On the eve of an election that will decide his political future, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., remains under fire for refusing to condemn anti-Semitic comments from his supporters. With New Jersey losing a congressional seat due to federal redistricting, Pascrell and fellow eight-term Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman are running against each other in Tuesday's hotly contested primary in the 9th Congressional District. The winner will be favored to win in November in this heavily Democratic district.
In the waning days of the primary race, American Arab Forum (AAF) President Aref Assaf (who has a large-sized picture of Pascrell and an Arabic-language Pascrell campaign sign emblazoned on his Facebook page) continued to suggest that supporters of Rothman, who is Jewish, are putting Israel's interests ahead of America's.
In a Memorial Day blog posting, Assaf said that some people refer to the city of Paterson, Pascrell's hometown, as "Little Jerusalem." Relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims there "have generally been friendly and cooperative," he wrote.
But he hinted that Jewish support for Rothman over Pascrell had the potential to change things, and not for the better.
"The Arab and Muslim community of northern New Jersey is taking notice of how Steve Rothman is using his support of Israel as the centerpiece of his campaign," Assaf wrote. "They take issue with Rothman bragging about his help in getting Israel over $50 billion in aid since 2001, while bringing only $2 billion to New Jersey residents." Rothman critics see this as "lopsided math expressive of misdirected commitment" to Israel, he added.
But according to Assaf, Arabs and Muslims weren't taking Jewish support for Rothman lying down. Motivated by "the candidates' position on Palestine," they were mobilizing across District 9 to raise money and get out the vote for Pascrell. Assaf boasted that James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, has raised more than $50,000 for Pascrell.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., an Islamist whose slurs even target Muslims who don't toe the Islamist line, also is helping Pascrell's campaign get out the Muslim vote. Ellison campaigned for Pascrell and Assaf believes Pascrell's re-election effort will be aided by his opposition to the deportation of radical Imam Mohammed Qatanani.
Assaf is no stranger to anti-Semitic comments. Earlier this year, he published several op-eds suggesting that Rothman supporters "demand total and blind support for Israel" and that "Jewish sources" criticized Pascrell because he was not "a perfect example of an Israeli loyalist."
Pascrell has refused to condemn Assaf's slurs. Susan Rosenbluth, publisher of the Englewood, N.J.-based Jewish Voice and Opinion, said Pascrell's refusal to speak out was disturbing. "I called Pascrell's office and asked, 'Will you condemn it?'" she told the Washington Free Beacon. "They said, 'We didn't write it.'"