May 28, 2024
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Westchester Legislative Breakfast Returns in Person

On April 21, UJA-Westchester and the Westchester Jewish Council (WJC) held the annual Westchester Legislative Breakfast at White Plains’ Temple Israel Center. The featured speakers were freshman Congressman Michael Lawler (R-NY17) and Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Karen Everett, WJC’s government relations chair, welcomed the in-person crowd.

Lawler began: “I’m proud that I represent the 17th district, which has one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. Over 100,000 practicing Jews live in the 17th.” This year, we’ll celebrate the 75th anniversary of Israel. I’m excited to be going next week with Speaker McCarthy who will speak before the Knesset celebrating that anniversary. It will be my first trip to Israel. In November, we will be going back for AIPAC’s freshman trip, to travel around Israel, learn more and see all of the various sites.”

Lawler is proud of his appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Middle East subcommittee, noting: “One of the first bills I introduced was a bipartisan bill with Congressman Ritchie Torres creating a special envoy for the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords has been impactful to move peace forward throughout the Middle East and normalizing relations between Israel and other regional countries. Hopefully, this legislation to create a special envoy will further those relations and grow the Accords.”

Continued funding for Israel’s Iron Dome is something Lawler sees as vital. “As we saw during Passover, Israel continues to face threats from terrorist organizations. We are fighting to secure more funding for Iron Dome and other missile defense systems through the appropriations process.

“Our work must go beyond that. Israel is a beacon of democracy and prosperity of the Middle East. Together, we must promote peace and stability throughout the region. We need to tackle the scourge of antisemitism and BDS to make sure those who practice the Jewish faith aren’t targeted simply because they’re Jewish.”

Lawler, who also serves on the House Financial Services Committee, commented on the cost of living: “People are struggling to live in our community, with the high cost of taxes, inflation and energy. One of the first bills I introduced was lifting the state and local tax cap (SALT). Rockland and Westchester Counties have among the highest property taxes in America. We need to be able to fully deduct them again. I’m pushing it through the House Republican Conference.”

On his border security package, the congressman said: “I’m pulling a bipartisan group of freshmen to talk about immigration without preconceived notions of what should be. Legal immigration is fundamentally broken. … No meaningful, significant immigration reform in almost 40 years, since Ronald Reagan was president, is a problem. We could find some commonality on immigration, and once and for all, create a system that works.”

Regarding Ukraine, the representative did not mince his words. “Putin is a vile dictator,” Lawler said, “committing mass genocide in Ukraine. When we look back and reflect on Yom HaShoah, what occurred years ago during the Holocaust, and you see the atrocities happening today throughout the world, whether in Ukraine or Syria, it’s horrifying that this is happening in 2023.”

Lawler called China our greatest geopolitical threat today. “Look at what they’re doing, from national security and economic standpoints; everything they can to undermine our standing in the world. 60% of international trade comes through the Straits of Taiwan. Taiwan is our eighth-largest trade partner, despite being a tiny island nation. Significant economic impact will arise if China invades Taiwan without deterrence. If we learn one lesson from Ukraine, it’s that we need to get weapons to the Taiwanese now, and have economic deterrence before any such invasion.”

In his remarks, Westchester County Executive George Latimer noted how antisemitism is on the rise. “It’s on the rise nationally and in Westchester,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought that the progress … that embraced differences in our demographics would get to the point we have now. It’s not just swastikas in a high school bathroom. It’s statements that I have seen online to advance these conspiracies that boggle the mind. You thought these were things of yesterday, but they’re still here today under the guise of free speech. We in local government must double our efforts to deal with this.”

Latimer stated that with the help of Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, he needs to revitalize the Human Rights Commission. “We’re committed to the safety of everyone who has the right in this nation to worship. We will continue to do so with the resources we need, manpower, money and technology.

“That alone is not enough,” Latimer added. “We have to give the clear clarion call when we see antisemitism and call it out for what it is.”

This annual event included community leaders, Westchester District Attorney Mimi Rocah and many county legislators, together with state and local officials.

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