Sen. Dick Durbin won his first race for Congress by positioning himself as a strong supporter of Israel. In 1982, he took on long-term incumbent Republican Paul Findley and edged him by just over 1,000 votes, chiefly because he was able to match the Congressman’s fundraising due to considerable financial support from pro-Israel donors across the country. Yesterday, however, Durbin gushed over the possible nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. Durbin’s hypocrisy is rich, though, as Hagel, seems to share many of the views of Findley, Durbin’s first opponent.
While popular in his downstate district, Rep. Findley had become a vocal opponent of Israel in the nation’s capital. He went beyond this, though, and had become a strong advocate of the Palestinian cause. Ahead of the 1982 election, the then-head of AIPAC, the nation’s largest lobby in support of Israe,l called Findley “a dangerous enemy of Israel.” Durbin leveraged Findley’s opposition to Israel to raise money from pro-Israel donors across the country. He tapped into pro-Israel activists in Illinois to help his campaign. The issues of Israel and Palestine didn’t really come up during the campaign in the rural district, but it provided Durbin with the financial resources to defeat Findley.
In the years since he left Congress, Findley’s opposition to Israel has drifted into the far-fringes of the Middle East debate. He founded the Council for the National Interest, which promotes the Palestinian cause in the US. Findley even blamed the 9-11 terrorist attacks on U.S. policy in the Middle East:
America suffered 9/11 and its aftermath and may soon be at war with Iraq, mainly because U.S. policy in the Middle East is made in Israel, not in Washington.
Setting aside the 9/11 rhetoric, Hagel seems to share Findley’s sympathy with the Palestinian cause. In the video below, Hagel tries to explain away some terrorist attacks because the Palestinians have been “chained down for many, many years.”
Findley himself even praised Hagel as a “hero”, along with Rep. Cynthia McKinney, for calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, before the US surge put down an insurgency and stabilized the country.
Durbin owes his political start to voicing strong support for Israel. His breathless support for Hagel now suggests that either Durbin’s views have changed or his early support was political posturing. They are rumors that Durbin will retire at the end of his term next year. If so, he will have entered Congress supporting Israel and will leave putting a vocal opponent in charge of our National Security. It’s a dubious legacy.