By: Dr. Aref Assaf
The Democratic primary contest between Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D- Paterson, and Rep. Steve Rothman, D- Fair Lawn, over the redrawn 9th District in North Jersey will have the unintended consequences of pitting the Arab and Muslim communities and their allies on the one side and the Jewish community on the other.
Some call parts of Paterson “Little Jerusalem” because the area is home to places of worship for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. By all accounts, the relationship between the area’s people and leaders has been cordial and cooperative.
Sadly, politics, money, lobbying, and disinformation are about to spoil whatever semblance of friendship and hope there are. The turf war has begun and while we did not start it, the community of Arabs and Muslims in the district will give Pascrell another victory.
Jewish and now some mainstream newspapers have framed the June 5 primary as a litmus test for the survival of Israel. Although Pascrell has consistently supported Israel, Jewish sources say he is not a perfect example of an Israel loyalist. Moreover, they warn about Pascrell’s home turf, which is swarming with a large and suspect community of Arabs and Muslims.
This is nothing short of deplorable blanket racism. We are being depicted somehow like a fifth column; we are perceived as ineffective at harnessing our political power. Pascrell is being condemned for failing to be a 100 percent on the side of a foreign country and for sleeping with a suspect community whose vote will most likely determine the outcome of the elections.
The community has taken notice of how this election is being framed. We detest the questioning of our loyalties and doubts of our patriotism.
This escalation of the election’s tempo will surely engender greater involvement by the community in the Pascrell campaign. Already grass-roots meetings are strategizing for a massive turnout, voter registration drives, fundraising and targeted mobilization of volunteers. I was invited to one meeting and the mood was intensely personal.
Ironically, Pascrell’s standing in the community has been steadily rising, but it was not because of his position on foreign issues. The community has long advocated for a two-state solution where Israel and Palestine living peacefully side by side, the long-standing position of the United States, Pascrell and many in the Jewish community.
The community recognizes Pascrell’s positions on domestic issues such as fighting discrimination and advocating for the protection of the civil and religious rights of all Americans. They recognize Pascrell’s long record of accomplishments, office accessibility, personal friendships and, above all, sincerity.
While some of Rothman’s supporters put the flag and the security of another country above ours, we place America first and unconditionally. While they put Israel first, we place America second to none.
If Rothman truly supports President Obama, he should have chosen to defeat Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, in the 5th District instead of choosing to fight Pascrell, a fellow Democrat. These are uncontested facts not lost on the district’s voters.
Aref Assaf is president of the American Arab Forum, a think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs.