Islamic Antisemitism Enters American Electoral Politics

The election has been marred with ugly undertones of anti-Semitism: one candidate accuses the other of being more loyal to Israel than to his own land, and anchors his candidacy in ethnic and religious identity politics. Observers fear that by making his anti-Israel stance the lynchpin of his campaign, the candidate is setting a precedent that could have severe negative consequences in the near future.

All this sounds as if it could be taking place in Egypt, where Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi has signaled that he wants to review, if not discard outright, that nation’s peace treaty with Israel, and has taken such a hardline anti-Israel stance that his secular opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, has accused the Brotherhood of acting as if “Palestine is the capital of Egypt.” But this election is not taking place in Egypt, or anywhere that Islamic anti-Semitism might be expected to resonate with the electorate. This anti-Semitic mudslinging is going on in a congressional race in New Jersey.

Steve Rothman is a Democrat who was first elected to Congress from New Jersey’s Ninth District in 1996. He is also Jewish. He currently faces a tough reelection challenge from Bill Pascrell, a Roman Catholic who entered Congress at the same time as Rothman and now, because of redistricting, finds himself in Rothman’s district. In the district also is a sizeable contingent of Arabs and Muslims, who have injected an unprecedented level of Jew-baiting into the campaign. Said Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee: “One side says, ‘We want this Jew out of office’ and, frankly, it’s pretty unsettling. They emphasized,” he noted, that Rothman is “a Jewish congressman.”

The Washington Free Beacon published an image of an Arabic-language poster (reproduced at left) claiming that the Rothman/Pascrell race was “the most important election in the history of the [Arab] community” and exhorting the “Arab diaspora community” to vote for Pascrell as “the friend of the Arabs.” In February, Aref Assaf, the president of the American Arab Forum, wrote an op-ed in the New Jersey Star-Ledger titled “Rothman is Israel’s man in District 9.” Assaf asserted that “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 hoped that Muslim voters in New Jersey’s Ninth District would defeat Rothman: “We will soon find out if Muslim religious leaders will reach out to their respective congregations.” He titled another column last week “Congressman Pascrell is best for New Jersey,” but he sounded as if it were more important to him, and to the district’s Arab and Muslim voters, that Rothman has been identified as a “pro-Israel stalwart.” Assaf even asserted that “various media outlets have framed the race as a litmus test for the survival of Israel,” and observed happily that “Arab and Muslim grassroots meetings are forming all over District 9, strategizing for a massive voter turnout, with voter registration drives outside mosques and along Main Street, fundraising, and a targeted mobilization of volunteers. ... The candidates’ position on Palestine appears paramount, and for many, it has already informed their expected vote.”