The Jewish Standard has forwarded a copy of this letter to Rep. Pascrell’s campaign and has invited him to respond in this space next week.
It was a pleasure speaking to you on the telephone last week. I thank you for your time and your friendly manner, and especially for agreeing to join me for a Friday night Shabbat dinner at our home. I believe the residents of New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District will benefit from us keeping our race positive and issues-focused.
Thank you, too, for your offer to introduce me to Imam Mohammad Katanani, the subject of much controversy in our district. Indeed, in your race against Rep. Steve Rothman, much was made of your friendship with the imam and your efforts to assist him in remaining in this country despite Immigration and Naturalization Service efforts to deport him over an earlier arrest by the Israeli authorities for membership in Hamas, which the imam concealed. Should the imam publicly repudiate those ties and condemn Hamas for their murderous intent against innocent Israelis, a meeting between him and me would be welcome.
Bill, I will not repeat the error some have made in labeling you an “enemy” of Israel. My religion commands me to speak truth and show gratitude, and you have voted in favor of foreign aid to Israel on numerous occasions. Perpetuating the myth, started in the Democratic primary, that you are a foe of Israel is something forbidden by my values system, which obligates me to thank you for votes in favor of the Jewish state. By assisting in the continuity of U.S. aid to Israel, you have made the Middle East safer – not just for Jews, but for the hundreds of millions of Arabs whose freedom under their own tyrannical regimes is largely predicated on Israel setting an example of a viable democracy in the Middle East, a region which Arab dictators claim cannot be democratized ever.
My objection to your stance on Israel lies, rather, in other of your actions that are troubling to the pro-Israel community. Most notably, you signed the infamous Gaza 54 letter, condemning Israel for “collective punishment” against Palestinians in the Gaza blockade. While this may not have been your intention, your participation in this cruel attack on Israel is highly injurious to the Jewish state’s ability to defend itself.
As you know, Bill, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. I can tell you personally how painful that withdrawal was since I visited the flourishing Jewish communities of Gush Katif in Gaza many times. Brave Jewish residents – nearly all of whom had a family member or close friend killed by terrorists in Gaza – made the desert bloom, growing fruits and vegetables of the highest quality out of the desert sands, literally.
They offered the hope that Gaza might be turned into a land of agricultural excellence, exporting produce to the entire world and benefiting both Jew and Arab alike.
I contrast this civilized landscape with the unspeakable poverty and misery that I witnessed in Palestinian-controlled Gaza City. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, I escorted the Rev. Al Sharpton to Israel in a trip of reconciliation with the Jewish community, which was jointly hosted by Shimon Peres, Israel’s foreign minister at the time, and myself. While in Israel, Rev. Sharpton insisted on visiting Yasser Arafat and, although I refused to meet the man who had the blood of my people on his hands and who had stolen billions of dollars from impoverished Palestinians, I did accompany Sharpton to Gaza and witnessed the squalor under which the Palestinian Authority kept its cities, despite billions of dollars in foreign aid. The New York Times reported in 2004 that “the Palestinians are already the world’s largest per capita recipients of international aid.” I did not witness this aid trickling down to average citizens.
Regardless, Israel uprooted the Jewish communities of Gaza – including my wife’s cousins, who years later are still living in the confining environment of a trailer – and evacuated from Gaza completely. Their reward? Thousands of rockets from Hamas hitting Israeli nurseries, homes for the elderly, and buses.
Hamas, as you well know, Bill, is sworn to Israel’s destruction and to attacking Jews wherever they may be found. Its covenant is deeply racist and contains vicious genocidal aspirations: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”
It is also an inhuman regime that brutalizes its Palestinian citizens, receiving regular condemnations from human rights groups worldwide. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned Hamas for “serious violations of international law, in some cases amounting to war crimes.” HRW also described the blatant use of torture by Hamas used to extract confessions for 22 individuals who were then prosecuted under Hamas’ corrupt judicial system.
Just this past April, Hamas executed three men for various supposed crimes. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned these killings and pleaded that these actions by Hamas must stop, and requested that all further executions be commuted. It described the killings as a “grave and unjustified violation of the right to life and a form of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.” It added, “The persistence of unfair trials made the executions particularly egregious.” Amnesty International added that the men “were executed after sentences issued and ratified by military and criminal courts in Gaza which fail to meet international fair trial standards.”
I need not add how gays and women fare under Hamas rule, such as widespread allegations that Hamas aids and abets honor killings of females. It also indoctrinates children in vicious anti-Semitism, while regularly threatening with death those who are not Moslem.
Most important, last July 11, a United Nations committee, headed by New Zealand’s onetime prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, made clear that Israel’s blockade was both legal and justified:
“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,” it said. “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”
Given these facts, I am mystified as to why you broke with close to 90 percent of Congress, in choosing to condemn Israel for imposing a blockade on Gaza even the United Nations agrees is legal and justified. Surely you do not want to see Israeli children with their extremities blown off. Surely you do not want to see Hamas having the military capability to execute suspected Palestinian collaborators without trial. Without Israel stopping war materials from entering Gaza, more innocent Israelis and Palestinians will be murdered in the most gruesome way. That is the purpose of a blockade, to stop terrorists from getting guns and bombs.
And why would you compound this error, Bill, by blaming Israel for collective punishment against the Palestinians? Is it Israel that is responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians, or Hamas, which has chosen to use all of Gaza as a launching pad for a war of annihilation against Jews – and using human shields to protect them from Israeli reprisals? Would you really blame the victim, Bill?
Surely, the Germans and Japanese suffered mightily for the U.S. naval blockades imposed during World War II. But was it the Americans who were responsible, or the Nazis and Tojo regimes? The Afghan people are suffering terribly due to the decade-old war on their soil. But is it the U.S. military who has visited this suffering or should the blame be placed at the feet of the monsters of the Taliban?
The new 9th District, whose congressman you seek to become, is different from your old 10th Congressional District. There, you had a large Arab-American population, which continues, in Paterson. No doubt you feel obligated to represent their interests, which I can understand. Arabs are my brothers, equal children under the one God. As a rabbi, I salute your constituents’ commitment to their Islamic faith. But how does supporting Hamas and condemning Israel help Arabs? On the contrary, Hamas is poison to the Palestinian cause. Palestinians need a government that will utilize the vast foreign aid flowing in to Gaza to build hospitals, roads, and universities to benefit the citizenry, not to buy rockets to kill Israelis. It is not helpful to any Arab to live under a terrorist entity that suppresses its rights.
But in addition to your Arab constituents, your new district also contains very large neighborhoods of committed Jews who are deeply puzzled by your being one of the Gaza 54. You owe it to them to either explain your signature or repudiate it.
Israel is not the reason Arabs are suffering in the Middle East. Rather, it is the Mubaraks, Gadhafis, Assads, and the woman-hating House of Saud that are the scourges of the Arab world, as the Arab Spring has finally made clear.
I respectfully request, Bill, that you either explain your signature on the Gaza 54 letter, or, if it was a mistake to sign it, as I suspect you now believe, that you please renounce it.
Likewise, I believe you when you tell me that Imam Katanani is a man of peace. But that claim must be backed up by the public action of his repudiation of any ties to Hamas, and his denunciation of Hamas as a terrorist group whose murderous actions are inimical to a peace-loving Islam.
I thank you for your time, Bill, and ask that you please accept my words in the spirit of the mutual respect and trust we are building. I look forward to discussing these issues with you, preferably in open forums where the public can participate, and even better, in the imam’s mosque, should he be kind enough to invite me and where I would be honored to join my Muslim brothers and sisters in their house of prayer.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach