Forget the financial crisis; in the Ninth Congressional District of Illinois, it is Israel
that has taken center stage in the election campaign. A Jewish candidate has been trying to convince the mostly Jewish voters that his Jewish opponent has not done enough to protect the Jewish interest.
The Ninth Congressional District, which covers the suburbs of northern Chicago, is an area with a large Jewish population. Predictably, the two candidates are Jewish. The Democratic candidate is incumbent Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, 67, a moderate whose spot in Congress seems safe. Running against her is Republican Joel Pollak, 33, an Orthodox Jew with conservative views who has taken it upon himself to undermine his opponent by raising the Israel issue to the top of the campaign agenda.
Pollak tends to carry a map of the Middle East with him on the campaign trail, and to present it to the voters. Last week he visited the reform synagogue of B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois, which hosted a debate between the two candidates. He spread the copy of the Google map in his possession and announced to the audience: "My focus tonight will be Israel."
It was a significant debate that got national media coverage, even from major outlets like the New York Times. Pollak asked the attendees to point out if they notice the border between Israel and the territories of the Palestinian Authority. He claimed that voters must understand the problem and send a representative to Capitol Hill that can protect the Jewish state. In his opinion, the incumbent congresswoman does not do enough for Israel.
Pollak's main obstacle is that Schakowsky was labeled 'kosher' by the pro-Israel community, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent lobby group, has praised her work.
The fact that she is known to support US President Barak Obama's policy on the Middle East has yet to endanger her popularity among the Jewish voters.
The Pollak-Schakowsky struggle is not the only political clash with Israel at the center of attention; in the adjacent 10th District in northern Chicago, Israel is an important issue in the race between Republican congressional candidate Robert Dold and his democratic opponent Dan Seals.
Israel also comes up often in the fight for the senate seat that was occupied by Obama before he was elected president; Republican Mark Kirk, who has an impressive record of supporting Israel, constantly pounds his democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias by trying to present him as anti-Israel. Giannoulias, on his end, squirms and denies this charge.