In the first broadside of the South Bay's hot new congressional race, L.A. Councilwoman Janice Hahn today invited her top opponent, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, to take a pledge of support for Israel.
The pledge condemns statements made by anti-war activist Marcy Winograd and appears to be a tactic to draw Winograd into the race. That would help Hahn by cutting into Bowen's Westside liberal base.
Bowen quickly signed the pledge on Friday.
"What [Hahn] is trying to do is to see if there's any way to get Winograd in that race," said Allan Hoffenblum, co-author of the California Target Book.
Saturday update: Looks like it's working. In a posting on a progressive listserv today, Winograd wrote "I am going to run." (More below.)
The pledge lists five items:
1. Support for the peace process
2. Opposition of the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state
3. Support for President Obama's $3 billion in security assistance to Israel
4. Support for implementing and enforcing Iran sanctions
5. Condemnation of anti-Israel political rhetoric
In the last category, Hahn cites several quotes from Winograd, including this one: "As a citizen of the United States, I do not want my tax dollars to support institutionalized racism. As a Jew, I do not want my name or country associated with occupation or extermination."
Hahn then invited Bowen to join her in declaring that Winograd's remarks are "far outside the bipartisan mainstream of views that have long insisted that US policy be based on rock-solid support for our only democratic ally in the Middle East."
Less than two hours after receiving it, Bowen's campaign consultant announced that Bowen had signed the pledge.
Winograd initially said the pledge was "juvenile" and that she would be surprised if Bowen signed it. After hearing that she had signed it, Winograd said she was troubled.
"What is troubling is that two elected officials are now on record opposing open debate in an effort to silence dissent in the 36th District and beyond," Winograd said.
Asked if it made her more likely to run, Winograd said, "It makes me more interested in the race, but I'm weighing everything."
Though Hahn denounced Winograd's remarks in the pledge, it's worth noting that Hahn called Winograd last week to seek her endorsement. (Winograd declined.)
The pledge, issued Friday afternoon, appeared to be an effort to box Bowen in. If Bowen had opted not to sign it, that would have given Hahn an advantage with Jewish voters and contributors.
But signing it has its own downside for Bowen, in that it makes Winograd more likely to enter the race. Hahn's calculation is that Bowen and Winograd draw support from the same group -- Westside liberals -- and that Hahn will fare better if that vote is split up.
In a letter accompanying the pledge, Hahn wrote:
"Debra, since declaring independence in 1948, Israel has been in a constant state of war -- repeatedly forced to defend itself from its enemies. Israel has every right to defend its borders, protect its citizens, and be treated fairly in the United Nations. I hope you will sign this pledge and join me in carrying on the strong legacy of Congresswoman Harman's passionate support for Israel and standing up for our National Security."
Bowen's consultant, Steve Barkan, approvingly cited a characterization of the pledge on the Venice For Change blog as a "fairly standard boilerplate declaration."
Winograd, who ran against Harman in 2006 and 2010, has given mixed signals about whether she will run this time.
On the one hand, she has made it clear that she would like to influence the debate. But on the other, she has just moved to a new home in Santa Monica -- which is outside the district -- and might not want to move back for another campaign. Friends who have spoken with her in recent days have said she is leaning against it. (Update: See below.)
Dave Jacobson, a Hahn spokesman, said that her campaign has always assumed that Winograd will join the race.
"We brought this forward because this is an important issue that Congresswoman Jane Harman championed," Jacobson said. "We wanted to come out and put this letter out and let the residents of the 36th District know where she stands on this issue."
Hahn's campaign has set up a page on her website that explains her views on Israel.
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"The key issue [in the campaign] is Harman's vote on national security and in support of Israel," Hoffenblum said. "It's very important to the Jewish community nationwide."
After reading the pledge, Winograd gave the following statement:
"I am surprised that Janice Hahn would want to pressure another candidate into signing a contrived pledge that subverts the peace process in the Middle East. The U.S. needs a far more balanced and humane approach, which would involve clear condemnation of Palestinian border rocket attacks, but also denunciation of illegal Israeli settlements and home demolitions. If we close our eyes to the ever-expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we sabotage the two-state solution to end up with Palestinians living in bantustans. Imagine if we said San Pedro and San Francisco constituted a state, then outlawed roads to connect them. Who would take such a proposal seriously? No one. Ultimately, we need a Congressperson who is not beholden to special interests but whose eyes are wide open."
Saturday update: Winograd told supporters on a progressive listserv today that she will run for Congress. When asked about that via e-mail, however, she wasn't ready to make a public announcement. "I am exploring the possibility but no decision has been made," she said. Winograd said she would decide within the next several days "as I recognize a lot of people are waiting to hear what will unfold."