Philip Klein normally has a rather flexible definition of what passes for being “anti-Israel.” As I recall, when J Street held their first conference, he declared that they were an “anti-Israel” organization. So when he asserted earlier this month that California Republican Senate candidate Tom Campbell had an “anti-Israel voting record” I was pretty skeptical. As it turns out, Klein and the others who have embarked on this get-Campbell campaign are amazingly wrong about Campbell and his record. This isn’t some disagreement over emphasis or interpretation of ambiguous statements or actions. The critics have been simply wrong. While it is rather amusing to see foreign policy hawks attempting to tear down one of their own out of sheer ignorance and overreaction, the entire episode over the last week and a half does tell us some more important things about the state of the GOP and conservative movement and about the California Senate race itself.

To take the second point first, we can see that Campbell’s opponents are flailing about in desperation and will employ any claim to attack him, no matter how much misrepresentation it might involve. Since he entered the race, Campbell has enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls over Fiorina and DeVore, and of the three he has the best polling numbers against Boxer. DeVore was the one to get the ball rolling in attacking Campbell on this point, but he remains a distant third and is mainly running a protest candidacy with little chance of prevailing over the other two. Except for the mostly negative and mocking attention she was able to garner with her weird “demon sheep” ad, Fiorina has not been able to gain much traction, and so she has started trying to exploit Campbell’s tenuous, limited connection with the Al-Arian case. Like her tenure at HP, Fiorina’s campaign has not been going well. What we learn from this is that Campbell’s opponents seem unusually unscrupulous and/or sloppy, and it also tells us that hard-line hawkish policy views are must-haves even within the California GOP primary electorate.

The campaign to cast Campbell as “anti-Israel” started in the camps of his primary competitors, but it was then picked up by some conservative blogs and took on something of a life of its own. Obviously, the unfounded attack was aimed at destroying Campbell’s candidacy within the GOP. This would have had the effect of eliminating or crippling the candidate with the best, albeit still remote, chance of defeating Boxer. Some of the people carrying out the campaign attacking Campbell claimed that they wanted to prevent the GOP from nominating someone with such a grave liability, when the liability, so called, never existed.

What they managed to do instead was to demonstrate their own knee-jerk fanaticism on this question of what is required to be “pro-Israel,” and it shows how ready some movement conservatives are to turn against even those Republican candidates who are reliable hawks when there is the slightest hint of deviation from their own hard line. As it turned out, the “hints” in Campbell’s case were misleading and meaningless. Campbell is safe from continued attacks because he is actually a dangerous and aggressive hawk himself, exemplified by his support for Israeli military action against Iran, but if someone as genuinely hawkish as Campbell can be targeted even temporarily with a smear campaign for being “anti-Israel” there is not going to be much chance for candidates who hold skeptical, realist or non-interventionist views within the Republican electorate. As for Campbell, he will be sure not to risk taking any positions that might be misinterpreted in the future. Of course, the reinforcement of the party line is the point of the exercise, so unfortunately it scarcely matters that some of the enforcers have shredded their credibility in the process.

P.S. Carly Fiorina said this in her recent statement:

What is clear is that Tom Campbell and I couldn’t disagree more when it comes to policy regarding our nation’s relationship with Israel.

So does that mean that Fiorina is now the one who should be considered “anti-Israel”? This just drives home how contemptible and stupid this ritual denunciation really is.