hill happenings

Lawmakers gather to celebrate Jewish community and Israel, combat antisemitism

Dozens of lawmakers delivered remarks at a pair of events on Capitol Hill on Thursday in support of the Jewish community and Israel

Combat Antisemitism Movement

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speaks at the Jewish American Heritage Month congressional breakfast hosted by the Combat Antisemitism Movement

In two separate events on Capitol Hill on Thursday, dozens of lawmakers came together to celebrate the U.S. Jewish community, honor Israel’s 75th anniversary and express a commitment to fighting antisemitism.

Lawmakers offered remarks yesterday at a Jewish American Heritage Month breakfast event organized by the Combat Antisemitism Movement and a separate lunch event to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary and the introduction of legislation honoring former Prime Minister Golda Meir, organized by lobbyist Ezra Friedlander and real estate developer Bobby Rechnitz, who leads the Golda Meir Commemorative Coin Commission.

Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Pete Ricketts (R-NE) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Reps. Neal Dunn (R-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Randy Weber (R-TX), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Brandon Williams (R-NY), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Tracey Mann (R-KS) and Troy Carter (D-LA) spoke at the Jewish American Heritage Month breakfast.

Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Darren Soto (D-FL), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Buddy Carter (R-GA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX), Keith Self (R-TX), Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Eli Crane (R-AZ) as well as Weber, Wasserman Schultz and Lawler delivered remarks at the lunch event. Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL) also attended, but did not deliver remarks.

Lawler announced at the breakfast that the House Foreign Affairs Committee will debate and vote on his bill with Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) to create a State Department special envoy for the Abraham Accords next month. Lawler said he’s also discussed the legislation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

“I do believe if we get it through the House, which we will, that the Senate will take it up,” Lawler said. “There is a good opportunity here to work in a bipartisan way to really ensure that the work that we do in Congress now not only helps protect the Jewish people, but strengthens the relationship that we have with the State of Israel,” adding that normalizing relations between Israel and its neighbors is key to fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and antisemitism more broadly.

Lawler and Kean also said they’ll be joining House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) upcoming delegation to Israel.

Williams, another freshman Republican, said that he homeschooled his children, and made special efforts to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C., as well as the Shoah museum in Paris. He also recounted his pride that his son, when planning a trip to Poland with his college friends, “absolutely insisted” that the group visit Auschwitz, even though many of his classmates “had no intention of visiting Auschwitz or no interest in visiting Auschwitz,” adding that this demonstrated the experience of Holocaust education.

He also noted that he had introduced an amendment to the House Republicans’ Parents Bill of Rights legislation — aimed at providing parents with greater oversight of their childrens’ public schooling —that would require students be taught about the Holocaust and antisemitism. The package as a whole, which passed with only GOP votes, has little chance of passing the Senate.

Veasey, a co-chair of the House antisemitism task force, discussed a past confrontation with a constituent at an event, who sought to diminish the significance of antisemitism. Veasey related the Jewish community’s experiences with antisemitism to his own dealing with racist discrimination as a Black person.

“I hope that we can continue to have conversations, particularly about antisemitism in America,” Veasey said. “I’ve been to way too many of these where people are very comfortable talking about and framing antisemitism only as it related to Israel and the conflict that we continue to see between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“We need to talk about the antisemitism that’s in the Middle East,” Veasey continued, recognizing that much anti-Israel rhetoric and violence is spurred by antisemitism. “But people need to also be willing and able to talk about antisemitism that so many of our Jewish friends face here at home, in America,” including “inappropriate jokes” and “constant stereotyping” using antisemitic tropes.

While the majority of speakers at the breakfast addressed Israel, antisemitism or both issues, Wasserman Schultz, who helped found Jewish American Heritage Month during her first term in Congress, emphasized that neither issue should be the focus of the commemoration.

“As much of a Zionist as I am, JAHM is not about Israel. JAHM is an annual May celebration, which is a time to educate the American public, to pay tribute to the generations of American Jews who have helped shape American history, culture and society,” she said. “JAHM also isn’t about antisemitism. It’s about celebrating and educating Americans about the significant contributions that American Jews have made to our success story.”

Speaking at the lunch event later in the day, Crockett, a progressive freshman legislator, indicated that she has — at least so far — not aligned herself with the left flank of her party on Israel policy. Crockett said she pledged on the campaign trail to visit Israel, and said she is “very excited” to travel in August with other first-term lawmakers.

Crockett said that it can be “hard to know what’s true and what’s not” about Israel based on the rhetoric about the Jewish state, and said that “the best way for me to learn is to actually see.” 

She went on to praise Israel as having been at the forefront of issues from medical technology and desert irrigation to LGBTQ rights. “I know Prime Minister [Golda] Meir would be so proud of this progress, progress that wouldn’t be possible without her leadership and contribution,” she said.

Self, a first-term lawmaker and military veteran who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the audience that he served as the Israel desk officer in the military’s European Command, and recounted his experiences visiting Israel in that role. 

Self said that “one of my most moving experiences” on that visit was to Israel’s Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. “They didn’t even decide the name ‘the State of Israel’ until the night before [Israel declared independence]. They survived the wars and now have reached the point where we have the Abraham Accords,” he said. “Israel I consider one of the miracles of the modern age.”

Nadler was the only lawmaker to mention the ongoing controversy over Israel’s judicial reform efforts. 

“Israel has always been a democracy and has faced every challenge. Now Israel faces probably the greatest challenge it has ever faced — an internal challenge, an internal challenge to its own democracy,” Nadler said. “Will democracy survive in Israel? That is not at all certain right now.”

Gosar’s attendance raised eyebrows, given that he has been repeatedly embroiled in controversy over ties to antisemitic figures on the far-right — including, as recently as this month, promoting an antisemitic website that praised him for criticizing “Jewish warmongers.” 

The Arizona Republican, who has previously pointed to his support for Israel to fend of accusations of antisemitism, called Israel “one of the enduring alliances and one of the most important” and Meir as “instrumental in establishing the United States as a trusted ally of Israel… her leadership, strategic vision and diplomatic abilities fostered stronger bonds between the United States and Israel, which continue to benefit both countries today.”

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