Emily’s List’s President Stephanie Schriock called it “shocking” that for a long time AIPAC’s position papers on Israel were the only policy game in town for candidates seeking federal office.
Schriock’s statements came during a panel “Pundits, Pollsters & Politicos: How Will Israel Play in the 2016 Elections?” on the first day of J Street’s National Assembly in DC.
Panelists included NPR’s Mara Liasson, Center for American Progress’ Neera Tanden, pollster Jim Gerstein, J.J. Goldberg and WH liaison Matt Nosanchuk. New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen served as the moderator.
“I worked for candidates in the 90’s as their Finance Director,” Schriock recalled. “And I would come on a congressional race, I am a twenty-something kid who also knows nothing beyond the state borders, and you thought about where you are going to go to raise the money that you needed to raise to win a race. You went to labor, you went to the choice community, and you went to the Jewish community. But before you went to the Jewish community, you had a conversation with the lead AIPAC person in your state and they made it clear that you needed a paper on Israel. And so you called all your friends who already had a paper on Israel – that was designed by AIPAC – and we made that your paper. This was before there was a campaign manager, a policy director or a field director because you have got to raise money before you do all of that.”
“I have written more Israel papers that you can imagine,” Schriock said to laughter from the crowd. “I am from Montana. I barely knew where Israel was until I looked at a map, and the poor campaign manager would come in, or the policy director, and I’d be like, ‘Here is you paper on Israel. This is our policy.’ That means that these candidates who were farmers, school teachers, or business women, ended up having an Israel position without having any significant conversations with anybody.”
“It’s astounding. And when I look back at it, it’s shocking,” she said. “Jeremy Ben-Ami and I had the great pleasure of meeting each other during the Howard Dean campaign and one of the conversations we had was, ‘Oh my gosh. Is there really only one foreign policy on this?’ Because it felt like it.”
Schriock said that now that J Street exists, she is able to brief and guide candidates, out of 50+ federal candidates every year, on issues related to Israel by presenting them the various sides on the issues. “So when something like the Iran deal came up – early in the election cycle when we already had candidates running who were not going to take a vote but were asked for a position – there was a lot of angst over what to do, and how to handle that,” she asserted. “And these are folks who have not been briefed, do not have access to these briefings, do not have any of the information other than what they are reading in the newspaper, and it was a really trying time to help guide the candidates. As someone who has been doing this now for two decades, I realized that I have freedom as an operative and a strategist to say to some of our candidates – which I, in fact, did – is do what you feel is right here. There’s enough energy around all of it now than there used to be. If you decide to be against the deal, there are going to be folks that are going to be with you. If you’re going to be for the deal, there’s going to be folks who are going to be with you.”