J Street, the new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group, announced its first PAC endorsements today. The roster of seven candidates, a mix of incumbents and challengers, includes Lebanese-American Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican; netroots favorite Donna Edwards (MD-04); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), who is running again after nearly beating a Republican incumbent in 2006; and Darcy Burner (WA-08), author of a plan to get out of Iraq.
I think there will be two indicators of J Street's influence over the next year or so: (1) Will the PAC be able to marshall small donors to put serious money behind these candidates? (2) Will the candidates—during their campaigns or, if they win, early in their terms—make a meaningful attempt to broaden the debate over American policy on Israel/Palestine?
As to how the candidates might broaden the debate, J Street's profiles of the endorsees offer clues. They contain a lot of rhetoric about expanded American engagement in the region and strong support of a two-state solution. To the Arab world—and, in reality, the international community beyond the US—these are baby steps. J Street's endorsees aren't talking about, say, how to put an end to Israeli settlement expansion, or about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Still, in the present American context, the endorsements have to be seen as a positive development.
After the jump, a video of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introducing the endorsements: