(June 21, 2021 / JNS) With an immediate rise in anti-Semitism following last month’s conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the OU Advocacy Center, which represents Orthodox Jews in America, is winding down a massive effort in the last several weeks of having its members around the country meet with members of Congress.
The group launched its “Unite and Advocate” campaign in late May, holding virtual meetings with approximately 20 members of Congress from across the country so far, expecting to meet with more in the coming weeks.
The campaign came as a result of nationwide attacks on Jews and increasing concerns for the security of Jewish day schools and other institutions.
“The time for action is now, and this is the OU’s greatest priority. Lives are at stake both here and in Israel,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, OU’s executive vice president, in a news release. “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.”According to the release, nearly 240 individuals from across the country signed up to participate in the campaign and were provided activism training. The volunteers then meet virtually with representatives from their areas to express their concerns.
Lindsay Barsky, OU Advocacy’s congressional affairs director, said that like other organizations, the OU has hosted lobbying missions to Capitol Hill annually and sends out action alerts throughout the year to its members to contact their representatives. But a widespread effort such as the ongoing Unite and Advocate Campaign has not been needed until now, she said.
A number of volunteers—business and synagogue leaders, real estate developers, executive directors of large organizations—who have joined the effort have served as leaders in their districts and so have active relationships with Congress members.
According to Barsky, the campaign is advocating that Congress support Israel’s right to defend itself from ongoing attacks by Hamas and other terrorist organizations; double funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to $360 million in the fiscal year 2022, compared to $180 in 2021; and urge Congress to back the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which will help federal agencies monitor cases of domestic terrorism and improve law enforcement’s ability to combat domestic terror threats.
The campaign is also asking the members to urge U.S. President Joe Biden to nominate a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, and for the members of Congress to make public statements condemning the recent waves of anti-Semitism in the United States.
Barsky said that while U.S. representatives are accustomed to hearing regularly from lobbyists about concerns, it’s quite another for the representatives to hear firsthand from their constituents about how the current climate of anti-Semitism is affecting them.
“During these meetings, we’ve had members share terrible personal instances of anti-Semitism that the representatives and their staff had no idea occurred on a day-to-day basis,” reported Barsky. “It’s one thing for the members of Congress to speak or debate about such things from a conceptual standpoint, but it’s another thing altogether for the representatives to hear Americans who’ve come from places like Paris, who came from Iran [which kicked out its Jews years ago], who came from countries where it’s been very difficult for Jews to live with any feeling of safety, to then share with the representatives that here—in major American hubs such as Midtown Manhattan, they’re afraid to go out wearing a Star of David or a head covering.”
She added, “That’s not something that our representatives hear every day.”
Barsky also noted that neither the community members nor the representatives in the meetings shied away from controversy.
“We’ve had uncomfortable conversations with our good friends in the Democratic Party about what’s going on in the progressive wing and how we can support them as they combat that hostility towards Israel in Congress because it’s not easy for them,” said Barsky.
Public officials, she concluded, must be outspoken about anti-Semitism; otherwise, it provides cover for more anti-Semitic acts.
And that, she insisted, is “unacceptable and un-American.”
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