Speaker Paul Ryan hosted a Monday fundraiser for five Republicans facing Democratic opponents who have been vocally anti-Israel, a growing sentiment in Democratic ranks that Republicans hope to capitalize on in November.
Ryan’s Capitol Hill fundraiser brought together candidates from five different states, illustrating how common associations with anti-Israel advocacy groups such as J Street is becoming among Democrats. More than half of the Democratic caucus in both the House and the Senate is endorsed by J Street, a frequent critic of Israel that was recently found to have aided the push to boycott the Jewish State.
Ryan raised more than $300,000 for the five Republicans on Monday, and made clear the stakes were high in each of their races when it came to support for pro-Israel policies.
“Our members have advocated for pro-Israel policies, countering the threat of the Iranian regime, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and supporting Israeli security policies,” Ryan said during the fundraiser. “Many of our Democratic opponents, specifically the opponents of these members here tonight, have gone out of their way to criticize Israel and some have gone as far to align themselves with the BDS movement.”
“My colleagues here are clear and unwavering in their full support for Israel, and we strongly condemn our Democratic opponents that attack our closest friend and ally in the Middle East,” he said.
Four of the five Republicans—Reps. Mike Coffman (Colo.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Glenn Grothman (Wis.), and Leonard Lance (N.J.)—are incumbents running for reelection against J Street-endorsed candidates.
The fifth Republican, businessman Denver Riggleman, is running for a Virginia district against Democrat Leslie Cockburn, who was an outspoken critic of Israel in her previous career as a journalist and has said she is seeking a J Street endorsement.
Cockburn has been branded a “virulent anti-Semite” by Virginia Republicans due to a 1991 book she wrote on Israel that, according to the New York Times, is “largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake.”
“Its first message is that, win or lose, smart or dumb, right or wrong, suave or boorish, Israelis are a menace,” the Times wrote. “The second is that the Israeli-American connection is somewhere behind just about everything that ails us.”
Cockburn, who invited the Times to attend a meeting she held with Jewish community to “defuse” the anti-Semite critique, said she was seeking J Street’s endorsement during the meeting. She also said the United States should support the Palestinian Authority.
J Street did not respond to requests for comment on whether it plans to endorse Cockburn.
One of the other Democrats targeted by Ryan’s fundraiser, Dan Kohl in Wisconsin, is an original cofounder of J Street.
The other three—Jason Crow in Colorado, Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania, and Tom Malinowski in New Jersey—are each endorsed by J Street and each carry significant baggage on Israel issues.
It was reported earlier this year that Wallace had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups promoting the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Republicans view the growing anti-Semitism among Democrats as a big liability for elections.
“Democrats continue to situate themselves outside the mainstream by aligning with fringe groups like J Street who want to jeopardize our relationship with Israel,” said one senior Republican campaign aide. “Our candidates stand unapologetically with our strongest ally in the Middle East, and that’s a position that enjoys broad support among the midterm electorate.”
“This is a winning issue that all Republicans can rally behind this fall,” the aide said.
A Pew poll earlier this year on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict found only 27 percent of Democrats say they sympathize more with Israel, a figure that has plummeted in recent years.