In the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, when Hamas terrorists launched indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel and Israel endured unwarranted criticism in the international community, the U.S.-Israel relationship is as important as ever before. As diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons continue, it is essential that Israel’s legitimate concerns about its security be duly addressed. With global antisemitism increasing at a rapid and frightening pace, the effort to combat the hatred is critical.
Against this backdrop I traveled to the nation’s capital last week as part of the National Council of Young Israel’s Leadership Mission to Washington, DC, and spent the day interacting with White House officials and key Congressional lawmakers. Our day began with a special White House briefing, where we were updated on several important issues.
Two senior staff members from President Obama’s National Security Council provided timely information regarding Israel’s security needs in the wake of Hamas’ attacks, continuing peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the status of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and the emergent threat posed by ISIL.
A senior member from the office of the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the Department of State talked about about government-to-government discussions in regard to the rise in antisemitic attacks on European Jewish communities, and engagement with the Jewish communities themselves.
At the U.S. Capitol, we were addressed by Members of Congress who play a formative role in constructing legislation to enhance the US-Israel relationship. I had the privilege of introducing Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). In addition to being New Jersey’s Senior Senator, he is also the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As I said in my introduction, Sen. Menendez “is unquestionably one of the best friends that Israel has on Capitol Hill who has been there for the State of Israel and the Jewish community time and time again. … As a member of the American Jewish community, I am extraordinarily blessed to have Sen. Menendez looking out for our community’s best interests and for serving as a fierce and tireless advocate for the State of Israel and our brethren in the Jewish State. He is a true friend, a true chaver, to every one of us sitting here today.”
Sen. Menendez discussed his efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran in order to keep the Iranian government honest and curtail its illicit enrichment program. “Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon,” he said.
He also spoke about his staunch support for Israel. “I believe that Israel has the right to defend itself, just like any other country in the world,” he said. “I will continue working to keep Israel safe and secure.” The Senator decried Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ marriage to Hamas and noted that he is exploring the imposition of financial consequences in response to the PA’s actions. His feelings about the BDS movement were made extremely clear. “Any talk about boycotts of Israel are condemnable by me,” he said.
We also heard from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, unequivocally conveyed his sentiments about a nuclear Iran. “We cannot look at Iran in a vacuum,” he said. “It’s not just about nuclear weapons; they pose threats all over the region. …Iran remains the single greatest threat as a nation, as far as I am concerned,” he added. Sen. McCain also expressed his strong support for Israel and noted his disappointment in the European reaction to the conflict in Gaza. “We’re seeing neo-fascist activity in Europe,” he said. He spent some time discussing ISIL and the threat it poses to the United States and Israel.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, discussed the U.S.-Israel relationship and said the recent situation in Gaza is exactly why that relationship must grow even stronger. “I feel a natural affinity and connection to the State of Israel,” said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. She denounced Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields. “Israel warned people in Gaza to get out; Hamas ordered them to stay,” she said. “We need to show Israel’s enemies that the United States stands steadfast with Israel and our support for Israel is strong and unwavering. As long as America is strong, Israel will be strong.”
We also heard from Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ).
The mission reminded me how vital it is that the American Jewish community maintain a strong presence on Capitol Hill and that we continue making our voices heard on the issues that affect us and our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @troodler
By N. Aaron Troodler