Latest update: September 23rd, 2012
See an update at the end of this report.
In what originally was supposed to be a slam dunk, US Senator Sherrod Brown’s race for reelection in Ohio against the youthful Republican Josh Mandell may instead be turning into a squeaker, and Brown is none too happy about it.
Brown originally had as much as a 17 percentage point lead, but according to a report in Bloomberg, several polls last month showed the race to be deadlocked. Mandell claims the race has become intense because Ohioans are increasingly turned off by the “ultra-liberal, hyper-partisan” Brown, while Brown claims that millions of dollars in negative ads have been run against him by “outside, undisclosed interest groups.”
One Ohioan found out just how testy this race has made Sherrod Brown. Following a talk he gave at the Dayton, Ohio Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, September 18, Senator Brown invited questions. There were a few tough questions put to the Senator by business owners opposed to President Obama’s healthcare legislation, and a softball question about how to contact the Senator’s office.
And then 32-year old Ohio native Joel Griffith stood up. Griffith said, “I’m a proud Jewish American and I’m concerned that the single biggest entity funding you is J Street. J Street has given you $60,000, and as you know, J Street is funded by an attorney for the Saudi Embassy and has also been funded by the producer of one of the most anti-Semitic films ever made …” but Griffith was not allowed to finish his question. The Senator’s first response was that Griffith’s was “clearly a political question.”
True, but the Senator is a politician who was engaging in politics. The political question doctrine only forecloses the judicial branch from addressing a particular issue. In fact, political questions are reserved exclusively to the legislative branch of which Senator Brown is hoping to remain a part.
But as Griffith sought to continue asking his question, and paused to ask whether it was okay if he filmed the exchange, Senator Brown cut him off and told Griffith to “talk to that man in the back of the room who is Jewish,” because that Jewish man supports Brown and “knows that I am pro-Israel.”
On his third attempt to get out his question, the frustrated Griffith began once again, saying, “What do you say to those Jewish Americans who are very concerned…” But again, Brown cut him off. The Senator instead told Griffith what he should do before Brown would answer him. Senator Brown told his constituent, “You find out where the $18 million came from that is funding ads against me,” and said Griffith could then come back and ask his question next year. The Senator then wrapped up that portion of the program.
Griffith waited patiently while the Senator remained in the room speaking informally to others who were present at the event. Just as Griffith was once again about to ask the senator about the J Street funding, a Chamber of Commerce official approached and told him he had to leave the premises because it was a “private event.” However, the event had been publicized, Griffith had informed the Chamber that he would be attending the event, and the Chamber had confirmed his response.
The Jewish Press caught up with Griffith the day after his failed efforts to draw out the Ohio Senator on his J Street funding. Griffith is a lawyer by training but is currently an investor with Avatar Securities.
The J Street funding issue was so important to him, Griffith said, because “J Street has been trying to promote policies that are inconsistent with Israel’s security and against America’s security, and yet politicians who work with them then claim they are pro-Israel because they are siding with a Jewish organization.”
Griffith pointed out that “J Street gives more money to Senator Brown than any other single entity, including Ohio State University,” which he thought was very odd, especially considering Brown’s complaint about outside money playing an outsized role in his opponent’s war chest.
Griffith is a political conservative and is very concerned about the role of anti-American and anti-Israel efforts on Capital Hill. Although Brown has never opposed the funding of aid to Israel, Griffith was particularly bothered by his refusal to sign a bi-partisan “Peace Principles” letter that was circulated in 2009 by AIPAC and which was signed by more than three quarters of all senate members.
The lead signers of that 2009 letter were Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Arlen Specter (D-PA) and John Thune (R-SD). Griffith said he found particularly irksome the absence of Brown’s name because it was such a moderate letter and asked so little of the Palestinian Authority. What it sought was that the US “insist on the absolute Palestinian commitment to ending terrorist violence” and that they “demonstrate the ability to govern and to maintain security.”
“It didn’t even ask for additional concessions from the Arabs,” an exasperated Griffith marvelled, “they had already agreed to what was asked for in the letter, but Brown still wouldn’t sign it.”
The Jewish Press repeatedly asked for a statement from Senator Brown regarding the Dayton Chamber of Commerce incident, but a promised statement was never provided.
After this story was filed, Senator Brown’s Press Secretary, Lauren E. Kulik, sent the following statement. It does not address the removal of a Jewish Ohioan from the event at which Senator Brown spoke, nor does it address the questions Mr. Griffith repeatedly sought to have answered, that J Street has given more money to support Senator Brown’s candidacy than any other entity. Here is the statement:
Sen. Brown has been a steadfast supporter of Israel, our nation’s most important ally in the Middle East. Through his work on the Senate Banking Committee he has successfully pushed for tougher sanctions against Iran—most recently sponsoring a Senate resolution calling on the United Nations Security Council to pursue increased sanctions against Iran, which passed the Senate on Thursday. As Israel continues to face growing dangers to its security, from Iran to Hammas and Hezbollah, now is not the time to used our relationship with Israel to score political points.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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