Last week, some Jewish community leaders in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. were quoted in Politico expressing concern about the views of new Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) on Israel — and her refusal to hold meetings with them. They went on to suggest that they were looking at backing a more "pro-Israel" challenger in a primary. (See my analysis here of why these threats were empty.)
Tuesday, J Street’s PAC responded to that article by sending out a fundraising appeal for Edwards — and raised $15,000 from 270 contributors in four hours.
"This is exactly how — for decades — established pro-Israel groups have enforced right-wing message discipline on Israel in Congress," stated the fundraising e-mail from J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami, who was quoted in the Politico article defending Edwards. "They intimidate Members of Congress, particularly junior ones, and threaten to fund a challenge. But not this time — and not to our friend Donna Edwards. Let’s show that there’s real support for pro-Israel, pro-peace members of Congress by helping Congresswoman Donna Edwards scare off any possible challengers. Will you give $50 right now to her reelection campaign?"
Edwards was one of J Streets first endorsements in the 2008 campaign.
Meanwhile, over the Memorial Day recess, Edwards went to Israel with the New America Foundation and told the Washington Jewish Week that she discovered how settlements were impeding the achievement of a lasting peace:
As she drove through Israel’s West Bank last week, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said that it became abundantly "clear" to her that Jewish "settlements really get in the way of a lasting peace."
America, the lawmaker said in an interview last Thursday after returning from her first trip to Israel, "would be making a big mistake" if it allows Israel to substitute "outpost closures" for full "settlement closures" throughout the country.
"It was so clear to me," Edwards recalled. "When you drive through the countryside" in the West Bank "and look at the hills where you have" large Jewish settlements amid smaller Palestinian ones, "you could actually see how that would impede any lasting peace agreement with borders that actually leave room for a Palestinian stat
And she found a Knesset debate she sat in on troubling:
Edwards’ trip also brought her to the halls of the Knesset where she met with Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, as well as members of the other political parties, such as Labor and Meretz.
Playing political observer as the Knesset members debated a controversial bill that would make it a criminal offense to, in any form, define Israel as anything but a Jewish and democratic state, Edwards says she was appalled when that measure passed a preliminary vote.
"It was really shocking," she said. "We watched the vote happen and we watched the debate, which was really fascinating because I didn’t think it would win."
The bill — which eventually died, but would have effectively silenced those who defame the state — epitomized for Edwards "what it means to be in the Arab minority."
"As an African American woman, I really didn’t have a perception of a significant minority population in Israel, and there is," Edwards explained. "It struck me that there are issues that are raised in any country when you have to balance the interests of the majority with the minority" so that "people feel like they enjoy the full breadth of their citizenship. In Israel, this is a work in progress."
And she addressed her relationship with Jewish leaders:
Also a work in progress is Edwards’ relationship with her local Jewish constituents, which has been strained at times. "The criticism to be quite frank has been that our office has not been open in meeting the Jewish community," Edwards said, dismissing the accusation as unfair.
Ron Halber, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s executive director, disputed that. "The JCRC and other Jewish organizations have not yet had any individual meetings with Edwards one-on-one," he said. "That remains a point of concern."
Halber also said that while her trip appeared "quite comprehensive … I still do remain concerned that some folks [leading the trip] may have had a certain [ideological] focus outside the mainstream American Jewish community." Edwards, he believes, would benefit from joining "the JCRC or other mainstream organizations on a trip to Israel so that we can ensure she’s receiving, from our viewpoint, a healthy diversity of political perspective."
Edwards, meanwhile, says she has repeatedly welcomed the Jewish community into her office. "I’ve been actually looking back at our logs [of meetings] and we’ve had, particularly the staff … over six, seven or eight meetings and phone calls with the local Jewish community" and representatives of AIPAC, Edwards said. "I don’t understand the criticism."
The whole J Street fundraising e-mail can be seen after the jump:[[READMORE]]
Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D, MD-8), one of JStreetPAC’s first endorsed candidates, is under attack from the right-wing for her views on Israel – and she needs our help right now.
Last week, Politico ran a story entitled "Should Edwards be shvitzing?," quoting three separate Jewish community officials in her district signaling "concern" about her "reservations about support for Israel that others" don’t share. Now, some are "preparing to back a primary challenge to Edwards." All because she doesn’t buy their hawkish views of what it means to be pro-Israel. 
This is exactly how — for decades — established pro-Israel groups have enforced right-wing message discipline on Israel in Congress. They intimidate Members of Congress, particularly junior ones, and threaten to fund a challenge.
But not this time — and not to our friend Donna Edwards.
Let’s show that there’s real support for pro-Israel, pro-peace members of Congress by helping Congresswoman Donna Edwards scare off any possible challengers. Will you give $50 right now to her reelection campaign?
Even early in her Congressional career, she has fast become a real leader on our issues. She’s supported every Congressional resolution and letter backing strong U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution. She’s spoken out on the need for an end to violence, an end to settlement expansion and for greater humanitarian aid for Gaza.
She’s proudly refused to toe a hawkish line on Israel, while reaffirming her belief that Israel will only be secure when the US engages strongly to bring about a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
"As Americans, we have a strong interest in ensuring peace, stability, and security for Israel and the entire Middle East, and that is why I urge American diplomacy to be active and fully engaged in the region with our international partners to find a lasting solution," Congresswoman Edwards stated this January. 
She’s already visited Israel and the West Bank, and is one of a handful of Members of Congress to have visited Gaza this year to get a first-hand view of the situation.
The status quo may want to scare Congresswoman Edwards away from taking a leadership position on these issues within her party and in Congress. We need to send a message that this kind of intimidation doesn’t fly any longer. Thanks to you – and to JStreetPAC – Congresswoman Edwards will have the funds she needs to fight off any challengers.
Click here to make a gift of $50 to Congresswoman Edwards’ campaign through JStreetPAC.
Don’t forget to put a comment in the contribution form that your gift is for Donna Edwards’ campaign.
Thanks so much.
June 9, 2009
 "Should Edwards by shvitzing?" by Alex Isenstadt. Politico, June 1, 2009.
 "Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards’ Statement Regarding Gaza Resolution." January 9, 2009.