Posted by on July 03, 2012 in Blog

In New Jersey’s newly-drawn ninth congressional district, something interesting is happening. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Bill Pascrell’s Republican opponent for the district’s congressional seat, is trying to court the Arab American vote. Over the weekend, Boteach called up AAI Board of Governors member Sherine El-Abd, who also serves as Chairwoman of the New Jersey Arab American Republican Caucus, and asked her to accompany him during his weekend walk-through of South Paterson. South Paterson is predominantly Arab American and was instrumental to Pascrell’s win over Steve Rothman in the Democratic primary. El-Abd met with Boteach briefly while he was in Paterson. He is trying to cast himself as the “‘true pro-Arab candidate,’” El-Abd said. “Those are his exact words.” That Boteach is positioning himself as more pro-Arab than Pascrell is a testament to how essential he believes the Arab American vote is to his congressional ambitions.

Boteach’s outreach comes on the heels of a democratic primary in which Bill Pascrell, a candidate with a long history of engagement with Arab American community, defeated Steve Rothman by a considerable margin. The win was in part attributed to an unprecedented level of Arab American involvement in which the community organized, got out the vote, and proved that it could deliver votes. “This race is evolving into a great American story about an ethnic community defining itself politically,” said Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “Arab Americans have demonstrated they are an effective voting constituency and candidates across the political spectrum are starting to notice.” Boteach’s pro-Arab outreach is, in many respects, an effort to emulate Pascrell and cash in on potential Arab American support where he can find it. And according to El-Abd, that potential is very real. “Of course there is a potential for him to garner votes from Arab Americans,” she said, adding: “I would never vote for Pascrell – I’m a Republican and I don’t agree with his politics.” For this reason she said Boteach should keep reaching out and engaging Arab Americans. “It’s a very simple concept, if you engage people and make an effort to make them feel like valued constituents, they will respond - that’s how Pascrell won.” As The Record reported this weekend, Arab Americans took kindly to Boteach’s outreach.

The way this race has evolved since the primary is remarkable. During and immediately following that contest, Arab American voter participation and support for Pascrell was attacked by a number of right-wing and pro-Israel groups that tried to paint Arab American voters as anti-Semitic. They tried to play up a falsely contrived “ethnic brawl” between Jews and Arabs over Israel, and they launched a campaign to suppress the Arab American vote. Now, with Boteach actively courting the community, the story that should have been written about this race from the beginning is an emerging as uncontested narrative about the importance of the Arab American community: If you want to win New Jersey’s ninth, you have to court Arab American voters.

comments powered by Disqus