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entries tagged with: Bill Pascrell


Area pols and agencies weigh in on health-care bill

Democratic members of Congress and Jewish organizations around the region lauded the health-care bill signed into law earlier this week, even as Republicans prepared to launch legal challenges.

After watching President Obama sign the legislation into law on Tuesday morning, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), one of the bill’s sponsors, told this paper that the legislation is “a big step forward.”

“The benefits are just outstanding,” he said.

The bill, he said, guarantees that no one can be denied health coverage because of pre-existing conditions. He also cited tax credits to 116,000 families and 15,200 small businesses in his district.

The congressman summed up the bill in a single phrase: “Health security.”

“Those left out [of coverage] with preconditions will no longer be denied,” he said. “That’s a huge change.”

Pascrell lashed out at the bill’s critics who have repeatedly warned that the legislation would lead to health-care rationing or that those satisfied with their current coverage would be forced to abandon it.

“Existing plans are grandfathered under this bill,” he said. “I am tired of the lies and misrepresentations and prejudicial statements.”

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), a critic of the bill who was one of 212 to vote against it in Sunday’s House vote, did not return calls or e-mail requests for comment. A statement on his Website blasted the health bill.

“While I appreciate the efforts of the majority to reform our health-care system, it is hard to underestimate what a grave mistake it would be to enact this bill,” he said in the statement. “It would fundamentally alter our citizens’ relationship with their government. It would seriously jeopardize our nation’s long-term prosperity. It would dampen the vitality of our nation’s health-care innovators. It would restrict choice and access to medical care for millions of our nation’s elderly and poor. It would tax hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy in the midst of one of the most serious economic downturns in our nation’s history. And for all this — for all of these thousands of pages and hundreds of new bureaus, boards, and bureaucracies — it won’t make America any healthier.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), one of 219 “yes” votes from the House, said in a statement sent to this paper, “This legislation will make a marked improvement in the lives of my constituents and will be a great step forward beyond the present system now causing so much cost, heartache, and tragedy to so many throughout my congressional district, New Jersey, and our entire country.”

The bill also earned praise from area Jewish organizations, including Jewish Family Services, which frequently serve clients without any insurance coverage.

“We work with a lot of people who have no insurance whatsoever,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck. “The fact that more people will be able to be insured and get the services they need is a great opportunity.”

The bill will have a large impact on people who lost their jobs during the economic crisis and are still struggling to make ends meet, as well as those working for small businesses that had begun to stop paying for their employees’ health care, Fedder said.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but I think it’s a great beginning,” said Leah Kaufman, executive director of JFS of North Jersey in Wayne.

Kaufman has seen many clients who have no insurance and no steady income put off doctor’s visits to avoid racking up bills. This legislation, she said, would provide them with the coverage they need. She also praised the bill’s inclusion of children up to age 26 on their parents’ policies as helpful, since many recent college graduates are struggling to find work.

“There are so many people out there who can’t get medical care because they don’t have coverage and can now get that kind of care,” she said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, spiritual leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, called the new legislation the best possible for now.

“I don’t think it answers all of the issues facing us, but it’s an improvement,” he said. “To me, we can’t aim for perfection. We have to always try to look for the best possible solution. This health-care bill is the best possible that could be achieved at this moment in time.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents in Trenton the Garden State’s 12 federations, praised the bill’s inclusion of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act.

“From that perspective,” Toporek said, the bill is “a major plus for the Jewish community.”

The CLASS Act is a provision that would create a voluntary disability insurance program for adults with long-term needs and alleviate pressure on the Medicaid program. According to the legislation, eligible enrollees who need assistance performing common daily activities — such as dressing, bathing, and eating — would receive cash benefits to pay for support services in a community setting. The Jewish Federations of North America had lobbied for the act’s inclusion in the health bill.

“How better to practice tikkun olam than by providing these people who are in need with the ability to get mended?” Toporek said.

“Clearly it pleases all of us as professionals that more people will be covered under health-care coverage,” said Charles Berkowitz, executive vice president of The Jewish Home at Rockleigh. “There are people who will be able to get great coverage now that couldn’t before.”

For more about the bill see Groups pushed health reform, but some keeping quiet on bill.


Republican challenger questions Pascrell’s support of Israel

Josh LipowskyLocal | World
Published: 01 October 2010

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. has not been a real friend to Israel, said Roland Straten, the Republican challenging Pascrell in the eighth district.

“Israel is one of our few friends in the Middle East and we need to support Israel 100 percent, and I don’t think we are supporting Israel 100 percent,” Straten said.

This is the second run for Pascrell’s seat for Straten, a retired businessman from Montclair, who lost to the seven-time representative in 2008.

Straten directed The Jewish Standard to his foreign policy adviser, West Orange resident Mark Meyerowitz, who blasted Pascrell for signing a letter earlier this year with 53 other Democratic members of the House urging Israel to loosen its blockade of Gaza.

Eighth district Republican challenger Roland Straten is attacking Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.’s record on Israel.

“Pascrell knows that Hamas is a terrorist group,” Meyerowitz said. “He should know that. Those 53 other Democrats should know Hamas is a terrorist group, so if they’re going to condemn anybody it should be these people using Gazans as human shields.”

Meyerowitz pointed to a 2004 appearance at a community brunch sponsored by 11 Muslim organizations, including, reportedly, a mosque with connections to Hamas, and to a 2007 report by The Washington Times that Pascrell reserved a Capitol conference room for the Council on American Islamic Relations, an organization that has come under fire for ties to extremist groups.

Pascrell, Meyerowitz said, has taken the Jewish vote for granted.

“When he speaks to Jewish groups he’s very, very pro-Israel,” Meyerowitz said, “but when he gets back to the northern part of the district, to the Paterson part of the district, it’s an a different story. He’s been playing both sides against the middle.”

Reached on his way to Washington on Tuesday, Pascrell defended his voting record on Israel, saying that he has never missed a vote involving the country or “backed off my obligation.”

Pascrell was one of 338 members of Congress who signed a letter to President Obama in June supporting Israel’s actions in the flotilla incident, when a Turkish convoy attempted to break the Gaza blockade. Nine activists were killed after they attacked Israeli soldiers boarding the ship.

“I asked for a fair, objective analysis of what happened,” Pascrell said. “I said in the letter to the president that Israel has every, every right to defend itself. Those folks who were with the flotilla were up to no good.”

Noting that he has strong friendships in the Jewish and Arab communities, Pascrell rejected accusations that he has one position on Israel for Jewish audiences and another for Arab audiences.

“I supported the ability of Israel to defend itself against the terrorists of Hamas and any other organization,” he said. “To use race or ethnicity, and to use religion in a campaign is the most despicable act I can think of.”


Congressional letter to President Obama on Jonathan Pollard

Josh LipowskyLocal | World
Published: 01 October 2010

September 22, 2010

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We write to urge you to use your constitutional power to extend clemency to Jonathan Pollard, thereby releasing him from prison after the time he has already served. As you know, such an exercise of the clemency power does not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted. Those who have such views are of course entitled to continue to have them, but the clemency grant has nothing to do with that.

We believe that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations adversarial to us, unlike Israel.

Recently, we allowed a large number of Russians, who had been spying on us for the country that had long been our major adversary, to leave with no punishment whatsoever. This makes it very hard for many to understand why Mr. Pollard should continue to serve beyond the nearly twenty-five years he has already been in prison. We agree that it is important that we establish the principle that espionage of any sort is impermissible, but it is indisputable in our view that the nearly twenty-five years that Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence.

We further believe that at a time when Israel, our democratic ally, is being faced with difficult decisions, a decision by you to grant clemency would not only be a humane act regarding Mr. Pollard, but it would also be taken in Israel as a further affirmation of the strong commitment the U.S. has to the ties between us, and we believe that such an affirmation could be especially useful at a time when those decisions are being made.

In summary, we see clemency for Mr. Pollard as an act of compassion justified by the way others have been treated by our justice system; as an act that will do nothing whatsoever to lessen our defenses against espionage; and a step that far from hurting the national security, could advance it by the impact it would have within Israel. We urge you to use the clemency power in this case.

Barney Frank
Member of Congress

Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress

Edolphus Towns
Member of Congress

Anthony D. Weiner
Member of Congress


Pascrell calls for Pollard clemency

As rumors fly that the United States may offer the release of Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel’s extending the settlement freeze, four congressmen wrote to President Obama last week asking for clemency for the man.

Pollard has been serving a life sentence since 1986 for spying for Israel while he was a U.S. Navy analyst.

“When you compare it to other sentences in spying cases, there seems to be a great disparity,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

The timing of the letter in the midst of discussions on extending the freeze and a possible incentive deal is merely coincidental, said Pascrell, one of the four who signed the letter, dated Sept. 22. It will circulate for more signatures until the middle of this month, when it will be sent to the president.

Clemency for Jonathan Pollard “is a fair thing,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.

“If (Pollard’s release is) going to be used as leverage, I don’t believe it’s going to be sufficient leverage,” Pascrell said. “I would hope it would not be used as leverage in that regard.”

The letter’s signers — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), and Pascrell — are not arguing that Pollard’s conviction should be overturned, Pascrell said. They are, he continued, asking for fair treatment. He pointed to the group of Russian spies exposed this summer who were returned to Russia instead of a federal prison.

The congressmen argue in the letter that the almost 25 years Pollard has thus far served is sufficient as punishment for his crime or as a deterrent to other would-be spies.

“It is a fair thing; it would send out a positive note,” Pascrell said. “Those people who signed the letter are tough Americans and actually believe in dealing with anybody caught spying in a harsh fashion.”

Pascrell first became involved in the Pollard case a dozen years ago when, at the request of some of his constituents, he visited Pollard in federal prison. Since then, Pascrell said, he has made it a personal issue to see that Pollard receives equal justice.

“I’m here to say that his case is worth looking into,” Pascrell said. “I’m not pleading for Mr. Pollard that he was wrongly accused or wrongly found guilty.”

U.S. intelligence officials have said that Pollard’s espionage was too vast to merit clemency, and that he should not be released before 2015, when his life sentence is first subject to review under sentencing guidelines in place at the time of his conviction.

Excerpt from the congressional letter to President Obama on Jonathan Pollard

“We believe there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served — or not served at all — by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations adversarial to us, unlike Israel.”

To read the letter in full, visit Congressional letter to President Obama on Jonathan Pollard.


Inside the beltway

Of spies and sanctions

Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process continue to dominate American foreign policy, subtly influencing other goings-on in Washington. The Obama administration recently received two letters from members of the House of Representatives, one calling for clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and the other questioning a proposed multi-billion-dollar weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.

Questioning Saudi Arabia

Reps. Scott Garrett (R-5), Steve Rothman (D-9), and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-5) have signed on to a letter with more than 190 other members of the House who questioned a proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The letter, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Nov. 10, asks for clarification on how the sale advances U.S. interests, if any conditions have been placed on the sale, and what threats the sale is intended to address.

“We do that in light of the concerns we raised of the failures by Saudi Arabia to meet the levels of commitments in other areas we hope they would raise before we engage in such arms sales,” Garrett told The Jewish Standard during a phone interview last week.

The letter also raises concerns about Saudi Arabia’s regional policies, in particular with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to the letter, members of Congress “have serious concerns about the nature of Saudi involvement in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly since the Saudis have failed to take steps toward normalization of relations with Israel or to augment their financial support of the Palestinian Authority.

“Likewise, Saudi officials have often made clear their anxiety over the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. But what action, if any, has Saudi Arabia taken to address this threat?”

The letter, Garrett said, is “a strong message that we’re looking for answers in a timely manner.”

Rothman said the letter is meant to ensure Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“My initial conversation with military and intelligence leaders who are most aware of the realities on the ground indicates that Israel’s qualitative military advantages would not be compromised by such a deal,” Rothman said, adding that the letter’s purpose was to get specifics as to how that advantage would be sustained, if not enhanced, by this deal.

Rothman’s office received a letter in response from Clinton and Gates earlier this week. According to that letter, the secretaries “ believe the proposed package promotes U.S. strategic and foreign policy interests, and it is a key component of our overall regional strategy.”

The letter cited the close “political-military relations” of six decades with Saudi Arabia, “a primary security pillar in the region.”

The secretaries also cited the Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on its border with Yemen. They also concluded, according to the letter, that the sale will not impact Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“I will now be doing my own due diligence with regards to the statements made by Secretaries Gates and Clinton,” Rothman said.

To read both letters in full, visit

Only Einhorn can go to China?

As the United States continues to push for tougher sanctions against Iran in the United Nations, China and Russia have consistently fought against harsher measures. Garrett recently met with Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control and the Obama administration’s point-man on sanctions enforcement, for a briefing on a recent meeting with Chinese officials. Einhorn has worked on nuclear proliferation issues in almost every administration since Richard Nixon’s. In September, he went to China with a list of Chinese companies and banks that continue to violate sanctions against Iran.

Garrett raised questions about that list and China’s response. During his conversation with the Standard, Garrett stayed away from specifics about that list, but said it would be a subject of continuing talks with Einhorn.

Sanctions can be effective, the representative said, but they need to lead to something.

“The endgame is not to simply be implementing sanctions, but to bring about a change of behavior by Iran and we have yet to see that,” Garrett said.

Calls increasing for Pollard’s release

Calls for clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard are gaining steam in Washington, with a letter to the White House signed by almost 40 members of the House of Representatives. Pollard is serving a life sentence on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel.

Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent the letter to President Obama Nov. 18 after collecting signatures from 35 other members of the house, including Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).

“We are not questioning Mr. Pollard’s guilt, but rather appealing for clemency based on the vast disparity between his sentence and his crime,” said Pascrell in a statement to the Standard. “Israel is one of America’s strongest allies, and I believe that 25 years behind bars is far too many for Mr. Pollard, especially considering the sentences to those convicted of similar crimes on behalf of countries who are not our friends.”

Pascrell, who visited Pollard in federal prison in 1998, has made Pollard’s case one of his main issues.

Pollard’s lawyers submitted a request for clemency to Obama last month after it was revealed that Pollard’s sentence may have been influenced by the anti-Israel attitude of the late U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The Jerusalem Post also reported Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to ask Obama for Pollard’s release as part of an incentive package for Israel to extend its settlement freeze.

“In the end, the reasons why now is the appropriate time or whether Mr. Pollard’s release on clemency grounds would dovetail with other activities occurring in the Middle East or at home are irrelevant,” Rothman said. “What is most important is that the injustice of Mr. Pollard’s continued incarceration — albeit for an extremely serious act of treason that he committed — be granted immediately.”

Pollard’s sentence, he said, “has so grossly exceeded” the sentences of other Americans tried for similar crimes, Rothman said. The 25 years Pollard has already served meets the needs of punishment and deterrence, he said, adding that Pollard has expressed remorse for his actions.

Garrett did not sign the letter, which he said he had not seen. He declined further comment on the issue of clemency until he reads the letter.

For more on the Pollard issue, see Timing, noodging advance new push for Pollard.

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Pols support renewal of Lautenberg Amendment

Numerous Jewish organizations including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society joined Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in calling for the U.S. House of Representatives to renew a provision that fast-tracks asylum for religious refugees including Jews, Christians, and members of the Baha’i faith. HIAS also issued a statement decrying proposed cuts to an account the organization says provides vital help to refugees.

Inside the Beltway

In a Feb. 8 letter, the senators argued that members of Congress tasked with appropriations should renew the Lautenberg Amendment. Set to expire March 20, the amendment expands the definition of religious refugee and fast-tracks groups in immediate danger. Initiated by Lautenberg in 1990, it was originally designed to expedite the immigration of Soviet Jews and Vietnamese Christians to the United States.

The amendment clears bureaucratic hurdles for Jews, Christians, and Baha’is seeking to escape the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Without this safe means of exit, Iranian religious minorities are often forced to cross the border to eastern Turkey, where conditions for asylum-seekers are extremely unsafe,” the letter states.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) also weighed in on support of extending the Lautenberg Amendment.

“I believe this nation should be responsive to those who struggle to escape persecution due to their faith,” he told this newspaper. “I fully support Sen. Lautenberg’s efforts on behalf of [religious] minority applicants from Iran.”

Melanie Nezer, senior director for U.S. policy and advocacy at HIAS, told this newspaper that the delay that would result from some House Republicans’ call for the Lautenberg Amendment to be reframed as a stand-alone bill would result in at least 100 refugees seeking to emigrate from the Islamic Republic being placed in immediate danger.

“If [the] Lautenberg [Amendment] isn’t extended, the mechanism is not in place to process them through Vienna, so the people who need to flee [will be] forced to take dangerous routes through Turkey,” Nezer said. “These refugees include Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and others who historically have had great difficulty in Iran.”

Nezer also characterized cuts proposed to the Migration and Refugee Assistance account, which provides federal funding for refugees and internally displaced persons, as “drastic.” At the end of last week, the House approved cuts to the program, slashing its budget by 45 percent. Should the Senate approve these cuts, the State Department would have no additional funding to resettle refugees for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, according to HIAS.

“We’re talking about people who have been persecuted in their countries and forced to flee, who have left their homes, jobs, and families, and have literally nothing,” Nezer said. “Despite the fact that times are tough here, it is crucial that we help them.”

On the Israel front, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) issued a statement commending the Obama administration for using its veto to block last week’s U.N. resolution denouncing Israel’s settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace. He also spoke more generally about the U.N.’s treatment of Israel regarding settlements.

“The future boundaries of any two-state solution,” Rothman said in a statement, “must only be determined through direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and not at the U.N.”

In an interview, Rothman shared his view that Israeli settlements are not the true obstacle to resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

“In 1967, Israel was surrounded by armies about to attack who had pledged to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” Rothman said. “Israel responded heroically and successfully in defending herself, and ever since then has been urging the Palestinians to come to an agreement.… The Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer to the question of whether there should be an independent, contiguous Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel is the real problem, not settlements or any other issue.”


Inside the Beltway

Oren, JWVets visit local pols in D.C.

The New Jersey Department of Jewish War Veterans made its annual visit to Capitol Hill earlier this month, where members of the group met with Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.) to lobby for a Jewish chaplains’ memorial in Arlington National Cemetery and federal aid for homeless veterans.

Carl Singer of Passaic, past commander of the Jewish War Veterans for this state and a retired army colonel, told this newspaper that Pascrell has been “very responsive” to the group’s concerns.

“We need permission to have this memorial put in place there, in memory of those Jewish chaplains that died in service,” Singer said. “There are similar ones for those of other religions. It’s a bill that’s long overdue.”

Singer added, “It will not cost the government any money; private citizens have raised funds for it — and veterans’ organizations.”

His organization also lobbied for continued funding of New Jersey’s VA hospitals, nursing homes for veterans, and for a facility — yet to be built — to help homeless veterans, according to Singer.

“Congressman Pascrell is himself a veteran and… you get an extra feeling of empathy from him,” said Singer.

Pascrell reported that the president’s budget proposal increases funding to $949 million for programs benefiting homeless veterans.

Last week, Pascrell joined Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in sponsoring a resolution honoring the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and recognizing the impact of the tragedy on national movements to improve conditions for workers.

“The tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire was one of the salient events that taught us that, as Americans, we must be capitalists with consciences,” said Pascrell in a statement. “Women and children, some of them immigrants, perished unnecessarily simply because their employer protected profits instead of people.”

Also last week, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) met with Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. According to a statement from Menendez’s office, “The two discussed the continuation of the strong bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel through and beyond the current crises in the Middle East, as well as the critical importance of deterring Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Menendez also released a statement for Purim condemning anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and elaborated in an e-mail that “[a]nti-Israel vitriol that directly translates into anti-Semitism has seen a resurgence recently. It is both taught and tolerated in many foreign nations. And even here at home, we are seeing an increase in hateful rhetoric against Israel that can’t be tolerated. We are seeing evidence in the media, across university campuses, and in public boycotts and rallies.

“Of all occurrences,” he continued, “the continued incitement against Israel and Jews within the Palestinian media, mosques, and schools is the most concerning. It is time to speak out and say this will not stand.”


N.J. lawmakers laud decision to boycott ‘Durban III’

The Obama administration announced last week that the United States would not participate in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to take place in New York City in September, during the U.N. General Assembly opening session. New Jersey members of Congress commended the president’s decision, noting the irony that a conference purportedly against racism has in the past degenerated into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic event.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement: “I applaud the State Department’s decision to forgo participation in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism this year. People of democratic principle understand the misnomer, that Durban III will be yet another ugly opportunity to single out Israel and become a megaphone for anti-Semitism and anti-American vitriol.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) responded to the Standard’s request for comment, saying, “President Obama has made the right decision to pull the United States out of this year’s conference in New York City.” (Both men signed a letter last year led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] urging the U.S. to refrain from participating in the conference.) “Instead of providing an opportunity to address the very serious issue of racism,” Lautenberg continued, “the Durban conference has been tainted by anti-Semitic and anti-American demonstrations. This conference,” named for the first such gathering in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, “is intended to provide a forum on eliminating discrimination, and the United States should only participate when this issue can be legitimately addressed.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), reached for comment by the Standard, concurred with Menendez, stating, “Despite being called a ‘Conference Against Racism,’ Durban III, like Durban I and II, is exactly the opposite. The agendas of these Durban conferences have been and continue to be filled with anti-Semitism and hateful attacks against Israel. I applaud the Obama administration for announcing that America will not be taking part in this charade.”

Rothman contended that the administration’s decision to forgo “Durban III” signals not just a commitment to stand with Israel in diplomatic forums but on security issues as well.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) also weighed in, saying, “The president made the right call…. The original conference in 2001 contradicted itself with displays of blatant anti-Semitism. Intolerance committed under the guise of breaking down racial barriers is simply an insult to American intelligence, and I’m glad the United States won’t be participating in the event.”

The first Durban conference was described by many commentators as an anti-Israel hate-fest, with representatives of the Arab Lawyers’ Union at one point passing out pamphlets depicting hook-nosed Jews dripping blood from their fangs with pots of money nearby. The conference produced a document condemning Israel as racist while condemning no other country. Speakers included Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, who reportedly delivered an anti-American tirade.

“Durban II,” in Geneva, Switzerland in 2009, featured as its keynote speaker Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts about the Holocaust and endorsed the destruction of Israel. At Durban II, he characterized Israel as a “racist government” and condemned its establishment.

The United States and Israel walked out of Durban I, and the Obama administration made the decision to boycott Durban II 48 hours before it opened. Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland joined the boycott.

Critics contend that by waiting until two days before Durban II to decide to boycott it, the Obama administration weakened efforts to build a solid coalition of democracies to boycott the event. Both Great Britain and France attended in 2009, although both countries’ representatives walked out during Ahmadinejad’s speech.

Commentators have speculated that timing Durban III to coincide with the annual opening of the General Assembly may increase the presence of prime ministers and presidents who might not otherwise attend. There is speculation over whether the timing and location of the event is coincidental. The conference is being billed as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of Durban I — but some say it is too close to the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for comfort.

So far, the conference has met with opposition from the U.S., Israel, and Canada.


Rothman vs. Pascrell

Pro-Israel activists say stakes are high in Democratic primary face-off

Published: 13 January 2012

WASHINGTON – Rep. Steve Rothman is accustomed to being re-elected to his northern New Jersey congressional district by wide margins.

This year, however, Rothman faces what could be a tough, redistricting-induced primary battle against a fellow eight-term Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., who also has a history of winning re-election handily. Pascrell’s current district is mainly in Passaic County. It marks the second time in less than a year that a redistricting brought a Paterson legislator deep into Bergen County territory. Several months ago, Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer found himself representing such areas as Cliffside Park, Ridgefield, and Little Ferry.

Among many pro-Israel activists, the stakes in the Rothman-Pascrell race are seen as high. Rothman is regarded as a key — and outspoken — pro-Israel voice on Capitol Hill.

“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,” said a congressional aide whose boss previously served with Rothman on the House Appropriations Committee. “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 race between Rothman and Pascrell is the result of the new congressional map adopted late last month by New Jersey’s redistricting commission.

New Jersey is losing a congressional seat, as a result of the 2010 census. The new map put Rothman’s residence in Fair Lawn and a fifth of his constituents into a more conservative district, a large majority of which is currently represented by Republican Rep. Scott Garrett. Meanwhile, the largest portions of Rothman’s and Pascrell’s constituencies were shoehorned together into another district.

Hoping to avoid an internecine primary battle, some Democrats reportedly urged Rothman, 59, to challenge Garrett. It would have been an uphill battle for Rothman, however, because the district as carved out favors the Republican.

Instead, Rothman and Pascrell, 74, will face off for the same seat. Rothman currently represents 54 percent of the new district’s constituents, while Pascrell represents 43 percent.

“I decided that I wanted to continue to represent the people who I was born and raised with and who I have lived with most of my life,” Rothman said.

The media-savvy, bespectacled congressman previously served as mayor of Englewood, which is located in the district he is now contesting and back to which Rothman said he was moving.

“I will be reminding my constituents not only of my strong support for Israel, but my great success in helping tens of thousands of constituents every year with their problems and bringing home to the district more than $2 billion in federal funding for a variety of essential local projects,” Rothman said.

A spokesman for Pascrell’s campaign, Sean Darcy, offered a different take on who would be the best choice for Democrats in the June 5 primary.

“Congressman Pascrell has a track record of fighting for middle-class taxpayers,” Darcy said. “He is not afraid to take on extreme right-wing conservatives and stand up for Democratic principles and ideals.”

Both lawmakers receive relatively high ratings for their voting records from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

Rothman’s power base is Bergen County, while Pascrell’s stronghold is neighboring Passaic, an area with a large Arab-American community. Both men have lined up endorsements from local elected officials.

“I think Rothman starts off as the favorite in this,” said Alan Steinberg, who writes about New Jersey politics for Politicker NJ and “In this primary, he will have overwhelming support from the Jewish community.”

Rothman is a longtime supporter of President Barack Obama, endorsing him in the 2008 presidential primaries over then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of neighboring New York State — the first member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to do so.

While Rothman has been critical of aspects of the Obama administration’s Israel policies, including what he has said was a misguided early focus on Israeli settlement activity, he has been at the forefront of defending the president from Republican attacks on his record.

In a July opinion piece for the website Politico, Rothman wrote that the Obama administration “has given — and continues to provide — unprecedented support for the defense and security of Israel.”

He also has hammered leading Republican candidates for supporting an overhaul in the way U.S. foreign aid is allocated, alleging that their positions contradict American understandings with Israel on aid.

Ben Chouake, president of the New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC, said that Rothman is “very knowledgeable and very engaged and is looked to by other members of Congress for information and advice on matters concerning U.S.-Israel relations and the Middle East.”

Chouake called Rothman “one of the premier congressional leaders and ‘go-to’ people on [Capitol Hill] regarding U.S.-Israel relations.”

NORPAC, the country’s largest pro-Israel political action committee, has raised money for both Rothman and Pascrell in the past.

“While both would carry the status of friendly incumbent in an ordinary election, there is such a wide difference in the records of the candidates that Rothman receives our preference and endorsement in this particular race,” Chouake said.

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.

“Steve Rothman has been instrumental in actively championing missile defense cooperation for years,” said an official at the Israeli embassy who was familiar with Rothman’s work on missile defense.

Josh Block, a former longtime spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said that Rothman’s “record of pro-Israel leadership is second to none, and in this particular race the differences couldn’t be clearer.”

Block accused Pascrell of having “actually sided against American support for Israel’s right to defend herself against weapons smuggling and attacks by terrorists.” He pointed to Pascrell’s signing of a January 2010 letter to Obama criticizing the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza. The letter, signed by 54 House members, called on the president to press for the easing of the blockade to improve conditions for Palestinian civilians.

Darcy, the Pascrell campaign spokesman, defended the congressman’s record and noted that he “has voted for and fought for security aid to Israel in every year that he has been in Congress.” Darcy also explained Pascrell’s reasons for signing the Gaza letter.

“At the time, Congressman Pascrell agreed that certain aspects of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, including restrictions of certain types of food and medicines, were counterproductive to that goal and hurt ordinary Gazans far more than the terrorists in Hamas,” Darcy said. “He believes that support for Israel’s right to defend itself and a concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip are not mutually exclusive.”

In June 2010, the Israeli government announced that it would modify its Gaza blockade to allow in a wider array of civilian goods.

NORPAC’s Chouake said that while Pascrell does vote for foreign aid and support Iran sanctions, his support for the Gaza letter “upset many of his constituents.”

JTA Wire Service and the Washington Jewish Week


The race for Congress: Ninth District candidates on the issues

Rep. William J. Pascrell: ‘I’m the fighter for the people’

Published: 01 June 2012
(tags): bill pascrell

Rep. William J. Pascrell

Why you?

Voters need someone representing them who is honest and trustworthy. My opponent has run a campaign that has been anything but. Politifact NJ gave him a “Pants on Fire” rating for one of his campaign’s most egregious lies. But maybe the most offensive distortion his campaign has perpetuated is that I’m somehow not pro-Israel, despite the fact that me and my opponent have the exact same voting record on the subject. In fact, Steve Rothman vouched for my strong support for the Jewish state less than two years ago when a Tea Party Republican attempted to make the same claims. Assemblyman Gary Schaer upheld my support for Israel, too. What changed between now and then? Only the fact that he is running against me and is so desperate to keep his seat in Congress that he will say or do anything to get re-elected. I’ve grown up with both Jews and Muslims in Paterson, and I’ve represented both in Congress for many years. David Steiner, the former president of AIPAC, endorsed me by saying, “He’s 100 percent American through and through, and that’s why I’m supporting him.”

I’m confident the voters will see through these lies and distortions. But the reality is that this election is bigger than this, and the stakes for our country could not be higher. I believe that northern New Jersey needs a fighter standing up for them, and my record will show that I’ve always been a 100 percent Jersey fighter. The economic downturn has hit the middle class the hardest, and the Tea Party extremists in Congress have only tried to make it worse. I stand up every day to those politicians who want to make the middle class pay for tax cuts for millionaires and corporate welfare for companies that ship jobs overseas. I have always stood for the middle class against these extremists, while delivering results for northern New Jersey. From providing our veterans treatment for traumatic brain injury, to protecting deductions for property taxes, to establishing flood mitigation projects, to protecting funding for our police and firefighters, I believe I have proven that I’m the fighter for the people of northern New Jersey. And in the next Congress, the top issue facing the Congress will be reforming our nation’s tax code. I believe that our state needs a representative on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee during this important debate. I ask the voters of North Jersey to give me that opportunity to continue to serve.

2. Iran

I think the United States must continue sending a strong message to the government of Iran that all options are on the table, including military action, if they continue to pursue nuclear weapons. A world with a nuclear armed Iran is simply unacceptable. Recently, the House of Representatives passed H. Res. 568, which reaffirms the U.S. policy of preventing the government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. I was proud to co-sponsor this legislation, which passed by an overwhelming vote of 401-11.

I have also been a strong and consistent advocate of more forceful sanctions against the Iranian regime, should they continue to defy the international community. I co-sponsored legislation that passed to put hard hitting sanctions on refined petroleum products and financial transactions with the Iranian regime. I strongly supported the Obama administration’s efforts to build consensus at the United Nations for more wide-ranging action. Already, we are seeing these sanctions impact the Iranian economy, and we will continue to support hard-hitting sanctions on the Iranian regime to encourage them to forgo their nuclear ambitions and negotiate.

3. Iran — red lines?

Recently, Defense Secretary [Leon] Panetta confirmed that the U.S. has a military plan in place to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Although it is never easy to make the decision to use military force, I firmly believe that containment is not a viable option for Iran, and all options must be on the table. However, I do not have any single red line at which I would say the United States should commit to using military force. Voting to authorize the Iraq war in 2003 was one of the toughest decisions I have made in my time in the United States Congress, and I regret that vote to this day. Members of Congress have a solemn responsibility to send the brave men and women in our armed forces into harm’s way only when absolutely necessary for the defense of our country and our close allies. I will be monitoring the situation in Iran very closely and making a decision based on the conditions as a whole, not a single benchmark.

4. Vouchers

As a proud product of the parochial Catholic school system in Paterson, I believe that parents should have many options to provide education for their children. However, I do not believe that vouchers are the proper path to that end. By diverting money away from school board budgets, voucher programs can have a negative impact on our neediest public schools. During my years as a public school teacher in Paramus, I learned how hard our teachers work with the limited resources they are given. That’s why I support increased funding for education at all levels instead of vouchers.

This does not mean that the federal government has no responsibility to engage with and help Jewish and parochial schools. I support increased funding for programs like IDEA, which can help students with disabilities in both private and public schools. I have also fought for funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides federal funding for security upgrades at vulnerable private institutions like yeshivahs, temples, and synagogues. Just last year, I was happy to announce that YBH of Passaic-Hillel was awarded a Nonprofit Security Grant in the maximum amount of $75,000. I fought to preserve this critical program, which is especially important in the wake of the heinous attacks on Jewish places of worship in Bergen County which took place earlier this year.

5. How would you balance
the concerns of your Jewish
and your Muslim constituents
when they conflict?

Growing up in Paterson, I was exposed at an early age to groups of people from all over the world. My support for Israel has never wavered, but I have developed an excellent relationship with my Muslim constituents, as well. It’s important to find those things that we all have in common and remember that we all share the same goals: peace and security for Israel, and the people living in the Palestinian territories. We can’t lose sight of the fact that everyone wants to see peace in this world and wants to be able to create a better life for their children, no matter what background they come from. For this reason, I have gained a reputation as a bridge-builder in the United States Congress and have tried to bring the religious leaders in my district together. I will always be honest about my positions; I will say the same thing at a mosque in Prospect Park as I will at a synagogue in Teaneck. I think my constituents in northern New Jersey respect that we can find common ground even if we do not agree on every issue.

6. Annexing the west bank

I am quite concerned that the Palestinian Authority is attempting to short-circuit the peace process by pushing for statehood through multi-national organizations such as the United Nations, instead of working with Israel to come to a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Israeli annexation of the west bank would exacerbate the problem rather than contribute to a solution. I firmly believe that the Palestinians and the Israelis must negotiate directly to arrive at a two-state solution for their conflict. Under that framework, the west bank will ultimately become part of the Palestinian state, with land swaps performed for established Israeli settlements. In my view, this bilateral, directly negotiated two-state approach, with the strong involvement of the United States, is the best way forward for a lasting peace for both Israel and the Palestinians.

7. Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program

From my seats on the Ways and Means and Budget Committees, I have fought against the Tea Party’s attempts to cut nutrition programs like food stamps (SNAP), Women and Infant Children nutrition, and Meals on Wheels. Not only do I think these programs are vital to the seniors and our most vulnerable citizens, I believe it is morally wrong to ask these people who have so little to contribute more so millionaires can have tax cuts and Congress can increase defense spending by demanding programs our military leaders do not even want. Balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class, seniors, and our most vulnerable citizens isn’t good policy and it is morally wrong.

8 Jewish issues

I believe that there are as many issues of concern as there are voters. I subscribe to The Jewish Standard at my home, and read every week about a diverse array of issues and projects of concern to local residents. Ultimately, I think that the concerns of Jewish voters are no different from the concerns of most voters across this country. They want someone who will fight to get our economy back on track, lift the economic burden on the middle class, and make the investments that will allow us to create a bright future for our children and grandchildren. The Tea Party, their billionaire financiers, and their allies in Congress will do everything in their power to maintain the status quo where the rich ride high and the rest of us struggle to keep our heads above the water. I will never run from a fight on behalf of the little guy, and that’s why I’m the best person to represent the Jewish voters, and all voters, in the Ninth District.

Obviously, many Jewish voters place a high value on supporting a candidate with a strong record on Israel. I believe my record in advocating for the success and security of the Jewish State is excellent. I authored legislation signed by the president to advance cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on homeland security. I visited Jonathan Pollard and led efforts in the House to convince the president to commute his sentence. I have been endorsed by a former president of AIPAC and have broad support in the pro-Israel community.

But don’t take my word for it. In this newspaper less than two years ago (10/15/10), Steve Rothman praised my record on Israel, writing, “Bill Pascrell has consistently voted in favor of legislation supporting the Jewish state — such as the billions of dollars in military aid we allocate to Israel every year and sanctions against Iran.”

There are many differences between me and my opponent, but support for Israel is not one of them.

9. Most important issues

By far, the most important issue facing congress is to ensure that we rebuild our middle class and foster job creation. For too long, Washington and Republicans have neglected the middle class’s needs, favoring policies that benefit the multi-national corporations and millionaires, and insisting that some of that will trickle down to the rest of us. We’ve seen how that’s worked out over the last 30 years.

I believe we need to reform the tax system, focusing on manufacturing, income security and exports. In northern New Jersey, I will use my position on the Ways and Means Committee to protect important tax deductions like the property tax deduction, which some Republicans like Mitt Romney have talked about limiting or eliminating. And I will also work to limit the Alternative Minimum Tax’s effects on middle class families by repealing this stealth tax.

We should also be focusing on the needs of our returning veterans, by ensuring they have proper access to jobs and healthcare. As the chairman of the traumatic brain injury task force, I have fought to make sure that the defense department understands the signature injury of these wars, and they are provided the tools necessary to treat our vets.

10. Partisanship

I agree there is too much partisanship in Congress, and I have always tried to find common ground with people across the political spectrum. For many, it seems like compromise is a dirty word, especially for this Tea Party Congress. I will continue to successfully work to find common ground on issues like veterans, funding police and firefighters, and access to healthcare for those with traumatic brain injury. But compromise does not mean caving on your values or forgetting who you fight for. You will never find a stronger defender of the middle class from this Tea Party assault.

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