on the hill

More than 600 NORPAC activists lobby on Capitol Hill

The bipartisan pro-Israel group came to Washington in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic

Tim Graham/ Getty Images

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: The stars and stripes flag flying at the Capitol Building, Washington, USA.

More than 600 volunteer activists from the bipartisan pro-Israel group NORPAC visited Capitol Hill last week for meetings with around 300 congressional offices, delegation leaders told Jewish Insider.

Last week marked the first time the group has visited Washington since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, having held its annual lobbying missions virtually since 2020. The group met with roughly 80 Senate and 220 House offices, Dave Steinberg, a NORPAC mission chair, told JI, including two of the 19 House members who voted recently against a House resolution commemorating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding and the Abraham Accords.

Trudy and Stanley Stern, the presidents of NORPAC New York, emphasized that the NORPAC group was the first in-person mass lobbying campaign by pro-Israel activists since the start of the pandemic. 

“It was great after COVID to see the community back in force,” Stanley Stern said, adding that the group had received similar feedback from the members and staff they had met with.

Trudy Stern, who was also a NORPAC mission chair, said that the large show of force “makes a huge statement for the pro-Israel community” and that “you cannot compare the difference in effectiveness that you have when you’re in front of someone in person [rather] than on Zoom.”

Trudy Stern noted that the meetings came amid a rocket barrage targeting Israel, providing her and other delegation members the opportunity to show real-time video from family members in Israel of missile alert sirens sounding and Iron Dome interceptors at work, which she said had been “very impactful” on the members.

Steinberg said each of the group’s meetings started by laying out the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship because “our philosophical approach was that, with everything going on in the universe, we can no longer presume that Congress is an automatic rubber stamp for Israel.”

“And so we started by reiterating the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. And in some offices, that was a two-minute conversation,” he explained.

Steinberg said that leaders on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate emphasized a similar message to NORPAC activists: “When there’s well-crafted legislation that’s introduced on a bipartisan basis, it has overwhelming [support].”

“You get numbers that are just preposterous on virtually any other legislation,” he added. 

The group advocated for several specific policy priorities: continued support for annual security funding for Israel; a bill providing $250 million for collaborative advanced defense technology projects; the MARITIME Act, which aims to counter maritime threats from Iran though collaboration among Abraham Accords members; new legislation aiming to counter Iran’s missile and drone program; and legislation to increase scrutiny of United Nations Relief and Works Agency curricula.

Trudy Stern said that sharing video of Israel’s missile-defense systems at work garnered additional support for the bill seeking additional funding for advanced defense projects, explaining that “all of the people that we met with… were extremely interested and receptive in light of… these videos.”

The group’s meetings in Washington coincided with a controversial Nakba Day event being held by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) on the Hill. 

Stanley Stern noted that the NORPAC activists emphasized the U.S. and Israel’s shared values. He said that “many, many people” the group met with noted the contrast between NORPAC’s message and the “small but vocal group” of Tlaib and her compatriots, lamenting Israel’s founding. 

Steinberg said that the specific topic of Tlaib’s event did not come up in his meetings, but the broader conversation around the propriety of moves such as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) attempt to block Tlaib’s event or Republicans’ decision to expel Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the Foreign Affairs Committee, “did come up in other contexts.”

“One surprise [was] a Jewish Democrat, who is very, very strong on our issues, made comments that were different than I would have anticipated about Tlaib,” Steinberg said. “We have become so political, and we have become so narrow-minded that you forget that people are people. Sometimes you sit next to someone, or you work with someone and you get to appreciate them as individuals, even if you disagree with their policies.”

“It wasn’t that somebody said, ‘Oh I love her legislative agenda,’” he continued, “it’s that somebody said, ‘as an individual, she’s a nice person.’”

Steinberg added that NORPAC activists also frequently hear expressions of camaraderie between Democrats and Republicans — lawmakers expressing “real admiration for someone in the other party… especially on Israel.”

In addition to the items on the legislative agenda, Trudy and Stanley Stern said that the group discussed the perception of the U.S.’ retreat from the Middle East and China’s increasing visibility in the region.

Stanley Stern described it as “not a hot topic yet, but it was coming.” They said that the NORPAC activists highlighted the importance of the Abraham Accords and the U.S.’ continued engagement with those agreements.

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