September 1, 2015
By Jonathan D. Salant
Paul Surovell, from Maplewood, prepares to hand deliver one of two boxes containing petitions with 15,000 signatures to the offices of Senator Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, urging them to support the agreement that the United States and other world powers have reached to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Newark, NJ 8/26/15 (Robert Sciarrino | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Booker (D-N.J.) is one of three New Jersey lawmakers still undecided, all Democrats. The others are U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th Dist.) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.).
“Senator Booker is one of the most important key swing votes in insuring the deal’s success,” said Steven Krubiner, J Street’s chief of staff.
Through television and online ads and a press conference on Tuesday, the pro-Israel advocacy group J Street is trying to convince the undecided lawmakers to side with President Obama. The group is spending in the low six-figures to run ads on cable television in northern New Jersey and online, part of a $4 million campaign to support the agreement. The ad highlights the security experts who have endorsed the deal.
Opponents of the agreement also have targeted Booker.
“His is an important vote that would send a strong message to the president,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which has received financial support from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Klein said he has met with Booker to discuss the deal. “I tell him the same thing we tell everyone else, this deal is like funding and arming the Nazi Germany of today,” he said.
After returning from its summer recess next week, Congress is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program for more than a decade in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
Klein’s group and others have planned a rally on the Capitol grounds Sept. 9, at which two Republican presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are scheduled to speak.
J Street has pushed for a two-state solution in the Middle East and does not automatically support Israeli government policies, putting it at odds with other Jewish groups.
Krubiner said his group’s ads are also designed to “impact the public conversation” by showing “the broad support that exists among Israel security experts, scientists and American security experts” in support of the deal, in the hope that constituents will tell their elected representatives to vote yes.
On the conference call Tuesday, Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, said the deal addresses all three of Israel’s major concerns: it blocks for more than a decade Iran’s pathway to a nuclear bomb, it makes concern over a nuclear Iran an international issue rather than an Israeli one, and it provides for strict monitoring. based on verification.
“It’s not without flaws but it sure as hell beats the alternative,” Pinkas said. “Everyone is saying this could have been a better agreement. I have yet to see one.”
Pinkas said the agreement will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb for at least 15 years.
“Having 15 years in which to enhance and expand our own military intelligence and technological capabilities to deal with the iran of 2030 is far better than having to deal with an Iran left without an agreement,” he said.
A Princeton University professor of astrophysical sciences, Robert J. Goldston, said “this is a good deal” and it was “silly” to think that the other countries would return to the negotiating table because the U.S. Congress rejected the agreement.
“We were really astonished by the quality of this deal from a nonproliferation perspective,” said Goldston, one of 29 scientists and engineers who signed a letter endorsing the agreement. Another of the 29 was former U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.), now chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
J Street’s political action committee was the most generous giver to federal candidates for the 2014 elections, donating or raising $1.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. Englewood Cliffs-based NORPAC was second with $849,790. Booker was the biggest recipient of pro-Israel money during the 2014 elections, taking in $364,876, though J Street did not contribute to either his special election or general election campaigns.
NORPAC has been singling out an undecided lawmaker each day and on Tuesday urged its supporters to call or e-mail Pascrell. And the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the giant pro-Israel lobbying group, distributed memos to each congressional office with arguments on why they should oppose the agreement.
Only two members of the state’s delegation, Reps. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.) have endorsed the deal, while U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Reps. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.) and Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.) and all six House Republicans from the state have announced they would oppose it.