Illinois Senate hopeful pulls out of Israel forum


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Illinois Democratic Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate will  no longer participate in a forum on Israel.

Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, withdrew Aug. 9 from the Aug. 22 forum, sponsored by the Protect Our Heritage public action committee and 16 other Jewish organizations. His campaign said he had prior commitments.

The nonpartisan forum is held for Senate and House candidates. Participants can question the candidates on issues related to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Giannoulias, his Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and other local politicians had agreed to participate in the forum months ago. Giannoulias’ campaign had confirmed his availability for the forum in Northbrook, Ill., according to Protect Our Heritage.

"As Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons and terrorists threaten Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, our next U.S. Senator should not be afraid to stand up for our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East," Kirk said in a statement.

Giannoulias’s campaign said he did not confirm his participation in the forum, although he has discussed the issue at other events.

"We do not participate in candidate debates that are hosted by partisan groups like Protect Our Heritage PAC, which has endorsed Congressman Kirk and donated heavily to his political campaigns," David Spielfogel, a campaign worker for Giannoulias, said in a statement. "When the PAC originally began promoting Alexi’s participation months ago, we promptly asked them to remove his name."

The day after Giannoulias withdrew, Dan Seals, a Democratic candidate for an Illinois House seat, also declined to participate in the forum. His campaign said it had been told that Giannoulias confirmed his participation, but recently found out that he did not.

"Unfortunately, the nature of the forum changed significantly from our original agreement, leading us to decline to participate in a situation that had become inherently unfair and uniquely weighted against Dan," Aviva Gibbs, Seals’ communication director, said in a statement.

Gibbs added that the Seals campaign was "looking forward to multiple future debates, including one sponsored by Hadassah."

Protect Our Heritage is a Midwestern political action committee that promotes a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. 


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