By Melanie Harris, J Street Northeast Regional Director
January 5th was a cold, gray day in Manchester, New Hampshire. I drove the hour from Boston to meet up with four J Street supporters from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Together, we were on a mission: To deliver nearly 10,000 petitions to the headquarters of three Republican presidential contenders -- Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum--- in order to make it clear that pro-Israel Americans won't stand for their attempts to turn support for Israel into a political football. Gingrich recently labeled the Palestinians an "invented people." Santorum appears almost out of touch with reality, asserting that the Palestinians in the West Bank are, in fact, Israelis. And Romney told an Israeli daily that the U.S. should not play a leadership role in the peace process. Say what? For decades, U.S. administrations have understood that resolving the conflict is a vital American and Israeli interest. Five previous Israeli prime ministers have endorsed the two-state solution. So we went to the Granite state to personally let the candidates know that their statements are proving how out of touch they are not just with American Jewish opinion, but with longstanding U.S. foreign policy. Six days before the New Hampshire primary, Manchester was oddly quiet. Residents didn't seem particularly interested in the national figures in their midst, the staffers frequenting their lunch spots. Perhaps it was a reflection of the uninspiring Republican field, even for party loyalists in the state. We passed a smokeshop owner setting up his sidewalk sign: "Tired of politics? Come in for a cigar!" We politely declined and continued towards our first stop, Gingrich's HQ. His office was nearly empty. The young front desk volunteer seemed stunned, and then proceeded to thank us profusely for our box of signatures, accepting it like it was a late New Years' present. "You're welcome!" We trotted on. Romney's NH headquarters is in the same storefront space Obama used in 2008, and Santorum's is in Bedford, New Hampshire. In both places, we were again met with surprise bordering on shock. We were caught off guard as well. Is J Street the only local advocacy group that has so boldly brought its message directly to the Republican contenders in New Hampshire? In each office, our hosts made sure to tell us how pro-Israel their candidate is, and we agreed that Israel's security is paramount. Which is precisely why it's essential that their bosses stop the pandering on Israel and instead prove their pro-Israel credentials by offering real solutions to the challenges Israel faces, beginning with explaining how they would work towards a two-state solution. Each volunteer promised to give our box of signatures to their candidate. J Street will continue to monitor the presidential race closely to make sure that any attempts to gain political advantage at the expense of Israel's future as the democratic, Jewish homeland will be met with strong opposition . Regardless of what's to come in the weeks ahead, we certainly made a splash in New Hampshire. 2012 is off to a good start. If you are interested in getting involved with J Street in New Hampshire or elsewhere in the Northeast, contact Melanie at melanie [at] jstreet [dot] org.