A stalwart Democratic defender of Israel lost his congressional primary bid Tuesday against a fellow Democratic lawmaker whose Arab supporters leveled charges of dual loyalty.
Longtime New Jersey Rep. Steve Rothman was bested by Rep. Bill Pascrell, who earned 61 percent of the vote after running a campaign that rallied the Arab community to the polls over Rothman’s support of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Pascrell will now face off in a general election against superstar Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a pro-Israel stalwart who declared himself a Republican candidate due to what he says are President Obama’s failed policies towards Israel.
As the dust settles in New Jersey’s District 9, observers wonder if Pascrell will be able to repair his fractured relationship with the state’s pro-Israel community, which largely supported Rothman and resented Pascrell’s refusal to condemn his supporters’ anti-Semitic charges of dual loyalty.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee based in Englewood Cliffs, told the Free Beacon. “If Rothman’s positions [on Israel] hurt him anywhere it was in the Muslim community.”
Chouake said that despite the crushing loss, Rothman was the choice of pro-Israel voters.
“The disparity between the two candidates was substantial, and we chose a side,” he said. “If Pascrell is angry at some of us, that’s the deal. But we’re adults, and he’ll get over it in a few days.”
Other activists said the race proves that mainstream, pro-Israel Democrats no longer have a firm place in the party.
“It means there’s no room for a Steve Rothman in the Democratic Party anymore,” said one pro-Israel activist who is closely following the race. “There’s no room for someone who stands up for Israel and who is willing to defend Israeli policies and actions.”
Rothman and Pascrell fought to outflank one another as the most progressive nominee—except when it came to the Jewish state.
“It’s important to remember this is a primary, and the core of the Democratic Party was voting in this primary,” said the source. “And the core of the Democratic Party in northern New Jersey sided with radical, anti-Israel beliefs over a champion of the U.S.-Israel alliance.”
The “most troubling” aspect of the race, the source added, is that “there’s no question Steve Rothman was further to the left on domestic issues than his opponent, which means Democrats did not reject Rothman on any domestic issue, but rather rejected his support of the U.S.-Israel alliance.”
In the weeks leading up to the race, Pascrell refused to condemn the rhetoric of his Arab supporters who charged that Rothman put Israel’s interests above America’s, a charge reminiscent of anti-Semitic rhetoric employed by white supremacists and other hate groups.
An Arabic campaign poster supporting Pascrell that surfaced in the days before the election 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,” according to a WFB translation of the sign.
Pascrell waged a charm offensive in the Arab community, campaigning alongside a Hamas sympathizer and others who have expressed hostility towards Israel.
He also held a high profile event at a local mosque where he was joined by Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn), a prominent ally of the fringe group J Street and the first Muslim member of Congress.