Of Arab and Jew in New Jersey

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Of Arab and Jew in New Jersey

Daily Record Op-Ed

By Aref Assaf

Here in New Jersey, if you want to know what the gubernatorial candidates’ views are on the state’s Arab-American community, peace prospects in Israel and trading with the Middle East, you had better attend a Jewish-sponsored forum. At our recent Arab-American Institute’s candidates forum, all the candidates, the audience, and the moderators ignored these issues altogether. Jon Corzine did not attend but sent a substitute.

Things were different at a candidates forum on Monday at a Jewish temple in Livingston.

Doug Forrester spoke first. He repeated his condemnation of the other party’s corruption, cronyism, and unethical conduct. He received no applause except the customary welcome and ending type. Forrester was jeered and hissed at least once when he criticized the gay love affair between former Gov. James E. McGreevey and the Israeli citizen, Golan Cipel, who became a high-ranking counter-terrorism expert in the governor’s administration.

Corzine, on the other hand, was fondly received, and cheers and loud applause often interrupted his introductory remarks in addition to his answers to panelists’ questions. To my great delight, my question was selected by the panel. Here is the gist of my question:

“New Jersey ranks fifth in the nation with the highest concentration of Arab-Americans, In light of the erosion of some of their civil rights after 9/11 and especially here in New Jersey after the acknowledgment by the state police that its Counter-Terrorism Office targeted and profiled residents solely because of their Muslim faith, what steps will you take as governor to reach out to this beleaguered community and how will you deal with its leaders?”

Forrester has stated that he was against racial profiling of any group for any reason. He spoke of a meeting he held with leaders from the Arab community and shared with them his support for measures to protect their rights. All citizens of New Jersey, irrespective of their religious and/or cultural backgrounds, are entitled to the full protection of the law. Noticeably, the audience did not applaud.

Corzine was eager to answer this question. He prided himself on championing the human and civil rights of all ethnic groups. He glowingly took credit for the many resolutions he has sponsored in support of protecting the religious and civil rights of all Americans. He promised that his administration will represent the brightest and most able, but also the diversity of the state’s population.

Corzine, cognizant that he was in a Jewish temple and speaking largely to a Jewish audience, disappointed me when he advocated continued investment by the state’s pension funds in Israel Bonds. (Forrester is in total agreement with Corzine on this issue.)

Billions of dollars are invested in Israel through the Development Corporation for Israel (DCI).

DCI works for the sole purpose of investing in Israeli businesses, land development and Jewish migration and settlement activities. If permitted, I would have corrected the senator’s information about Israel Bonds, which has acted on many occasions as an agent of the Israeli military occupation and funded illegal settlement activities in occupied Arab lands.

It also is important to point out that many supporters of Israel choose to invest in Israel Bonds because such investments are tax-free or differed tax instruments under IRS rules.

Expectedly, I did not change my mind on who I will vote for next month. I am still convinced that Corzine is better for our community and all of New Jersey.

Of note, however, was my realization that a Jewish audience was cheering for my community’s civil rights, and this is refreshingly foretelling. The fact that there was no appreciable Arab-American presence is a sad and a lamentable commentary on our political infancy, and yes, lack of self-worth.

Aref Assaf is president of the American Arab Forum