If Rabbi Shmuley Boteach were Rep. Rabbi Boteach (R-9th Dist.), he would be denouncing Syrian President Bashir Assad from the House floor every day.
And he would call on Congress to place a $25 million price on Assad’s head.
His desire to put human rights front and center makes him the real pro-Arab candidate, Boteach says.
“There is this wide perception that Bill Pascrell is a champion of his Arab constituents,” Boteach said. “What I am saying is that he is utterly unworthy and undeserving of that support. He is not the pro Arab candidate – he is the anti-Arab candidate.”
|Rabbi Shmuley Boteach contends Rep. Bill Pascrell has not been vigorous on human rights initiatives.|
What makes Pascrell anti-Arab for Boteach?
“He has steadfastly refused to use his position as the member of the most powerful legislative body on earth to protect and defend human life.
“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 where he is an elected representative, 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.”
The Pascrell campaign declined to address Boteach’s claims directly.
“Congressman Pascrell represents one of the most diverse districts in the country and has a proven track record of fighting on behalf of all of his constituents, no matter their race or religion,” campaign spokesman Keith Furlong said. “He continues to work to build bridges in both New Jersey and Washington, where he is focused on bringing Democrats and Republicans together to help middle class taxpayers, especially on building support for his Bring Jobs Home Act to insource jobs back to the United States.”
While Boteach appears to be correct when he says that Pascrell has not taken to the floor to denounce human rights violations in the Arab world on a daily basis, the incumbent Democrat does seem to have supported moderately activist American intervention in the civil struggles in the Arab world.
Pascrell was a co-sponsor in July 2011 of House Resolution 296, which expressed support “for peaceful demonstration and universal freedoms” in Syria and condemned “the human rights violations by the Assad regime.” The following month, he was among the many co-signers of a letter to President Obama urging that sanctions against Syria be tightened, and then he issued a statement praising Obama for urging that Assad step down.
And he supported American military intervention in Libya in a series of votes.
The Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy organization, rated Pascrell positively for votes on resolutions about democratic aspirations in Egypt and in favor of penalizing the Bahraini government. It gave him generally negative ratings on the Israel-Palestinian conflict – he was too pro-Israel for its taste – and mixed ratings on immigration-related votes.
Boteach did find support for his broadside against Pascrell from one Arab American Institute board member. Sherine El-Abd, who also serves as president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women, joined Boteach at a Paterson press conference last week.
“Bill Pascrell is a nice man, he has attended events of the Arab Americans, he has befriended them, but his voting record is not that good,” she said.
“He hasn’t even made the statement on anything of relevance pertaining to the Arab Spring, to what’s going on in Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Nothing,” she said.
She said that two other New Jersey representatives, Republicans Chris Smith and Scott Garrett, had made better statements about the upheavals in the Arab world. And she was sharply critical of the foreign policy of the Democratic Obama administration when it came to Egypt.
Would she vote for Pascrell if he were a Republican?
“I am a very loyal Republican, but I don’t give unconditional support to anybody just because they have an ‘R’ next to their name,” she said.
But one observer and member of the New Jersey Arab American community scoffed at the notion that Boteach’s critique of Pascrell would resonate – and earn votes – in the Arab community.
“He needs a lot of education about the Arab community and the issues that matter to them,” Aref Assaf, president of the Arab American Forum, a Paterson-based public policy organization, said. “I think he is trying desperately for attention.”
As for Pascrell not speaking out on Syria this year, “It’s not unusual. He is right now focused on his election, which is primarily domestic based.”
Assaf said that foreign policy issues were a secondary concern for the Arab American and Muslim American communities.
“Primarily we care about safety and security and civil rights, which have been infringed upon after 9/11,” he said. “We are held suspect simply because of our race and ethnicity. To be a Muslim or Arab is to be considered a target for law enforcement – it’s an uncomfortable place to be.
“Pascrell has spoken to these issues, and has denounced attempts to consider our community a fifth column.”
Assaf said that Boteach’s pride that his daughter is serving in the Israeli army will not endear him to the Palestinian community, which Assaf said is the largest group of Arabs in Paterson proper.
“In 1967 I lost a brother of mine who was 11 years old,” Assaf said, explaining his own anti-Israel animus. “It was an Israeli soldier who shot my brother. He was killed by an M-16.”
Assaf said that in the primary race between Pascrell and Congressman Steve Rothman, attacks on Pascrell for his association with Muslims – including Assaf himself, who was criticized for his criticism of an Orthodox Jewish effort to re-register Republicans as Democrats to vote for Rothman in the primary – ended up backfiring, leading to the high turnout and 96 percent support for Pascrell that prompted Arab American Institute President James Zogby to hail Pascrell’s primary victory as a turning point for Arab American political activism.
Writing on the Arab American Institute’s website, the group’s communication coordinator, Omar Tewfik, said that Boteach’s Paterson press conference should be seen the same way.
“Now, with Boteach actively courting the [Arab American] community,” he wrote, “the story that should have been written about this race from the beginning is emerging as an uncontested narrative about the importance of the Arab American community: If you want to win New Jersey’s ninth, you have to court Arab American voters.”
How much any of this matters is a different question.
“Except for the relatively small number of true swing districts, and outside of ‘tsunami’ years like 1994, 2006 and 2010, House campaigns rarely move enough votes to turn incumbents out of office,” said Mark Blumenthal, senior polling editor at the Huffington Post.
“Fifty or 60 years of survey research shows us that 80 percent or more of voters identify or lean to a party, and those identifiers will support candidates from that party roughly 90 percent of the time,” he said.
He noted that the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, which compares a congressional district’s presidential votes to the national results, shows that generally Democrats have a 10-point advantage in New Jersey’s Ninth District, where Boteach and Pascrell are competing.