Making their pitch to the Jews

Making their pitch to the Jews

Gubernatorial candidates Murphy, Ciattarelli address federation leaders

Phil Murphy, left, and Jack Ciattarelli
Phil Murphy, left, and Jack Ciattarelli

Governor Phil Murphy and his challenger, former state assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, addressed the Jewish community last week in a Zoom seminar organized by the Jewish Federations of New Jersey. That’s the public affairs arm of five of the state’s leading Jewish federations — Northern New Jersey, Greater MetroWest, South Jersey, Heart of New Jersey, and Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties.

Speaking separately, the two candidates — Mr. Murphy is a Democrat and Mr. Ciattarelli is a Republican — briefly made their case to the Jewish community and then took questions from federation activists.

Both spoke of their trips to Israel, their connection to New Jersey’s Jewish community, their support for deepening the state’s ties to Israel, and their opposition to anti-Semitism.

The forum took place last Thursday evening, two days after the second and final debate between the two candidates. In the forum, Mr. Murphy spoke first; he offered an opening statement, responded to five questions posed him by five federation leaders, and then gave a closing statement. Mr. Ciattarelli followed, again offering an opening statement, responses to the same five questions (though asked by different people), and then a closing statement.

In his opening statement, Mr. Murphy stressed his personal connections to the Jewish community. He mentioned that his wife Tammy’s father, Edward Snyder, was Jewish, and that his “ancestors escaped from the pogroms of the 19th century from Germany and Poland.” He mentioned the close friendship he forged with the Israeli ambassador to Germany when he served as the U.S. ambassador there, as well as his friendship with Thomas Nides, who has been nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Israel. And he mentioned his “seven trips to Israel since 2014.”

He noted with pride his administration’s accomplishments that affected the Jewish community, including “increasing dramatically private school funding for security and hardening of assets; pushing back against the awful rhetoric and actions of anti-Semitism, whether it’s Rise Up Ocean County” — the Facebook group formed to protest overdevelopment in Lakewood and surrounding communities, which both Mr. Murphy and then State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal criticized in a public letter to Facebook for fostering anti-Semitism, and 10 months later Facebook removed the page — or whether the anti-Semitism is expressed as “painting swastikas on houses and streets in Bergen County. And we will never, ever, relent.”

Mr. Ciattarelli began with the autobiographical portion of his stump speech, discussing his family’s hundred years in New Jersey, his being the only one of his parents’ four children to go to college, his training as a certified public account and his success in the medical publishing industry, as well as his government service, starting at the municipal level.

Then he pivoted to his trip Israel in August. “Those that knew I was going told me it would be a life-changing experience. And indeed, it was,” he said as he spoke of his visit to Tel Aviv, “a vibrant, cosmopolitan city”; to Jerusalem, which was “an unbelievable experience” where he “learned a great deal about the Jewish faith and the Jewish history”; and to Sderot, “right along the Gaza Strip. I learned about the Iron Dome. I learned about the constant threat that Israel is under.”

He said he met with Israeli entrepreneurs and business owners to encourage them to do business with New Jersey.

“I’m determined to make New Jersey a better place to do business,” Mr. Ciattarelli said. “And that means increasing our bilateral trade with allies and partners like Israel. Last year, Israel did $14 billion in bilateral trade with New York and only $1.5 billion of bilateral trade with New Jersey. There’s no reason for that disparity.”

He said that “under Governor Ciattarelli, Israel will have a very strong ally in New Jersey, and we will not tolerate any company that engages in anything that resembles anti-Semitic positions or behavior. I recently issued a very, very strong statement on Ben and Jerry’s. And when I was in the legislature, I voted for our New Jersey pension trust to divest itself of any company that takes a position that is anti-Israel.

“Let me also say that we as the most diverse state in the country are not going to tolerate any form of hate, any form of discrimination, or anti-Semitism, which the ADL tells us is up significantly, three years in a row.

“I think that there is power and beauty in our diversity. I celebrate every ethnicity, every race, and every religion. And I do believe that the 500,000 plus people of Jewish faith in New Jersey make our state more economically, intellectually, and culturally vibrant.”

The first question posed to the candidates asked what measures they would take to protect New Jerseyans from anti-Semitism, and what efforts they would take “to combat anti-Semitism on our public university campuses.”

Governor Murphy noted what he and his administration have done.

“I was in Jersey City,” the site of a massacre at at kosher supermarket, “within hours of the awful tragedy of December 2019,” he said. He said it’s a matter of using “both hard and soft assets at our disposal. It is very much law enforcement, and at the same time it’s using our bullhorn. Leaders have a responsibility to say and do the right things, and I hope we’ve done that.”

He stressed the importance of teaching kids “the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Regarding BDS, “Our investment counsel did exactly what they should have done,” taking action against Unilever “because of what their subsidiary Ben and Jerry’s wrong-handedly decided to do.”

Fighting anti-Semitism, he said, is not “something where you can wrap a bow around it and say, ‘We’re done. We’re finished.’ Sadly, I don’t think that will ever be the case. This is something where we have to exercise extreme vigilance forever and always I promise you to be the governor who will.”

Mr. Ciattarelli, when it came his turn to answer the question, said, “You lead by example. I think that my trip to Israel, which was extremely well covered, well publicized, sends the proper message that as governor, I value each and every person of Jewish faith in our state and that New Jersey is going to have a very, very strong cultural, religious, and economic relationship with this country’s most important partner.”

He said that he believed that “I’m the first gubernatorial candidate to actually have a rabbi who is part of my senior advisors,” referring to Rabbi Avi Richler, executive director of the Chabad of Gloucester County in Mullica Hill. “It’s pretty well known that he’s part of my brain trust, and I think that too sends the right message.

“I think it’s really important that whenever there might be, unfortunately, an anti-Semitic act, we have to call it out for what it is, and not delay in telling the people of New Jersey that it was an anti-Semitic act. It’s not to be tolerated. And those that enable the act, participate in the act, will be prosecuted to the full extent of law under our hate crimes legislation.

“With regard to our college campuses, I think we have to work with university leadership to make sure they’re addressing any and all issues on their campus and demonstrating zero tolerance for any form of hatred, discrimination, and anti-Semitism. If they’re not, I will certainly call them out.”

The second question was what the candidates would do to “encourage and foster a spirit of cooperation between the State of Israel and the State of New Jersey.”

Mr. Murphy again talked about what he had already done. He boasted that his administration had funded the executive director’s position at the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which the Christie administration had defunded. “We were instrumental and deeply involved in getting Teva Pharmaceuticals” — the Israeli drug company — “to plant their North American flag in Parsippany-Troy Hills.” (The company moved its U.S. headquarters there from suburban Philadelphia in 2018, in response to New Jersey tax credits.)

Mr. Ciattarelli began his answer by saying that despite New Jersey’s mandating Holocaust education in the public schools, in “too many districts around the state it’s not being taught.

“Also, as governor, I will form a Jewish council that I will sit with each and every month to listen to the concerns from leaders on behalf of the Jewish community.”

Turning to the topic of the question, “I want to expand that bilateral trade with Israel,” he said. “And the way to do that is by making it quite clear to business, religious, and civic leaders in Israel that they have a partner in New Jersey.”

The third question concerned the challenges the federations and their beneficiaries face in the wake of the pandemic: “What measures will your administration take to help charities meet increased service demands, retain employees, address rising expenses, and upgrade buildings and infrastructures?”

Mr. Murphy answered by talking about federal and state covid relief “including to charities.”

“I signed legislation that provides relief for New Jersey nonprofits that were facing steep unemployment bills,” he said.

“No matter how good a job governments do, we wouldn’t be where we are without faith leadership, without organizations like federations, without the nonprofits.”

Mr. Ciattarelli similarly said, “When you guys succeed, you make it easier for those of us in government, because of all he people you’re taking care of…. Non-profit organizations such as your federation do a much better job than government ever could.”

More concretely, he criticized the governor, whom he said “sits on $10 billion in surplus funds,” which Mr. Ciattarelli said should be used to build new school “in those districts that have dilapidated buildings that are actually a danger to our children, to improving our mass transit system… and three helping nonprofits in the community.”

The fourth question asked what the candidate would do “to ensure a strong and robust safety net to care for those in need.”

Mr. Murphy pointed to next year’s state budget, which “maintains a record level of investment in food and hunger programs,” he said.

“We’re focused on obsessively on not just food insecurity but economic insecurity,” he said, noting “hundreds of millions” of federal dollars have been earmarked toward “small business grants, childcare, rental assistance, food assistance, closing the digital divide.”

“There’s no one magic wand answer,” he said. “We will lean into this and we’ll continue to lean into it.”

“We are our brother’s keeper,” Mr. Ciattarelli began as he addressed the question. “And so why therefore I do believe in the social safety net? I do believe that we need to be very , very judicious and diligent in who it is that we partner with. And whether or not the money that we spend is actually producing a very, very positive outcome from the community.

“My job is to provide a thriving economy so that nonprofits such as yours can do a better job. I will always promote, preserve, and protect the public health and safety, but I also believe we have to challenge ourselves to save livelihoods. I do not believe the two are mutually exclusive.”

The fifth and final question addressed political polarization.

Noting that “politics in the state and around the country have become fiercely partisan and bitterly divisive,” it asked the candidates to describe ways “that you and your administration would work to restore faith in our political system, and reach across the aisle in the spirit of bipartisanship, to tackle our state’s most pressing  problems.”

“We all know that we took a turn for the worse on the us versus them stuff over the past five years,” Mr. Murphy said. “But listen, I try whenever I can to reach across the aisle…. I found common ground with President Trump, particularly during covid and our darkest hour…. If you think about issues, I think there’ s a bunch of issues where you can find common ground…. Frankly, I think Israel is a great example.”

Mr. Ciattarelli answered that “I won seven elections in this state, all seven times in races where Democrats outnumber Republicans…. I’ve always been able to accomplish that by going places Republicans don’t go.

“I’m a problem solver. So I have great working relationships with the Democratic leadership in the legislature.”

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