A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
August 2012, Pages 26-27
Lobby Money Talks, U.S. Congress Walks—Except This Year in New Jersey
Talk about the best of both worlds—not only has Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) received more money from pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) than any other member of the House of Representatives, but she also has received more pro-Israel PAC money than any 2012 candidate for the U.S. Senate. She must be doing something right—for Israel. If the lobby has its way, she'll join fellow Israel-firster Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the "world's greatest deliberative body," where they'll continue ardently to advance the agenda of a foreign country.
In other races around the country, lobby favorites include Howard Berman over fellow Democratic Zionist Brad Sherman, who will face off against each other again in November; and incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. While in Virginia pro-Israel PACs are contributing relatively even-handedly this year to Senate candidates George Allen (the Republican former senator) and Tim Kaine (the Democratic former governor), the candidates' career totals are evidence of Allen's long-time backing by the lobby.
The Israel lobby doesn't always have its way, however (indeed, Allen's defeat in 2006 was evidence of that). In New Jersey, two House incumbents vied for a single seat in the state's new 9th congressional district, the result of the loss of a House seat following the 2010 census. The new district comprised 57 percent of the district formerly represented by Rep. Steven R. Rothman of Fair Lawn and 43 percent of that represented by his fellow Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell of Paterson. But the borough of Fair Lawn was moved to New Jersey's 5th congressional district, represented by Republican Scott Garrett, whom The New York Times described as "almost invariably labeled 'a Tea Party darling' in local papers and blog posts." (Garrett has received a career total of $41,200 in pro-Israel PAC contributions—although, as of April 15, none for this year's election.)
Rather than run against Garrett, however, Rothman decided to move to Englewood, where he had once been mayor, and run against his fellow Democrat and soon-to-be-former friend, who once was mayor of Paterson. According to the Times, "The party's congressional leaders beseeched Mr. Rothman to challenge Mr. Garrett instead of one of his own," but to no avail. Apparently emulating Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Rothman put his own ambitions—or perhaps Israel's—ahead of the needs of his party, which is trying to win 25 House seats in order to retake the majority.
Adding a national spin to the race, Rothman, the first member of the New Jersey congressional delegation to endorse Barack Obama in 2008, campaigned with top Obama political adviser David Axelrod. Meanwhile, Pascrell, who had endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2008, was joined by former President Bill Clinton at a June 1 campaign rally, days before the primary election.
Israel's lobby clearly favored Rothman, who is Jewish. Not only did the 30-odd pro-Israel PACs shower him with $17,000 (for a career total of $100,503) compared to a measly $2,000 for Pascrell ($11,853), but an article in the New Jersey Jewish Standard which, according to commentator M.J. Rosenberg, "went out, in one form or another, to every Jewish voter in the district," quoted AIPAC spokesman Josh Block as saying that "Rothman's 'record of pro-Israel leadership is second to none, and in this particular race the differences couldn't be clearer.'" Islamophobe and discredited "terrorism expert" Steve Emerson added his vile two cents' worth, "depicting the Roman Catholic Pascrell as an 'Islamist Fellow Traveler,'" wrote Rosenberg, who declined to quote Emerson further.
Although Herb Jackson, writing on the Web site NorthJersey.com, noted that Pascrell and Rothman "had nearly identical voting records [on Israel]…Pascrell had questioned Israeli tactics during its [siege of Gaza] and had defended American Muslims when a House committee held hearings on domestic 'radicalization.'"
In its June 5 article on the election, the New York Times described Paterson as "a largely poor, immigrant city." What the Times story failed to inform its readers, however, was that, in the words of Arab American Institute president James Zogby, Paterson is "home to one of the United States' largest Arab-American communities." (Nor did the Times story report on the Rothman campaign's focus on his support for Israel.)
With Zogby's help, Rosenberg wrote, Paterson's Arab- and Muslim-American residents got to work. Zogby described that work as "raising money for the [Pascrell] campaign, registering well over 1,000 new voters, and compiling a list of almost 10,000 voters which they used in phone banking and door-to-door direct contact to get out the community's vote."
"That strategy appeared to have worked," the Times reported, "with campaign operatives reporting high turnout in the city and relatively low turnout in Englewood, where Mr. Rothman was once mayor."
Elaborates Zogby: "The Paterson turnout was decisive, with Arab precincts recording such lopsided totals as 134 for Pascrell to 3 for Rothman, and 222 to 6 and 195 to 6 and 290 to 20."
As a result, Pascrell won more than 60 percent of the vote, and is now the Democratic nominee for New Jersey's new 9th congressional district. His Republican opponent in November will be Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood, author of such books as Kosher Sex and Kosher Jesus and a memoir of his time as spiritual adviser to the late Michael Jackson, and host of the former reality TV series "Shalom in the Home."
Both Zogby and Rosenberg are adamant that the Pascrell-Rothman contest was not about Israel or "Arabs versus Jews." Indeed, in Rosenberg's opinion, the Pascrell victory may "represent the day progressive Jews joined progressive Arab Americans to push back against a Muslim-baiting candidate."
But the precedent-setting primary has implications that cannot be ignored. "When Pascrell returns to the House," Rosenberg explained, "he will be greeted as a well-loved victor (his colleagues supported him, not Rothman). But he will also be greeted as a member of Congress who stood up to AIPAC's lies and smears and won. Big. Don't think his colleagues won't recognize what this may mean: that, just perhaps, they can vote their consciences, too."
Janet McMahon is managing editor of the Washington Report.