By Michele Justic
“If you care about something, you do it when it matters. Don’t wait.”
Congressman Anthony D’Esposito explained in an exclusive interview with 5TJT why, mere months after his victory and role in the Nassau County Red Wave, he hopped on a 10-hour flight to Israel for a three-day whirlwind diplomatic tour as part of a 20-person bipartisan Congressional Delegation (CODEL).
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy formed this delegation to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. He received an invite to address the Knesset, the second Speaker to ever do so.
Congressman D’Esposito decided, “This mission by Speaker McCarthy to send a message to the country so everyone realizes the importance of the relationship between the United States and Israel would be my first trip to the region.”
In addition to Congressmen McCarthy and D’Esposito, the Congressional Delegation also included: Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD), Rep. Andrew Garbarino (NY), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Rep. Garret Graves (LA), Rep. Erin Houchin (IN), Rep. Thomas Kean, Jr. (NJ), Rep. Nick LaLota (NY), Rep. Greg Landsman (OH), Rep. Michael Lawler (NY), Rep. Julia Letlow (LA), Rep. Rob Menendez (NJ), Rep. Max Miller (OH), Rep. Jared Moskowitz (FL), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA), and Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR).
Congressman D’Esposito reports that they landed in Jordan, visited Petra, and had dinner with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “We discussed his work with allies to reach peace. He is intense and well-versed in international politics and foreign policy. It was a productive meeting. He was very appreciative of this delegation extending that hand. Regardless of what he hears from the administration, members of Congress support allies in the Middle East.”
They visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s Old City and Ir David. “Growing up Roman Catholic, I was able to think back and reflect on passages in scripture. See pages come to life. Something I will never forget,” Congressman D’Esposito recounts.
The congressional delegation visited the Old City of Jerusalem and learned about the deep history of this incredible site. They had the opportunity to pray with the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. The Congressman had the honor of visiting and placing a note in the Western Wall—“a moving experience and one I will not soon forget.”
The group visited Yad Vashem. Congressman D’Esposito posted, “The most moving and somber visit for the congressional delegation led by Speaker McCarthy to Israel was viewing the Book of Names at Yad Vashem: World Holocaust Center, Jerusalem. These books contain the names of those who were senselessly killed during the Holocaust. We must not forget those atrocities, and work each and every day to combat anti-Semitism.”
The delegation had lunch with PM Netanyahu. Congressman D’Esposito reports that the PM “expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the visit and concern over relations with the United States. However, other members of the House and Senate visited over the last month, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, indicating further support. He thanked us for taking time to be there.”
The group met with President Isaac Herzog who expressed similar thoughts.
Congressman D’Esposito reports that a lot was accomplished in the short time span. “Many view the relationship between President Biden and his administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and it is not what they expect it should be. This trip is a clear indicator. There are Democrats and Republicans who stand with Israel as our greatest ally. This was an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to show our relationship and mutual respect. It is not a partisan issue; it is an American issue.”
As Speaker McCarthy delivered his remarks to the Knesset, Congressman D’Esposito relates, “It was a sight to see. In the House of Representatives, we have two parties that can’t get along. Imagine 16 political parties. It was dynamic.”
Speaker McCarthy captivated the multilingual group of leaders with his anecdote: “I received a thoughtful gift from Speaker Amir Ohana. The gift is a picture of Israeli pilots training in the city of Bakersfield, California, my hometown. More than 75 years ago—on the eve of Israel’s War of Independence—a female flight instructor and patriot named Elynor Rudnick organized a training program for Israeli fighter pilots at her airfield in Bakersfield. In all, 13 volunteers, including two women, took this grueling course, and only three finished. Technically, the program was illegal, because Israel did not exist yet as a modern state and America was neutral. What compelled them to risk their lives to help reestablish the state of Israel? As we look around this room, we know the answer: it was faith and it was freedom.”
The Speaker concluded, “Our dreams are your dreams. America is grateful for our friendship with Israel. We are a better nation because of it. And we must never shy away from defending it. We’ve come so far in 75 years. But the promise of the years ahead is just as compelling. I believe the best days for Israel—and our unbreakable bond—are ahead of us … Thanks to the Abraham Accords, coexistence and cooperation are beginning to replace conflict and intolerance.”
The Speaker delved into contentious issues as well, such as “the rogue Iranian regime which seeks to destabilize Iraq, entrench its missiles in Syria, empowers the terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon, and is fueling a brutal civil war in Yemen … We in the United States integrated Israel into our Central Command and are continuing to carry out military exercises together … As long as I am speaker, America will continue to support full funding for security assistance in Israel. Together, we will defeat Iran’s precision-guided missiles, drones, terror tunnels, and cyberattacks.”
The Speaker continued to discuss the new threat of the Chinese Communist Party. “I strongly encourage Israel to further strengthen its oversight of foreign investment—particularly Chinese investment—building on the steps it first took in 2019.”
“The final priority for the future I want to discuss is ending efforts to delegitimize and discriminate against Israel. Whether it’s the toxic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement or the constant attacks on Israel at the United Nations, prejudice against Israel on the world stage is damaging and destructive. There is no clearer example than the UN Human Rights Council, which has passed over 90 anti-Israel resolutions since 2006, yet has turned a blind eye to true human-rights violations by Iran, North Korea, and China.”
“Therefore, I will establish a House-Knesset Parliamentary Friendship Group, so we can continue to strengthen our bonds, build mutual understanding as elected representatives, and work better together, democracy to democracy. We will engage more directly with the Knesset, travel to Israel, strengthen existing relationships, and forge new ones. Similarly, we will host Knesset members who wish to travel to the United States and do the same.”
Incidentally, Congressman D’Esposito found it interesting to see the impact our Town of Hempstead and Nassau County has on Israel: Former Ambassador David Friedman hails from the Five Towns, there are numerous plaques thanking philanthropists who reside in this district, and he met many Five Towners on the streets of Israel (and took selfies), so Israel felt like home in many ways.
Finally, I had to ask, “You were a detective in East New York and you rode with Israeli drivers. Which is scarier?”