WASHINGTON - MAY 28: U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) speaks to the media outside the Capitol May 28, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Sestak responded to the allegation of the job offer by the White House in exchange his drop-out from the Democratic senate primary against Sen. Arlen Specter. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA – Democratic nominee Joe Sestak would be “the most anti-Israel member” of the U.S. Senate, pro-Israel activists contended as the race for the Pennsylvania Senate seat erupted in controversy over the candidate’s ties to a Muslim extremist group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Sestak is a second-term congressman representing the suburbs of Philadelphia who surprised political observers in the May primary election by defeating incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, who had switched to the Democratic Party to avoid impending defeat as a Republican.

Sestak is also the focus of controversy for his claim that the Obama administration offered him an unspecified federal position in return for dropping his primary challenge to Specter. Congressional Republicans are demanding an investigation into possible bribery charges against Obama administration officials.

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The new controversy roiling Sestak’s candidacy is reminiscent of Specter’s 1992 race, when he defeated a Democratic challenger amid charges she had rabidly anti-Israel associations.

In the 1992 race, Democratic nominee Lynn Yeakel enjoyed a 15-point lead in the polls over then-Republican Sen. Specter until Jewish activists publicized her leadership in a liberal church involved in anti-Israel activities. Jewish voters who normally lean to the Democrats swung heavily to Specter in the last weeks before the election, and the incumbent eked out a narrow victory.

Sestak, whose Senate bid is backed by activists with the far-left grass-roots group MoveOn.org, had likewise expected heavy Jewish electoral and financial support until the controversy over his ties to CAIR began heating up in recent days.

A large advertisement in this week’s edition of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent reminded voters that in 2007 Sestak served as the keynote speaker at a local fundraising dinner for CAIR.

Some conservative pundits such as blogger Pamela Geller of AtlasShrugged reported extensively on the episode at the time. But it had largely been forgotten in the excitement over Sestak’s surprising win over Specter in this spring’s primary race.

The ad was sponsored by Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, a group headed by Benyamin “Buddy” Korn, a veteran Philadelphia Jewish community activist and former editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent, the state’s largest Jewish newspaper.

The ad noted Sestak agreed to headline the CAIR fundraiser despite substantial evidence that the group “has ties to terrorism,” as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., put it in 2003. Among the more than a dozen CAIR officials indicted or convicted on terror charges was one active in Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out last year’s terrorist attack on the Chabad center in Mumbai, India, in which a rabbi and his wife were tortured and slain.

CAIR – confirmed by the Justice Department as a terrorist co-conspirator – is trying to keep its lawsuit alive against two investigators behind the expose “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” which documents the D.C.-based group’s founding and current activity as a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood and its spinoff Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization.

At a meeting with Sestak at the Havertown Jewish Community Center in 2007, members of the local Jewish community pleaded with Sestak to withdraw from the CAIR event, but he declined.

The anti-Sestak ad also points out the lawmaker refused to join a pro-Israel letter, signed by 329 members of Congress last year, urging President Obama to work closely with Israel to advance peace. Sestak also declined to sign another pro-Israel congressional letter, in March, that affirmed the U.S. and Israel are “close allies.”

Sestak did, however, sign a January letter lambasting Israel for using “collective punishment” against Palestinian residents of Gaza. The letter sought to put pressure on Israel to ease up on its blockade of the Hamas regime.

“This is not a case of one isolated incident or remark,” according to Korn. “Joe Sestak has a track record of embracing Muslim extremists and giving Israel the back of his hand. He would be the most anti-Israel senator that Washington has ever seen.”

To make matters more complicated for Sestak, his opponent in the Senate race is Republican congressman Pat Toomey, a fiscal conservative who is also a strong advocate for Israel.

“When it comes to issues such as Israel and Muslim extremists, Pennsylvania’s voters have a clear choice,” Korn said.

Political observers expect a close race between Sestak and Toomey, although recent polls put Toomey ahead of Sestak by 7 points. Not only could Pennsylvania’s Jews be the swing vote, as they were in the 1992 Specter-Yeakel contest, but many pro-Israel Christians would likely be alienated by a campaign highlighting Sestak’s anti-Israel voting record.

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