on the hill

Amid congressional discord, NORPAC says it met with hundreds of lawmakers

Volunteers with the pro-Israel activist group have been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill in recent weeks

Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via AP

The US Capitol Building is seen in Washington, D.C. May 12, 2021.

As arguments rage on Capitol Hill over the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza — with lawmakers divided over issues including arms sales to Israel and calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas — activists with NORPAC, a bipartisan pro-Israel political group which has been meeting with lawmakers and staffers in recent weeks, have met with approximately 400 members of Congress or their staffers, including more than 80 Senate offices.

The activists — more than 500 in total — were lobbying on four issues: supporting military aid to Israel, a stronger and more comprehensive deal with Iran, a bill supporting the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states and legislation cracking down on extremist content in Palestinian educational materials distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Congressional reactions to the latest upswing of violence between Israel and Hamas have prompted some speculation that attitudes toward Israel may be shifting within the Democratic Party — but NORPAC activists told JI in interviews last week that, based on their recent meetings, support for Israel on Capitol Hill remains strong.

“One common theme that I think we heard was that bipartisan support for Israel in the mainstream of both parties remains incredibly strong and unwavering. Whether I’m talking with an incredibly progressive Democrat,” said mission chair Jeff Schreiber, “Or I was talking to… a pretty conservative Republican.”

NORPAC’s president, Ben Chouake, echoed Schreiber. “By and large, the members were very supportive,” he said. 

Dave Steinberg, another NORPAC mission chair, argued that, while there may be a few additional members in the House who are generally skeptical of Israel compared to a decade ago, the shift has been marginal, and the overall tenor remains strongly pro-Israel.

“There are very, very few people in Congress who I would characterize as totally inimical to our stances. I think in the Senate, it’s virtually unanimous,” Steinberg added. “There are a lot of people looking under rocks for boogeymen. I am quite the opposite. I am so excited at the level of support that we’re getting.”

According to Trudy Stern, a co-president of NORPAC in New York, dozens of additional members also signed onto the legislation the group is supporting.

According to Steinberg, some new members of Congress are seeking “nuance” and “the space where they can be progressive and yet they can be pro-Israel.”

“I perceive that as something that is going on in more offices than you would expect,” he added.

While the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza is currently top-of-mind for many lawmakers and activists, Chouake told JI that lawmakers were also largely receptive to NORPAC’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We received a good hearing,” he said. “People understand the dangers of an Iran that has nuclear weapons.”