Our occasional correspondent Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) reports:
The growing predilection on the Left of accusing people who are pro-Israel of having dual loyalties has now emerged in a Democratic congressional primary in New Jersey, where two longtime Congressmen are squaring off because of redistricting. What’s unusual, though, is that the nasty charge is being tolerated, perhaps even encouraged, by a sitting member of Congress, Rep. Bill Pascrell.
Starting the flap was a piece at NJ.com by prominent local Arab leader Aref Assaf. Assaf called Rep. Steve Rothman “Israel’s man in District 9.” He argued that “total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman” and concluded his attack on Rothman with the proposition: “Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s.”
As smears go, the charge of “loyalty to a foreign flag” against a Jewish Congressman is about as close as one can get to naked anti-Semitism without resorting to overt epithets. In modern times, it dates back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the famous Russian forgery alleging that Jews with hidden loyalty to a secret cabal of “Elders” were controlling the world. And one of Hitler’s most common lines was that Jews were loyal to other forces – Jews, international financiers, etc. – rather than to Germany.
It’s ugly. But it also strikes a chord within certain segments, most of whom these days are found on the Left – the kind of people who vote in Democratic primary elections.
Not only has Rep. Pascrell pointedly refused to condemn his supporter for questioning Rep. Rothman’s patriotism, but he went through the trouble of trotting out an octogenarian Jewish former one-term member of Congress, Herb Klein (who held Pascrell’s seat from 1993–1995), to defend his refusal to criticize Assaf. In other words, his campaign went through a lot of effort to deal with this issue – but all to avoid criticizing the slur that Rothman is “Israel’s man.”
Not everyone on the Left thinks Pascrell should ignore the smear. “The unwillingness to directly confront and condemn this anti-Semitic bigotry is despicable,” says Josh Block, a senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute. “Silence in the face of this kind of hate speech says it all.”
There are only two reasons Pascrell would refuse to disavow Assaf’s rant. One is that he’s just a stubborn old goat who doesn’t grasp the inherently anti-Semitic nature of alleging dual loyalties. That’s certainly possible. In that scenario, he’s somewhere between callous and clueless.
The other possibility, however, is less benign. Assuming that he’s not oblivious and perhaps even a bit cunning, Pascrell could be playing an angle from which he stands to benefit. The new ninth district of New Jersey – which contains a majority of Rothman’s current district – has a significant population of Arabs and Muslims, most of whom are likely to back Pascrell.
But there is also the sad reality that support for Israel among core Democratic activists is nowhere near what it once was. The elites who drooled over Walt and Mearsheimer’s Israel Lobby – a massively hyped book arguing without much documentation that the “Israel Lobby” twists U.S. foreign policy to benefit the Jewish state against U.S. interests – were almost exclusively liberals, progressives, leftists, Occupy Wall Street types, etc. Polling indicates that animosity toward Israel is not confined to a fringe segment of the Left, either. Gallup’s annual poll on support for Israel routinely shows that Republicans overwhelmingly back Israel (80% or higher), whereas support for Israel among Democrats hovers around roughly 50%.
In short, by tacitly endorsing the charge that Rothman is “Israel’s man,” Pascrell is in effect inviting more such attacks. Considering that the Pat Buchanan chestnut of “Israel firster” has been co-opted by the Left on progressive sites such as ThinkProgress, it’s unlikely that Assaf’s piece will be an isolated incident – especially without an unequivocal condemnation from Pascrell.
Interestingly, Rep. Pascrell has a largely pro-Israel record himself. His voting record is generally solid, though he rarely takes leadership on important issues and he was a member of the “Gaza 54,” the signers of a congressional letter spearheaded by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) accusing the Jewish state of collective punishment against Gaza.
If this goes beyond Pascrell merely being stubborn, then he’s attempting to garner Jewish votes while winking at those who think Jews who agree with American public opinion on Israel actually possess dual loyalties. It’s dangerous politics – but it’s not clear that it’s a losing proposition in a Democratic primary.