Eleven current and former Jewish members of Congress defend Levin from criticism on Israel

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Eleven current and former Jewish members of Congress penned a letter Friday defending Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin from criticism by the former leader of pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs (AIPAC). 

The letter also came three weeks after AIPAC endorsed Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Waterford Township, whom Levin of Bloomfield Township will face in the Democratic primary for the newly created 11th congressional district, which represents parts of Oakland County. 

Former AIPAC President David Victor wrote that Levin is "arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship" in a January fundraising email in support of Stevens sent to pro-Israel donors in the Detroit area. 

Victor argued that Levin is respected by other Democrats and says he supports Israel, giving him influence over his caucus and contributing to "one of the most dangerous dynamics" threatening the United States' relationship with Israel. 

"It is fair to disagree on and debate policy approaches," the officials wrote in response to the email. "But it is out of bounds to malign the only Jewish candidate in this race by impugning Andy’s love for the State of Israel or his community bona fides, which run strong and run deep."

The letter, addressed to "the Jewish community of Michigan's new 11th district," was signed by current Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Sara Jacobs and Alan Lowenthal of California, Jerry Nadler of New York, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and John Yarmuth of Kentucky. 

It was also signed by former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and former Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, Paul Hodes of New Hampshire and Mel Levine of California. All of the signatories are Democrats. 

Levin has consistently called himself a "lifelong Zionist" and has supported defense assistance for Israel, but he has also pushed Israel to change its tactics in conflict with the Palestinian Authority and supports a two-state solution.  

"Andy’s vision for a safe, secure and prosperous Israel coexisting in a lasting peace with a Palestinian state has been central to his work," they wrote. "We should welcome and not fear a Jewish member willing to express his support for Israel by taking up policy questions so seriously and thoughtfully and seeking dialogue across the spectrum."

Stevens has said Congress should "unconditionally support" programs for Israel's defense and supports a two-state solution. She put pressure on Democratic leadership last fall to hold a separate vote on $1 billion in funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, which both Stevens and Levin voted for.

Levin and Stevens' positions on Israel have emerged as a mirror of national divisions within the Democratic Party over how the U.S. should shape Israel policy, experts say.

The new 11th District includes the majority of the Metro Detroit Jewish community, leaders say, including communities such as West Bloomfield, Oak Park, Birmingham, Huntington Woods and Farmington Hills.

Stevens has been endorsed by the Democratic Majority for Israel and Pro-Israel America, while Levin has the backing of the liberal Jewish organization J Street and the Muslim-American civil rights group Emgage.

Washington Bureau Chief Melissa Nann Burke contributed.

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin