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PRIMARY WATCH

Group touts Hoboken mayor Ravi Bhalla as supporter of anti-Israel protests

Bhalla is challenging Rep. Rob Menendez (D-NJ) in New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla

An advertisement for an event with Hoboken, N.J., Mayor Ravi Bhalla, challenging Rep. Rob Menendez (D-NJ) in New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District, labels Bhalla as a pro-cease-fire candidate supportive of campus anti-Israel protests.

The advertisement was circulated by a group called Muslims of New Jersey, which hosted the event, and describes Bhalla as its favored candidate over Menendez. The flier attacks Menendez for his AIPAC endorsement, and for being “against ceasefire in Gaza” and “against students right to protest.” 

The event took place Saturday morning in Jersey City.

“Ravi Bhalla engages with all communities in the diverse 8th Congressional District. That certainly includes the Muslim community, which is an integral and vital part of the fabric of the region,” Bhalla spokesperson Rob Horowitz said. “He communicated his same consistent position on Israel/Gaza at this afternoon’s event as he has communicated in media appearances and to interested parties no matter their point of view. “

“Ravi Bhalla supports Israel’s right to defend itself and ensure its national security.  This imperative is underscored by the horrific Oct. 7th terrorist attack, which Ravi spoke out about at the time and continues to decry,” Horowitz continued. 

“At the same time, he believes Israel must do a much better job of limiting the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and of ensuring that food and other provisions are allowed in to prevent famine and improve desperate overall conditions. He backs a negotiated cease fire with the return of all the hostages and believes all efforts must continue to be made by the United States to bring that result about.”

Horowitz said that Bhalla “supports a two-state solution as still the only viable long-term path to peace.”

Addressing the campus protests, Horowitz said Bhalla “supports free speech, but not violence, destruction of property nor harassment of Jewish students. And he is a vocal opponent of Antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other form of bigotry and racism.”

At a debate earlier this week, Bhalla argued that it’s “not the place of a judge or a member of Congress to stick their nose in the business of a university,” adding that university leaders must ensure that students have the right to protest while also protecting students from harassment and antisemitism, in compliance with university rules.

Speaking about the situation in Gaza, Bhalla largely echoed the views laid out in his spokesperson’s statement, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and adding that the U.S. should continue to support Israel.

He also said that the U.S. should “encourage our friends in Israel to exercise restraint in their response” and that “we have to be aware of the fact that those responses have, at times, been inconsistent with our values as Americans.”

He said broadly, without specifically mentioning Israel, that the U.S. needs “a more surgical approach” to deciding how and when to provide aid “in a way that’s consistent with our values” and should not provide aid to “governments where we see a human rights record that is not consistent with our values as Americans.”

Bhalla’s other recent public brushes with Israel-related issues included being heckled by anti-Israel protesters, alongside Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), at an event in February, and canceling a planned appearance by a DJ at a Hoboken city event after the musician created a playlist titled “river to the C” featuring Palestinian artists, amid opposition from some city council members.

Bhalla is challenging Menendez — who has maintained a pro-Israel record in office — partly in light of the corruption allegations facing Menendez’s father, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). An early April poll commissioned by a pro-Bhalla super PAC showed Bhalla leading Menendez by five points, 33%-28%, just outside the margin of error. 

Both men have put up substantial fundraising hauls: Bhalla raised $1.6 million to Menendez’s $1.4 million, as of the end of March.

Early in the war, Bhalla was generally supportive of Israel and has been seen as a friend of the Jewish community. He attended and spoke at a vigil honoring the victims of the Hamas attack on Oct. 10.

“I was moved by the incredible turnout last night, as over 1,000 residents came together to pray for peace in the Middle East, stand against senseless acts of violence and anti-semitism, and mourn those who have been lost in Israel at the hands of terrorism,” Bhalla said after the event. “In times of darkness, Hoboken will always be there to show support for those in need and serve as a beacon of hope and solidarity. Last night, we stood with our Jewish brothers and sisters at home and around the world, united by compassion and a shared sense of humanity.”

On Oct. 25, he condemned the “brazen theft” of an Israeli flag flying outside the Hoboken City Hall, and said “we will not tolerate such behavior in our community… Hoboken is a diverse city that has always stood for fairness and inclusivity. We take pride in the fact that our community embraces people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world.”

With members of a local synagogue, Bhalla re-raised the Israeli flag. 

During his time as mayor, Bhalla, who is Sikh, has been seen as an ally of the Jewish community active in fighting antisemitism.

Bhalla visited Israel in 2022 on a trip hosted by the American Jewish Committee and United States Conference of Mayors.

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