WASHINGTON (JTA) — Veteran Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who switched his party affiliation to Democrat last year, was ousted in a primary battle.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak defeated Specter (D-Pa.), 54 to 46 percent, in the May 18 vote.
Specter, who is completing 30 years as a U.S. senator, was the victim of an anti-incumbent mood and lingering cynicism over his switch last year after it became clear he would lose the Republican primary to Pat Toomey, a conservative.
The Jewish lawmaker had a solid pro-Israel record, albeit one tinged with a tendency to defy orthodoxies: Specter maintained ties with Syrian leadership during the years that his fellow Republicans in the White House and Congress made isolating the regime a sine qua non of the party’s pro-Israel stance.
Sestak, who as a congressman had been endorsed by J Street, devotes a page on his Web site to defending his pro-Israel record, noting that as an admiral in the U.S. Navy he led a 2003 mission to integrate the U.S. and Israeli radar systems. He also listed his pro-Israel votes.
Sestak has drawn some pro-Israel flak for signing on to a letter earlier this year urging Israel to ease the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip and for agreeing in 2007 to speak to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group with hardline Islamist roots that has moderated its position in recent years.
Toomey has sharply criticized the Obama administration for tensions with Israel over settlement building.
In other primaries news, Rand Paul, a Libertarian conservative, won the Republican nomination for Kentucky’s open U.S. Senate seat. Paul has distanced himself from the sharp isolationist criticism of Israel espoused by his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.)