The Battle for the Jewish Vote in New Jersey’s 7th District

In a press release earlier this year, the campaign of incumbent Republican Congressman Leonard Lance accused Democratic candidate Tom Malinowski of being an “Anti-Israel Lobbyist” referencing Malinowski’s prior role as a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch. Last week however, the Congressman himself appeared reluctant to repeat the charge when asked about the “anti-Israel lobbyist” label.

“I’ll just point out where he and I disagree fundamentally on issues related to Israel,” Lance explained sitting in his campaign headquarters in Westfield, New Jersey. Proceeding to read off a printed page, Lance listed disagreements from the Iran nuclear deal to United Nations resolutions and even supplying American bulldozers for the Israel Defense Forces.

Malinowski served as the Washington Director for Human Rights Watch until his departure in mid-2012. He was later appointed as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor until January 2017. During his tenure at the Human Rights Watch, Malinowski advocated in favor of banning the sale of U.S. cluster bombs to countries using it in civilian areas following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. He also lobbied then-Senator Hillary Clinton to reconsider her support of Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank, describing it as illegal activity in the “occupied West Bank.” In 2015, Malinowski supported efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran despite overseeing a report that offered a “dismal assessment” of Iran’s record on human rights. “The purpose of the nuclear talks is to deal with the nuclear issue.  It is not to deal with the human rights issue,” he explained at the time. 

Lance’s supporters have also sought to tie Malinowski to actions taken by President Obama at the United Nations Security Council. According to Ben Chouake, President of NORPAC, Malinowski’s tenure at the State Department in the Obama administration is a cause for concern. “I think the Obama State Department was a disaster,” Chouake told Jewish Insider. “I don’t consider that a badge of honor, especially in an area that has an awful lot of people that are concerned about the UN resolution (UNSC 2334 that was critical of Israeli settlements).”

Highlighting the emergence of Israel as a campaign issue in the 7th district, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro joined Malinowski on the campaign trail last week. Shapiro cautioned, “Those who choose to make Israel a partisan political football do Israel no favors.”

According to Shapiro, “Malinowski has a strong record, in and out of government, of support for Israel’s security, for its right of self-defense, and for its ability to do so, as guaranteed by the $38 billion MOU for military assistance signed in 2016 which is now coming into force. He has taken a bipartisan approach to advancing these causes. Bipartisanship has always been a critical pillar of U.S. support for Israel, and we need to maintain it, not undermine it with baseless attacks.”

In an emailed statement to Jewish Insider, Malinowski insisted that he “did not support abstaining” on the December 2016 vote at the UN Security Council. He further accused Lance of trying “to create divisions that will help his re-election,” which he called “profoundly irresponsible.” In an interview, Malinowski said one should look at Obama’s “quite forceful” record of supporting Israel at the UN.

“I judge Mr. Malinowski based upon his stated positions on the issues I have raised,” Lance said explaining why he raised support for Israel as a campaign issue. “I do believe there is a movement in certain quarters of the Democratic Party, in a manner I do not like, regarding Israel. And I criticized my opponent on this issue because I believe his views, in many regards, differ from my views regarding Israel. I think he has an obligation to indicate where he disagrees with those who are even further against Israel on these matters. I am specific in where I have criticized him. I think my specific examples are extremely important. There is a dramatic difference between him and me on these issues.”

Chouake noted that his organization endorsed Lance based on his strong record in support of Israel, something that is lacking — in his words — from his opponent. “For Lance, strong U.S.-Israel relations is front and center, and he wears it on his sleeve and he’s proud of it. If you look at Malinowski, you hear nothing about it,” Chouake asserted. “There’s really no record.”

“The Obama administration,” Chouake continued, “may have been the worst administration on US-Israel relations since Jimmy Carter. Malinowski was part of the State Department under Obama. I consider it a job, but certainly not one that make him valuable or attractive to me, as a citizen, to vote for him.”

“Our partnership with Israel is built on bipartisan support,” Malinowski contended. “Those who politicize it by suggesting that one party believes in it more are endangering its foundations.

The race for the 7th District is featured as a “toss up” by the Cook Political Report.

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