In last week’s issue, Shmuley Boteach, Republican candidate for Congress in the 9th Congressional District, praised his Democratic opponent, Rep. William J. Pascrell Jr., for his overall record on Israel, but challenged him to explain why he signed a controversial letter regarding Israel’s blockade of Gaza. This week, Pascrell, the incumbent, explains that and more.

As a member of Congress for the past 16 years, I have been privileged to represent one of the most diverse communities in the entire country. Our community is made up of people of all faiths and backgrounds, and truly is an example of everything that makes the United States of America the nation that it is today. The new 9th Congressional District contains both proud Jewish and Arab communities. While we may have our differences, we are all Americans; we all share the same goals of providing for our families and ensuring a prosperous future for our children.

I also believe that we seek the same for the Israeli people, Palestinian people, and for peoples throughout the Middle East: a lasting peace that leads to a prosperous future.

My parents raised me to be a bridge-builder, and I have spent my entire career attempting to bring people together. If given the privilege to serve another term, I look forward to continuing to represent all of the people of Northern New Jersey, and working to secure a peaceful future for both Israel and its neighbors.

I have promoted – and always will promote – the security of the State of Israel and its right to defend itself and its people. I am pleased that during this campaign I have received strong support from the Jewish community, including the support and endorsement of David Steiner, the former president of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). I have been a relentless advocate for Israel and for a two-state solution, which I consider critical to securing a peaceful future that can last for generations.

The fact is that I have always been a strong advocate for Israeli peace and security. As an original member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I was proud to co-author the Promoting Anti-Terrorism Capabilities Through International Cooperation Act. This bill created new opportunities for the United States and Israel to collaborate on new homeland security technologies, and share best practices for counterterrorism. Working with my colleagues, I guided this bill to unanimous passage in the House of Representatives, and ultimately saw it signed into law by President George W. Bush on Aug. 3, 2007. Building upon this legacy of deepening security cooperation between our two countries, I was proud to co-sponsor H.R. 4133, the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, which also passed in the House. These bills will ensure that the United States maintains – and strengthens – its longstanding security partnership with Israel.

Currently, I am working for the passage of several pieces of legislation in the United States Congress which would augment the already close relationship our country has with Israel. I am a proud co-sponsor of H.R. 4229, the Iron Dome Support Act. This vital piece of legislation would provide assistance to Israel for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has been remarkably successful at protecting Israeli civilians by intercepting rockets and missiles launched against Israel from the Gaza Strip.

I am also an original co-sponsor of H.R. 5850, the Visa Waivers for Israel Act, which would allow Israeli citizens to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will further strengthen United States ties with Israel by making it easier for families to visit with one another while boosting business, tourism, and job creation.

Of course, one of the gravest challenges facing Israel today is the threat posed to both Israel and the United States by Iran. Let me be clear, Iran must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. The United States must do everything in its power to prevent this, including tough unilateral and multilateral sanctions. I have co-sponsored and voted for several bills to strengthen sanctions on the government of Iran on its refined petroleum products and financial institutions. In addition to these important initiatives, I consistently have supported robust funding for security assistance to Israel year in and year out during the appropriations process, so that it may maintain a qualified military edge – and I will continue to do so in the next Congress, should the voters in the new 9th Congressional Districtreturn me to Capitol Hill.

As I have said many times before, however, it is not just how you vote as a member of Congress, but what you do between votes that counts.

On Nov. 18, 2010, I led a group of more than three dozen members of Congress in writing to President Barack Obama, urging him to grant clemency to Jonathan Jay Pollard, the civilian naval analyst who pleaded guilty to a charge that he conspired to deliver national defense information to a foreign government. I had the opportunity to visit Pollard in federal prison, where he already has served over 26 years for his crime. He has expressed remorse for these actions and, in light of his declining health and the disproportionate nature of his sentence, I believe it is past time that Pollard’s sentence be reduced to time served and that he be freed. I believe this gesture would be an important sign of the friendship between the United States and Israel.

As a longtime subscriber, I appreciate The Jewish Standard giving me the opportunity to set the record straight on some of the most egregious claims that have been made against my record, chiefly that I oppose the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Nothing could be further from the truth. I sympathize greatly with the people of Israel, who have suffered from rocket and mortar attacks. I recognize the legitimate security concern posed to Israel by Hamas and other militant groups. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and is responsible for the death and suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians alike. A blockade that stops weapons and other materials from entering Gaza was and is entirely appropriate and legal.

The purpose of the letter to the president was to ensure that aid organizations were able to carry out their work on the behalf of civilians in Gaza. As a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, I strongly believe we must provide humanitarian aide to suffering civilians whenever possible. While most of the suffering of the people of Gaza can be attributed to the recklessness of Hamas, the blockade was too broad. In addition to preventing weapons from entering Gaza, it was also preventing medicine and food, as well.

It is worth noting that there is no daylight between my position and that of the Government of the State of Israel. In June 2010, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did reorient the blockade. Today, Israel maintains a restriction on the importation of military goods towards Gaza, but it allows medicine, food, and other non-military goods to enter the territory. This is the correct approach, and I appreciate the efforts of Israel’s prime minister to attempt to alleviate the suffering of those who have suffered for far too long under the regime of Hamas.

I am, always have been, and will continue to be a close friend to the State of Israel. As long as I have the privilege of representing New Jerseyeans in the United States Congress, I will continue to defend Israel, and work towards a strong and lasting peace and security for all.