Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Dist. 9) won a pro-Israel PAC’s backing in his battle to hold onto a congressional seat.
The Englewood Democrat, who is locked in a primary fight with Rep. Bill Pascrell over a newly redrawn congressional district, has raised $125,000 from fund-raisers sponsored by NORPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group based in Englewood.
Meeting in members’ homes on two consecutive Sundays, March 11 and 18, Rothman received warm support as well as contributions when he spoke “about what everybody is talking about — Iran. Everybody is freaked out that fanatics are getting close to nuclear weapons and Armageddon,” said NORPAC president Ben Chouake.
Although the meetings were off-limits for reporters, Chouake briefed NJ Jewish News by phone on March 19, saying in essence that Pascrell, who has received NORPAC contributions in the recent past, may be supportive on matters concerning the Middle East — but Rothman is better.
Chouake described some differences. “Pascrell has basically been a solid vote on a lot of matters, including Iran,” he said, “but on issues where you get into Israeli-Palestinian relations, he tries to do the right thing, but he also tries to cater to the Palestinian constituency and the Muslim constituency in his community.”
Pascrell’s district includes Paterson’s large Arab-American community.
“If you are talking about real estate or the tax code, you can say, ‘OK, let’s take a compromise position,’ said Chouake. “The problem becomes one side saying, ‘We want to have peace and coexistence and a two-state solution’ and the other side — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — teaching their children to kill our children. Where do you find a compromise in that?,” asked the NORPAC leader.
Added Chouake: “The point of our endorsement is that Rothman has been that good. Not only has he focused on the welfare of New Jersey, but he is extremely focused on U.S.-Israel relations. It has been a lifelong dream for him.”
In a written response via e-mail, the Pascrell campaign disputed Chouake’s contention.
“Congressman Pascrell has a long history fighting for matters important to the pro-Israel community, including co-authoring the ‘Promoting Antiterrorism Through International Cooperation Act,’ a bill signed by President Bush that expanded collaboration between the United States and Israel so they can work together to address our common terrorist threat,” wrote Pascrell spokesperson Sean Darcy.
Noting that “Congressman Pascrell has also seen a significant amount of support from many within the pro-Israel community in this campaign,” Darcy cited a strong endorsement from David Steiner of West Orange, a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Meanwhile, the Pascrell campaign pointed to an endorsement of their candidate that came from Rothman himself in an Oct. 15, 2010, letter to the editor of NJJN.
Calling his current opponent “my dear friend,” Rothman wrote in 2010, “As a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Bill Pascrell has consistently voted in favor of legislation supporting the Jewish state, such as the billions of dollars in military aid we allocate to Israel every year and sanctions against Iran….
“Bill Pascrell votes in favor of issues important to the pro-Israel community.”
The letter from Rothman was in response to comments by a Republican challenger to Pascrell who questioned his pro-Israel credentials.
Pascrell’s camp is pushing back against suggestions that Rothman will better represent Jewish interests. Darcy noted Pascrell’s cooperation with local Jewish federations on aging-in-place programs and senior transportation legislation, and his defense of Social Security and Medicare.
On issues apart from the Middle East, Chouake noted that Rothman “has managed to get himself in a position where he can do a tremendous good for his constituency. Being on the Appropriations Committee — the number one committee — he is extremely important to the people of New Jersey, far beyond Pascrell.”