|The event in a private home was very heimesche with live Klezmer music by hostess Irene Glickman on the piano and Ken Ulansey and Stan Slotter on the clarinet playing as community leaders awaited Sestak’s discussion of foreign and domestic issues. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)|
Joe Sestak (D PA-7) met with Jewish Community leaders recently in Center City Philadelphia, York and Lower Merion recently to discuss a range of issues, including his passionate and longstanding support for the State of Israel.
Sestak is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Supporters of his opponent, Pat Toomey, along with Tea Party activists, neo-conservatives and other elements of the far right, have attempted to paint him as anti-Israel. This outreach effort by Sestak was designed to respond directly to those attempts.
Sestak was invited to appear in Lower Merion by the Orthodox Union, an organization best known for its kashrut supervision and youth movement, but which also provides forums where candidates speak on issues of importance to the Orthodox Jewish Community. The forum was held in the home of Joel and Irene Glickman.
|Morrie Litwack, Deputy Director of Orthodox Union; Rep. Joe Sestak (D PA-7); and Howie Beigelman, Deputy Director of Orthodox Union. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)|
Sestak was introduced by State Senator Daylin Leach, who had just returned from his own trip to Israel. He told the crowd that after donning tefilin at the Western Wall, Israel was the most important issue to him, and he would never support a candidate without being confident of that candidate’s strong support for Israel. He praised Sestak’s support for Israel through his votes and advocacy in Congress, and through his actions in defense of Israel on six different occasions during his 31-year Naval career.
Sestak spoke passionately of his experience. He spent Hannukah with Israel’s Chief of Naval Operations when Israel was being denied American-made littoral combat ships. Sestak successively lobbied Washington to give Israel this important defense system. Sestak oversaw the first joint military maneuvers between Israel and an Arab nation (Turkey).
The first vacation he was given from the Navy was a two-week leave which he spent in Israel. He still cherishes the “Never Again Masada” t-shirt he acquired at that occasion.
In 2003, Sestak commanded a carrier battle group in the Mediterranean Sea. When war with Iraq broke out, Sestak stationed one of his Aegis cruisers off the coast of Israel and integrated its radar system into Israel’s air defense system before moving the rest of his fleet to the Gulf.
Sestak also took credit for switching plans for a U.S. and European missle defense system based in Poland and the Ukraine to one based on Aegis cruisers. The Aegis system is cheaper, will be online by 2011, and would be able to protect Isreal whereas the land-based system would not be able to protect Israel and would not be functional at all until 2017.
|Tom Wiener, Joe Sestak, Felice Wiener, and host Irene Glickman at the meeting with Senate candidate Sestak convened by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)|
Sestak then took questions from the all of the participants. One participant questioned Sestak’s voting record. Sestak replied that he has a 100% pro-Israel voting record, whereas his opponent Pat Toomey voted against funding for Israel on seven different occasions and refused to sign a Congressional letter calling for the PLO to be defunded if they did not implement the Oslo Accords.
Sestak was incensed by political attacks claiming that he was “raising funds for terrorism” when he spoke at CAIR in 2007. Sestak was the head of the Navy’s anti-Terrorism unit after 9/11, and some of his friends were killed when the Pentagon was attacked. Indeed, the message he delivered to CAIR was that “it is our just duty to condemn not just terrorism but also the specific acts, and specific individuals and groups by name associated with those acts, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.”
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice asked when he thought Iran would get a nuclear weapon and what the United States and Israel should do about it. Sestak said that he has been well briefed on this subject through his career in the military, and his position on the Armed Services Committee, and he believed that Iran was still a couple of years away from a nuclear weapon.
Sestak was adamant that a nuclear armed Iran was unacceptable. Not only would it pose an existential threat to Israel, but it would be in a position to blackmail all of the countries in the region. Saudia Arabia would want a weapon of its own leading to a regional nuclear arms race.
Sestak said “the military option should remain on the table, but on the far side of the table.” He was skeptical of our ability to eliminate weapon systems buried deep underground. Perhaps we would only be able to close the doors to the bunker for a while merely delaying the deployment of Iran’s nuclear missles. He criticized former President George W. Bush who left all the diplomatic work in the hands of the European Union, saying that our enemies do not take overtures seriously if the United States is not fully on-board.
Sestak sees himself as a leader in the spirit of Sam Nunn (D-GA). “It is pretty easy to send kids into harm’s way when you have no experience with war. My experience comes from 31 years in the military.” Rising to the rank of 3-star Admiral, Sestak is the highest ranking military officer in Congress.
Through his career he visited over eighty countries and found America was “respected for our power, and admired for our principles”. He is a firm believer in Engagement, saying that “we accomplish nothing by not talking to our enemies”. As proof that he does not only speak with people he agrees with, he mentioned that he would soon be appearing for the eighth time on Fox News with Sean Hannity.