WWire has learned that Jeff Merkley, who's a candidate in the May 20 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, has upset a number of his campaign contributors with a new, public statement on Middle East policy that they say represents an about-face on Israel and Palestine.
Among the donors fuming at Merkley are Hala Gores
, who gave $2,300 (the federal maximum) in November after Merkley visited Gores in her law office. She also hosted a party on Jan. 12 for Merkley in her home where she says she helped raise nearly $9,000 for Merkley, Speaker of the Oregon House.
The list of disgruntled donors also includes Tom Nelson,
an attorney for the Ashland-based Islamic charity Al-Haramain who gave $2,300 to Merkley at Gores' party; and Goudarz Eghtedari, a Portlander of Iranian descent, who has given $40 a month to Merkley since January.
There are more who weren't ready Monday night to speak publicly about their disappointment, but traces of the dispute have already popped up on Merkley's Wikipedia entry
and elsewhere on the Internet.
"Jeff has disappointed me as few others have or could," Nelson wrote today on the website for the Portland-based Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights
. "He has seen first hand the unconscionable results of the Occupation. Yet he comes out on the side of the oppressor. Gordon Smith, for all of his faults, never saw Israeli oppression first hand. Jeff has. As between these two supporters of Zionism, who is the greater enemy of 'peace'?"
In an interview with WWire, Nelson added: "I have two words I would use for Merkley, coward and hypocrite."
Also today, Eghtedari asked that his automatic monthly contributions to Merkley's campaign be stopped. His discomfort largely stems from Merkley's recent statements on Iran. "I am extremely disappointed with your foreign policy stance and cannot afford to support another hawkish senator to represent the peace-loving state of Oregon," Eghtedari wrote in an email to the Merkley campaign. "If I wanted to support George Bush's policy in the Middle East, I am sure I could be happy with Senator Smith."
What made Gores, Nelson and Eghtedari so angry?
Last week, on April 14, Merkley spoke at a candidate forum held at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in Portland. His campaign later distributed a position paper
on the U.S.-Israel partnership.
The position paper makes reference to Israel's "security barrier," though Gores and other Palestinian activists call it a wall and question its placement.
The paper declares Merkley supports a vision of Israel "with Jerusalem as its Capital."
But Gores says what upsets her most is the fact that Merkley's public declaration goes against what he has told supporters privately, she says. Gores says Merkley's new position makes him a "hypocrite."
"When Merkley spoke to those of us in the peace community, Arab Americans and Muslims, his position was different," Gores says. "He was a hypocrite in first seeking our money and saying certain things to our community and then, in public, saying something different."
In response, Merkley spokesman Matt Canter points to one paragraph of the position paper. It reads: "I share the view held by many leaders, including our current and former US Presidents and Prime Minister Olmert, that Israel's security will be best served by resolution of the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians through a two-state solution -- establishing an independent, stable, and economically successful Palestinian state, alongside a safe and secure Israel; a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its Capital -- with both states living side by side in peace and security."
Canter also says Merkley's position has not changed. "His position has been consistent all along," Canter says. "He believes very strongly that in order to achieve a two-state solution, the United States must be deeply engaged in strengthening the Palestinian economy and protecting Israel's security. These are necessary to achieve a two-state solution."
A footnote: Merkley's relationship with Hala Gores actually began to sour last month when Merkley met privately with Gores and said he would have to return Gores' $2,300. Merkley's campaign staff had found comments from Gores that Merkley found objectionable, Gores says Merkley told her. Canter confirms this basic outline.
According to Canter, this is the statement, from the July 31, 2006 edition of the Oregonian
that upset Merkley:"Israel attacks a sovereign nation and kills thousands and flattens villages. Who is the real terrorist?"
Update: Here's Steve Novick's position paper
on Israel and Palestine.