In two separate meetings with local Jewish community leaders, Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) discussed his stand on Israel and surprised some attendees by saying he supports an “undivided Jerusalem.”
Holt and his aides addressed rabbis and day school and community leaders Sept. 2 at a meeting facilitated by the Orthodox Union at the Young Israel of East Brunswick.
Another roundtable meeting with Jewish leaders from the general community was held Aug. 24 at the Plainsboro Public Library.
Both meetings came as Holt fended off an attack from a conservative pro-Israel group. An ad by the group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, criticized Holt for his support of the left-leaning Israel advocacy group J Street and his signature on a letter urging Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza in order to allow in more humanitarian aid. Holt is being opposed by Republican Scott Sipprelle.
The East Brunswick meeting, closed to the press, touched on a broad range of topics, according to Smith and participants. Most of the meeting focused on the six-term incumbent’s stand on Israel.
“It was a very good meeting,” Holt told NJJN days after the meeting. “We talked not only about Israel but religious schools and how they can survive. We talked about religious freedom and anti-Semitism. It was a cordial, warm meeting, and I walked away feeling I had some new friends, not necessarily political supporters. I don’t know. There is probably a larger percentage of political conservatives in such a group, but we didn’t talk politics, except to the extent that people were trying to make Israel a partisan political issue, and I railed against that.”
Maury Litwack, the OU’s deputy director of public affairs, called the meeting “honest and thoughtful.”
David Falk, chair of the East Brunswick shul’s political action committee, told NJJN he gave Holt credit for not “dancing around anything we asked, whether we agreed or did not agree.”
Participants said Holt denounced the television ad by ECI — which was founded by conservative strategist William Kristol — which asserts Holt is “against” Israel.
“It was a very timely meeting because the ad came out two days before,” said Falk, “and he really came in guns ablazing to defend himself against the ad.”
Falk said Holt defended the letter on Gaza, which he and 53 colleagues signed in the wake of June’s flotilla incident. The letter was the initiative of Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott from Washington and Keith Ellison from Minnesota and was drafted by J Street.
Falk added that Holt was “adamant” that the letter was innocuous and “everything the letter said has now become Israel’s official policy in regard to humanitarian aid.”
“We said that may be, but you have to look at it in terms of who else is signing it and who you are aligning yourself with,” said Falk. Holt is “a smart guy and I think he’s very sincere, but I don’t think he got it at the time in terms of Orthodox sensitivities and I’m not sure he still gets it even after the meeting.”
A press release issued by the OU following the meeting reports that Holt said Israel is “more than just an ally; Israel is an inspiration,” citing its achievements in education, science, and agriculture. He added that throughout his career “I have been dedicated to the security and prosperity of Israel.”
“I will continue to be a tireless advocate for Israel,” added the congressman.
The release further stated that Holt “agreed with the Orthodox Union’s position on Jerusalem, passionately arguing that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel as it has to be an open city, something which never occurred under Arab rule.”
Contacted by NJJN, Holt spokesman Zach Goldberg said the statement in the release was accurate.
Falk, who termed the two-hour get-together “productive” and “positive,” said that Holt’s statement in support of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was “eyebrow raising.”
“His position was unequivocal and we need to hold him to it,” said Falk. “He was asked multiple times and his only caveat was that it has to remain open to all religions, which has always been the case. But he was absolutely behind it and people were clearly surprised he was that decisive about it.”
Litwack added, “Our community was overwhelmed by his support for an undivided Jerusalem.”
“That is not just some generic pro-Israel statement,” he told NJJN in a phone interview from Washington. “That is not the position of someone with a bias against Israel. We were absolutely delighted.”
Litwack said the OU had a long history of working with Holt on important domestic policy issues and that it often sets up such dialogues with legislators. Earlier that same day it facilitated a meeting with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6), who is also up for re-election, at Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park.
“I think we did 40 or 50 of these last year with members of Congress,” Litwack said. “I think we met with every freshman member of Congress who represents an OU community.”