Will Rush Holt– who questioned Israel’s policy of ‘total devastation’ in Gaza– stand by Palestine in NJ Senate race?

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The leading candidate to replace the late Frank Lautenberg in the Senate from New Jersey is of course Newark Mayor Cory Booker; and as Max Blumenthal reported here the other day, Booker reflects a fervent establishment Zionism. 

Well, one of the other New Jersey Democrats who threw his hat into the race is well-known among supporters of Palestinian rights for being a brave outlier on the issue. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt is a scientist who represents Princeton. He is said to be the only Quaker in Congress, and I first heard of him when he went to Gaza in 2009 on a delegation that included Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Brian Baird of Washington, and Daniel Levy of the Century Foundation, and the congressmen came back speaking movingly about the need to end the blockade so that Palestinians could have building materials and medical supplies.

Here is the video. Holt speaks at 22:00. 

Though he covers himself by describing Israeli rationale for the Cast Lead attack on Gaza in ’08-’09, which killed nearly 400 children, he seems clearly to be in sympathy with the Palestinians. Look at this bit:

What I observed in that visit– and by the way, I never feared for my safety, I only found friendly children, I only found people who were not looking for a fight but looking to rebuild their lives and get on with raising their kids and so forth. In one day’s visit, you can’t really, based on your observations, discuss the justification for Israeli military action, pro or con. I have my own opinions about that, and many of us do. You can’t really in one day’s observation address the question of, Is the military doctrine of the Israelis that led to the kind of military action and really total devastation in some places– Again I have my own opinions on that…

When I visited the American School, I found appropriately enough a science textbook, shredded, shredded, blown apart.

Holt goes on to observe that Palestinian students at the school took down the American flag there because it had become a target for Muslim extremists. Concerned with objective “evidence,” Holt obviously made that observation because he is concerned about the militant American presence in the Arab world stoking extremism.

Holt later signed the infamous Gaza 54 letter, in which 54 congresspeople called on Obama to end the siege on Gaza (full text of letter below). He then got a reputation on the issue; and the Emergency Committee for Israel went after him, in this video:

I am of course concerned that Holt will backtrack on the issue in order to win the Democratic nomination for the Senate, pandering to pro-Israel voters and donors.

On his website, Holt parrots the usual talking points about Israel’s right to self defense.

Rep. Holt is a lifelong supporter of the State of Israel who has visited the country on numerous occasions. He believes that a strong relationship with Israel is necessary both for ensuring that Israel remains a democratic outpost in the Middle East and for ensuring stability in the region. Israel, like all nations in the world, has the right and responsibility to respond in self-defense. 

Holt doesn’t seem like a shilly-shallyer. He has a resolute tone. But this issue is a landmine. He was interviewed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC yesterday and described himself as the true progressive in the race, and while affirming his support for Muslims’ civil rights, did not touch the I/P question.

“I am the progressive in this race… I’ve got a record second to none.”

He described his program of supporting public schools, universal single-payer health care, anti-bullying legislation, economic justice measures, and an unrivalled record on the environment. Hey, he represents Princeton! There’s something to be said for elites.

And Holt says he opposed “NYPD surveillance of students in Rutgers and people shopping in Halal stores.” So he stood up for Muslims. And:

I was one of the strongest opponents of the Iraq War.

He brags that he called for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan long before anyone else.

At this site on foreign policy, Holt is considered to have a “pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian” voting record. Holt led congressional efforts to stop the New York City spying program aimed at Muslim Americans, and he was embraced by the Arab American Institute for doing so.

The Arab American Institute has compiled a Scorecard to catalogue the voting record of the 112th Congress on issues of importance to the Arab American community. For the House, we included 15 items: two bills on the Arab Spring, five bills and one letter on Palestine, two bills on Lebanon, three bills and a letter regarding civil liberties, and two bills on immigration.

  1. H.Res. 88 (+): supporting democratic aspirations in Egypt
  2. H.R. 2643 (+): penalizing the Bahraini government for attacking medical personnel
  3. H.R. 1006 (-): the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act
  4. H.R. 1501 (-): withholding US contributions until the UN retracts accusations of Israeli war crimes.
  5. H.Res. 268 (-): opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state
  6. H.R. 2457 (-): prohibiting any US government document from referring to “Palestine”
  7. H.R. 2829 (-): defunding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. The bill’s 141 co-sponsors receive a (-).
  8. 8. (+). Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) issued a letter titled “Support Palestinian Aid and Israel’s Security,” in which they call upon Congress to continue aid to the Palestinian Authority.
  9. H.R. 2215 (*) “to ensure that United States taxpayer dollars are not used to fund terrorist entities in Lebanon
  10. H.R. 996 (+): to raise awareness of the use of cluster munitions where civilians are present
  11. H.R. 140 (-): the “Birthright Citizenship Act, to eliminate “anchor babies” by changing the 14th Amendment.
  12. H. Res. 283 (+): to counter violence and discrimination against Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities
  13. H.R. 1805 (-): authorizing an extension of the USA PATRIOT Act until 2013, and amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
  14. H.R. 1842 (+): the DREAM Act to protect undocumented minors pursuing higher education.
  15. H.R. 1932 (-): the Keep our Communities Safe Act for greater power to detain undocumented immigrants.

And here is the text of the Gaza 54 letter, from 2010: congresspeople who called for an end to the blockade in a letter to President Obama. PS. Others who signed the letter have since regretted doing so, publicly.  

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for your ongoing work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for your commitment of $300 million in US aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip. We write to you with great concern about the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt following Hamas’ coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead. We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks. We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals.

    We ask that you advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza in the following areas:

  • Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza
  • Access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials
  • Access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials
  • Access to medicine and health care products and suppliers
  • Access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials
  • Access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding
  • Access to fuel
  • Access to spare parts
  • Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and
  • Publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.

Despite ad hoc easing of the blockade, there has been no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza. Lifting these restrictions will give civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that diplomacy can be an effective tool for bettering their conditions.

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On other threads, we discussed issues like how difficult is to find candidates and representatives who are not awful on the issues pertaining to Israel/Palestine, and Holt seems to be one of the best. I guess I will send him a modest donation (singing sadly “If I were a rich man”). PS. I just did. It is really sad what I have seen: “Click on this week’s busiest recipients [on ActBlue] to contribute now, raise… Read more »

Rush has always impressed me with his humanity, his intelligence, and his independence — not being afraid to stray from the proverbial pack.

Not so Booker.

Me too.. I was really upset. Glad to find you still there, Mondo.

So, he’ll pull a Hagel, to try to win the NJ race?

Not only should Rush Hold stick to his justice for Palestine line, he should make it the centerpiece of his foreign policy platform. Yes, this will draw in pro-Israel support for his opponents, but he can turn this to his advantage by hammering away at their Israel-Firstness, providing us with a test as to just how deep America’s so-called love for Israel really is.