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What may be the last Democratic primary race worth paying attention to is taking place in the 36th Congressional District along the Southern California coastline where incumbent Jane Harman is facing a serious challenge from Los Angeles school teacher, Marcy Winograd, with the candidates’ widely separated positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict dominating a critical section of the political landscape.
Harman is the second richest member of the House of Representatives with estimated assets between $112 and $377 million dollars. Whether it was her money or her Israeli connections that kept the Southern California Democrat from being indicted as a foreign agent five years ago or a combination of both is something the public is never likely to know.
What is clear is that the Bush administration’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales neither investigated nor indicted the eight-term congresswoman after she was recorded on a National Security Agency wiretap in 2005 speaking to someone identified as an Israeli agent in which she reportedly agreed to intervene with the Justice Dept. on behalf of two top AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were then under indictment for passing classified information to Israel in an FBI-initiated “sting.”
Whether or not that phone call will come back to haunt her and be a factor in Harman’s heated race against Winograd, a strong critic of Israel and outspoken advocate for the Palestinians, won’t be known until June 8th, the date of the California primaries, but Harman is clearly running scared.
According to an expose of the wiretapping incident in Congressional Quarterly, in April, 2009, she signed off the conversation with the Israeli agent saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” The government investigators who had been wiretapping the Israeli were so concerned about Harman’s comments, wrote CQ, that they sought a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant —reserved for sensitive intelligence cases — to tune in on her conversations, as well. In a touch of irony, Gonzales, however, supposedly halted the investigation because it was believed that he would need Harman’s continuing support, as a Democrat, for the Bush administration’s warrantless wire-tapping program that was about to be exposed by the New York Times.
In exchange for Harman’s interceding on behalf of Rosen and Weissman, said CQ, the Israeli agent pledged to use his influence with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire and donor of millions to the Democratic Party (and to AIPAC) to persuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Select Intelligence Committee. Pelosi reportedly was made aware of the wire tap and Harman did not get the appointment. Not surprisingly, all the parties named denied that any such deal was offered.
Immediately after the story broke, Harman left a voicemail message that any allegation of improper conduct on her part would be “irresponsible, laughable and scurrilous.” She also quickly retained top GOP lawyer, Ted Olson, who may be remembered as representing Paula Jones in her sexual harassment case against President Clinton and appearing for George W Bush before the Supreme Court as it was deciding the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. It was a curious choice for a Democrat, even a Blue Dog varietal, but it apparently represented no problems for the party leadership. But then again, neither did her earlier bragging that she was “the Best Republican in the Democratic Party” in her unsuccessful run for the California governorship in 1998.
Harman continued to deny that she had contacted the White House or any other agency about the investigation, and last spring sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that he “release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unredacted form,” adding that it was her “ intention to make this material available to the public.”
Less than three weeks after the CQ exposure Harman spoke on a panel at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington where she “explore[d] the myriad foreign policy challenges facing the United States, Israel and the world.”
If she received the NSA transcript it has never been acknowledged. Certainly its contents have not been made public and Holder, like Gonzales, not only chose not to pursue a case against Harman but, shortly after his appointment by Obama, he dropped the indictment against the two Israeli officials, much to the disgust of the Justice Dept. officials who had been pursuing the case.
In April 2009, the congressman who got the job as House Select Intelligence Chair, Silvestre Reyes, from Texas, told his staff to begin investigating the incident but a year later there has been nothing reported and calls to the committee office have not been returned. The last word on the subject was apparently an article in the Washington Post last October which noted that Harman was among 30 House members and several aides being investigated by the House Ethics Committee on issues that included defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling. As of the first week in May, no report had been issued on that investigation by the Ethics Committee.
Harman was not left out entirely, being appointed by Pelosi to chair the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment. With whom and what intelligence information she has been sharing, however, is a question that begs to be asked.
This is of note at the moment because Winograd, Harman’s challenger in California’s 36th Congressional District won 38% of the primary vote in 2006 and may be primed to pull a major upset come June 8, one that would sound the alarm in the Israeli Knesset as much as it would on the Washington beltway..
Like Harman, Winograd, is Jewish but apart from sharing religion and gender, that’s where the similarities end. Harman is not only a hawk when it comes to Israel, she is also an enthusiastic backer of the military budget, the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, and the Wall Street and banking bailouts .
In 2007 she introduced, HR 1955, “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” whose stated purpose was to deal with “homegrown terrorism and violent radicalization.” Fortunately, the draconian act was too much for even the pliant US Congress and the bill went nowhere.
Last May, Harman weighed in on Iran, suggesting that that nation, whose history goes back thousands of years, be broken up into a confessional state, following the formula for the region once advanced by a senior Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry official, Oded Yinon. “The Persian population in Iran is not a majority,” said Harman, “it is a plurality. There are many different, diverse, and disagreeing populations inside Iran and an obvious strategy, which I believe is a good strategy, is to separate those populations.”
When it comes to her donors Harman is clearly cherished by the Military Industrial Complex but she is not averse to playing the field. While the top two suitors are Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, the entire list of her contributors reads like a Who’s Who of corporate America. At the same time, a review of the 765 companies listed in the vast investment portfolio held by Harman and her businessman husband, Sidney, founder of audio/infotainment equipment manufacturer, Harman International Industries, may explain her devotion to the Bush and Obama bailouts, with a marked preference shown for investment houses, banks, pharmaceutical industries, arms manufacturers, and real estate interests across the globe. At the head of the Harman list is UBS in which the couple have invested between $12 and $47 million. Not surprisingly, Goldman Sachs is there with between $1 and $2 million with somewhat smaller, six figure amounts invested in JP Morgan Chase, City National Bank and Wells Fargo.
As a sign that Harman and the AIPAC crowd have been taking Winograd’s challenge seriously, her campaign put out a call for help to the poster boy of Southern California liberals, Henry Waxman (D-30). Waxman has a history of moonlighting as an Israel Lobby enforcer and he took after Winograd with a vengeance, assuming that Jewish voters in the 36th District are more concerned with the welfare of Israel than what happens in their district, not to mention the United States:
“Recently, “wrote Waxman in an undated letter to Harman’s Jewish constituents in November, “I came across an astounding speech by Marcy Winograd, who is running against our friend Jane Harman in her primary re-election to Congress. Ms. Winograd’s views on Israel I find repugnant in the extreme. And that is why I wanted to write you.
“What has prompted my urgent concern is a speech Ms. Winograd gave, entitled, “Call For One State,”… last year. The complete text is attached, but in it she says:
‘I think it is too late for a two-state solution. Israel has made it all but impossible for two states to exist. Not only do I think a two-state solution is unrealistic, but also fundamentally wrong…’
‘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 associated with occupation or extermination. Let us declare a one-state solution.’
To me,” Waxman fulminated, “the notion that a Member of Congress could hold these views is alarming. Ms. Winograd is far, far outside the bipartisan mainstream of views that has long insisted that US policy be based upon rock-solid support for our only democratic ally in the Middle East.
“In Marcy Winograd’s foreign policy, Israel would cease to exist. In Marcy Winograd’s vision, Jews would be at the mercy of those who do not respect democracy or human rights. These are not trivial issues; they cannot be ignored or overlooked. Jane’s victory will represent a clear repudiation of these views.
“I ask you to join me in showing maximum support for Jane…
In a response to Waxman, Winograd, co-founder of LA Jews for Peace, wrote, in part:
“ Like you, I am intimately aware of our Jewish history. On my mother’s side, my great-grandparents escaped the Russian Pogroms to make a better life for themselves in Europe. On my father’s side, my great-grandparents were killed in the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Because of our collective experience with persecution, it behooves us to stand in opposition to persecution anywhere and everywhere, rather than sanctify reductionist state policies that cast all Jews as victims who can only thrive in a segregated society.
Furthermore, we must stand in explicit opposition to the Israeli persecution of the Palestinians; the brutal blockade of Gaza, an act of war by international standards, denying children clean water, food, and medicine…
“In your letter, you include what you term an “alarming’ quote of mine – ‘As a Jew, I do not want my name associated with occupation or extermination.’ Frankly, I am mystified as to why you would find my words objectionable. Surely, you are not saying the converse is true – that you want Jewish people associated with occupation and extermination. Such a legacy would dishonor our people.”
It is unlikely, however, that either Harman or Winograd’s stand on Israel will be the determining factor in the election.
“Unlike the substantial Jewish population in Waxman’s affluent 30th Congressional District whom he relies on for financial support, the Jewish population in Harman’s 36th Congressional District is significantly smaller, “wrote the LA Progressive’s Linda Malazzo who has been covering the race to represent what is historically a strongly Democratic district that runs from Marina del Rey to Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and on to San Pedro.
“Issues concerning Israel don’t regularly affect the day to day lives of the majority of its residents who care mostly about jobs, healthcare and housing,” notes Malazzo. “18.3% of the under 65 population of the 36th CD have no health insurance. Over 7,500 home foreclosures took place in 2009 and another 25,000 foreclosures are anticipated over the next four years.”
“Some Harman supporters fear that Winograd’s progressive stands on social issues and her opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may appeal to many Jewish voters,” wrote Tom Tugend, in the LA Jewish Journal, “especially those not familiar with the challenger’s views on Israel.”
The competition for trade union support has been intense. While Harman bagged the backing of ILWU Local 13th on April 15, two days earlier Winograd scored a major coup when the ILWU Southern California District Council, representing 14 locals, including Local 13, broke precedence and ranks with Democratic Party officials and gave Winograd its unqualified endorsement.
ILWU District Council President, Rich Dines, praised Winograd’s commitment to organized labor. “Marcy Winograd’s commitment to protecting and enhancing workers’ rights, funding federal job creation, and tackling unfair trade agreements is why we support her candidacy for Congress. As leaders in the labor movement, we proudly and enthusiastically endorse Marcy and look forward to working with her to keep more Americans on the job, in their homes, and inspired to organize.”
Among Winograd’s name endorsements are Daniel Ellsberg, Ed Asner, Gore Vidal, Jim Hightower, Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July, Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink, former California Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg, and Norman Solomon, of Progressive Democrats of America.
At a hectic California state Democratic Convention, the chair, former congressman John Burton, rammed the endorsement process through as quickly as he could with Harman winning 599 votes to 417 for Winograd which was an extraordinary showing for a primary challenger.
In May of last year, Harman told POLITICO that she doesn’t mind a primary challenge. “It’s a democracy,” said Harman, “and anyone is entitled to run. I’m in a strong position politically in my district and working on key issues that affect my constituents and the country, including homeland security, climate change and health care reform.”
By this March, Harman did not appear so dedicated to democracy. When incumbent and challenger were invited by the LA Jewish Journal’s Rob Eshman to debate, “Winograd, the challenger, quickly accepted,” wrote Eshman. “It’s taken a while to get a response from Harman, but yesterday her chief of staff e-mailed me a firm but polite no.
‘Hi Rob—thank you for your message and your invitation. However, Congresswoman Harman declines the kind offer and believes her views on Israel are very clear. John H.’
“Too bad, we even had a venue: Rabbi Dan Shevitz of Temple Mishkon Tephilo had offered his 800-seat sanctuary gratis.
“I understand why Harman, who beat Winograd in the last race has little to gain from exposing herself to her opponent. But my reason for holding the debate had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the state of The State of Israel and the American Left. Both Harman and Winograd are Democrats. Harman represents a broad consensus view for a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian issue, and strong American political and financial support for Israel. Winograd made clear in a speech that she supports a one-state solution and a deep reconsideration of America’s stand vis a vis Israel. This divide is a crucial one among Democrats on the Left, Far Left and Center, and the more open and intelligent debate on it, the better. That’s my point of view. Clearly, it’s not Harman’s.
“Too bad,” concluded Eshman.
A complete list of endorsers on Marcy Winograd and her stand on the issues can be found on http://winogradforcongress.com/
Information on Jane Harman’s assets and the names of her contributors can be found on http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/
Where Harman stands on some issues can be found on her website: www.janeharmancongress.com
Curiously, there is no mention there of her support for Israel.
JEFFREY BLANKFORT can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org