In the wake of the recent Israeli/Hamas conflict, and the social media tsunami and tidal wave of misinformed press coverage that followed, different Jewish organizations have explored ways to substantively advocate on Israel’s behalf and counter rising antisemitism.
In mid-late May the OU Advocacy Center launched a “Unite & Advocate” campaign that enlists Jewish community members in OU-affiliated synagogues across the country to participate in small group meetings on Zoom with U.S. Congress members from their districts. Thus far, meetings of groups ranging in size from four to 15 people have been held with 18 members of Congress in six states, and more meetings are being scheduled. The campaign is slated to conclude at the end of June.
The campaign was organized by Lindsay Barsky, the OU Advocacy Center’s congressional affairs director, and Yehudah Friedman, the Advocacy Center’s director of community engagement. Participants were enlisted through a social media drive and a sustained email outreach drive. To date, the initiative has involved over 230 members of Jewish communities in the six states where members of Congress have participated in meetings.
Meetings have been held with U.S. Congress members Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Neal Dunn (R-Fl.), Byron Donalds (R-Fl.), Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), Ted Deutch (D-Fl.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), David Schwiekert (R-Ariz.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), and others.
The OU Advocacy Center asked community members to raise five issues with the Representatives in their meetings:
Support Israel’s right to defend herself against relentless rocket attacks from the U.S. terror designated organization Hamas.
Support the doubling of funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program; it was funded at $180M for FY ’21; OU groups requested that the funding be doubled in FY ’22 to $360M.
Support H.R. 350, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. This will help federal agencies monitor cases of domestic terrorism and improve law enforcement’s ability to combat domestic terror threats.
Urge President Biden to nominate a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.
Make public statements condemning the recent wave of antisemitism.
“While the OU launched the Unite & Advocate campaign to address the urgent need for support for Israel and condemnation of antisemitism in Congress, the OU has undertaken a broader effort to engage its community members in Capitol Hill advocacy,” said Barsky. “It is critical that the Orthodox community’s voice is heard in the halls of Congress—our members are able to share concerns that are unique to the Jewish community, and we’re excited to continue working on this important campaign.”
In a press release announcing the initiative, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer stated: “The time for action is now, and this is the OU’s greatest priority. Lives are at stake both here and in Israel. To our U.S. Representatives who have stepped up and have begun speaking out and taking action to provide support to the Jewish community, we are grateful. To those who have not, we look forward to fruitful conversations.”
“I am extremely grateful for the OU’s Unite & Advocate campaign,” said Yehuda Kohn of Teaneck, the executive director of American Friends of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva and a participant in one of the small meetings. “I have seen firsthand the impact that they have had on behalf of the Jewish community with our government officials on both international and domestic issues. The OU’s Unite & Advocate campaign has been at the forefront of ensuring that the unprecedented surge in antisemitism does not go unchecked. Simply put, without the leadership of the OU’s Unite & Advocate campaign, the Jewish community would not be able to clearly and efficiently convey our views and needs to our elected officials.”
“There is no question that physical and verbal attacks on Jews around the world are continuing to escalate, rather dramatically of late, and there is seemingly no impunity to its perpetrators,” said Zvi Plotzker of Teaneck, another participant. “We must eschew complacency and get out of our comfort zone, to build alliances that will join the chorus condemning antisemitism in no uncertain terms. The Orthodox Union has taken it upon themselves to galvanize such an effort, and we are deeply grateful that they have done so. We met this week with Representative Josh Gottheimer, our local Congressman in Bergen County, who has been and continues to be a fighter for Jews and Israel, no matter the personal cost to him. We applaud all of his efforts, as a leading light in the House of Representatives.”
For more information on the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s “Unite & Advocate” campaign, please visit https://advocacy.ou.org/united/
By Harry Glazer