Saturday, May 15, 2021

Allen Rapaport spent 11 years as a Republican councilman in Norwood, but Rep. Josh Gottheimer helped turn him into a Democrat.

Rapaport had problems with former Rep. Scott Garrett, a five-term incumbent representing the fifth district, whom Gottheimer defeated in 2016, eking out a narrow victory in a traditionally Republican stronghold. He was re-elected two years later by a slightly larger margin. The district covers parts of Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties.

As police commissioner, Rapaport had issues with Garrett over the Zadroga Act, passed in 2010 to provide healthcare to first responders affected by 9/11, and other legislation supporting law enforcement.

However, as a Jew deeply concerned with supporting Israel and rising anti-Semitism, he didn’t believe Garrett fully shared those worries.

“Josh, being very bright, called me up and said, ‘I see you’re having some issues with Scott Garrett. Would you mind having a cup of coffee with me?’’’ said Rapaport.

That conversation would last two-and-a-half hours and spanned Gottheimer’s stands on domestic and international issues. Rapaport was so impressed that when Gottheimer called a week later asking for his support, although knowing it would likely be “political suicide,” Rapaport agreed to stand flanked by Democratic mayors and publicly endorse the newcomer.

Rapaport would indeed lose his bid to be elected to council as a Democrat but has no regrets because “I finally stood up for what I believe.”

“Josh is right up front about supporting Israel,” he noted. “Josh goes into schools to talk about anti-Semitism so they understand what anti-Semitism is, why Germany killed six million, why being anti-Black, anti-Brown is wrong. That is why I am so proud to support Josh.”

Gottheimer, a former speech writer for President Bill Clinton and Microsoft executive, is facing a challenge in the July 7 primary from Glen Rock Councilwoman Dr. Arati Kreibich, a neuroscientist who immigrated from India at age 11.

Kreibich, whose views tend to skew more toward the progressive/liberal wing of the party than those of Gottheimer, told North Jersey.com she entered the race because Gottheimer led a faction that pressed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic caucus to pass an emergency border funding bill that did not include key aid for migrant families.

Troubling to many Jewish supporters is her perceived stance on Israel. Her campaign website states, “Because of our special relationship with Israel, the United States has a responsibility to draw attention to actions of the Israeli government when they are not in line with our countries’ shared democratic values; we must call on the Israeli government to uphold the values that align our two nations. Palestinians are entitled to basic human rights, and Israel is entitled to national security.”

Kreibich calls for “ending Israeli occupation of the West Bank,” according to Israel Palestine.org.

Messages for comment left on Kreibich’s personal Facebook page and to her council e-mail by The Jewish Link were not returned.

However, Gottheimer, in a phone interview with The Jewish Link, said Kreibich is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and her beliefs align with those of “the Squad,” the informal name for a group of four women elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 who represent the left wing of the Democratic party. In a vote last year in which Congress overwhelmingly condemned the BDS movement, three of the four dissented. Only Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts broke and joined the majority.

“I have been committed to issues important to the Jewish community since I ran for Congress,” said Gottheimer. “I grew up in a Jewish home where I learned how important it is to be involved with the Jewish community and that there were other ways to do tzedaka by addressing homelessness, senior issues. I was taught at a very young age how much Jewish-Americans give back to the community.”

Mort Fridman, the Teaneck psychiatrist who serves as national chair of AIPAC, told The Jewish Link that although the staunchly pro-Israel group has a policy of not endorsing candidates, “I can personally attest that Congressman Gottheimer is a steadfast champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship who works tirelessly to strengthen the bonds with our democratic ally.”

“Congressional bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship remains solid because of the leadership of candidates like Rep. Josh Gottheimer who consistently take the initiative to craft legislation to further strengthen the ties with our allies,” he noted.

Gottheimer, citing the shared democratic values of Israel and the U.S., pointed to his thwarting of efforts to amend the 2016 memorandum of understanding with Israel, drafted under President Barack Obama, providing Israel with about $3.8 billion in military aid and missile defense each year.

Gottheimer, with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Tom Reed (R-NY), submitted amendments expressing support for a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through a negotiated two-state solution and calling for the U.S. “to stand by its ironclad commitments” to provide military aid to Israel.

“When the Squad was pushing I helped lead those efforts to halt that push,” said Gottheimer, adding he and Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) met with one of its members, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), to point out the insinuation that Jews have a dual loyalty is a classic anti-Semitic trope.

“Israel has been on the cutting edge in everything from LBGTQ and women’s rights to being a critical ally of the U.S. in the development of technology such as the Iron Dome and anti-drone technology,” said Gottheimer. “Israel is a leader in technology, development of clean water, but the basic reason it is so important is the role it plays in American security.”

Gottheimer also cited his work fighting rising anti-Semitism and hate by working “very closely” with synagogues, churches and nonprofits to get security grants to prevent terrorism attacks.

Every time a school has been defaced by a swastika or other hate symbols, Gottheimer said he has called the district superintendent to inquire what action is being taken in response to prevent a recurrence.

John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, noted that the fifth district is one of a number in the state and nation where moderate candidates are being challenged by candidates “loosely involved from the left.”

He doesn’t believe the BDS issue is “high on the list” of many district voters, but Kreibich, who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, has tried to distinguish herself from Gottheimer through positions on healthcare and immigration.

“What’s interesting about this challenger is that historically this is a traditionally
Republican district where Gottheimer got elected in 2016 with 52% of the vote and slightly bigger two years ago,” said Weingart. “The question is if he loses the primary can she win against a Republican in November? In general, voters tend to support compromise and moderation. That is a strategy Gottheimer has used in Congress, but people who vote in primaries tend to be less moderate than in the general election so she could do well in the primary.”

Gottheimer is a member of the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, composed of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans whose mission is to find bipartisan solutions to the country’s most pressing problems.

“We have to keep working together to stand up to hate and when we see it call it out and try to use these moments as teachable moments for our children,” he said. “We are much stronger as a country when we come together to celebrate our diversity. We live in the greatest country in the world. When we are divided and turn on each other, it’s never a solution for success.”

By Debra Rubin