A pro-Israel group led by prominent conservatives is running TV ads accusing Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) of being anti-Israel.
The 30-second spot, sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel, criticizes the six-term incumbent from Hopewell Township for signing a letter calling on Israel to allow more aid into the Gaza Strip and for serving on the host committee at a conference of the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street.
ECI’s founding board members are William Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard; conservative Christian activist Gary Bauer, a 2000 Republican presidential primary candidate; and Rachel Abrams, a contributor to Commentary and The Weekly Standard and daughter of neoconservative icons Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter.
The ad will run “some 200 times between Saturday and Wednesday” on various cable networks, including Discovery, TNT, USA, TBS, CNN, and Fox, according to Michael Goldfarb, who describes himself as “an adviser” to ECI.
The ad calls J Street an “anti-Israel” group and says the congressional letter “criticiz[ed] Israel for defending itself against the terrorist group Hamas.” J Street calls itself a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group.
The ad also charges that Holt has a “100% rating from an Islamic organization the FBI later called a front group for Hamas,” referring to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR has denied links to Hamas and was never formally charged.
In an e-mail statement to NJ Jewish News, Holt’s campaign staff labeled the ad “blatant lies represent[ing] the worst kind of politics, the kind that should be rejected, not embraced, by Scott Sipprelle,” a venture capitalist from Princeton who is Holt’s Republican opponent in the November election.
Sipprelle is being supported by NORPAC, the Englewood-based pro-Israel PAC.
Sipprelle’s press spokesperson, Chris Russell, declined to discuss the ad or its accuracy. “We are not going to have any comment on a third-party ad that did not come from our campaign,” he told NJJN. “We are focused on Scott’s positive message of economic renewal and political reform.”
Holt and his supporters inside District 12, which spans parts of Middlesex, Monmouth, and Mercer counties, have strongly asserted that he is pro-Israel.
“For anybody who looks at my record, I’ve supported over $35 million in aid to Israel and every resolution supporting Israel and every congressional action to strengthen Israel — whether it is sanctions for Iran or condemning terrorist organizations,” he told NJ Jewish News in June.
Holt’s press secretary Chris Donnelly said the lawmaker was “on the road all day” and unavailable for an interview about the ad on Tuesday.
Russ Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University who is not Jewish, told NJJN Tuesday in a phone interview, “There is no better friend of Israel than Rush Holt. To be attacked like this by a fanatical group of people is outrageous.”
In a telephone interview with NJJN, Goldfarb said the ad might be the first of several anti-Holt commercials. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “Holt is someone whose record we find particularly objectionable. He has an almost unique hostility to Israel.”
Holt was among 54 House Democrats who wrote a letter to President Obama in January urging him to address “the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and to ensure that the legitimate needs of the Palestinian population are met.” The letter asserted that “the people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.”
In June, Holt told NJJN he signed the letter because he wanted “more humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza than was currently going to them.”
But according to Goldfarb, by signing the letter, Holt “aligned himself with a group that has condemned Israel when it has been under attack.”
An Aug. 31 article in the on-line magazine Salon pointed out that CAIR’s “100%” rating was based on a single vote in 2005, when Holt — along with members of both parties — voted against a bill called the REAL ID Act, which would have created national identification cards.
“Look,” said Goldfarb in defending the ad’s citation of CAIR. “We did not write a book about Rush Holt. We just produced a 30-second ad. If you want to provide context for that and all kinds of qualifications, you are free to do so. Our goal in this is to provide context for Rush Holt’s record on Israel. We find it deeply troubling, and that is the case we are making in our ads.”
Reactions to the ad reflect a debate in the American-Jewish community about the degree to which lawmakers and organizations may disagree on Israel policies and still be considered pro-Israel.
Ben Smith, writing in Politico, says the anti-Holt ad “seeks, in part, to establish the boundaries of acceptable American politics on the issue of Israel.”
But Jennifer Rubin of Commentary disagrees, writing that ECI is trying to “recapture the term ‘pro-Israel’ from those who invoke the label but who take positions that are antithetical to Israel’s interests and that are supportive of Israel’s enemies.”