We asked the candidates eight questions. Here are the responses of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Republican candidate for the ninth congressional district.
1. The “Establishment Clause” to the First Amendment – prohibiting the United States from enacting any laws or executive orders that suggest religious favoritism of any kind – has been seen as a barrier to financial aid in the form of tuition vouchers for parents who want to send their children to parochial or day schools. It also has been seen as a barrier to certain federal programs benefitting students from being used to benefit students in parochial or day schools. As a member of Congress, how do you view the Establishment Clause? What are its limitations? What is permissible under it, in your view? What is your position on tuition tax credits specifically?
A: Freedom of religion is a fundamental and pivotal American right, and separation of church and state must be reserved. However, it must not be taken to a draconian extreme, as it is when it comes to the denial of public funding for the secular disciplines of parochial schools. The fact is that the government has no money. It’s all the citizens’ money that they pay in taxes, and the hard working citizens of the Ninth District deserve to have their tax money used to send children to the school of their choice. There are few more important or personal issues than a parent being able to choose the educational environment within which their children are immersed. Now, whether this means tax credits or vouchers or government funding for the secular departments of parochial schools, can all be examined. What is certain is that parents deserve choice when it comes to their children’s education.
While traveling around the district, I have met countless parents, not just Jewish but African-American, Muslim, Catholic, and many other denominations, who are tired of being forced to send their kids to either failing public schools or to schools that understandably can’t provide their kids with a religious education that is so dear to the parents. The argument that charter schools or school vouchers will hurt public schools is no longer viable. Many studies have shown that, to the contrary, where there are more private and charter schools, the public schools are forced to compete, and competition is good all around, making the public schools much more efficient, professional, and successful.
What we should not have is the kind of hypocrisy we see from President Obama and the Democratic Congress, which will try and stop the DC voucher program that allowed low income parents to receive vouchers to send their kids to private schools, while those same members and the President send their kids only to private schools that are beyond the reach of most parents. Congressman Pascrell is a prime recipient of campaign money from the teacher’s unions, which block charter schools and school choice. If reelected he will continue to leave our children in failing schools.
2. Many people in this district send their children to private schools, be they religious-oriented or secular. Tuition in these schools are quite high. Families, especially in the Jewish community, have several children attending these schools. The financial burden is great on these families and some have been forced to take second and even third mortgages to cover those costs. Yet the mortgage option is not readily available today because of the financial situation in which the United States finds itself. As a member of Congress, what would you do to help improve the mortgage situation? Aside from tuition vouchers discussed in the previous question, is there any other relief Congress might be able to offer?
A. The best thing Congress and the federal government can do to relieve the mortgage situation is to create jobs. We must simply grow the economy by empowering job creators to create better and higher paying jobs that allow people to get mortgages and service the payments without default. The number one issue in this election is jobs, jobs, and more jobs. We cannot create jobs when we punish job creators. In our debates, Congressman Pascrell repeatedly demonized "the rich." I am not interested in creating class war in the United States, but rather incentivizing business owners to hire more employees and invest more in their companies. That’s why Congressman Pascrell’s constant plan of raising taxes and increasing burdensome regulations and punishing job creators is bad for homeowners, bad for parents, and bad for all taxpayers. We must return to a values system that rewards self-reliance and provides the opportunity for people to feel the dignity of productivity, while also creating a safety net for our brothers and sisters who are struggling. What won’t fix the problem is continuing to bury this country in debt, which puts us further on the road to financial ruin. Congressman Pascrell was mayor in Paterson for seven years. Paterson has the highest unemployment in New Jersey, with a staggering 17 percent, and per capita income in Paterson is a mere 15 percent. That is an absolutely appalling record.
3. Jewish law empowers religious courts at times to order abortions for women whose lives are endangered by a fetus, said fetus having acquired the status of a “pursuer” out to commit murder – of the woman carrying it. That is just one instance of how the abortion standards of Jewish law differ from secular codes. Indeed, at one point in the Talmud, in discussing the possibility of abortion just a moment before the head begins to crown, the Sages state unambiguously “gufa he,” meaning “it is her body.” What is your position on women’s reproductive rights? Is a woman’s body her own? Regardless of how you personally feel about abortion, do you believe it is fair to impose on all religions a standard some of them may not accept?
A. In your question, you rightly point out that the halakahic view of abortion is very different from the evangelical Christian view and the Catholic view. The precise Jewish legalistic view is a subject I tackled in my book Moses of Oxford, so there is no need to review it here. What is certainly true is that the Jewish legal position is much more lenient than the Catholic position, and it all comes down to the interpretation of Exodus 21:22-23. And we Jews differ substantially from the Catholic interpretation. Therefore, I’m not in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, not because I’m pro-abortion but rather because there is a better way to help prevent abortions, and that is, as the Guttmacher Institute reports, nearly 85 percent of all abortions take place outside of marriage. The best way, therefore, to prevent abortions and to finally end this terrible social wedge issue that has divided this country for so long is not through legal action to overturn Roe v. Wade, but by truly strengthening the institution of marriage.
The mistake in the American political arena has been to use the issue of abortion as a political football to win elections instead of working toward real solutions, like creating a society that has a far greater respect for women, bringing back a sense of sacredness to sexuality, and removing it from being simply a recreational activity. I’m also running for Congress to move this country away from wedge issues like abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. The obsessive focus on these social sexual issues has divided this country and done nothing to fix our values erosion. We need to bring universal Jewish values to the political arena and truly focus on saving the American family. We need tax deductible marriage counseling so that we can begin to save the 50 percent of marriages that end in divorce. We need tax breaks for companies that close on Sundays, so that employees can be home with their kids, and we can recreate an American Sabbath. And we have to stop debating and arguing about gay marriage, which will affect at most approximately 5 percent to 7 percent of the population and instead focus on the catastrophic heterosexual divorce rate, which is almost never mentioned in politics.
4. In Zivotofsky ex rel. Zivotofsky v. Clinton, 132 S. Ct. 1421 – Supreme Court 2012, the High Court ruled that the “courts are fully capable of determining whether [a specific federal] statute may be given effect, or instead must be struck down in light of authority conferred on the Executive by the Constitution.” The facts of the case, as stated by the court in its decision, are: “Congress enacted a statute providing that Americans born in Jerusalem may elect to have ‘Israel’ listed as the place of birth on their passports. The State Department declined to follow that law, citing its longstanding policy of not taking a position on the political status of Jerusalem. When sued by an American who invoked the statute, the Secretary of State argued that the courts lacked authority to decide the case because it presented a political question. The Court of Appeals so held. We disagree.” The Supreme Court sent the case back down for adjudication. Eventually, it will have to rule. If it upholds the congressional act, thereby affirming that Congress has a say in the formulation of foreign policy, would you as a member of Congress introduce and fight for legislation requiring – without any opportunity for periodic waivers – that the U.S. embassy be immediately removed from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of the State of Israel? Do you believe that the Congress has the right to help define U.S. foreign policy? Please explain your decision.
A: There is absolutely no question that the U.S. embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem immediately. I have visited the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, several times in his office and brought Birthright groups there. It is profoundly dispiriting to have to visit the United States embassy a block from the beach in Tel Aviv as opposed to the beautiful hills of Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s ancient capital. We must immediately remove the presidential waiver that has been invoked by three Presidents to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. It remains a deep insult to Israel and utterly outrageous that its capital isn’t recognized, let alone that Jews born in Jerusalem can’t have Israel printed on their passports. There can also be no question that members of Congress are involved in foreign policy. Congressmen sit on committees that deal with foreign affairs and security. They approve aid to foreign countries. More significantly, Congress of course votes on declarations of war. It’s not only their right to help define foreign policy, it’s their job.
Bill Pascrell has failed to lead on all of these issues. He continues to support an avowed Hamas member in Imam Muhammad Qatanani, who regularly spews anti-Israel invective, including a recent interview in which he said America’s first amendment should be replaced with Sharia law. In our debates, Congressman Pascrell refused to even look at all the evidence we provided about Qatanani. We released an ad where he actually said he would “do everything in my power” to keep Imam Qatanani in the United States despite INS, FBI, and DHS attempts to remove him.
Much more ominously, Pascrell is a signer of the Gaza 54 letter, something in our debates he said he was “very proud of.” Gaza 54 was the infamous libel against Israel that falsely accused it of collective punishment against the Palestinians and the lie that Israel denied food, clothing and medicine to the Palestinians in Gaza. Pascrell was even an outspoken supporter of known anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, and racist Chester Grabowski, who Congressman Pascrell called a “great friend,” a “family man,” who did “good in his community.” In our last debate, when I called him out on his association with Grabowski, he said “I’m proud of my friends.”
Despite representing a district with one of the largest Arab-American populations in this country, Pascrell has not given even one speech from the floor of the house condemning Bashar Al-Assad for butchering the innocent people of Syria. He has failed his Jewish constituents, he has failed his Arab constituents, he has failed to be the leader a Congressman should be.
5. Israeli settlements in the administered territories have been viewed by successive U.S. administrations, regardless of party affiliation, as barriers to achieving peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Do you agree that this true? Do you support the premise that Israel has the right to expand existing settlements to accommodate normal growth? What is your view about the construction of new settlements on the west bank? Please explain.
A. Israel is our greatest ally and the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. It is a country with the highest humanitarian ideals and principles, and no country facing so serious a threat to its very existence upholds freedom and liberty to the same extent as Israel. Arabs living in Israel enjoy the greatest freedoms of any Arabs in the entire Middle East. Therefore, I categorically reject President Obama’s recurring argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. That is blatantly false. The reason there is no peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is that they are sworn to Israel’s destruction. From Hezbollah and Hamas, whose actual charters call for the extermination of Israel and the murder of Jews throughout the world, to Bashar Al-Assad, who is one of the world’s foremost murders killing his own people to Ahmadinejad, who ought to be, as Mitt Romney has said, indicted for incitement to Genocide, Israel is surrounded by a sea of tyranny and neighbors who have tried to destroy it for six decades. It is Israel’s neighbors who must bear the full responsibility for the absence of peace rather than ever blaming Israeli settlements.
I visit the settlements regularly. I find the people there inspiring and peaceful. The settlers are brave residents, who simply want to cultivate arid land and make it bloom. They live meaningful lives dedicated to agriculture, industry, and raising their children. They have been subjected to murderous assault on countless occasions. It’s time that they stop being scapegoated as the reason there is no peace and the blame be placed squarely on the doorstep of Hamas, Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad, and other radical Islamist groups. Israel is the one true light of hope for democracy and human rights in the Middle East.
6. What is your position on foreign aid in general? What is your position on foreign aid specifically to Israel? To the Palestinians? Do you see any conflict between your general opinion and the specific ones, and if so, how do you explain this?
A. Foreign aid is very important, but it cannot be a blank check. We send money to the United Nations, and they then send aid to North Korea, which steals the aid to feed its nuclear-armed military as millions of innocent people die of starvation. There should be benchmarks for countries to receive foreign aid. America is a country of generous and big-hearted people, who are always devoted to helping the hungry and the needy. We can never forget that we are a charitable society, both at home or abroad. But our aid dare not fund tyrants and it cannot be abused.
Foreign aid to Israel is essential, given that Israel is America’s foremost ally, and Israel is on the front lines against international terror. Attacks against Israel almost always presage attacks against the United States, and I would absolutely continue full foreign aid to Israel.
However, I would make all aid to the Palestinians dependent on: A. Their full acceptance of Israel’s right to exist and protect itself. B. Being totally focused on fighting and neutralizing all terrorist groups in their midst. C. Respect for women, homosexuals, religious pluralism, and human rights. D. Accountable democratic structures that must exist in their society. E. All aid they receive must be put toward education, feeding the hungry, and supporting democracy and never toward bolstering terrorist Hamas with rockets and weapons.
I would either limit or suspend foreign aid to Egypt, as long as its new government espouses an Islamic doctrine of hostility toward Israel and the United States or offers any kind of support to terror groups. Egypt must prove that it is a reliable American ally to receive our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Egypt must also be committed to its peace treaty with Israel or be cut off.
7. The United Nations has declared that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. Do you agree? In your opinion, has Israel crossed the line in preventing certain items from passing into Gaza? It is not true that Israel’s prime minister or its government has ever suggested that it agreed with the charges made against it in the so-called Gaza 54 letter. Do you agree with those charges, or with the State of Israel that those charges are false?
A: I completely agree that the blockade is legal and necessary to ensure that Hamas, one of the most murderous, monstrous terror groups in the world, is prevented from acquiring guns and rockets to slaughter innocent Israelis and Palestinians under their rule. We should also clarify that there has never been a complete blockade of Gaza – just a naval blockade. The land routes have always been open, albeit subject to inspection, so bombs and bullets do not enter. The UN declared this to be a legal blockade, and the UN is hardly known for any kind of pro-Israel posture. Food, water, and medicine have never been prevented from entering Gaza. Bill Pascrell participated in a clear libel against Israel and the Jewish people by signing the Gaza 54 lie that Israel is responsible for collective punishment against the Palestinians and denied these essential humanitarian supplies. In our three debates, and twice in lengthy media entreaties, I pleaded with Pascrell to simply repudiate his signature on the letter and renounce his libel against Israel. Not only did he refuse to do so, which can be seen on the footage at Shmuleyforcongress.com, but he actually repeated the libel and then, falsely and fraudulently, claimed that Prime Minister Netanyahu actually agreed with him. I checked this with the prime minister’s most senior advisers, who confirmed that the claim that Israel ever denied food and medicine to the Palestinians is patently false. Search the entire Internet, and you will see that Pascrell is willfully misleading and has not had the courage to repudiate his libel against the Jewish state.
8. The Jewish people often invoke the Shoah, the Holocaust, in declaring “never again.” By “never again” is meant that never again must the world allow the wholesale slaughter of people for whatever reason. As such, Jews are almost always in the forefront of campaigns to call attention to the slaughter of innocents everywhere in the world. A current concern is Syria. As a congressman, what legislation would you back regarding a role for the United States in bringing an end to the slaughter of innocents there? What about Darfur and the Sudan, and other such dangerous locales? Should the United States take an active role in ending such mass murders? If yes, how do you define “active role”? If no, do you believe that the United States must not be “policeman to the world”? Either way, please elaborate on your answer.
A. Not only do I stand for freedom everywhere and genocide prevention, it is an absolute central plank of my entire political platform. I traveled to Rwanda in the middle of my campaign to highlight anti-genocide prevention and how the United States must enforce the UN anti-genocide convention, which came into effect in 1951. After my return I was pleased to organize Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushkiwabo addressing a gathering of leading Jewish Philanthropists and activists, including Michael Steinhardt, founder of Birthright Israel, Jerry Levin, president of UJA Federation of New York, and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, leading funders of Birthright Israel and Yad Vasham, and many others, to discuss growing relations between Rwanda, the United States, Israel, and the Jewish community. I was even more grateful that, when in a meeting with President Paul Kagame, I pressed for an opening of a Rwandan Embassy in Israel, given both nations’ horrible experiences with genocide, that Foreign Minister Mushikiwabo announced just 10 days later at a press conference we organized that they indeed would be opening an embassy in Israel.
I have repeatedly condemned Congressman Pascrell for his misleading claim to be the pro-Arab candidate in the race, when for him pro-Arab means regularly criticizing Israel. Unlike Congressman Pascrell, who has yet to condemn the slaughter in Syria from the floor of United States House of Representatives, I have been a leading voice in demanding that Bashar Assad be branded a war criminal by the United States and that a bounty of $25 million be put on his head for his arrest and trial at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. I have called repeated press conferences and published columns highlighting the tragedy of the indiscriminate slaughter of our innocent Arab brothers and sisters by Assad. In all this time, Pascrell has remained silent in Congress.
In my meeting in early June with Prime Minister Netanyahu in his office, I asked if Israel could accommodate refugees from Syria who were trying to avoid Assad’s killers. But it is the United States, as the world’s sole superpower and most benevolent nation, that must take an active role. This does not mean putting boots on the ground or enforcing a no-fly zone. It must begin with the president of the United States standing before the General Assembly of the UN and labeling Assad a war criminal, demanding he be brought to justice. “Never again” must mean just that. This isn’t about the United States being the world’s policeman, but rather about the United States being the harbinger of freedom and a beacon of liberty to all people. Let’s not always choose extreme positions, which say we have boots on the ground and enforce no fly zones, or do nothing at all. The language used by a President and a Congressman matter. The indictments against tyrants in international tribunals matter. Legislation matters. President Obama and Democrats like Congressman Pascrell have yet to fulfill the President’s 2008 campaign pledge to label the Armenian genocide a genocide.
In all of our debates, the most we could get from Congressman Pascrell with regard to Syria was to get him to call for Assad to finally leave. The idea that this man would simply leave to another country when he has murdered so many people and not face trial is morally repugnant.