Next week, more than 1,200 people will travel from around the United States to Washington, D.C. to meet with elected officials and to emphasize and reiterate our community’s feelings about the strong and vital U.S.–Israel relationship. As part of the day’s program, participants will be divided into groups that will visit the offices of almost every sitting senator and a large number of representatives. The journey to D.C. is an annual NORPAC event that has direct impact on our elected officials’ support for Israel on a multiplicity of levels.
NORPAC is a grassroots organization that was founded in Bergen County, New Jersey, and unlike AIPAC, NORPAC actually funds the campaigns of national elected officials as a way of supporting their reelection in view of their demonstrated support of Israel.
But while NORPAC raises several million dollars each year to support these officials and their efforts, it is perhaps even more important that at least once a year we make the effort to put our professional lives on hold and travel to D.C. for the day and exhibit with our presence how important we consider these elected officials’ continued support of Israel in various ways, and in particularly through military funding for the Jewish state.
The plan is for the 5TJT to join the Long Island NORPAC delegation in D.C., and in order to properly prepare for next week’s effort, I spoke with Trudy Stern. She and her husband, Stanley,
are the founders of NORPAC on Long Island and a moving force behind efforts in support of Israel from this part of New York.
For the Sterns, who reside in Lawrence, this type of extensive advocacy is especially vital as we view the state of the world around us and in particular the Middle East. “Sitting at home and believing that since President Trump is in the White House, Israel is safe and in a good place is not helpful,” Trudy Stern said to us in a phone conversation on Monday.
She adds that calling or writing to your senator or congressional representative is a good thing to do, but those serving in government and charged with policy decisions and legislation are greatly influenced by the actual effort to spend a day traversing the Capitol and surrounding buildings, sitting with and chatting with legislators about our interests and priorities. The point is that a personal visit, Trudy says, is way more impactful than simply writing a letter or making a call.
Still, while this is about the need or even urgency to participate in next week’s NORPAC mission to Washington, D.C., it is also about the example set for all of us by people like Trudy and Stanley Stern. They give of themselves and we have been privileged to be present in the Stern home for many events where we had the opportunity to hear from elected officials on a personal basis about their feelings and attachment to the cause of supporting legislation that keeps Israel strong.
They have hosted many leaders in their home as well and coordinated events with New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, and countless other influential individuals.
The unarticulated reality is that when a group of 1,200 people or more shows up in D.C. for a concerted fanning out to almost all congressional offices, it is influential. In the political playbook, when a man or a woman takes the time to travel to D.C., that one person is considered to be representing as many as 10,000 people back home. In political terms then, the 1,200 NORPAC visitors translate into more than ten million Americans being represented that day on Capitol Hill.
It is the number of people, specifically from the Five Towns area, who take the time to travel to D.C. that is troubling Trudy. “It’s just not enough,” she says. “We are a community that cares deeply about the welfare, safety, and security of Israel, but more needs to be done,” she adds. And that has to translate in this case into setting aside a day to make your position — and that of your friends and community — known to those in the seat of power in Washington.
Of course, the idea of Jewish influence despite our relatively small numbers has been bandied about from time immemorial. The reality is that the numbers do not really matter that much; it is our involvement, our activist role on behalf of Israel, and our economic support of those in office who face opposition and require funding in order to continue fighting the good fight in defense of Israel in Congress.
As long as we are on the subject of elected officials, our conversation drifts a bit in the direction of our New York senators, Democrats Mr. Schumer and Ms. Gillibrand. They are both very supportive of Israel, and on that count it does not look like we can ask for more. Of course, New York has the largest Jewish population concentrated here outside of Israel, so for the two legislators it is also a matter of serving their constituents.
But things are not exactly perfect, and I point that out to Trudy. It’s true that Senator Schumer voted against the Iran nuclear deal without or, more likely, with the permission of then-president Obama. On the other hand, Senator Gillibrand voted for the deal against the wishes of many of those she represents in New York and even though the policy would have still had a majority in the Senate without her.
There have been other issues with Gillibrand, who took her name off of congressional anti-BDS legislation last year and who spoke up in defense of Linda Sarsour, who has been identified as an anti-Semite by leading Jewish organizations like the ADL and ZOA. So how does a senator from New York reconcile or justify those positions and still expect support from her constituents in the Jewish community?
These are issues that have troubled people like Stanley and Trudy Stern along with many others. Even more interesting is that following NORPAC fundraising events here in the Five Towns for Senators Menendez and Stabenow, both times Senator Gillibrand’s office reached out to NORPAC explaining that the senator wanted to be considered the “pro-Israel senator.”
According to Trudy, following these calls she traveled to D.C. to sit with Senator Gillibrand to seek clarification on the above matters. The question at hand was how the senator expects to be considered pro-Israel when she removes her name from anti-BDS legislation and speaks out in support of anti-Israel activist Sasour.
Frankly, as I understood it, the senator’s response was puzzling. She explained that she saw the BDS matter as a free-speech issue and that she admired Sarsour for her role in the women’s march in Washington directly following the Trump inauguration last year.
I would like to think that Gillibrand has greater insight than that. And at the same time, one has to wonder why she is so determined to be considered the “pro-Israel senator” on Capitol Hill.
Trudy Stern explained that Kirsten Gillibrand does not want to make enemies — particularly in the Jewish community — because she is on the political radar screen as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 or 2024.
Elected officials in Washington have a lot on their collective plate. Many of the issues are complex if not downright confusing. Chief amongst the difficult issues is support for Israel. Supporting the Jewish state is not just about funding defense missiles like Iron Dome or David’s Sling. It’s about understanding the dynamics of the two-state solution and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Just imagine if you are from Albany, New York, like Ms. Gillibrand, or from Albany, Georgia, and you have groups like AIPAC supporting the recognition of Jerusalem and alleged pro-Israel groups like J Street saying that recognizing Jerusalem is the worst thing the U.S. government can do. It’s obviously contradictory as well as confusing.
Perhaps that is just another reason to travel to Washington with NORPAC next week to tell our representatives where we stand and how we feel on the issues. Whether it is 1,200 people or more, it is still a relatively small group — one with a definite and uncanny ability, however, to make a big difference.
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