Three New Jersey lawmakers are expressing strong support for Israel after having signed a letter to President Barack Obama advocating an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Reps. Bill Pascrell (Dist. 8), Donald Payne (Dist. 10), and Rush Holt (Dist. 12) were among the 54 House Democrats who appealed to Obama on Jan. 30, urging the president to seek “immediate improvements for Gaza.”
Specifically, the legislators called for a lifting of the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in order to permit Gazans access to food, water, medicine, fuel, and sanitation supplies.
“Israel’s right to defend itself and a concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip are not mutually exclusive,” Pascrell told NJ Jewish News. “I believe that there can be a better way to deliver clean water, medicine, and food to a civilian population that continues to suffer from entrenched poverty and devastation that is consistent with Israel’s security interests.”
The letter was coolly received by many of the largest pro-Israel groups, who said the letter did not take into account Israel’s security needs.
One critic, who asked to be identified as a top official with a pro-Israel organization in Washington, told NJJN that the letter was filled with “a lot of problems and inaccuracies” and its authors were “among the least supportive of Israel and its right to self-defense.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition urged followers to call members of what it called the “Gaza 54” and emphasize that the blockade was implemented “to counter the threat from terrorism originating from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.”
In the letter, the Congress members said they “recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups.”
But they wrote that Israel’s concern “must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”
“This is not an anti-Israel letter to me,” said Payne. “A lot of very mainstream members of the House signed it.”
“There is a tremendous amount of concern about the people of Gaza since the military operation there, and this is something I felt would help move toward a peaceful solution to this crisis,” Payne added. “We want to bring everybody back to the table.”
In an e-mail, Holt told NJJN that he signed the letter “to reaffirm my strong belief that providing humanitarian aid to ordinary citizens in Gaza is important, not just for humane reasons, but for Israel’s security interests.”
Holt wrote that he continues “to support Israeli military and foreign assistance” and that he has spent “a considerable amount of time in Washington and on visits to Israel seeking ways to reduce the threat to Israel and to strengthen her ability to respond to threats.”
Pascrell also noted that he is “a strong and consistent supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself,” including its military actions in Gaza.
Mike Halfacre, the Republican mayor of Fair Haven who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Holt for reelection, issued an e-mail statement criticizing Holt.
“The idea that Israel — which has endured countless terrorist attacks and as recently as a year ago was under rocket attack from Hamas in Gaza — should be taking advice from Rush Holt on how to best provide security for their people is the height of arrogance,” wrote Halfacre.
Zach Goldberg, Holt’s communications director, said that other than Halfacre’s statement, “we haven’t heard from constituents on this one.”
Pascrell’s camp had a little more feedback.
“We’ve gotten letters from some constituents inquiring why Mr. Pascrell signed the letter,” said his chief of staff, Ben Rich. “We are in dialogue with those constituents.”