Defying its long-term mission of supporting friendly incumbents in Congress “who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel,” a pro-Israel political action committee is working actively to bring about the defeat of Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) in next November’s elections.
In a breakfast fund-raiser at a private home in Englewood on June 13, NORPAC raised upward of $20,000 for Holt’s Republican challenger, Princeton businessman Scott Sipprelle.
Speaking before some 40 NORPAC members, Sipprelle attacked the sitting legislator, who has served in the House since 1999, for criticizing Israel’s blockade of Gaza and showing “a lack of moral clarity that has begun to unnerve not only Israel but her allies in the region.”
What especially upset Sipprelle and his supporters, he said, was that Holt was among the 54 House members who signed a letter to President Barack Obama last January.
While the so-called “Gaza 54 Letter” expressed deep sympathy “with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks” and recognized Israeli “restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups, ” it went on to criticize the blockade. Easing the barring of goods coming into Gaza, the letter said, “will not only improve the conditions on the ground for Gaza’s civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas.”
In an interview before his remarks at the June 13 gathering, NJ Jewish News asked Sipprelle to point specifically to the portions of the Gaza letter he found objectionable.
“Nobody quibbles with humanitarian aid,” he said. “The question is whether an open border allows the terrorist government of Gaza to reinforce its power. Holt continues to legitimize a terrorist organization that has seized control of the government of Gaza and continually threatens Israel,” he charged.
“That is absolute nonsense,” Holt told NJJN (see related article).
Sipprelle, who operates a venture capital firm in Princeton, also criticized Holt for describing Israel and Hamas as engaged in “a cycle of violence.” He called use of the phrase “astounding, as if the actions of a terrorist organization and the actions of a sovereign country in its self-defense are somehow morally equivalent.”
“Rush Holt is somebody who has consistently refused to call out the bad actors and the natural adversaries of Israel as they should be called out for their behavior. There should be no moral ambiguity. We cannot equate the actions of Al Qaida or Hamas with the actions of a nation surrounded by hostile terrorist armies trying to defend itself,” said the candidate.
To Sipprelle’s supporters in NORPAC, Holt’s views on the Middle East are highly objectionable. “One a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the best, I would rate Holt a ‘two,’” NORPAC president Ben Chouake told NJJN before the meeting. “He seems to be extremely unsympathetic. He sees things as moral equivalents and doesn’t understand what is going on. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and Rush Holt fails to see it as the root of the problem.”
Raphael Benaroya, who hosted the fund-raiser at his Englewood home, introduced Sipprelle by saying that he, unlike Holt, “understands the value of Israel as a democracy.”
“To have somebody as openly antagonistic toward Israel as Holt requires that we all step up and support candidates that are pro-Israel,” said NORPAC member Eric Herschmann of Englewood as the meeting began.
“Rush Holt is not the problem; he is part of the problem of hyper-partisanship,” Sipprelle told NJJN. “This is a man who votes 99 percent of the time with his party. There is no concern for the greater good of his constituents and his nation. Rush Holt has earned the title of the number one most partisan member of Congress, which places him in the number one position on the far left.”
Sipprelle called himself a “mainstream fiscal conservative” who “would like to see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resolved. I think America is overstretched militarily. In Iraq, our mission morphed into something much grander than we ever envisioned. I would absolutely advocate drawing down our military obligations at a rate consistent with our ability to do it without undermining the mission’s collapse or endangering our troops.”
He said he believes abortions should be “rare but legal. I would like to reduce the number of abortions in America. I would like to promote the culture of life, but I am not advocating overturning” Roe v. Wade.
In terms of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays and lesbians in the armed forces, Sipprelle said he would “respect the military chain of command on that issue,” adding it was not a matter that should be decided by lawmakers.
Sipprelle said he is a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment, which “defines the essential right of all Americans to keep and bear arms. But there are some guardrails to keep felons and those who should not have guns from having them,” he noted.
The son of a Foreign Service officer who grew up in parts of Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, Sipprelle said he is self-financing “at least half” of his campaign expenses. As a supporter of term limits, he promised that if elected, he will step down after six years in office.
“I am an outsider who challenged the system and did not kiss the rings to become the one anointed to run,” he told NJJN. “I am not your typical politician.”