned with the fringe group J Street, a lobbying organization that has endorsed scores of congressional candidates who are hostile to Israel.
Listed as one of J Street’s "earliest endorsees," the group touts Capps as "a public champion of pro-Israel/pro-peace issues."
As part of J Street’s voting bloc, Capps became one of the so-called "Gaza 54" after she endorsed a J Street-orchestrated letter asking President Obama to pressure Israel to ease its barricade of the Gaza Strip.
The virulently anti-Israel Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is associated with Capps.
During a CMEP’s prayer breakfast in 2009, for instance, Capps praised Bishop Munib Younan, a Lutheran who played a principal role in fashioning the controversial "Kairos" document, which attempts to delegitimize Israel and institute a church-wide boycott of the state.
Capps also took part in a retreat to Israel that was jointly organized by J Street and CMEP.
"The trip I took in late February, my fourth to the region, was put together by two respected organizations—J Street Education Fund and Churches for Middle East Peace," Capps wrote in a statement following the junket.
California political insiders recall that Capps took a hard left turn soon after she was voted into Congress in 1998.
"After she won in the ’90s, she was able to show her true colors," said one veteran strategist. "She ran as a moderate but after she got a safe district, she dropped that act. That’s why you see these Israel votes."
Now her once-safe district has changed, however, leaving Capps vulnerable to Republican challenger Maldonado, who has good relations with the Republican Jewish Coalition and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"For 14 years, vote-after-vote, Congresswoman Capps has built one of the most anti-Israel records in Congress," Maldonado told the Free Beacon. "She has stood by, silently, refusing to repudiate Nancy Pelosi’s [D, Calif.] outrageous statements suggesting support of Israel somehow equates to a hidden agenda by wealthy Jews hoping for a tax deduction."
"Instead, Congresswoman Capps stays silent, letting her anti-Israel voting record speak for itself," he said.
Political experts say the district has greatly changed.
"In 2010 registration was 47 percent Democrat to 27 percent Republican," noted one Golden State political strategist. "For this election, it's 38 percent Democrat to 35 percent Republican."
"In the June 2012 primary Capps got 46 percent of the vote compared to 54 percent that voted for someone other than Capps," the source said. "This is a winnable district and Lois can finally be held accountable for her lack of support for a very important ally of our country."
Brooks Firestone, a Republican politician who was defeated by Capps in the 1998 race that brought her to Congress, believes the lawmaker’s record will catch up with her.
"She really has never had a campaign," Firestone said. "No one has really looked at her record. She’s become out of touch with the desires and philosophy of the people in this district."
For GOP activist Goldsmith, Republican challenger Maldonado would be a refreshing alternative to Capps.
"I’m looking forward to [Maldonado] winning and putting a friend of Israel in Congress, and taking out someone who is hostile to Israel and constantly votes with those hostile towards Israel," Goldsmith said.