The sin of Arab and Muslim Americans: Voting for their candidate

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By: Dr. Aref Assaf

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History was rewritten in New Jersey when on June 5, 2012, Bill Pascrell defeated Steve Rothman to represent the Democratic Party in the November elections. The fight over the newly redrawn District Nine was by all accounts fierce and negative. The Arab and Muslim community played a decisive role in Pascrell’s landslide victory. In the Sixth Ward of Paterson, for example, 96% of voters chose Pascrell. This ward happens to be the heart of the Arab and Muslim area of Paterson.

Sadly, as the pro-Israel lobbies started it in the early days of the Rothman campaign, we now learn of similarly gigantic attempts by them to frame the elections as a litmus test of those who love/hate Israel. We were the first to expose these attempts setting the stage for a barrage of attacks by the Rothman campaign and his supporters. We objected to their insertion of religion and foreign matters in a domestic congressional district election. But we were not alone as, this Record editorial shows.

Like a sore loser, the pro-Israel foreign lobbies are setting the stage for a continuation of the mirage. Republican candidate Shmuley Boteach, who will face Pascrell in November, and in addition to supposedly nonpartisan groups, are spewing lies about Arab and Muslim Americans not only here in the US, but in a foreign country, Israel. A campaign known as “iVoteIsrael” is underway to prod American citizens in Israel to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. It claims to be nonpartisan, despite its not so candid objective of electing the most ‘pro-Israel’ candidates, its refusal to divulge its donors, and a campaign manager clearly identified with the right. A newly released video inciting American Jewish citizens in Israel against Arab-Americans makes it even more difficult to believe that they are neutral and simply encouraging citizens to vote.

An article in The Times of Israel of Israel published recently, entitled “How nonpartisan is the campaign to encourage Israeli-Americans to vote in November?” clearly affirms my strong position on the nonpartisan character of the campaign. The article also makes notice of the fact that staffers insist they are neutral but refuse to divulge who is funding the group, not to mention who created it.In my view, we do not have to wait a verdict on this matter. The “iVoteIsrael’ group has released a disturbing new video that maligns the facts and defines our community as a danger to keeping America in the grip of pro-Israel lobbies and politicians.

I cannot fathom the sinister motives spewed by the video. The claim of neutrality is not only laughable but without merit.

It is no secret that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was heavily invested in the District Nine primary. Massive fundraising and publicity campaigns were deployed to depict Pascrell as a “radical anti-Israel” candidate.

A well-known commentator on Israeli and American politics and former Israel staffer for Congresswoman Nita Lowey, MJ Rosenberg, wrote about the issue on his blog, explained that the election turned into an Arab-bashing campaign due to AIPAC’s attacks: “The issue was not Israel; it was Rothman’s Arab and Muslim-baiting, which offended Arab-Americans as much as an openly anti-Semitic candidate would offend Jews.”

Maybe the most offensive problem with the video is its unabashed hypocrisy. The video narrator attacks Arab Americans for “flex[ing] their political muscle” to influence a local district election. What is so illegal or immoral about a citizen using their right to vote in an election? Honestly, is that not precisely what the iVoteIsrael campaign is doing by mobilizing American citizens in Israel to vote for a president who will “support and stand by Israel in absolute commitment to its safety, security, and right to defend itself”?

Of course, pro-Israel pundits believe Arab and Muslim Americans must be stripped of their right to vote unless their choice coincides with that of AIPAC. These pundits must have forgotten or overlooked that Americans mobilizing around a shared agenda in electoral politics is a core mission of AIPAC.

Republican candidate Shmuley Boteach seems to have copied the entire Rothman campaign textbook. In his own words, Boteach has made Israel the defining issue in the campaign against Pascrell. Not only did Boteach complain to his Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about this writer, in particular, he has asked Pascrell to repudiate what is now known as the “Gaza 54 letter” urging Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip during and after the Israel invasion of 2010. Additionally, Boteach, who has stated that he wants to build a positive relationship with the NJ Arab and Muslim community, has sought to meet with one of its most prominent religious leaders, Imam Mohammad Qatanani of the Paterson based Islamic Center of Passaic County. However, Boteach has placed conditions the Imam must fulfill before such a meeting takes place.I know that Mr. Boteach has a slim chance of winning the heavily Democratic Ninth District. I really do not wish to lend any credence to his campaign. I may, however, reconsider my stance- only to expose his lack of commitment to, and knowledge of, the real pressing concerns of the District.

For now, my advice to Mr. Boteach: There is nothing ‘radical’ or illegal about American citizens voting and campaigning for their preferred candidate. Continue to sell books. Learn from the Pascrell’s victory. Do not read Rothman’s textbook; his test score made him vow never to run for public office again. And that may have been the best-unscripted statement of his failed campaign.

Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum, a think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs.

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