on the hill

JDCA, OU lobby lawmakers on provisions to combat antisemitism

Both groups are supporting the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act

Andrew Hart

Capitol Hill

Amid a spike in antisemitic violence across the U.S. in the wake of last month’s intense fighting between Israel and Hamas, activists for the Jewish Democratic Council of America and the Orthodox Union are hitting the Hill — virtually — to discuss the issue, among other topics, with representatives.

JDCA has 81 meetings with members of Congress set for Tuesday and Wednesday. The OU has met with 14 representatives from New York, New Jersey, Florida and California in recent weeks, with several more meetings scheduled for this week.

Both organizations are supporting the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which is being led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL). That bill would increase federal resources to combat domestic terrorism, mandate periodic reports on the issue to Congress, provide training and resources to state, local and tribal law enforcement to fight domestic terrorism and establish an interagency task force to combat white supremacy within the armed services and law enforcement. It passed the House overwhelmingly in the previous Congress, but stalled in the Senate.

OU is additionally asking lawmakers to support doubling funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, urge President Joe Biden to nominate a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism and speak out publicly against antisemitism.

JDCA is supporting the Combatting Dangerous Algorithms Act, which would make internet companies legally liable when their algorithms spread content “directly relevant” to a civil rights violation, as well as the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, two major Democratic election-reform bills. The group will be encouraging senators to abolish or create an exception to the filibuster if necessary to pass the voting rights legislation. 

The meetings come as the U.S. is grappling with a rising wave of antisemitism, and accusations from some that anti-Israel rhetoric from left-wing Democratic members is throwing fuel on the fire.

“We have members of the Orthodox Union community who live in districts represented by progressive Democrats, and those community members are their constituents — whose votes the representatives ask for year after year,” OU’s director of congressional affairs, Lindsay Barsky, told JI. “This campaign is about connecting constituents to their elected representatives to discuss the terribly disturbing rise in antisemitism — fueled by the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas — and hold these members of Congress accountable to their constituents.”

Pressed by Jewish Insider on recent antisemitic attacks in New York and Los Angeles that appear to be tied to anti-Israel demonstrators, JDCA CEO Halie Soifer deflected, telling JI that her group’s “chief concern” is right-wing white supremacist extremism. She added that the group has tweeted condemnations of the recent antisemitic attacks.

“The legislative ways to address this also get at that root cause, which are hate crimes fueled by right-wing extremism,” Soifer said. “The only legislative action that can be taken is to address that root cause of antisemitism, both online as well as the way that we do hate crimes reporting in this country.”

Soifer added that JDCA does not believe that comments from members of Congress are fueling left-wing antisemitic attacks, arguing that “the root cause of antisemitism and the rise of hate crimes in this country is the emboldening of right-wing extremism by a president who refused to denouce white supremacy, and instead incted it.”

 She added that the group’s activists will be meeting with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who last week faced criticism for comments comparing the U.S. and Israel to terrorist groups.

“We hope it’s a good conversation in terms of a candid exchange of views, including on Israel,” Soifer said. “We will express our view that there should be no moral equivalence made between the terrorist attacks that Israel has endured and any other conflict.”