Ad calling Sestak anti-Israel looks like a Pennsylvania ‘swiftboat’

    Delaware County Congressman Joe Sestak’s record on Israel has become the subject of dueling TV ads by Washington-based interest groups seeking to influence the Pennsylvania Senate race.

    At issue is an ad from a conservative group calling itself the Emergency Committee for Israel.

    “Does Congressman Joe Sestak understand Israel is America’s ally?” the ad asks.

    While dramatic music plays and pictures of armed men in ski masks fill the screen, an announcer says Sestak raised money for an anti-Israel group the FBI called a front for Hamas.

    The claim is something of a stretch.

    In April 2007, Sestak spoke at the annual dinner of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, then seen as a mainstream Muslim group, which worked with the FBI in training agents in cultural sensitivity. Governor Rendell also attended the dinner.

    Nearly two years after Sestak’s speech, the FBI cut ties with the group, and at a 2008 trial of another organization, an individual FBI agent referred to the Council as a front group.

    Sestak has called the ad false but has failed to persuade Comcast to yank the spot from the air.

    A response ad has now appeared from a group called J-Street, which says it’s pro-Israel, pro-peace.

    “The far right is attacking Joe Sestak over Israel,” the ad opens. “They won’t tell you that in Congress, Sestak consistently votes for aid to Israel.”

    Franklin and Marshall College political analyst Terry Madonna says the debate matters in the election, even though only two to three percent of the state’s voters are Jewish.

    “Jews are disproportionately active in politics and government and disproportionately give to political campaigns,” he says.

    Madonna says the battle is also for the hearts of those evangelical Christians who feel passionately about the state of Israel.

    Sestak faces Republican Pat Toomey in the November General Election.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.