Take a look at the seniority on the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

Chairman Tom Lantos (DEM-CA-12th)
Rep. Howard Berman (DEM-CA-28th)
Rep. Gary Ackerman (DEM-NY-5th)
Del. Eni Faleomavaega (DEM-AS-At-Large)
Rep. Donald Payne (DEM-NJ-10th)
Rep. Brad Sherman (DEM-CA-27th)
Rep. Robert Wexler (DEM-FL-19th)
Rep. Eliot Engel (DEM-NY-17th)

As you can see, the committee’s top membership is dominated by left-leaning Democrats, but also Democrats that are staunch supporters of Israel. This is no accident, and Israel’s interests on the committee have enough redundancy that they can survive the loss of any one (or even two or three) members. The chairman, Tom Lantos, is an interesting case. He ranks 112th on the Progressive Punch scale, which means he is more progressive than 75% of his colleagues. Yet, his worst ranking is on issues of War and Peace where he ranks 193rd. Critics of Lantos will never forget his role in propagating the fake Kuwaiti incubator story prior to the Persian Gulf War. He was the chairman of the committee that perpetrated the hoax. Critics are also unforgiving about Lantos’ vote for the second Iraqi war, and many of his votes since then. In fact, Lantos, who is 80 years old, has a primary challenger.

You would think that a man as well established and powerful as Lantos would have nothing to worry about, but that is not the case. His primary challenger is formidable:

Former state Sen. Jackie Speier claims she has an internal poll that shows her beating Lantos in the primary by a 57%-27% margin. Speier has some name recognition built up after she ran for Lt. Governor in 2006, narrowly losing the Democratic primary, but she has not yet officially announced a campaign against Lantos.

Speier’s pollster also told Roll Call that her poll did not include any push questions, but simply asked, “Who would you most likely support in the Democratic party primary for United States Congress, if the choice was…” and then the two candidates’ names given in rotation.

If San Franciscans are willing to toss out a liberal and member of the Progressive Caucus, like Tom Lantos, it can only be because of his Hawkish foreign policy (of which, his staunch support of Israel is an informing part).

And this has the potential to open up some real wounds within the Democratic Party. Although there were some rumblings about Ned Lamont’s campaign against Joe Lieberman, the ‘Jewish community’ as a whole understood that it wasn’t an anti-Semitic, or even anti-Israel campaign. It was about Lieberman cozying up to the president, stepping on the Democratic message, criticizing Democrats, and being an idiot about the war.

A successful primary against Lantos will be taken much more personally. Lantos is is a good progressive Democrat with a long record. Yes, that record includes foisting the Kuwaiti incubator hoax on the nation as a way to rally support for a war to liberate Kuwait. But that was seventeen years ago, and most people don’t make the connection between the decision to liberate Kuwait and the rise of anti-American terrorism.

Lantos is a Holocaust survivor. He is a passionate friend of Israel. His defeat will be a blow. It will send a message, but the message will be threatening. Undoubtedly, people will begin to connect dots…progressives went after Lieberman, they went after Harman, they went after Lantos…and they’ll begin to wonder whether pro-Israel politicians are no longer welcome in the Democratic Party.

And, of course, that’s hogwash. But that won’t prevent more and more people from thinking it. I’ve written before that the American people’s patience for the status quo in U.S.-Israeli relations is limited. It is especially limited by debacles like the 2007 NIE, where Israel’s government is flat out calling our Intelligence Community a bunch of naive clowns, and their surrogates in the America press are doing the same.

True supporters of Israel, whether right-wing or left-wing, should realize that their alliance with the Republican Party is only one of cynical convenience. The natural home for Jewish-Americans is with the party that sharply delineates matters of church and state, that supports human rights, and the protects civil liberties. And that is the Democratic Party. But the Democratic Party cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied lands, nor will it smite all of Israel’s potential enemies. Peace must be made, settlements must be abandoned. And the United States, under a Democratic government will assure Israel’s security so that they need never worry about another Yom Kippur War.

If Tom Lantos loses his seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it will be taken over by Rep. Howard Berman. Berman will be no different than Lantos when it comes to looking out for Israel. And if he leaves office, Gary Ackerman will take over. Nothing will change, unless these gentlemen change, or unless the parties in the Middle East change. Defeating Lantos won’t change where power lies, but it will send a chilling message. How that message is received will determine if it does any good.

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