Norpac has Bob Menendez’s back
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Norpac has Bob Menendez’s back

New Jersey senator lauded for opposition to the Iran nuclear deal

Sen. Robert Menendez, left, and Dr. Ben Chouake
Sen. Robert Menendez, left, and Dr. Ben Chouake

It’s been a busy campaign season for Norpac.

The political action committee has a national presence as a leading pro-Israel political fundraiser, but its home is in Englewood, which means that its relationship with Senator Robert Menendez goes way back. And this has not been an easy re-election run for New Jersey’s senior senator, a Democrat. Mr. Menendez was tried in federal court on corruption charges; they were dismissed after the jury could not come to a decision, but he was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee. Mr. Menendez’s Republican opponent, Bob Hugin, is the former CEO and now the executive chair of a pharmaceutical company, Celgene. He has outraised the incumbent by contributing millions of his own dollars to his campaign.

This has led Norpac to host fundraising dinners for Mr. Menendez, some for as much as $1,000 a plate. In all, Norpac has raised half a million dollars for Mr. Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a political action committee, Norpac may not give more than $10,000 to a candidate in an election season, but it may organize fundraisers where donors cut individual checks and hand them straight to the campaign. The maximum individual donation is $2,700.

Compared to its efforts for Mr. Menendez during his last race, in 2012, this year “We’re doing a lot more,” Ben Chouake of Englewood, Norpac’s president, said. “He needs it.”

“We’ve had a whole bunch of events,” Dr. Chouake said. “It’s typically 20 to 50 people. Sometimes we make it more per individual and have fewer people. We tend to raise more money at those.

“The people willing to do the heavy lifting like a smaller venue.”

While most of the events have been in New Jersey, Norpac held one fundraiser for Mr. Menendez in the heavily Orthodox Five Towns on Long Island’s southern shore.

Dr. Chouake has known Mr. Menendez since he was a member of the House of Representatives. How long? “Twenty years, maybe longer.”

Dr. Chouake said that Mr. Menendez deserves the appreciation of the pro-Israel community, particularly for his support of sanctions against Iran and his vote against the Obama administration’s Iran deal.

“Menendez is more than just a vote,” Dr. Chouake said. “He’s the architect of most of the legislation to hold the Iranian hegemony in check. Most of the sanction legislation has his authorship. This is his marquee issue.

“He is a champion. This is important for him. This is his legacy. We’re grateful for it.”

Mr. Menendez was one of only four Democrats who voted against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to give the U.S.-Iran agreement its formal name.

“He felt the deal wasn’t good enough,” Dr. Chouake said. “He gave a whole speech on why he didn’t support it.

“We were disappointed with the other Democratic senators, but understood that when the banner carrier of the party is calling you up, you tend to listen. We’re still supporting some people who did vote for the JCPOA. But we’re giving more credit to the people who took a stand against it under enormous pressure.”

Dr. Chouake believes the corruption charges against Mr. Menendez were a response to his bucking the president’s policy on Iran.

“The Justice Department announced the indictment of Senator Menendez on the day he made the announcement that he would vote against the JCPOA,” Dr. Chouake said. “Talk about hardball.

“This isn’t a tweet. They tried to put the guy in jail. We give him a lot of credit for that. So we really feel it’s important to continue his tenure and we’ve really stepped up.”

Norpac also is supporting the embattled Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. “He also has the distinction of being one of the Democrats who voted against the deal,” Dr. Chouake said.

“People who need more help, we try to give more help,” he said.

That includes Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is facing an unexpectedly close race this year.

“We’re very across the board,” Dr. Chouake said. “Someone or another is going to hate us because we’re for or against somebody or other.”

In the House of Representatives, “Josh Gottheimer has been very good on our issues,” Mr. Chouake said; Mr. Gottheimer, a Democrat, represents New Jersey’s 5th District. “We’ve stepped up for him. Elliot Engel,” a Democrat, “was worried about his primary so we worked hard for him. We’re supporting Leonard Lance,” a Republican, “in Central Jersey.

“When I started this thing” — Norpac — “in 1997, we were thrilled to do two or three events. I said if we can only get to six events a year we will be super successful. We’re approaching fifty events a year now. It’s like having a member of Congress in your house once a week. There’s been an unbelievable response from the community.”

With the growth, “our strongest area is still North Jersey. We’re starting to have more events in Central Jersey. Riverdale and Queens are kicking in. Our Long Island chapter has picked up a lot of speed. The Five Towns is a very strong area, very Zionist. We’re doing ten events a year now in Long Island.

“I’m humbled by the response of people and very grateful that people want to be involved,” Dr. Chouake said.

JTA Wire Service contributed to this story

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