New Jersey’s 9th CD Voters Say No to AIPAC

by James M. Wall

One election night victory in one New Jersey congressional district does not represent a major shift in American politics. But shifts do occur, and they must start somewhere.

On the night of June 5, 2012, this was the news the Star-Ledger reported from the Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ.

In an upset, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell has defeated fellow incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman in the Democratic primary for the 9th Congressional District.

What makes the news from Passaic County so surprising was that Pascrell’s election to a House seat from New Jersey’s new 9th district was not supposed to happen.

How could it, two years after the news broke that Bill Pascrell was one of 54 House members who signed a 2010 letter to President Obama urging him “to use diplomatic pressure to resolve the blockade affecting Gaza.” The letter reads, in part:

The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts. . . . The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering.

Signing that letter was a risky political move for Pascrell. It was certain to stir pro-Israel forces, led by AIPAC, the powerful fund-dispersing and rhetorical master source of invective against any member of the US Congress who dares raise a voice on behalf of  “the citizens of Gaza”.

And stir them it did. The Israel Lobby left Pascrell alone in the 2010 election cycle because he had no serious opposition in either the primary or general election. Wolf packs don’t attack strong members of a deer herd. The pack waits for the opportunity to bring down victims perceived to be vulnerable.

Following the 2010 census, New Jersey’s population decline led to the loss of one congressional district, dropping the state from 13 to 12 districts. By law the House is allowed 435 districts, divided according to population, among the 50 states.

After new district lines were drawn, the new 9th CD New Jersey voters were forced to choose between two incumbents, Steve Rothman, the member from the 9th CD, who had held that seat since 1996, and Pascrell, who had served the 8th CD for the same number of terms.

In December, 2011, Rothman’s hometown of Fair Lawn was moved into the Republican-leaning district of U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.).

Instead of running against an incumbent Republican, Rothman moved his residence to Englewood — the city he once served as mayor. He preferred to run against Pascrell in the new 9th District. Pascrell was at a disadvantage. The majority of voters in his new district had previously voted in Rothman’s old district.

In a surprise development, even to many of his supporters, Bill Pascrell, (pictured above) raised  his arm in victory to celebrate his 61%-39% victory in the new 9th district, defeating Rothman by a strong margin of 30,227 to 19,228 votes.

How did this happen? It really is a simple story.

When two sitting members of Congress are forced to run against one another, AIPAC decides which one is best for Israel.

In the case of New Jersey’s new 9th CD, both Pascrell and Rothman had “good” voting records on behalf of Israel’s “security”. Votes cast, however, are not the only measure AIPAC examines. To win AIPAC’s endorsement, along with its fund-raising network and its carefully-honed rhetorical invective, the candidate must convince AIPAC leaders of his or her absolute loyalty to Israel.

In Pascrell’s case there remained the matter of Pascrell’s signature on the 2010 letter to Obama. Rothman had not signed the letter.

On January 13, 2012, AIPAC made its choice known through a story in the pages of the New Jersey Jewish Standard

The Standard reminded readers that Rothman “sits on two key appropriations subcommittees handling assistance to Israel: the state and foreign operations subcommittee and the defense subcommittee, where he has helped secure funds for Israeli missile defense systems”.

To bolster AIPAC’s case, The Standard’s story invoked two voices of authority to indicate just how important that defense subcommittee assignment, which, no doubt was arranged by AIPAC’s agents, is to Israel.

The first voice was an official of the Israeli embassy familiar with Rothman’s work on missile defense, who told the Standard,  “Steve Rothman has been instrumental in actively championing missile defense cooperation for years.”

The second voice of authority was that of Josh Block, “a former longtime spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committees, who said that Rothman has a record of pro-Israel leadership second to none.”

The Standard concludes, “In the Democratic primary race between Rothman and Pascrell, ‘the differences couldn’t be clearer.'”

To underscore that difference, Josh Block harkened back to Pascrell’s signature on the 2010 letter. In his reading of the letter, Block accused Pascrell of  having “actually sided against American support for Israel’s right to defend herself against weapons smuggling and attacks by terrorists.”

Did the letter say that? Of course not. But from AIPAC’s perspective and from the perspective of the deep-pockets of the PACS it directs from a discrete distance, truth is not the issue, Israel is.

It was an easy decision for AIPAC to make. In a January JTA story, one congressional aide, whose boss previously served with Rothman on the House Appropriations Committee, said, “There are less than a handful of congressmen who bring the kind of passion, intensity and commitment to America’s security and Israel’s security that Steve Rothman does.”

“He has a laser beam-like focus on defeating the enemies of Israel, and he’s definitely not shy about holding the State Department accountable.”

The picture above, released by Congressman Rothman’s office, emphasizes the congressman’s pro-Israel credentials. In the picture, the congressman stands in his office between the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt.-Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, left, and O’Reilly’s counterpart at the Israel Missile Defense Organization, Arieh Herzog.

Voters in New Jersey’s new 9th CD were not sufficiently impressed by Rothman’s closeness to Israeli officials and his reliable votes favoring Israel.

Voters may also have been offended by attacks on Congressman Pascrell.

You would not know it from reading the local New Jersey papers, nor the New York Times, nor the Washington Post, none of which picked up on the beneath the mainline media-radar Zionist right wing attacks on Pascrell.

Reporting on Pascrell’s victory, the mainline media preferred the story line that former President Clinton endorsed and supported  Pascrell while President Obama’s chief strategist David Alexrod made a last minute appearance with Rothman to lend White House cache to Rothman, who had been  an early supporter of candidate Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries.

The right-wing attacks inspired by the Israel Lobby were led by Steve Emerson, a former AIPAC staffer.

Phillip Weiss wrote on his Mondoweiss site:

Steve Emerson, the rightist Islamophobe who formerly worked at AIPAC, put out a long vicious hit piece on Pascrell depicting the Roman Catholic Pascrell as an “Islamist Fellow Traveler.”  . . . Rothman embraced the lobby onslaught, doing everything he could to make the primary a referendum on Israel, Islam, Muslims, etc.

Then, well below the media radar, something surprising took place. Pascrell received strong support from an unexpected source.

James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, a Christian Lebanese-American and a strong supporter (like Pascrell) of Israeli-Palestinian peace,  came in to work with the district’s Arab-American population and help the local people organize  for Pascrell.

Weiss emphasizes that “the issue wasn’t Israel; it was Rothman’s Arab and Muslim-baiting which offended Arab-Americans as much as Jews would be offended by an openly anti-Semitic candidate.”

Weiss concludes and clearly wants to stress, that “Bill Pascrell did not win because of the Israel issue. He himself is pro-Israel, just not anti-Arab.”
As Weiss reads the campaign, Pascrell won because of his own strong Get Out The Vote campaign, his door to door effort and “because he is an effective and strong progressive from a district that appreciates that.”
Pascrell’s victory was a surprise and it could be only an anomaly. Or, it could be the beginning of a new spirit in American politics in which AIPAC no longer controls Congress.
In any event, Congressman Pascrell’s victory in New Jersey’s 9th CD, was a “bright shining moment” in American politics. In its own way it may mark the beginning of a new tectonic shift in the geological ground under our political landscape.
 The picture above of Congressman Pascrell is by John Munson, of  The Star Ledger (New Jersey).

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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19 Responses to New Jersey’s 9th CD Voters Say No to AIPAC

  1. John Kleinheksel Sr says:

    I hope you are right. What a techtonic shift that would be indeed. AIPAC and their supporters not ruling the Congress. We have such a long way to go. Congrats to all who made this “win” possible. John Kleinheksel

  2. Samia Khoury says:

    It is high time this shift takes place

  3. Pingback: New Jersey’s 9th CD Voters Say No to AIPAC | | New Jersey News Headlines and Breaking News | News Directory

  4. Fred says:

    An interesting race. For once AIPAC lost. It takes organizing and hard work to do that. It is hard to win over one issue lobbies like AIPAC which sees everything through the lens of Israel. Do Americans need a Paliestine First Lobby as the only way to counteract Israel Firsters?

    By the way, if you get a chance to see the independent film “Five Broken Cameras”, about the Palestinian nonviolent protest to fight agains the theft of their land, it’s an inspiring film to see.

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  6. RoyHayes says:

    It’s like you wrote, Jim: “A major shift in American politics…. must start somewhere.”

  7. Dan Hall says:

    It’s high time that congressmen spoke out against AIPAC and its control of congress. There is nothing Americans hate more than to have supporters of a foreign country control their congress. And why should the rich country of Israel get ANY money from US taxpayers? Go, congressmen, go. Campaign against anyone who blindly supports Israel to the detriment of solving our deficit and problems here at home.

  8. Eugene Fitzpatrick says:

    I think the realignment of districts also deprived Rothman of a substantial segment of the Jewish electorate in N.E. New Jersey, Teaneck in particular being a case in point. I think Phillip Weiss is correct that “the issue wasn’t Israel” and I’d bet the outcome was the result of altered demographics favoring Pascrell and not a harbinger of new thinking on the part of voters relative to the Is-Pal issue.

    The letter to Obama cited above regarding the seige of Gaza not-
    withstanding, Pascrell’s voting record the last 5 years reveals him to be a loyal sycophant for AIPAC and one can expect him to quickly mend fences and resume using his voting power as they direct.

  9. Hmm — I found this final paragraph in a news report embedded in one of the cross-referenced (red-ink) sources cited below:

    “Pascrell will go on to face Republican Shmuley Boteach, a celebrity rabbi and self-help author, in November. The district is heavily Democrat, giving Pascrell — a 16-year incumbent — a big advantage.”

    It may well be that the incumbency factor and Pascrell’s seemingly deep Zionist fealty will indeed translate to a “big advantage” in November. But what if AIPAC decides to turn its spotlight for punishing Pascrell onto the “celebrity rabbi” Boteach? We all know that, with slam-dunk votes such as 411-2 in the House, both Democrats and Republicans genuflect with equal reverence to Israel and its minions; thus, AIPAC is hardly constrained by party affiliation….

  10. dedc79 says:

    There’s something internally inconsistent about this argument, which seems to go something like this:

    1) AIPAC is all powerful and always wins
    2) This election was a referendum on AIPAC’s power
    3) AIPAC lost

    All three are debatable propositions and the first and third are contradictory. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to conclude that AIPAC has never been quite the force of nature that it’s been characterized as?

  11. Fred says:

    Pascrell has also been a strong Israel supporter, despite his one vote to support diplomacy to help relieve the suffering of the Gaza population under the illegal Gaza blockade—hardley an anti israel position, but just humanitarian.

    If any candidate dares speaak out stongly against Israel’s land thefts, house demolitions based on ethnicity, apartheid policies, and it’s Jewish Supremacy Laws, I can assure you that the wrath of AIPAC would be upon them, and all efforts would be made to see that they lose.

    Many progressives will not tolerate policies of justice towards Palestinians. We have a long way to go.for our Congress to make a stand for human rights and equal treatment under the law for the non Jews of Israel/Palestine.

  12. I think that ALL elected officials should be held accountable to an Israel first policy…. or any other policy that puts the needs of a foreign country before the needs of the United States, and PAC’s that put the needs of a foreign country ahead of the needs of the United States should be outlawed. Then not only would we have a safer richer nation we would have one with better moral values and a better standing among the people of the world.

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  14. Mohammed says:

    Not only will the US deficit benefit from dislodging America’s Israel First foreign policy, it’s leadership in the world at large will be hugely enhanced through abandoning an aparatheid country, whose support deplete the US moral authority among the 1.6 billion Muslims and those countries that see Israel for what it is.

    Ron Paul’s stand against the recent bill passed by congress doling out billions of dollars to Israel, no matter how faint, will be a beacon of hope that America is in fact what it proclaims itself to be. I have read with bewilderment his speech against that bill. More bewildering to me was the huge popularity he was enjoying in his Presedintal bid.

    US defecits aside, Israel right now is sabotaging nuclear negotiations with Iran, while the US President is hostage to its whims with an election around the corner.

    World peace, demands realignment of US foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel.

  15. Fred says:

    Well said. What we need now is a single issue Lobby to go toe to toe against AIPAC, to try to challenge its power. We also need to classify AIPAC as an agent of a foreign government, which would greatly limit the amount of money it could give to our polititians. Getting this law passed would, clearly, be very difficult.

    So many Americans are fed up with AIPAC running our mideast policy with their money and single issue drive, which is Israel First, all the time. This is very harmful to Us interests as you said.

  16. Pingback: New Jersey’s 9th CD Voters Say No to Zionist AIPAC |  SHOAH

  17. Pingback: Voters to Obama: Move Now on Palestine « Wallwritings

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