Retiring Rep. Nita Lowey: “It has been an honor” to be on the front lines in support of Israel

stronger together

Credit: Brookings Institution

Longtime Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who is retiring at the end of the year, reflected on her three decades in Congress in remarks at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York’s annual breakfast on Sunday. 

“For me it has been such an honor to fight with you, for you, all these years,” Lowey, who was joined at the event by most of New York’s congressional delegation, said. “For me, it has really been an honor to be on the front lines, because someone comes to me with a problem, I say, ‘OK, let’s do something about it.’ That’s what is so exciting about it.” 

Hands on the cash: Lowey explained that she chose to head the state, foreign operations, and related programs subcommittee over a more prestigious subcommittee within the powerful House Appropriations Committee because it dealt with allocating funds for Israel. “My heart came first,” Lowey said. “This is why I have been the chair all these years of the committee that funds all the money we give to Israel. Some may say it’s not enough. I said, whatever we give is what it is.”

Never Again: Lowey also discussed her recent trip to Auschwitz and Israel as part of a congressional delegation, headed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to attend the World Holocaust Forum last month. Lowey said the experience underscored the need to “make sure our younger people understand what happened because too many people just don’t get it.” Watch Lowey’s full remarks here

Support for Israel: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): “This [New York] delegation, in the Senate and in the House, will continue to do everything to see that there is a strong bipartisan U.S.-Israel bond that will never, ever be broken.” Recalling how 15 of his great-grandfather’s 18 children perished in the Holocaust, Schumer said, “I tell anyone who doubts our fidelity to Israel and why we do it. I say I would have had a lot more uncles, aunts and cousins had there been an Israel they would have been able to go to.” 

Leading the way: Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reassured Jewish community leaders that he would lead the way in maintaining and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. “You can go to sleep and not worry about it. As long as I am the chairman, the U.S.-Israel relationship will be paramount in my life,” Engel said to applause. 

Lesson from the past: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, detailed how his Judaism influenced his views on immigration and slammed the Trump administration for what he called its “disgusting and immoral” tough immigration policies. “I know how during the 1930s this country shut its doors to the Jew… And I know that after World War II, in 1948, the U.S. government in order did ‘teshuvah – had a little repentance under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and formulated the political asylum laws and got the United Nations to pass the world laws on refugees and political asylum, guaranteeing people asylum,” Nadler said. “And it sickens me to see the U.S. government under this administration perverting those laws and doing exactly what was done in the 1930s to the Jews to other people… We are again shutting our doors because of racial prejudice. And it sickens me to see people like Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller who ought to know better. I know there are people who say that this is different. It’s different than when we shut our doors to the victims of Nazi persecution in the 1930s. It is not different. It is exactly the same. V’Ahavta Lereiacha Kamocha (loving your neighbor as yourself) was not written just for Jews.” 

Standing united: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, pledged to work “as hard as I can to make sure aid to Israel is maintained by both Republicans and Democrats moving forward because Israel is not a partisan issue. Our relationship is an American issue and we want to keep it that way.” Jeffries also pointed out that he had already visited Israel four times in the last few years and was scheduled to travel for the fifth time last month “but I had an unexpected date in the U.S. Senate,” noting his role as a House manager during the impeachment trial. “I never imagined spending so much quality time with [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell.” The New York lawmaker also joked that in New York City, Jerusalem is considered to be the sixth borough. 

Think twice before you move: Asked if Congress should withhold funds from Israel for a possible annexation of the West Bank, Jeffries tells Jewish Insider, “That’s a question that I haven’t really considered at this point, but I think that anything that is done in the context of annexation has to be done in a very sensitive fashion because we are all committed to a two-state solution. That’s the best thing for Israel and that’s the best thing for the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people. And to the extent that annexation complicates that, then it’s problematic.” 

Opposition to a political move: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) explained to JI why he joined 106 House members who signed on to a letter condemning the Trump administration’s peace plan. “I think that the president is playing politics to try to influence an election. Israel should not be a political football to play. That’s basically the reason why I signed this letter,” Meeks said, adding that he would “absolutely not” support leveraging military aid to Israel.

Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan also addressed the event.

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