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Mark Kirk?Israel?s Best Friend in Congress?Announces Senate Bid

Jerry Gordon interviewed Rep. Mark S. Kirk for NER here.
This article is by Dr. Richard Benkin.

Last November, Israpundit carried an article by Jerry Gordon, “Two Who Won Against the Democratic Tsunami.” One was Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL). Kirk, whom Gordon described as “very pro-Israel,” won a fifth term in Congress despite a perfect Democratic storm: the Republican brand was in tatters; Illinois had become one of the most reliably “blue” states in the nation; Kirk’s district was trending heavily Democratic; the Democratic National Committee was spending millions trying to unseat Kirk; and there was Barack Obama, who carried Kirk’s 10th District by 61 percent. Yet, Kirk prevailed in part because, as Gordon wrote, he is “one of the most effective, intelligent and moderate GOP members in Congress.” That assessment is shared widely on both sides of the aisle in Washington and has helped make Kirk an effective legislator.
On Monday, July 20, Democrats got what they could not get at the ballot box when Kirk announced that he would not seek re-election to his House seat in 2010. “It’s probably the only way that Democrats would ever get that [Congressional] seat,” quipped one 10th District resident on hand for Kirk’s announcement. But Democrats also got a bigger headache because at the same time Kirk announced he was running for the United States Senate. In fact, Kirk’s expected candidacy has been giving Democratic leaders fits.
He is running for the Senate seat formerly held by Obama; the seat that disgraced Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell to the highest bidder; the seat whose current occupant, Roland Burris, is accused of winning in that lottery. Burris has become such a liability for Democrats that—led by Senate Majority Whip, Dick Durbin (D-IL)—they have been urging him not to run for a full term.  When Burris finally bowed to reality, however, it left Democrats without a credible candidate who can come close to Kirk’s national, foreign policy, and pro-Israel credentials.
In fact, one of the only things that the three likely Democratic candidates share is the lack of any pro-Israel record. The most prominent and only announced Democratic candidate is Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. The closest thing he has to a record on Israel is that he did not stop Illinois’ purchase of Israeli bonds—a purchase he justified solely as a good investment. Another is businessman Chris Kennedy whose only claim to fame is being the late Robert F. Kennedy’s son. The third, Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson, shared a podium last August with Otis Moss, pastor of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ; and as Blogojevich’s spokesperson, justified the appointment of the Nation of Islam’s Minister of Protocol to a state hate crimes commission, saying the Farrakhan associate shares the commission’s goals of eliminating hate crimes and discrimination. None have ever been to Israel. Giannoulis has stated many times that he owes his office to Obama, and all three are supporters of the President and his policies.
Kirk, on the other hand, is arguably Israel’s best friend in Congress. He was personally responsible for convincing the Bush Administration to give Israel enhanced missile defense after he saw the danger on a trip to a forward military base in Israel. (Kirk has been a Naval Intelligence Office since 1989, has combat experience, and was once named Naval Intelligence Officer of the Year.)   He and Congressman Steven Rothman (D-NJ) have led efforts to end US funding for UNWRA—the UN agency devoted solely to promoting the system of Palestinian Arab refugees, a designation he challenges. With regard to Hezbollah, Kirk told Gordon “despite the UN peacekeeping force and $500 million of US taxpayers’ money that we simply reset the stage for another tragedy.” He has characterized attempts to force negotiations with the Palestinian Authority as trying to “chase down every terrorist group on the West Bank and Gaza… there are times when you have to hang tough.” An effective human rights advocate, Kirk (together with me), won the freedom of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury after he was arrested and tortured for exposing the rise of Islamists and urging relations with Israel. As a Congressional aide, Kirk helped free several Soviet refusniks. With much of official Washington trying to find “nuanced” positions, Kirk remains undaunted. In April, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Appropriations Committee that Israel would have to comply with the Administration’s demands, he replied that the committee would then have to cut appropriations to the Palestinian Authority.
This election is critical for Israel at a time when many in Washington are ready to trying to force suicidal agreements on the Jewish State. In announcing for the Senate, Kirk pledged to fight those efforts, “And to supporters of America’s strongest friend in the Middle East – Israel’s greatest ally in Washington will be Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.”

Neither Jewish nor evangelical, Kirk’s commitment for Israel rests on two propositions: that it is the right thing to do; and that it is and always has been in the best interests of the United States. None of his prospective opponents, on the other hand, will oppose the policies of their political godfather and what has been described as the most anti-Israel administration in the Jewish State’s history.