Rabbi Shmuley Boteach took his campaign against Rep. Bill Pascrell to the heart of his opponent’s district July 11, appealing for votes in Paterson’s Arab-American community.
Standing behind a cardboard podium in a small triangular park on Main Street, the Englewood Republican attacked the eight-term Democrat for refusing to highlight the plight of Syrians.
Speaking to a small group of reporters and campaign aides, the rabbis said, “None of us here can offer any excuse for our inaction while citizens of Syria are slaughtered en masse by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.”
It was the third time that Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi, author, and former reality television star, has made a direct appeal to Arab-American voters in the newly drawn Ninth District.
Seeking to undercut Pascrell’s support among one of his key constituencies, the rabbi charged that the congressman had not spoken out in support of the Arab Spring and the Arab democracy movement or “in condemnation of the dictators who kill and slaughter the Arab people.”
A check of the Congressional Record showed that Pascrell was a cosigner of an August 2011 resolution expressing support for “peaceful demonstrations and universal freedoms in Syria” and “condemning the human rights violations by the Assad Regime.” In August 2011 Pascrell issued a release saying he supported the Obama administration’s call for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down.
In another rapid-fire attack on Pascrell’s voting record, Boteach said the representative voted against the American invasion of Iraq. “Whatever one’s feelings are about that invasion and the war, Saddam Hussein is officially the greatest murderer of Arab life in the history of the world,” said Boteach.
“That Congressman Pascrell would be declared ‘the pro-Arab candidate’ is farcical. I am the pro-Arab candidate,” said the rabbi.
Boteach then had to pivot to tout his pro-Israel credentials while questioning those of his opponent. Pascrell has at times earned support from the pro-Israel NORPAC group, but has also been criticized for occasionally supporting measures opposed by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and other pro-Israel groups.
In the Democratic primary battle between Pascrell and Rep. Steven Rothman, NORPAC threw its support behind Rothman.
‘I will win’
Speaking from the podium, Boteach said he “found it puzzling that pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and NORPAC would declare their neutrality in this race…. Let me be clear. There is no such thing as supporting the democratic and moral Jewish state without supporting the freedom and rights of our Arab brothers and sisters” under Hamas, Hizbullah, and the government of Iran, he said.
Pascrell’s camp dismissed Boteach’s claims.
“Congressman Pascrell represents one of the most diverse districts in the country and has a proven track record of fighting on behalf of all of his constituents, no matter their race or religion,” responded a Pascrell campaign spokesperson, Keith Furlong.
“He continues to work to build bridges in both New Jersey and Washington, where he is focused on bringing Democrats and Republicans together to help middle class taxpayers, especially on building support for his Bring Job Homes Act to in-source jobs back to the United States,” said Furlong in an e-mail to NJ Jewish News.
Boteach was joined by Sherine El-Abd, a Clifton resident and a native of Egypt who is president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women.
She told NJJN her support of Boteach “has nothing to do with being Arab-American. It has everything to do with being American and being right on the issues, whether or not the issues pertain to Arab-American rights. I see eye-to-eye with the rabbi on many issues.”
But in interviews with NJJN, their opinions appeared to diverge on Israel.
Boteach said he opposes a Palestinian state “that will be taken over by Hamas. Hamas is dedicated and sworn to Israel’s destruction. No one is denying the Palestinians should have full rights. Given the complexity of the situation, the question is what should be done?”
But El-Abd said, “There should be a two-state solution” and hopes the Obama administration “spends some time so there will be stability and peace in the region.”
It is Boteach’s first try at political office, and, in a confident tone, he told NJJN, “I will win this race because Congressman Pascrell has not earned the right to reelection.”