The campaign between Republican incumbent congressmen Charles Boustany, an Episcopalian, and Jeff Landry, a Catholic, to represent southwestern Louisiana has escalated to the point that they are now feuding over instability in the Middle East and Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Boustany, the grandson of immigrants from Lebanon, has for years pushed for peaceful resolutions in the Middle East and for greater U.S. intervention to seek treaties and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both the Republican and Democratic parties share a platform backing a two-state solution with Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“That seems to be the clearest answer to a peaceful solution in that area,” Boustany said, noting some “fringe elements” oppose any kind of Palestinian state.
“Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East,” he said.
But now Boustany is fighting off allegations from Landry supporters that his peace-seeking approach has equated to an opposition to Israel. A blogger from the far-right conservative website, http://www.RedState.com, recently called Boustany “the most pro-Palestinian Republican in Congress.”
Landry’s campaign was quick to publicize the attack.
“His (Boustany’s) actions have basically supported the instability that’s occurring in the Middle East right now,” Landry said.
For his part, Landry will neither support nor oppose a two-state solution, saying only that he steadfastly supports Israel and that the Palestinians need to “get their ducks in a row” before peace is even on the table. “I support whatever treaty, whatever plan, whatever solution is going to ensure a stable Israel.”
Boustany said the attacks are false, cowardly and bigoted.
“These are gratuitous false attacks on character … done by those who are bigots,” he said. “Clearly, I have Lebanese-American ancestry and there are some who are stupid … with cheap political attacks.”
So let’s take a look at the allegations.
The first issue is Boustany’s past ties to J Street, which is the left-leaning, Jewish-run, pro-Israeli lobby that pushes for peaceful solutions in the Middle East. Boustany was endorsed by J Street in 2008 and 2010, but he severed his ties to the group two years ago when it was publicized that the organization received a small percentage of its donations from pro-Muslim donors.
Another key aspect of the attack is Boustany’s 2009 vote against a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report that stated Israel may have been guilty of war crimes against innocent civilian Palestinians. Boustany said his opposition was merely a “protest vote” because Congress was forced to vote on the resolution before anyone had a chance to actually read the report.
The other criticisms are based on Boustany co-signing letters seeking peaceful interventions and foreign aid.
Landry called it “extremely upsetting” that Boustany would “pull the race card” and call people bigoted. The issue is about his actions, not his ancestry, Landry said.
Boustany agrees the issue should be about their actions, arguing his actions have supported Israel.
For instance, Boustany helped lead a congressional trip to Lebanon in 2006 in an effort to ensure the Lebanese government was working to disarm Hezbollah, which is the militant and political Islamic group that at the time was warring with Israel. The United States considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization. Although Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, the country is more than 40 percent Christian.
Landry, Boustany noted, skipped the July vote for the Foreign Relations Authorization Act that, in part, reauthorized security funding for U.S. embassies in places like Libya and Egypt that, since July, were attacked.
Boustany’s campaign also noted his endorsement and financial support of Melvin Dow, who is the past national president and current board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the more-hawkish, pro-Israel lobby.
“He (Boustany) is a conscientious, thoughtful, well-informed congressman,” Dow said in an email. “There is no truth whatsoever to any claim that he is anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. His voting record on legislation and resolutions and his joinder in various letters disprove any such claim.”
Since the attacks in Libya and Egypt and the murder of a U.S. ambassador, Landry has pushed to cut off foreign aid to those nations. There needs to be more financial pushback against the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood, he said, that is now the ruling party in Egypt since the Arab Spring.
For his part, Boustany said he wants to put a temporary hold on aid to Libya and Egypt to allow the United States to reassess its interventions. “I am really furious with what’s happened there and there needs to be severe consequences,” he said.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.