The first thing I did after winning the Republican nomination for New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District was invite my Democratic opponent, Congressman Bill Pascrell, to Shabbat dinner at our home, so we could meet as people rather than opponents. I conveyed the invitation in writing and spoke to him directly by phone. Unlike Pascrell’s democratic challenger in the primary who attacked him mercilessly, I also wrote a highly respectful letter to Pascrell asking him to repudiate his signature on an infamous letter known as “Gaza 54,” which falsely accused Israel of practicing collective punishment against the Palestinians and libeled Israel by fraudulently accusing the Jewish State of denying essential medicines and food from entering Gaza in the blockade. My letter was well-balanced and thanked Pascrell for voting in favor of American aid to Israel. I also called Pascrell personally to invite him to Israel with me on a joint trip. Through all these efforts my intention was to practice a new kind of politics, foregoing partisanship and running an issues and values-based campaign where political opponents disagreed but always treated each other with respect and courtesy.
Sadly, I have now discovered that I am running against a career politician – now seeking his eighteenth year in Congress – a pro who would rather practice the politics of divisiveness and contempt that has so alienated the American electorate.
In response to my invitation for Sabbath dinner, after first accepting, Pascrell let it be known through a spokesman that he would not be attending. The invitation to visit Israel was met with stone-cold silence. A later phone call from our campaign politely asking Pascrell to a series of debates for the benefit of the district’s constituents was similarly met, after the promise of a response, without even the dignity of a returned phone call.
But it was Pascrell’s response on Israel and the libel he had participated in by signing the ‘Gaza 54’ letter that was the most offensive of all. I can forgive Pascrell for his continued contempt toward me by refusing to address me directly or even mention me by name, even in his letter written in response to mine. But his attack against Israel cannot be similarly overlooked. Pascrell answered my letter by repeating rather than repudiating the slander against the Jewish State. In an opinion piece in The New Jersey Jewish Standard, Pascrell wrote that the purpose of his signature was to “ensure that aid organizations were able to carry out their work on the behalf of civilians in Gaza… the blockade was too broad. In addition to preventing weapons from entering Gaza, it was also preventing medicine and food, as well.”
This is a bald-faced lie and constitutes a direct attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state. Israel never stopped food and medicine from entering Gaza. Ever. Indeed, the only blockade imposed on Gaza was a sea blockade. Land routes were always open, albeit subject to inspections on the part of Israeli authorities to prevent bombs and arms from entering. It is regrettable that a United States congressman would participate in a deliberate effort to defame the Jewish State and join the ranks of its most determined enemies in falsely accusing it of preventing food and medicine from reaching Palestinians.
It is also regrettable that a politician seeking to become the elected representative of some of America’s most Jewishly committed communities would falsely blame Israel for collective punishment against the Palestinians when the real culprit is the terrorist organization Hamas.
As I wrote in The Bergen Record in response to Julie Hurley, an activist who also libeled Israel over the Gaza blockade, I personally visited Gaza City on a solidarity trip to Israel with the Rev. Al Sharpton shortly after 9/11 and witnessed the unspeakable poverty that prevailed under Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, even though, as The New York Times reported, by 2004 the Palestinians had become “the world’s largest per capita recipients of international aid.” As the Congressional Research Service stated, “the United States alone has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.” Where did the money go? Sadly, very little of it ever trickled down to the Palestinian people, due to widespread corruption and theft on the part of the Palestinian leadership. In 2003, a team of American accountants – hired by Arafat’s own finance ministry – claimed that Arafat had wealth in a secret portfolio worth close to $1 billion. Pascrell, during his sole visit to Israel, which was organized apparently by the Metro West Jewish Federation of New Jersey, decided to insult his hosts by suddenly visiting Arafat, even though, as the father of modern terrorism, Arafat’s hands were utterly drenched with Jewish blood and he had stolen the food and medicine money of his own people.