On May 21, over 1,100 NORPAC members, including delegations from Riverdale, Westchester and Stamford, visited Capitol Hill as part of NORPAC’s 2019 Mission to Washington.
The formal program opened with a plenary session at the Warner Theater, and included addresses from several elected officials. In his remarks, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez stated to the crowd, “I have spent more than a quarter of a century between the House and the Senate advocating for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. I continue to believe in three fundamental truths. One: The security in the United States is strong when our bond with Israel is strong and when Israel is strong and secure. Two: The Jewish people have the right to live in peace, security and prosperity, in the indisputable land of their ancestors. Three: Israel has a right to defend itself, and the United States will also ensure she has the capabilities of the qualitative military edge to be able to protect her people.”
The senator noted his concerns regarding the rise of anti-Semitism here in America. “We hear it in the voices of those who seek to isolate Israel politically, economically and even academically.” He concluded his remarks by expressing that we must make sure that Iran never has a nuclear weapon.
Next, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) thanked the participants, “I am so excited to see all of you, over 1,100 strong. This visit, this year, is so important, to see these reinforcements coming to Washington, DC, as we are battling on so many different fronts. Anti-Israel hate and anti-Semitism have infiltrated American politics. It has infiltrated college campuses from coast to coast. We have seen it now in the halls of Congress, and it hasn’t scared you away from Washington. No, it inspires you to make sure you are here today to storm the hill to get maximum support for the US-Israel relationship.”
Zeldin reminded the crowd that we have much to celebrate this year, including moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the Taylor Force Act becoming law and that the US has recognized Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Further, Zeldin added that he was the first member of Congress to oppose Ilhan Omar’s appointment to the House Foreign Affairs committee.
He also asked the delegates to lobby for HR 246, which is anti-BDS legislation he introduced. “It is important to educate and to advocate, for you to be here to spend time away from work and what could be other priorities. You are pursuing what is the most important priority, right now on this day, this week, in this year. You come to Washington, you come here to educate it, you come here to identify it, to confront it, to crush it, and I stand with you and proud to be with you in that fight!”
Teaneck’s Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) expressed, “I am particularly proud to stand with you because each of you cares very deeply about our country, the United States of America, about our American values, and you recognize the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. There is no question where your loyalty lies.” Gottheimer also reviewed his priorities on how the U.S. must stand with Israel and that this shouldn’t be a bi-partisan issue. Gottheimer, who supports sanctions on Iran and opposed the nuclear deal, explained how we must continue to remind people why Iran is such a threat to the region. “I believe strongly that the bond between the United States and Israel must and always remain unbreakable, and I think you all know that we can’t take that for granted anymore.” He spoke of his colleagues, especially the new members of Congress: “Israel’s national security is critical to our security, Israel is the beacon in the region for democracy, Israel stands up to terror in the region and around the world; they are essential to our national security.”
Riverdale and Westchester’s own congressman, Eliot Engel (D-NY), was the final speaker. He stated, “I stand with NORPAC, always been a friend with NORPAC, supporter of NORPAC, and you have always been a supporter of me. We have to do everything possible to make sure that the United States and Israel stay as one, no matter who is the president, no matter who is the prime minister, no matter who is in the Knesset or in Congress or the Senate, that we have people who are going to ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong, and continues to flourish for many years to come!”
The teams then ascended Capitol Hill for small group meetings with almost every senator and representative or their staff. They reviewed the $3.3 billion in annual foreign military aid provided by the U.S. to Israel, the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s support for terrorism worldwide. Additional conversations included requests for co-sponsorship of pending legislation, including the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act (HR 1850), which is sponsored by Gottheimer, as well as Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL). The Senate has not yet proposed a similar bill.
Westchester Day School eighth-grader Bella Malina explained that she came on NORPAC day “because I wanted to make a difference for Israel, and I thought it would be fun to lobby members of Congress on issues related to Israel.”
Stuart Himmelfarb of Tarrytown explained, “I came for the experience. I felt that most of the people we met with were completely in agreement with us. It was like preaching to the choir.”
White Plains resident Edward Krupnik, who is a NORPAC delegate each year, added, “I came because it gives me an opportunity to advocate for the state of Israel. And hopefully they will have better lives through acts passed by Congress.”
Next year’s mission will be in the middle of an election year. For more information, check www.NORPAC.net to learn more about the mission and other NORPAC activities throughout the year.
By Judy Berger