The pro-Israel NORPAC raised $10,000 for Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) at a Bergenfield fund-raiser on Aug. 30.
The event represented a vote of confidence from the nonpartisan political action committee for the eight-term lawmaker from Paterson, who sometimes strays from the kinds of positions many hard-line pro-Israel supporters consider a prerequisite for their support.
“This was not a typical event, and frankly we did it because he generally says ‘yes’ to most of the things we ask of him,” NORPAC president Ben Chouake told NJ Jewish News. “He is not going to be out in front waving a rah-rah flag or being a cheerleader. He is not going to vote against funding for the Palestinian Authority, but he does vote for Iran sanctions, he will vote for Syrian sanctions, and he votes for foreign aid to Israel. There are some resolutions he will sign onto and some that he won’t.”
Chouake noted that Pascrell’s congressional district includes the nation’s second-largest Arab-American community after the Dearborn, Mich., area, as well as a sizable Orthodox Jewish community.
“How do you balance that?” said Chouake in a Sept. 1 phone interview. “You do what you think is the proper thing in your heart, and sometimes you have to do it quietly.”
The press of his medical practice prevented Chouake from attending the fund-raiser. But NORPAC members who were at the event told him that Pascrell was noncommittal on whether he will support cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations should an independent Palestinian state be declared by the General Assembly.
“The guy is in a tough spot. He’s got a mixed community,” said Michael Levin of Manalapan, a past president of the Jewish Federation of Ocean County, who was present at the meeting.
“I’ve been a supporter of Pascrell’s for 10 years,” Levin told NJJN in a Sept. 5 telephone interview. “He has been a supporter of the pro-Israel community for years and years and is a very valued ally.
“Not everybody says ‘yes’ to everything NORPAC wants, but he has always been there for us in a clutch. I have no doubt when the chips are down he will be there for the pro-Israel community and will do the right thing.”
In a Sept. 5 e-mail to NJJN, Pascrell wrote: “I am proud of my record in Congress advocating for policies that benefit the security and prosperity of the State of Israel, our nation’s great ally. From my first days in public service, I have had a long and enduring relationship with friends in the Jewish community, and I appreciate their support.”
But in the past, Pascrell has come under attack by Republican opponents for his Israel record.
Roland Straten, who opposed Pascrell unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2010, criticized Pascrell for being one of 54 House Democrats to sign the so-called “Gaza 54” letter in January 2010 urging an easing of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
In an October 2010 interview, the congressman told NJJN he had no regrets about signing the letter.
“It is very clear that Israel has every right to defend itself and every right to prevent Hamas from getting weapons,” he added.
“I do not say just what other people want me to say,” said Pascrell in 2010. “I do not try to ingratiate myself. I am proud of my record on Israel.
“I have voted for every dollar that has ever come up before the Congress,” he said. “I have supported every attempt of Israel to defend itself — not some of the time, but all of the time.”