Mr. Ackerman Goes to Washington

In January, Gary Ackerman made news by being openly critical about J Street, the liberal-minded non-profit organization whose purpose, they say, is to advocate for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ackerman’s critique was about the organization’s recommendation to the Obama administration to not veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israel.

In an emotional press release, Ackerman said that the organization’s “brains had fallen out.”

“America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel,” Ackerman said. “Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.”

There was another line in the press release that I thought was peculiar, but I didn’t pick up on it right away. Ackerman said that J-Street is “not an organization with which I wish to be associated.” At the time, I thought this was just a way to grab attention by putting himself in the middle of a situation he had nothing to do with.

Imagine my surprise while perusing Ackerman’s donor list. In the number two slot, by no more than a few hundred dollars, was the J Street PAC.

This struck me as an interesting turn, since on the surface Ackerman agrees with J Street’s main objective of a two-state solution. He even drafted a letter with Charles Boustany (R-LA) in 2007, urging former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to invest more in the Mideast peace process, a move praised by J Street and other pro-peace organizations.

So why the attack on a former donor?

A cynical person might say that Ackerman doesn’t really care so much about Israel, and that his concern only goes as far as his reelection chances. As the representative from New York’s 5th congressional district, Ackerman represents neighborhoods where the populations are a lot of older Jewish people, including Jamaica Estates in Queens, which has a large Orthodox population. Much as with his anger over Bernie Madoff, Ackerman could be playing to his base.

But a less cynical person might say Gary Ackerman just stands by his beliefs. I find myself coming back to this a lot. Ackerman is a tough guy to figure out: he’s been in congress since before I was born, so his seat seems pretty safe. I gather he could probably sit back and do nothing with his time in office, but he continually puts himself in the center of foreign policy issues, and not always in ways that would necessarily have immediate benefit to him. If he was pandering to a large older, Jewish base, why not take a more conservative stance on Israel? For that matter, why take a pro-revolutionary stance on Egypt? With a miniscule Arab population in his district, why take any stance at all?

And that’s just it: he doesn’t really have to, but he does anyway. We might have just stumbled across the rare politician without an ulterior motive.

Although, my friend Lily had another theory as to why the 68-year-old Ackerman might have criticized a former donor.

“Maybe he forgot,” she said.


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