Politics in Pascrell v. Rothman spills into religion

A commonly contentious issue continues to nag at Pascrell v. Rothman: religion.

Someone in the audience of an African American ministers’ forum Thursday night asked U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) why he is telling people in Passaic County’s Orthodox Jewish community to change their party affiliation to vote in the Democratic Primary. According to the Jewish Standard, 15 synagogue presidents endorsed Rothman in a letter that includes quotes praising the Bergen congressman’s support for Israel and for sanctions on Iran, and for disagreeing with President Barack Obama’s Israel policies.

“While we understand this choice may be difficult for you,” wrote the synagogue presidents, “please know that after the election you can immediately reverse your Party affiliation back to Republican or Independent; how you vote in the Primary in June does not in any way influence how you vote in November.” 

The letter prompted Arab American activist Aref Assaf to go on offense. 

“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,” wrote Assaf on NJ.com. 

But it was another Assaf statement that especially rankled the Rothman Camp. 

“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,” Assaf wrote. 

The Rothman Campaign called on Pascrell to distance himself from Assaf’s remarks, a demand that prompted Pascrell to dispatch former U.S. Rep. Herbert Klein, who said Assaf is not part of the campaign. 

But Assaf is on record as a $300 donor to Pascrell in 2004, in addition to being a vocal backer of the congressman’s. 

“Now one of his most prominent supporters is questioning Steve’s patriotism and loyalty to America,” said Rothman spokesman Paul Swibinski. “Pascrell could put a stop to this immediately but he chooses not to. He refuses to disavow these vile remarks and discourage his supporters from following this dark strategy. This campaign will be closely observed across the nation. Mr. Pascrell’s supporters should stick to the issues and leave religion out of it.”

"He’s obviously working very, very hard at it. I mean he’s traveling all over the country as chairman of the [Republican Governors Association] and I think at this point he has as good a chance or better than anybody else. His name is household word all across the country, and I think he would make a great president."
—former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3), on Gov. Chris Christie