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As Democrats urge Menendez to resign, pro-Israel PACs stand by him

AIPAC and NORPAC said they are acting out of appreciation for the New Jersey senator’s support for Israel

Dozens of prominent Democrats are imploring Sen. Bob Menendez to resign following a federal indictment on bribery charges. Some pro-Israel groups are not ready to see him step down.

They know Menendez, who pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday, as a foreign policy hawk, chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and strong supporter of Israel.

“Like all Americans, he deserves the presumption of innocence,” said Marshall Wittmann, a spokesperson for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC’s political action committee endorsed Menendez for reelection in March. “The pro-Israel community deeply appreciates Senator Menendez’s leadership in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Wittmann said when asked if AIPAC still stands by the embattled politician. 

Calls for Menendez’s resignation came days after the Department of Justice unsealed a three-count indictment against him and his wife Nadine for allegedly accepting substantial bribes, including gold bullion bars, to leverage his political influence. To date, more than half of the Senate’s Democratic conference, including the second-highest-ranking Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, and New Jersey’s junior senator, Cory Booker, have called on him to step down. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has so far refrained.

Menendez has defiantly rejected calls to resign and maintained his innocence. Over the weekend he gave up his chair of the Foreign Relations Committee as required by Senate rules. 


Dr. Ben Chouake, a longtime Menendez ally and president of NORPAC, a pro-Israel fundraising group, said he and Menendez developed a strong relationship over the years over the senator’s “fantastic” record. That history, Chouake said, impels him to declare, “hineni,” Hebrew for “here I am,” for Menendez and “I believe you.”

NORPAC, which was considered the largest pro-Israel political action committee before AIPAC launched its own political arm in 2021, has held numerous fundraising events in recent years for the three-term incumbent. 

Chouake noted that Menendez faced similar charges in 2015 but the trial resulted in a hung jury. His allies at the time speculated that Menendez was targeted for opposing the Obama administration’s Iran deal. The administration denied the accusation.

In a 2018 speech at AIPAC’s policy conference, Menendez thanked the pro-Israel lobby for their support during his trial. “Sometimes God puts a Goliath in your path until you find the David within you, and I found the David within me,” Menendez said. “Many of you today were part of that slingshot.”

Chouake suggested the charges leveled against Menendez this fall were instigated by “the same people” who targeted him in 2015, calling the Biden administration an extension of Obama’s. “This is essentially the same administration that came after him last time,” he said. 

Election 2024

With Menendez’s political future uncertain, a number of Democrats are gearing up to either challenge him in a Democratic primary next year or succeed him in an open contest. The Democrats hold only a one-seat majority in the Senate. New Jersey is a reliably blue state.

Rep. Andy Kim, a three-term incumbent of Burlington County, has already declared a run. Other potential candidates include Jewish Rep. Josh Gottheimer of Bergen County, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, and New Jersey’s first lady, Tammy Murphy.

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