June 15, 2024
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NORPAC Advocates for Israel’s Security

The specter of Iran’s threat to destroy Israel’s existence and the inroads made by the BDS movement to damage Israel’s economy led 1,100 people, including 240 students and 41 pulpit rabbis, to participate in NORPAC’s Annual Mission to Washington on May 18. NORPAC held meetings with 98 senators and over 330 congressional House members and their aides, to ask for their support in passing key pieces of legislation affecting Israel. This year, NORPAC asked Congress to: support continued security assistance (foreign aid funding) to Israel; ensure Iranian accountability by reauthorizing the Iranian Sanctions Act (ISA) and prevent Iran from being able to pay for or receive payment for goods or services in dollars; oppose efforts to bypass direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians by asking the U.S. to continue its long-standing commitment to veto anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council; and to fight boycotts against Israel by protecting state and local governments’ right not to do business with entities that boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.

Buses from New York and New Jersey left at 6 a.m. to deliver attendees to the Washington, D.C., convention center where a roster of Republican and Democratic congressmen addressed the group to express their strong support for Israel.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said the threats Israel is facing from Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorism are as severe as when the country first began. He excoriated President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy as a “disaster.” He characterized Obama aide Ben Rhodes, who admitted misleading journalists and the public about the administration’s Iran policy in a recent New York Times interview, as “a fiction writer, a key decision and policy-maker with no background and no qualifications.”

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) also blasted Iran and pledged support to extend the Iran Sanctions Act and support a new memorandum of understanding, a 10-year commitment to funding for Israel’s defense that is up for renewal next year. He stated unequivocally that “the BDS movement is anti-Semitism, anti-Israel. Any country who wants to do business with the United States can’t be against Israel.” He said he is for working with international partners, but trying to pressure Israel in the United Nations is wrong. “The U.S. must stand up and say we will not let Israel be marginalized.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the U.S. must not change decades of support for Israel in the UN. “If there is an effort in the UN to take over the peace process, we will fight with every fiber of our being. We can’t let the UN be responsible for Israel. If it goes that route, we will cut off funding.” Addressing his audience, he said, “Your presence here matters.” He singled out Dr. Ben Chouake, NORPAC president, for his leadership.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) noted that he “opposed the administration vigorously” on Iran last year and “faced challenges as a result of that view.” He said he regrets that so few Democrats voted “no” for the Iran deal. However, he has introduced legislation to hold Iran accountable, the “Counter Iranian Threats Act” to re-introduce sanctions when Iran breaks its agreements. “Sanctions should be bipartisan,” he said. He got the loudest applause of the morning when he said, “Jews have every right to believe they have the right to live in their homeland since the time of Avraham.”

The final speaker, Representative Grace Meng (D-NY), reinforced her commitment to funding Israel’s security and said she signed a bipartisan letter asking the Palestinian Authority to stop inciting violence and to renew direct talks with Israel. An Asian-American attorney, she said she has written to Asian academic groups to dissuade them from supporting BDS initiatives.

While the specifics of group meetings with congressmen are off the record, NORPAC President Ben Chouake, National Vice President Robert Gottesman, group leader Irene Gottesman and NORPAC founder Rabbi Menachem Genack shared their thoughts with The Jewish Link on what was accomplished at this year’s mission.

“Last year we had a weighty issue (the agreement with Iran). We lost that battle. But it was a worthwhile effort; we shed light on the nature of Iranian leadership and activities,” said Dr. Chouake. “Few looked at it and said it was a great deal; it was a leap of faith. This year, to hear Ben Rhodes say, ‘We lied, so what,’ I would feel upset if I was in Congress. But as a result, the Iranian Sanctions Act is a given—everyone is going to vote for it.”

Last year, the BDS movement was just starting to show on legislators’ radar. This year, most of Congress is aware of it and against it. “The key for us is to help Congress realize the three Ds of BDS: double-standard, demonization and delegitimization. When we establish that, the rest falls into place. Nobody wants to support a racist movement. Europe is fundamentally anti-Semitic; being against Jews is OK. But in the U.S., it’s repugnant.” Dr. Chouake said he showed BDS material from Arizona State University to Senator McCain, who became visibly upset.

In a discussion with Robert and Irene Gottesman, both said that, as a rule, Congress is generally favorable toward Israel and they didn’t see any pushback this year. “Everyone is nervous about Iran,” said Mrs. Gottesman. “There was a little sense of buyer’s remorse from congressmen who voted for the deal.” One of the congressmen she met with stressed that the agreement was not a treaty and therefore sanctions could be put back.

NORPAC was founded in 1992 as a bipartisan political action committee to support candidates and sitting members of Congress by Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of kashrut for the Orthodox Union and rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah of Englewood. He said he found “tremendous sympathy and support for Israel on every issue this year, including fighting BDS.” Rabbi Genack said the first mission with one bus and 50 people met at the Senate. When Dr. Chouake became president in 2000, he began growing NORPAC exponentially. The mission then moved to the convention center to accommodate the growing numbers.

Dr. Chouake said he grew the organization “by building a primary and extended team of mission and area leaders to make our efforts successful.” He credited the work of Mission Chairs Laurie Baumel, Richard Schlussel, David Steinberg, Allen Friedman and Jeff Schreiber and said with their backing “it is easy to look like a great president. I can take credit only for being a good cheerleader for a great team.”

Over the years, NORPAC has built good relations with congressmen and as a result they are amenable to a visit by the group on the day of the mission. “I’m amazed at how welcome we are,” Mrs. Gottesman said.

The groups are put together by someone in each geographic area—Mr. Gottesman handles Englewood—and Dr. Chouake arranges meetings between the groups and the congressmen. Generally, the groups are organized so that each member takes responsibility for thoroughly learning about one of the issues and presenting it in the meetings.

For the many students participating, the day is an interactive civics class, their first opportunity to see government in action and make a presentation to someone other than a teacher. This year, most of the high school students presented the BDS issue as it impacts them personally—they may soon be attending colleges where BDS supporters are active.

So why should congressmen meet with NORPAC members who aren’t in their district and can’t vote? During the year, NORPAC holds fundraising events for Republican and Democratic congressmen who have favorable positions on Israel, now up to 40 events a year, according to Dr. Chouake. And why should people from New Jersey fund the campaigns of congressmen they can’t vote for? Because congressmen from every district are the ones voting on legislation that affects Israel. Mr. Gottesman noted that fundraising isn’t buying votes but access, the ability to have the ear of someone who could make a difference for Israel with his vote. “It’s like putting your resume at the top of the pile,” he said. “But it doesn’t guarantee a vote.”

Dr. Chouake said helping candidates who have your values get into office is an important investment. “They are fulfilling a dream to do good for the world. It’s our moral obligation to support them.”

By Bracha Schwartz

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