by Sheila Musaji (TAM)
Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer are outraged that a political campaign in New Jersey has included the issue of one candidates support for Israel.
Both Spencer and Geller refer their readers to an article in the Washington Free Beacon about the democratic primary race between Reps. Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell.
That one-sided article noted that “For the first time in recent American political history, we are witnessing a proxy battle between supporters and detractors of Israel, and it’s playing out in the Ninth District of New Jersey,” said one veteran campaign strategist who is knowledgeable about the district. And, it noted an ad by an Arab group in the community supporting Pascrell that produced an ad urging the “Arab diaspora community” to “elect the friend of the Arabs” and billed the race as “the most important election in the history of the [Arab] community.” It also refers to an article by Aref Assaf published in February titled Rothman is Israel’s man in District 9. It also included this quote “I don’t read Arabic well, but I am pretty sure that the pro-Pascrell posters that have appeared across the district are not calling to elect the candidate who supports a strong relationship between America and the only democracy in the Middle East, one which is rooted in progressive Western values—women’s rights, gay rights, tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.,” said Josh Block, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
It is impossible to believe that Mr. Block was unaware that it was a letter from a group of Rabbis that began this entire discussion. It is also impossible to believe that the author of this article, Adam Kredo, was also unaware of the implications of that letter (since he mentions it later in his article). Nevertheless, Kredo’s article was the basis for both Geller and Spencer’s posts.
A New Jersey congressional race is becoming a referendum on a candidate’s Judaism. Muslims are going after a Jewish congressman. Islamic Jew-hatred rears its ugly [be]head for the first time in a congressional race. But believe you me, it won’t be the last time. Islamic Jew-Hatred—it’s in the quran.
It’s very ugly, and the enemedia, self-enforcing the sharia, is not covering it. And the local press is giving the Islamic supremacists all the column inches the haters demand. Aref Assaf, president of the New Jersey-based American Arab Forum, is a vile nazi who has been getting the lion’s share of press.
Assaf wrote in an oped in the New Jersey Star Ledger that the Jewish candidate under attack, Steve Rothman, “is using his support of Israel as the centerpiece of his campaign.” It is Assaf and his Jew-hating constiuency [sic] that are making it all about Rothman’s Judaism and Israel. The Muslim Jew-haters are making it the centerpiece of their campaign. Rothman “has consciously avoided adding fuel to the ethnic fire by focusing instead on his congressional record, note political observers in both New Jersey and Washington, D.C.”
Spencer titles his article “We want this Jew out of office”: Islamic antisemitism invades New Jersey Congressional primary race and calls this An ugly new development in American politics: Muslim voters lining up to defeat a Jewish candidate.
It would be worthwhile to read the actual article written by Assef that would provoke Geller to call him a “vile nazi” and “Muslim Jew-hater”. Here is what Assef wrote
It may be Kosher but is it illegal? As the Record reported on February 17, 2012, several presidents of Orthodox synagogues are urging the Republican-registered members of their respective congregations to switch party affiliation in order to vote for Steve Rothman. Rep. Steve Rothman is battling fellow Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell for the newly redrawn Ninth Congressional District.
The primary elections are set for June 5 and because the district is heavily democratic, the winner will most likely carry the November elections too. The Record’s article is based on a letter first posted in the Passaic Clifton Jewish Community News. The Record calls into question the legality of such a letter signed by well-known religious leaders and debates the possible IRS code violations that such a position entails. Skirting the gray line of legality, these letters do carry the weight of the religious institutions the signers represent and when you consider the Orthodox community in Passaic is closely-knit, even when the names are not attached to their religious affiliations, they are still a known entity. While religious institutions may engage in local, state, and even federal elections, there are clear guidelines they must not cross to maintain their tax-exempt status under Section 501 of the IRS code, which governs non-profit and tax exempt entities. Such entities are clearly prohibited from endorsing political candidates and/or contributing to their campaign funds and must provide equal access to all competing candidates.
The question remains when such activities exceed the limit of the law and spill over being a mere informational letter. As quoted in the Record, one of the letter signers, Akiva Hirth, said, “It’s a free country,” adding that “religious leaders were merely communicating with their congregants, not forcing them to take any action.” Yet a closer read tells a different story; and I quote from the original letter: “Our community has the unique opportunity to significantly impact this race. The choice is clear – support the candidate who best understands our needs and interests. Congressman Steve Rothman is the obvious choice in this Primary election.” This is clearly a political endorsement. The IRS is called upon to investigate the legal ramifications of such a violation.
It may turn out to be a non-issue, but I am puzzled that so many Jewish Rabbis would and for mere temporary political expediency encourage their congregation to go against their faith and register Democratic. Like observant American Muslims who also favor the Republican Party, Orthodox Jews would choose the Republican platform for strictly religious reasons dealing with abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, and support for Israel. I would not want my Imam to urge me to change my party label so irreverently. It’s just plain dishonest.
But if it is Kosher for Orthodox rabbis to preach to their members on political candidates, then it must be Halal for Muslim Imams to do the same. We will soon find out if Muslim religious leaders will reach out to their respective congregations. Imams, like rabbis, wield disproportionate leverage in and uncontested access to their congregations.
American Muslims are said to be evenly split between those registered as Democrat and Republicans. If Republican Muslims in New Jersey emulate the Jewish voters, and assuming their numerical symmetry, they will at least cancel out the ‘converted’ Jewish votes. Real democratic voters will then decide the election outcome. I will be reporting back on developments.
Unquestionably, this primary election is pitting two otherwise harmoniously coexisting communities: the Muslim and Jewish communities. To what extent the Muslim community will be energized by these developments will have to be determined. As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice. Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s.
The incident that Assef was responding to was reported on in an article titled Letter asks Orthodox Jews to switch parties and support Rothman. Here is the text of that article:
PASSAIC — The leaders of Orthodox Jewish synagogues in the city are urging their congregants to switch parties from Republican to Democrat so they can vote for Rep. Steve Rothman in the June 5 primary against Rep. Bill Pascrell.
A letter endorsed by 15 presidents of Passaic shuls was mailed last week to the homes of Orthodox Jews in the city’s Passaic Park section who are registered Republicans. In the letter, the presidents urge them to register as Democrats by the April 11 deadline so they so they can support Rothman, who is considered more pro-Israel than Pascrell.
“Our community has the unique opportunity to significantly impact this race,” the letter reads. “The choice is clear — support the candidate who best understands our needs and interests. Congressman Steve Rothman is the obvious choice in this Primary election.”
The letter, which carries the heading “A Message from Passaic’s Shul Presidents,” was paid for by the Rothman campaign. It notes that the redrawn boundaries of the 9th congressional district heavily favors Democrats. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely capture the seat in November.
The letter, which has also been published in the Passaic Clifton Jewish Community News, is an outgrowth of the recent endorsement of Rothman by Gary Schaer, a prominent member of Passaic’s Orthodox Jewish community who is also City Council president and a state assemblyman.
Although political leaders are free to endorse anyone they want, the letter raises questions about whether religious leaders violated the IRS guidelines that restrict religious non-profits from endorsing political candidates.
Section 501 of the IRS code says religious non-profits are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The code further prohibits “voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates…”
Marc Owens, a Washington, D.C tax lawyer who headed the IRS’ tax exemption unit from 1990 to 2000, said the issue is whether the synagogue leaders were acting as individuals or on behalf of their religious institutions when they wrote the letter. “Is it the religious institution speaking or are they speaking as individuals?” Owens said.
Only one of the 15 synagogue presidents who signed the letter could be reached for comment on Friday. In a brief telephone interview, Akiva Hirth said he signed the letter because he was within his rights to do so. “It’s a free country,” Hirth said, adding that religious leaders were merely communicating with their congregants, not forcing them to take any action.
The Jewish vote is considered crucial for both Rothman and Pascrell, who are locked in a tight battle in the Democratic primary. Spokesmen for both candidates played down the issue on Friday.
Paul Swibinski, a spokesman for Rothman, defended the letter as a legitimate voter registration tactic. “I don’t see anything improper here at all,” he said. “There are no names of synagogues or temples listed in the letter. It is clearly a personal endorsement from leaders of these synagogues. It is not an endorsement by the synagogues themselves.”
Pascrell wasn’t eager to make an issue of it, either. “If anyone is violating tax laws, then we clearly have a concern,” he said.
It would seem that simply following the timeline of events clarifies this whole incident. A group of Jewish Rabbis raised the issue of a candidates support for Israel as a reason to vote for that candidate. After they sent out a letter encouraging the Jewish community to support one candidate based on this issue, Aref Assaf wrote his article calling their actions into question on the basis of U.S. law. He also expressed his sadness that such behavior in a local primary election “is pitting two otherwise harmoniously coexisting communities: the Muslim and Jewish communities” against each other.
It is sad to see this being made into a “religious issue” rather than a simple political issue. Who is the best candidate to represent the citizens of the 9th district of New Jersey should be the issue.
Geller and Spencer are old hands at stirring the pot of religious bigotry in political campaigns. This is simply the most recent example.
When Gary Boisclair ran a congressional campaign vs Keith Ellison that was based entirely on hatred of Muslims – Pamela Geller was upset at Youtube for pulling Boisclair’s anti-Muslim ad. Geller called it “enforcing Sharia” and she said More sharia (Islamic law): this is enforcement of blasphemy laws, do not insult Islam. How much more of our freedom are we going to allow them to seize?
When there was a furore over Keith Ellison’s use of the Qur’an in a photo opportunity after his swearing in as a Congressman – Robert Spencer wrote This is allegedly a political masterstroke by Ellison, but it really just begs the question. Thomas Jefferson, obviously, was not a Muslim. In his famous statement on religious freedom he wrote about whether one’s neighbor believed in one god or twelve “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But what no one is willing to discuss here is whether the Qur’an and Islam really fit into that framework. When I have mentioned that it sanctions lying to unbelievers (3:28 and 16:106, in the mainstream understanding of those verses by Islamic theologians and schools of jurisprudence; cf. Ibn Kathir and many others), people have responded that the Bible is full of nasty stuff as well. But people aren’t swearing on the Bible because it is full of nasty stuff, or endorsing any of it that might actually be there. The idea of swearing on the Bible arises from Christian belief and is buttressed by Christian theology—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—that requires honesty and eschews all dishonesty as coming from the “Father of Lies.” The permissions to be dishonest in the Qur’an are not mitigated by Islamic belief, tradition, and theology, but are in fact reinforced—by Muhammad’s statements that “war is deceit” and that lying is permissible in wartime, and more.
In short, to swear on the Bible is to affirm, among other things, that one is part of a tradition, and to swear on the Qur’an does not amount to an affirmation of the same tradition, no matter how much Glenn Beck or Ed Koch or anyone wishes it does or assumes it does. Islamic teachers daily use the Qur’an to establish principles that differ radically from those of Judeo-Christian tradition. These questions need to be discussed in a forthright and honest manner by Ellison and by the mainstream media, instead of being swept under the rug or condemned as bigotry.”
The decent people of the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey don’t need such bigoted individuals involving themselves in this election and fueling the fires of mutual distrust and bigotry.