Nearly 900 US citizen-advocates journeyed to our nation’s capital to meet with 80 percent of the House of Representatives and 97 of our 100 senators in support of the US-Israel relationship. This year’s NORPAC Annual Mission to Washington was held on April 25.
Two dozen buses left 14 New York metropolitan area Jewish communities before dawn for this one-day event. Local contingents departed from both Riverdale and New Rochelle. On arrival at the historic Warner Theater, in the shadow of the White House, all participants joined together for the opening plenary session. After a welcome message from NORPAC President Dr. Ben Chouake, Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) addressed the gathering about the issues the teams would be discussing with members of Congress that day. The plenary session usually has remarks from several elected officials. However, the Joint Session of Congress, due to the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron that morning, prevented more members of Congress from attending.
As they do every year, NORPAC assigned teams of four to 10 participants to meet with several members of Congress and their staff in their offices on Capitol Hill.
Even in a non-election year, new members have been sworn in who have never met with NORPAC teams before. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) recently won election to fill the term of former senator, now US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. A joint New Rochelle/Englewood team met with his senior advisor. At one point in the conversation, he turned to the students on the team and asked them directly to explain their support of Israel. The same advisor then expressed his state’s strong support for Israel’s defense technologies, such as the Iron Dome, which is manufactured in Alabama.
All participants are briefed in advance on the “talking points” for the mission. This year, the committee unified the message under the heading, “The Threats Faced by Israel.” Three legislative actions were highlighted: supporting continued security assistance to Israel, opposing Iranian terror and combating the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
According to the mission manual: “Israel faces a growing array of threats stemming from both direct challenges and the growing chaos gripping the region. Each year, security assistance must be approved by Congress. The 2016 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) is a 10-year agreement between the US and Israel that ensures Israel’s qualitative military edge. The United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5141 and S. 2497) authorizes $3.3 billion in military assistance and $500 million in antimissile funding for Fiscal Year 2019 and contains other provisions to ensure that Israel has the means necessary to defend itself.”
In opposing Iranian terror, the debate over the JCPOA, better known as the Iranian nuclear deal, is front and center around the world. The House is considering the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Economic Exclusion Act (H.R.5132), which would tighten sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The Senate is addressing the same legislation but through a letter to the secretary of state. With that position’s vacancy set to be filled that week, encouraging support and awareness by Senators was essential.
The third talking point highlighted the fact that the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement is a form of anti-Semitism, not just an anti-Israel movement. Both houses of Congress are considering the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (H.R.2856 and S.170) to reaffirm the right of states to divest from companies that boycott Israel. Further, they are also debating The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R.1697, S.720) to expand U.S. anti-boycott laws to counter attempts by the UN and the European Union to boycott companies because they do business over the 1949 Armistice Lines (such as in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights).
Moshe Malina of New Rochelle participated in his first NORPAC mission with his teenage daughter, Bella. He stated, “This was a great experience for me to share with my daughter. We had an interesting and meaningful day. Where else would we have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with members of Congress in a small group setting on such relevant issues?”
The 2019 Mission will be held next spring and participation is open to any US citizen over the age of 12. NORPAC is America’s largest multi-candidate bipartisan political action committee working to strengthen the U.S-Israel relationship. Further information can be found at www.norpac.net.
By Judy Berger