New Jersey’s Sue Altman, breaking with progressive allies, expresses support for Israel

Altman pledged support for continued U.S. military aid to Israel, without conditions, and stated her opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement

Sue Altman’s background as a progressive organizer and former leader in New Jersey’s Working Families Party raised questions early in her campaign for the seat in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District about how she might approach Israel policy, given the national party’s criticism of Israel and support for conditioning aid to the Jewish state.

But in a position paper shared with Jewish Insider, Altman — now the presumptive Democratic nominee — distanced herself from the hard left on Israel, expressing a personal connection to and affinity for Israel and separating herself from the national WFP’s positions.

Altman is running against Rep. Tom Kean, Jr. (R-NJ) in one of the most competitive battleground districts in the country — one of only 22 toss-up races, as rated by the Cook Political Report. Kean’s district, spanning north-central New Jersey, narrowly voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and has a significant Jewish constituency.

In the position paper, Altman pledged support for continued U.S. military aid to Israel, without conditions, and for the supplemental aid bill for Israel and other U.S. allies, as well as stating her opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Her campaign said she also opposes legislation to place end-use restrictions on aid to Israel. 

In an addendum to the paper written in response to the Oct. 7 attack, Altman said that she views Israel as a “vital friend and ally” which “has a right and obligation to respond” to the Oct. 7 attacks. She said that Hamas “must be dismantled” and that “there is no path to peace as long as Hamas continues to exist,” and called for continued international pressure to release the hostages.

Altman said she supports mutual “continued humanitarian pauses” in the war, describing the civilian death toll in Gaza as “nearly incomprehensible and absolutely horrific,” while also noting the need to ensure that Hamas does not steal aid.

“As we continue to support Israel, we must do everything in our power to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized, and I support the Biden Administration in their efforts to ensure that Israel takes every feasible measure to minimize civilian casualties when fighting in Gaza,” Altman said. “Israel must cooperate with world leaders, allies and United Nations efforts to maintain food and water for civilians and to provide safe passage for innocent civilians.”

In the paper, Altman traced her affinity for Israel to a biking trip across the country in 2010, where she said she gained “an emotional and empathic context to understand Israel’s plight and complement the academic exercise I had already embarked on.” 

“My time in Israel… had an indelible effect on my understanding of the historical plight of the Jewish people and the importance of maintaining a strong alliance with Israel,” she continued. “My actions will be shaped by my firm belief in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and a desire to make conditions on the ground conducive to diplomacy, which is the only viable path to peace in the region. I will be a vocal advocate for building and maintaining connective tissue between our countries through economic aid and diplomatic cooperation.”

Altman declined to participate in an interview with JI.

Tom Kean, Jr.

In a Feb. 9 local television interview, Altman said that both the Hamas attack and humanitarian situation in Gaza are “awful and heartbreaking.” But she said she was not calling for a cease-fire, describing the conflict as “very complex… I don’t think it’s so simple that a cease-fire will stop the violence.”

She expressed support for the administration’s approach, adding that she’d like to see continued pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Altman said in her position paper that the international community should apply “renewed pressure for a two state solution,” as well as offered support for normalization between Israel and Arab states.

“When I am in Congress, I will work tirelessly for the rights of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live in peace, and I will always be thoughtful, deliberate and intentional about my positions on crises, especially those which are complex, deeply tragic, and shake us to the core,” she wrote.

The paper at multiple points raises concerns about Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank. She said that “inhumane conditions” for Palestinians, including home demolitions and settlement expansion, hinder “good-faith negotiating.”

“There is no path to a two-state solution if Palestinians cannot see a credible vision for a homeland,” she said. “The right to a home, freedom of movement, and access to food and clean water are all fundamental human rights and must be maintained if we are to achieve lasting peace.”

Altman also acknowledged that terrorism and issues in the Palestinian Authority are obstacles to negotiations and peace.

She expressed support for continued aid to the Palestinians, including through “relevant agencies in the United Nations.”

In the post Oct. 7 addendum to her paper, Altman again highlighted concerns about settlement expansion, as well as Israeli judicial reform efforts.

While Altman’s views on Israel place her to the left of Kean, they also separate her from far-left anti-Israel forces such as the congressional Squad, who have loudly disavowed the U.S.-Israel relationship and pushed for conditions or suspensions of U.S. aid.

Altman said that, in her professional career, she “did not directly engage with contemporary policy questions about the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

She did, however, butt heads with a pro-Israel Democratic lawmaker on one occasion in recent years.

In 2021, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) — a pro-Israel stalwart from a neighboring district — accused members of the WFP of screaming “Jew” at him during a protest at an event he attended. That account was backed up by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who was also in attendance. 

Altman said that a WFP investigation showed no one in the protest had used the word “Jew” and told JI that “spurious and false allegations of antisemitism are extremely dangerous; they cheapen real ones.” Another individual, unaffiliated with WFP, subsequently came forward as having shouted, “Josh, as a Jew, it’s a shanda that you’re blocking Build Back Better.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) leaves a classified, closed-door briefing about Hamas’ attack on Israel in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium on October 11, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Altman said in her position paper that she actively opposed the BDS movement “throughout my career in New Jersey politics because its origins are rooted in an attempt to undermine the Jewish state” and because it is damaging to bilateral economic ties, which she said are key to the U.S.-Israel relationship and have directly benefited her district.

She also noted the rise in antisemitism linked to the Oct. 7 attack, writing, “Jewish people are rightly afraid, and there must be no tolerance for this. At all. Ever.”

Altman’s position paper condemns Iran, calling on Congress to provide support to Iranian dissidents and to leave “all options… on the table” to address Iran’s nuclear program, while prioritizing a “diplomacy-first approach.”

Altman’s views and position paper have been sufficient to convince Democratic Majority for Israel — which had initially signaled support for one of Altman’s primary opponents — to remain agnostic in the primary, describing both candidates as “pro-Israel.”

Not everyone in the pro-Israel community is siding with her, though. Dr. Ben Chouake, the president of NORPAC, a bipartisan pro-Israel group, said that NORPAC will be supporting Kean. 

He said he had not seen Altman’s position paper, but said that Kean has an extensive record in both the House and the state government of being proactively involved on U.S.-Israel relations.

Ultimately, he argued that Kean’s record on Israel makes him an easy choice over Altman, who he described as a relative unknown without a significant record on Israel policy.

Altman currently trails Kean in money raised this cycle, $2.7 million to $780,000. Polling indicated that Altman was dominating the Democratic primary before her opponents dropped out of the race. 

Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Dan Cassino told JI in July 2023 that Altman’s profile was not consistent with what local Democratic officials had been looking for in the 7th District, but told JI last week they’ve since come around to her, given her demonstrated ability to connect with voters and raise money. 

Altman had previously led efforts against the state’s party machine system, but said in a recent TV interview she’s “happy to work with the county organizations,” needing “all hands on deck” to win the district.

Altman, in a recent media appearance, pushed back on characterizations of herself as a hardline progressive, framing her work with the WFP as in support of what she said are popular causes like workers’ issues, the environment, womens’ rights, reproductive choice, countering corruption and fighting Republican extremism.

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