Meet Congresswoman Demings: Transcending barriers

WASHINGTON – While school children regularly study the systematic discrimination facing African Americans in the south, few members of Congress experienced it firsthand as Representative Val Demings (D-FL) did when she was a young girl. From first to fifth grade, the Florida lawmaker attended a segregated black school in the 1960s and then broke the color barrier by studying at an all-white school. Val Demings improbable path to Capitol Hill was further compounded by the fact that she grew up in an impoverished family of seven children with her parents working as a maid and janitor in Jacksonville.

Despite the odds, she became the first member of her family to attend and graduate college with a degree in criminology from Florida State University. After joining the Orlando Police, Demings climbed the ranks to become the first female Police Chief in 2007. “I see myself as a living witness that dreams really do come true,” she told Jewish Insider. Having personally risen out of poverty while facing the challenges of discrimination, the Florida lawmaker added, “I feel that a major part of my job now in the US Congress is to make sure that I am providing opportunities for other people regardless of their religion, gender, how much money they have in the bank.”

Demings returned from Israel last month with a group of Congressional Democrats led by Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on a trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of AIPAC.

The lawmakers participated in a Shabbat dinner with an Israeli family, and Demings was particularly inspired by one of the children who currently serves in the military. “The commitment, dedication, and service of the Israeli people were very impressive,” she explained. While meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Demings said she was unable to forget what she called Netanyahu’s “inappropriate” 2015 speech before Congress criticizing the nuclear deal with Iran. The Israeli leader showed during his meeting with the Democratic lawmakers a video clip of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas emphasizing that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, she said. The Democratic group also met with Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara. According to Demings, “He did a good job of laying out the drive for equality and that if equality is important then it has to be reflected on both sides.”

After meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, Demings voiced frustration at the Trump White House’s unwillingness to endorse the two state solution, breaking with the bipartisan tradition of prior administrations. “The Trump administration’s lack of support for a two state solution indicates to me that he does not have clear understanding of what is going on the region,” she noted.

Her husband, Jerry Demings who serves as the Orange County Sheriff in Florida, accompanied the Congresswoman on the visit to Israel and met with an Israeli counterpart in the police apparatus. As a practicing Christian, Rep. Demings appreciated the opportunity to tour the biblical holy sites and connect with a wide spectrum of Israeli society. “There is no doubt in my mind that there is no greater ally in the region than Israel,” she concluded.

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