The first thing I did after winning the Republican nomination for New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District was invite my Democratic opponent, Congressman Bill Pascrell, to Shabbat dinner at our home, so we could meet as people rather than opponents. I conveyed the invitation in writing and spoke to him directly by phone. Unlike Pascrell’s democratic challenger in the primary who attacked him mercilessly, I also wrote a highly respectful letter to Pascrell asking him to repudiate his signature on an infamous letter known as “Gaza 54.” The letter falsely accused Israel of practicing collective punishment against the Palestinians and libeled Israel by fraudulently accusing the Jewish State of denying essential medicines and food from entering Gaza in the blockade. My letter was well balanced and thanked Pascrell for voting in favor of American aid to Israel. I also called Pascrell personally to invite him to Israel with me on a joint trip. Through all these efforts my intention was to practice a new kind of politics, foregoing partisanship and running an issues and values-based campaign where political opponents disagreed but always treated each other with respect and courtesy.
Sadly, I have discovered that I am running against a career politician – now seeking his eighteenth year in Congress – a pro who would rather practice the politics of divisiveness and contempt that has so alienated the American electorate.
In response to my invitation for Sabbath dinner, after first accepting, Pascrell let it be known through a spokesman that he would not be attending. The invitation to visit Israel was met with stone-cold silence. A later phone call from our campaign politely asking Pascrell to a series of debates for the benefit of the district’s constituents was similarly met, after the promise of a response, without even the dignity of a returned phone call.
But it was Pascrell’s response on Israel and the libel he had participated in by signing the ‘Gaza 54’ letter that was the most offensive of all. I can forgive Pascrell for his continued contempt toward me by refusing to address me directly or even mention me by name, even in his letter written in response to mine. But his attack against Israel cannot be similarly overlooked. Pascrell answered my letter by repeating rather than repudiating the slander against the Jewish State. In an opinion piece in The New Jersey Jewish Standard, Pascrell wrote that the purpose of his signature was to “ensure that aid organizations were able to carry out their work on the behalf of civilians in Gaza… the blockade was too broad. In addition to preventing weapons from entering Gaza, it was also preventing medicine and food, as well.”
This is a bald-faced lie and constitutes a direct attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state. Israel never stopped food and medicine from entering Gaza. Ever. Indeed, the only blockade imposed on Gaza was a sea blockade. Land routes were always open, albeit subject to inspections on the part of Israeli authorities to prevent bombs and arms from entering. It is regrettable that a United States congressman would participate in a deliberate effort to defame the Jewish State and join the ranks of its most determined enemies in falsely accusing it of preventing food and medicine from reaching Palestinians.
It is also regrettable that a politician seeking to become the elected representative of some of America’s most Jewishly committed communities would falsely blame Israel for collective punishment against the Palestinians when the real culprit is the terrorist organization Hamas.
As I wrote in The Bergen Record in response to Julie Hurley, an activist who also libeled Israel over the Gaza blockade, I personally visited Gaza City on a solidarity trip to Israel with the Rev. Al Sharpton shortly after 9/11. I witnessed the unspeakable poverty that prevailed under Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, even though, as The New York Times reported, by 2004 the Palestinians had become “the world’s largest per capita recipients of international aid.” As the Congressional Research Service stated, “the United States alone has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.” Where did the money go? Sadly, very little of it ever trickled down to the Palestinian people, due to widespread corruption and theft on the part of the Palestinian leadership. In 2003, a team of American accountants – hired by Arafat’s own finance ministry – claimed that Arafat had wealth in a secret portfolio worth close to $1 billion. Pascrell, during his sole visit to Israel, which was organized apparently by the Metro West Jewish Federation of New Jersey, decided to insult his hosts by suddenly visiting Arafat, even though, as the father of modern terrorism, Arafat’s hands were utterly drenched with Jewish blood and he had stolen the food and medicine money of his own people.
Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, leaving behind no forces or blockade. But when Hamas came to power in 2006, rather than invest in infrastructure, they used their money for weapons to launch a war against Israeli civilians, firing thousands of rockets aimed at schools, hospitals and homes for the elderly. Contrary to the falsehoods contained in the Gaza 54 letter, Israel responded with a sea blockade only, designed to stop bombs and bullets from reaching Hamas terrorists. The land routes have always remained open and, as stated above, food and medicine and other essential humanitarian aid has never been prevented from entering.
Those who, like Bill Pascrell, accuse Israel of collective punishment by imposing the sea blockade run contrary to the ruling of the United Nations itself – not known for being favorably disposed to Israel – which declared in a July 2011 report that Israel’s naval blockade was legal.
The effect of Pascrell’s signature on the letter was to weaken Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron fist and is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and to attacking Jews wherever they may be found. Its covenant is deeply racist and filled with genocidal aspirations: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts… until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”
Hamas is also an inhuman regime that brutalizes its Palestinian citizens and is regularly censured by human rights groups worldwide. Human Rights Watch has condemned Hamas for “serious violations of international law.” I need not add how gays and women fare under Hamas rule, whose barbarity includes widespread honor killings of young women and whose usual excuse for persecuting gays is to label them “collaborators with Israel.”
It is not Israel that is responsible for the suffering of Palestinians, but Hamas, which continues its murderous, terrorist war against innocent Israeli, as this recent report by Moran Stein in the Atlantic makes clear: “Late last month, Hamas fired 20 rockets into Israel, part of a 150-rocket volley launched by it and other Gaza-based groups.”
Pascrell blaming Israel for the collective suffering of Palestinians is akin to blaming the United States for the deprivation of German and Japanese citizens during the Second World War.
The comparison, unfortunately, is not exaggerated. The Hamas Charter reads like a modern-day Mein Kampf: “The Day of Judgment will not come,” it says, “until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, O Muslims… there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Ben Chouake, the head of NORPAC, one of America’s foremost pro-Israel organizations, published the following regarding Pascrell’s signature on Gaza 54: “There never was a blockade of food or medicine by Israel to Gaza, and Pascrell knows this. His explanation for his support of the letter, which could only damage Israel’s reputation, is unfortunate. It is common knowledge this letter is a clear mark against the pro-Israel record of every signatory.” But given this is so, what is more mystifying? That a Congressman who falsely attacked Israel refuses to repudiate his actions even while he seeks significant Jewish support, or that a famous Pro-Israel groups like NORPAC have declared themselves neutral on the race?
Palestinians are my brothers and it pains me deeply that there continues to be war between Arab and Jew. While visiting Arab inhabitants of Paterson recently, I heard the grievances of many who have family in Gaza and who feel Israel is indifferent to their plight. Every Palestinian life is of infinite and inestimable values and it is terrible that Palestinians continue to suffer in Gaza. But the solution is for Palestinians who currently live under the tyranny of Hamas to enjoy a benevolent, democratic government like the 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel, who practice a glorious Islamic faith without encumbrance, publish newspapers without interference, and frolic in summer camps without fear. None of this will happen so long as Hamas continues its reign of terror in Gaza.
For over a decade – and well before the advent of the Arab spring – I have been one of the most consistent voices calling for international opposition to the dictators that suppress Arab rights and brutalize Arab citizens throughout the Middle East. Indeed, the Arab residents of the ninth district would be far better served to have Congressman Pascrell join me in calling for international action against President Bashar Assad of Syria – the world’s foremost murderer of Arab life – than to perpetuate the canard that Israel is responsible for Palestinian suffering. Scapegoating Israel for the plight of innocent Arabs is one of the tools that these monster dictators have used to keep their people down.
Congressman Pascrell’s failure to speak out in favor of the Arab Spring and condemn the mass murder in Syria – even once – from the floor of the House is an egregious dereliction of duty for an elected representative of a large Arab constituency. Over the past few years Congressman Pascrell has found the time to sponsor legislation on recycling plastic, to reduce tax on pickled pepper, and to commend the New Jersey Devils’ goalie with an official Congressional proclamation. But in all that time, he has not found even a moment to address, from the floor of the House, the bombings of Arab civilians under Kaddafi in Libya, the murder of unarmed protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, or the shooting of children in the head at point-blank range in Syria. He has yet to call on the United Nations to indict President Assad for crimes against humanity. This unforgivable omission makes the notion of Congressman Pascrell being the pro-Arab candidate downright farcical. You are not pro-Arab simply by being a critic of Israel. You are pro-Arab when you advocate that the 400 million Arabs of the Middle East enjoy the same political freedoms and human rights that we enjoy here in the United States.
In New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional district we have one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country. They deserve a congressman who promotes and protects Arab life, and they deserve a discussion where they hear the two candidates for office discussing an American response to the Syrian slaughter, one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time. It is in this spirit that I repeat my invitation to Congressman Pascrell to join me in a public debate about what each of us will do to end immediately the murder of innocent Arabs in Syria.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Republican Nominee for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. His most recent book is “Kosher Jesus” and his website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.