It began after the state of New Jersey after the Garden State lost one congressional seat and its redistricting commission put Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman’s hometown of Fair Lawn into the same district as Republican Congressman Scott Garrett.
Rothman decided to avoid a costly war against Garrett, and opted instead to challenge fellow Democrat Bill Pascrell from Paterson in the Blue District 9, where much of Rothman’s former district was relocated (57 percent of the new district is from Rothman’s former district, and 43 percent from Pascrell’s).
Rothman actually had to move back to Englewood, where he used to be the mayor in the 1980s.
Now, with the race between the two fellow Dems who used to be best of friends getting to the finish line on Tuesday, many in New Jersey fear that it has given rise to the first bona fide Jewish versus Arab competition, and an ugly one at that. As Adam Kredo in the Washington Free Beacon put it, the battle “has transformed into a troubling ethnic brawl.”
Kredo quotes a veteran campaign strategist who told him: “For the first time in recent American political history, we are witnessing a proxy battle between supporters and detractors of Israel, and it’s playing out in the Ninth District of New Jersey.”
On Monday, an Arabic campaign poster supporting Pascrell urged the “Arab diaspora community” to “elect the friend of the Arabs” and billed the race as the most important election in the history of the Arab community.
The Jewish Press online’s own Iran-born cartoonist Salome Worch (“The Adventures of JooJoon”) who translated the poster for us, said it called on New Jersey residents to “Vote for a true Arab.”
According to the Beacon, Rothman has avoided the temptation of joining the ethnic brawl, and focused instead on his congressional record.
Josh Block, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told Kredo that, in his opinion, “Rep. Rothman has run an issue-oriented campaign, focused on progressive values domestically and abroad, including his strong pro-Israel credentials, among other things. Rep. Pascrell, however, has implicitly endorsed odious attacks on Rothman’s religion and commitment to the United States. These claims are reminiscent of canards regularly bandied about by White Supremacists and anti-Semites.”
Recently, 15 Orthodox synagogues in the district urged their members to switch party affiliation—frummies in Jersey have long since turned red—and vote for Rothman in Tuesday’s primary.
Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum and a resident of NJ-9, wrote in NJ.com: “…If it is Kosher for Orthodox rabbis to preach to their members on political candidates, then it must be Halal for Muslim Imams to do the same. We will soon find out if Muslim religious leaders will reach out to their respective congregations. Imams, like rabbis, wield disproportionate leverage in and uncontested access to their congregations.”
The candidate most likely to benefit from this war between Democratic brothers is another frequent contributor to the Jewish Press online, Rabbi Shmueli Boteach, who is running on Tuesday seeking the Republican nomination. In a meeting with the Jewish Press online editorial board, Boteach said he had a lock on about 36 percent of the Republican votes in the primary, well ahead of the rest of the field.
But as districts go, the new NJ-9 will not be an easy arena for the good rabbi come November.
But he couldn’t help adding his own five cents’ worth to the debate on the other side, with a call to the warring sides to love one another again.
“Congressman Rothman, was it really necessary to put out a mailer that said of Pascrell, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” Was it essential to say of your fellow Democrat that he is guilty of peddling “UGLY… BASELESS… CRAP.” (Your own emphasis.)
“Congressman Pascrell, did you really have to say of your fellow Democrat, ‘I lived in Paterson all my life. I didn’t have to move. You moved twice. If you’re such a progressive, why didn’t you take on the leader of the Tea Party instead of your ‘friend’ Bill Pascrell.'”