Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March-April 2012, Pages 12, 33

Election Watch

They're Baaack: Israel Lobby Poster Boys Rick Santorum and George Allen

By Janet McMahon

altRick Santorum (l) at a Feb. 18, 2012 Tea Party rally, and George Allen during a 2006 campaign debate. (Photo by Jay LaPrete/Getty Images)

Among the highlights (or lowlights) of the 2012 election season is the attempted comeback of two former senators known for their devotion to Israel: Rick Santorum (R-PA) and George Allen (R-VA). Allen, who once was considered on track to be the GOP presidential nominee, is trying to regain his former Senate seat, which he lost to Sen. James Webb (D-VA) after one term. Ironically, it is Santorum, who lost his seat after two terms, who today is closer to that prize. Given the vagaries of this year's GOP presidential primary season, however, Santorum could be just the latest in a series of "anyone-but-Romney" stand-ins.

"The Mullah Omar of Pennsylvania"

In a 2003 CounterPunch profile, Jeffrey St. Clair described Santorum as "the Mullah Omar of Pennsylvania." He goes on to describe the fundamentalist Christian as "the slick-haired darling of the neocons, an obedient automaton that feverishly promotes their wildest fantasies without hesitation.

"Undeterred by the First Amendment," St. Clair continues, "Santorum says [he is] planning to introduce legislation that will limit criticism of Israel in colleges and universities that receive federal money."

A frequent member of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,'s "Hall of Shame" over the years, in 2006 Santorum was among the top 10 Senate recipients of pro-Israel PAC funds, with $75,500, for a career total of $123,250 (having served two terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 1994).

Santorum seems to be obsessed with President Barack Obama's religion. Campaigning in Ohio on Feb. 18, he accused the president of basing his agenda on "phony theology…not a theology based on the Bible." On CBS' "Face the Nation" the following day, he said he had been "talking about the radical environmentalists," adding "I've repeatedly said that I believe the president's Christian—he says he's Christian. But I am talking about his worldview…We're not here to serve the Earth. That is not the objective; man is the objective."

Curiously, God does not seem to fit in Santorum's explanation of his own worldview.

Adding fuel to the confusing fire, Santorum aide Alice Stewart told Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC the next day that Santorum was speaking about the "radical Islamic policies the president has."

Mitchell claims not to have heard the word "Islamic," and Stewart later said, "I was talking about radical environmental policies, and I misspoke. I regret it."

Islamic, environmentalist—so easy to confuse the two. At the very least, there seem to be an abundance of Freudian slips being made.

Earlier in his career, as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, Santorum's staff included Barbara Ledeen, the wife of überneocon Michael Ledeen who currently is senior adviser on Iran for The Israel Project. In his leadership position, according to an article in the Jan. 3 Forward, "Santorum initiated a semi-annual meeting of Republican members with representatives of all Jewish organizations, regardless of their views. The atmosphere in the meetings, recalled a Jewish activist who took part in the discussions, was positive and both sides avoided touching on thorny issues such as judicial nominations or family values."

The article goes on to note, however, that "Santorum's ultra conservative ideology, which includes an anti-gay agenda, opposition to abortion rights and denial of the theory of evolution, has always been a barrier distancing him from the Jewish electorate."

But the Forward gives the last word to Ledeen: "Whatever Jews may think about his views on abortions or gay rights, he was really engaged on issues important for the community."

Eligible for Israeli Citizenship?

George Allen's 2006 re-election bid collapsed just a few months before the November ballot, when he twice called an Indian-American aide of Webb's "macaca"a French colonial slang word for "monkey" used as a racial slur in Central Africa. Allen's use of the word raised questions of how he knew it in the first place.

In an article in the Aug. 25, 2006 issue of the Forward, E.J. Kessler explained: "Allen's mother, Henriette (Etty), whose maiden name was Lumbroso, is indeed Francophone and Tunisian born…Though Etty Allen seems not to have dwelled on it during her years in the spotlight as a coach's wife, she comes from the august Sephardic Jewish Lumbroso family. Her father, who was the main importer of wines and liquors in Tunis—including the Cinzano brand—was known in France, where he lived after World War II, as part of the family, according to French Jewish sources. If both of Etty's parents were born Jewish—which, given her age and background, is likely—Senator Allen would be considered Jewish in the eyes of traditional rabbinic law, which traces Judaism through the mother."

Allen responded angrily when asked by a television reporter whether any of his ancestors were Jewish—leading to speculation by Internet bloggers and some Jewish leaders that he was trying to hide his Jewish ancestry because he viewed it as a political liability.

Finally, at the end of August, Allen said his mother had only recently told him of her Jewish upbringing, which she had not revealed to her children or in-laws for fear they would face discrimination and anti-Semitism.

According to a Sept. 21, 2006 article in The Washington Post, however, "Allen's Jewish heritage has been a subject of low-level political speculation for years, in part because the former governor and first-term senator often refers to his grandfather's incarceration by the Nazis in political speeches. But Allen has always said Lumbroso was a member of the Free French resistance movement and insisted that he and his mother were raised as Christians."

Whether or not Allen was aware of his Jewish heritage—à la former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright—he long has been a fervent supporter of Israel, earning membership in this magazine's congressional "Hall of Shame" in both 2004 and 2006. And the favor was returned. Allen received $42,000 from pro-Israel PACs for his 2006 re-election effort, for a career total of $52,400.

As of early December 2011, Allen had received no pro-Israel PAC contributions. His expected Democratic opponent, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011, had received only $1,000, however, so it looks like the Lobby is hedging its bets until it sees which way the electoral winds are blowing.


Janet McMahon is managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Additional information