June 8, 2024
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NORPAC’s Annual Mission to Washington a Day of Advocacy for Israel

Bronx/Riverdale Rep. Ritchie Torres addresses the NORPAC mission’s plenary session.

On Wednesday, May 15, 1,200 participants arrived on Capitol Hill for the 30th annual NORPAC Mission to Washington.

NORPAC President Dr. Ben Chouake reminded the participants, “We are here today as American citizens to ask our legislative leaders to continue what has been, since the Truman administration, America’s priority: supporting Israel, the Jewish homeland, a critical ally of America, and the only democracy in the Middle East.” Chouake continued, “This is not a time to withhold weapons from Israel. We are here today trying to get our kidnapped … citizens back. We are here today to let our leaders know, in this fight against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, is Israel doing the heavy lifting for America and the free world.”

Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., welcomes 1,200 NORPAC mission attendees.

After a standing ovation, Rep. Ritchie Torres remarked, “I have the honor of representing a vibrant Jewish community in Riverdale that believes deeply in the U.S.-Israel relationship.” Torres continued, “I feel one of the most important principles in life is the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We in the United States should treat Israel with the same empathy and respect that we would wish to be treated if we were fighting for our survival and our security. I’ve often said the greatest threat to our democracy does not come from the far right or from the far left. It comes from the cowardice of a center that lives in fear of the extremes.”

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford noted, “When I first came to the Congress a little over a decade ago, the issue about Israel was nonpartisan. What I have seen over the past decade has been this shift. My focus has been very simple: Israel is our ally. This should not be a Republican or Democrat issue. This should be an American issue.” Lankford continued, “Our State Department years ago gave this warning. History has shown wherever antisemitism has gone unchecked, persecution of others has been present or not far behind. Defeating antisemitism must be the great cause of importance not only for Jews but for all people who value humanity and justice.”

New Rochelle, New York citizen advocates with Pennsylvania’ Sen. John Fetterman (center) in his Russell Senate Office Building’s reception room, which is decorated with a full wall of hostage posters.

Referring to the Antisemitism Awareness Act, Lankford said, “It’s being challenged saying it would limit free speech in America. It would do no such thing. You’re still allowed to say any dumb thing that you want to be able to say. You just can’t intimidate and violate someone else’s rights in the same process. But on a college campus, if a group of students are intimidating Jewish students, preventing them from getting to class and inhibiting their rights, that shouldn’t be allowed and should be called out for what it is.”

On Iran sanctions, Lankford noted, “We see Iran as the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran is the one destabilizing the region, supplying weapons to Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Our enemy is not the Iranian people. Our enemy is the Iranian regime, who even oppresses their own people.”

Lankford concluded, “We’re Americans, this should be who we are, this should be what we stand for all the time. For all of us, let’s continue to be able to speak up for the rights of everyone consistently.”

Sen. Markwayne Mullin’s (R-Okla.) display of hostage milk cartons and flyers in his Hart Senate Office Building waiting area.

NORPAC’s participants advocated for the Iran Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 6201/S. 3197). Senators were asked to support the Strengthening Tools to Counter the Use of Human Shields Act (having passed the House 419-4). They also asked the lawmakers to publicly support Israel’s efforts to stop Hezbollah from destroying Israel.

H.R.6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act, passed the House 320-91, requires the Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The identical S.3141 needs support in the Senate. Members of Congress were also asked to ask President Biden to stop delaying critical arms shipments to Israel.

Regarding the Israel-Hamas war, participants called for the immediate release of all hostages, including five Americans. Alex, a 10th grader from Frisch, said, “I was a little surprised and heartened to see non-Jewish senators support us. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman made pretty good points, how we shouldn’t just rely on people in Congress. We need to take matters into our own hands. For example, not voting for anti-Israel leaders.”

Bergen County yeshiva students admiring Sen. Thom Tillis’ (R-N.C.) advocacy for the hostages held in Gaza on a poster outside his Dirksen Senate Office Building entrance.

Alyssa, an SAR 10th grader, noted, “I was amazed seeing all the pictures of the hostages in many senators’ offices. I was especially struck by the full wall of hostages’ pictures in Sen. Fetterman’s office.”

Esther, a seventh grader from New Rochelle, commented, “Many members or their staff gave us a similar message. The protestors or supporters from the other side are on the Hill and come to their offices often. We need to be in Washington as much as we can. I am glad I went on the NORPAC mission.”

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