June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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NORPAC Mission to Washington Goes Virtual

After conducting its annual one-day pilgrimage to Washington for over two decades, NORPAC has honed its mission to a science. The event typically attracts more than 1,000 citizen-advocates from all over the tri-state area for small group meetings with members of Congress and their top aides. However, this year, the mission was recast as a massive four-day series of small group virtual encounters.

One ingredient for the 2021 mission’s success was NORPAC leaders’ continued strong emphasis on preparing participants to make the most persuasive and informed impression in their meetings. NORPAC held a virtual training by Zoom, featuring a detailed walk-through of the four issues the groups would cover in their meetings with members of Congress.

The training session, which attracted over 100 viewers, also included a discussion on best practices in Zoom etiquette and a mock small group meeting with NORPAC’s President Dr. Ben Chouake playing the role of a U.S. Senator. NORPAC shared a recording of the training session with 2021 participants who could not attend the session.

Another ingredient for the mission’s success was NORPAC leaders’ selection of four timely issues that are critical to the safety of the state of Israel, the interests of the United States, and the strength of the U.S.-Israel alliance. The mission focused on asking members of Congress to support three specific legislative initiatives and to ensure Congressional oversight of the Biden administration’s negotiations with Iran, as follows:

1) Mission participants stressed the continued importance of U.S. foreign aid to Israel for Fiscal Year 2022, asking members of Congress to support an aid package of $3.3 billion in security assistance and $500 million in cooperative missile defense funding, while resisting attempts to impose conditions or restrictions on the aid;

2) Participants urged support for the Israel Relations Normalization Act of 2021 (S1061 in the Senate, HR 2748 in the House), which seeks to expand on the historic Abraham Accords agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco by creating supportive policies and activities in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Defense, and Agency for International Development;

3) Attendees also promoted The Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act (HR2374 in the House, bill TBD in the Senate), which instructs the U.S. government to assess whether the Palestinian Authority’s educational curriculum (funded, in large measure, by U.S. aid) continues to contain pervasive anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes;

4) They urged Congress to take a strong oversight role of the Biden Administration’s current negotiations with Iran, about the resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement that deters Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The goal of the oversight should be to make sure that any new agreement permanently prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, squashes Iran’s ballistic missile program, and stops its program of aggression throughout the Middle East and in other parts of the world.

NORPAC prepared participants for success by providing them with talking points on the issues, in both executive summary and full-length forms. It was clear that the preparation paid off, seen in the remarkably well-orchestrated series of hundreds of small group Zoom lobbying sessions. Over 500 people from the region, as well as a few from California, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina and Maryland, participated.

“This year we have a new Congress, with 70 new members, and a new administration,” said Jeff (Yosef) Schreiber of Highland Park, a NORPAC group leader and one of the 2021 mission chairs. “Unfortunately, we also have the most toxic, partisan environment since before the Civil War. Now, more than ever, it is critical for us to keep support for the U.S.-Israel relationship—which has long been one of, and now is one of the few remaining, bi-partisan issues—bipartisan. The only way to do that is to tell our longtime friends that we appreciate their support and to make friends with the newly arrived members so we can have their support, too.”

“One aspect of this year’s meetings that I have found to be very meaningful and impactful is that so many members of Congress, across this great country, are so wonderfully supportive of Israel and the American-Israeli relationship,” said group leader Mathi Fuchs of West Orange. “Many of these members have very few Jewish constituents, and simply give great weight to Israel’s value as an ally that shares our country’s values. It’s a heartening experience, because I often feel that Israel is losing support in parts of this country, or held to a crazy-high standard (that no other country, and certainly none of her neighbors, is held to; in fact, that no country could meet), and found wanting.”

“So much work and effort went into transforming NORPAC’s annual mission to Washington into a ‘virtual’ mission via Zoom,” said group leader Phil Goldschmiedt of Teaneck. “Avi Schranz, the executive director of NORPAC, along with its President Dr. Ben Chouake and all the mission chairs deserve so much credit. Being that the mission was virtual, I was able to be a group leader from Jerusalem, where I am currently visiting my children. To advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, while being in a safe, secure democratic Israel with shared values, I believe sends a powerful message to the members of Congress.”

“The most important aspect of the annual mission is to let members of Congress know that we represent the breadth and depth of the American Jewish community that is passionately supportive of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” said group leader Barbara Bortniker of West Orange. “As Americans, we try to emphasize that it is in the best interest of the U.S. to have a strong, secure Israel that can defend itself against the rising power of extremist terrorist groups threatening from all sides.”

“Last November’s election yielded 70 new members of Congress. Chances are, most of them have not given much thought to the strategic importance of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East, as a close ally in a fraught region, or as a dynamic leader in technological advances benefiting mankind,” said Barry Levinson, a NORPAC group leader from Highland Park.

One early sign of the success of the mission was that during the days that the NORPAC small group meetings were being held, 20 members of Congress signed on to become cosponsors of HR 2748—the Israel Relations Normalization Act of 2021.

To learn more about NORPAC, please visit: http://norpac.net.

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