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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hey - I still vote in that district

The Democratic primary in the newly reconstituted New Jersey 9th Congressional district features two incumbent Congressmen fighting for their political lives: Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell. The district also has a large Orthodox Jewish population where I used to live, and a large Arab population. Pascrell - who used to be my Congressman - was never known as a strong supporter of Israel. In fact, he was one of the signers of the infamous Hamas 54 letter, which urged President Obama to force Israel to stop its blockade of Gaza.

Now, a leader of the Arab community has flung the 'Israel firster' designation at members of the Jewish community who are supporting Rothman.
Aref Assaf, president of the New Jersey-based American Arab Forum, opined Sunday evening in the New Jersey Star-Ledger about a Democratic primary that the state’s pro-Israel community is closely watching. The race pits Rep. Steve Rothman, a veteran pro-Israel stalwart, against Bill Pascrell, a well-liked Democrat who boasts a solid voting base.

Assaf accused New Jersey’s Orthodox Jewish voters of transforming the race from a domestic duel between local lawmakers into a proxy war between the state’s Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Unquestionably, this primary election is pitting two otherwise harmoniously coexisting communities: the Muslim and Jewish communities,” Assaf wrote in an article headlined “Rothman is Israel’s man in District 9.”

“As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice. Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s,” Assaf added.

Assaf’s charge is reminiscent of the “Israel firster” slur, a borderline anti-Semitic allegation that stirred vigorous debate after it was bandied about by several writers at left-leaning media outlets. Jewish groups and others roundly condemned the smear, calling it a “dangerous political libel” that resonates “with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.”

Assaf—who donated at least $300 to the Pascrell campaign in 2004—publicly expressed his support for the lawmaker on Jan. 10 via a posting on Facebook. He wrote: “Pascrell is the right man. He has been most accessible and helpful to his constituents. The Arab and Muslim community must rise up to ensure Pascrell is the winner on June 5. I will do my part.”

Assaf also has been a vocal opponent of what he terms Israel’s “military occupation of Palestinian land.”

“I am truly troubled by your support for the Israeli apartheid barrier,” Assaf wrote in 2004 letter to the Star Ledger, referring to the Jewish state’s security wall, which wraps around portions of the Green Line and is meant to prevent acts of terrorism. “Only continued Palestinian resistance and collective world condemnation will ensure the barrier remains a temporary obstacle to peace and not a permanent boundary.”

In another article from 2010, Assaf declared that “Israel exists but I will never accept it as a Jewish state.”

“The Jewish state, a supposedly potential haven for all the Jews in the world in the case a second Holocaust comes about, should be recognized as a fact on the ground blackmailed into the ‘never again’ rhetoric,” Assef wrote while building the case that the Palestinians, as a precondition for peace talks, should not be forced to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

I actually spoke to someone at ECI a few years ago about targeting Pascrell and they figured he was too strong to be beaten. They figured they could target his son after his retirement. My, how times change.

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