(February 7, 2019 / JNS) Editor’s Note: A number of freshman members of Congress, including those in the new Democratic House majority, will bring new faces to the Jewish and pro-Israel community. JNS will introduce some of these legislators as part of its “Meet the Newbie” series.
Republican Rep. John Joyce, 61, defeated Democrat Brent Ottaway in Pennsylvania’s newly created 13th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm elections.
Previously, he served in the U.S. Navy at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia during the 1991 Gulf War. He received accolades from U.S. Navy Rear Adm. David LeStage for his work during this time.
Before serving in Congress, he worked as a dermatologist at Altoona Dermatology Associates, which he and his wife, who was a naval officer, founded 25 years ago. How he met his wife is a fascinating tale that may not have occurred had it not been for the local Jewish community.
JNS talked with Joyce by phone. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What is your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: The United States has had a strong pro-Israel stance, and I continue to support that. Because of the strong relationship that we have with Israel, moving forward with our support and with a common-sense approach to policy, we can protect Israel and further strengthen the ties with the U.S.
Q: What is your reaction to the planned U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria?
A: The president ran on an agenda that included defeating ISIS and making sure that men and women in our military are not entangled in foreign conflicts any longer than necessary. President Trump has worked hard to achieve both those objectives. The people I represent in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District are pleased to see he’s striving to keep his campaign promises.
And the president has access to intelligence I don’t [have] as a freshman congressman from South Central Pennsylvania. I realize the concerns from many people for this withdrawal. But the emphasis is on the proper pace and in prudent fashion. I have faith that the president is approaching this with that.
Q: Do you think the U.S. military needs to stay in Syria to combat Iranian forces and protect our allies, such as the Kurds?
A: I think the president is working hard to defeat ISIS. We will see that prudent withdrawal occur once the president and his sources say it is stable to withdraw.
Q: But what about combating Iranian troops there and proxies there such as Hezbollah?
A: You raise a really important issue. That is definitely something as a freshman I would defer to the president and support him with the information he has provided.
Q: What’s your take on the Iran nuclear deal?
A: The deal should have been done with much more Senate involvement as a treaty. It was not enough for the U.S. to oversee the provisions of the deal, and the president was right to end it. I would advocate that we put on stronger sanctions when appropriate and when needed. And there are a great number of members of the House and the Senate who have insight into this. Moving forward, I would use those resources to re-establish what needs to be done.
Q: What is your stance on BDS?
A: I am pro-Israel. There are no instances I can validate a boycott of Israel.
Q: What is your take on U.S. funding for Israel’s military, especially in the aftermath of the latest Israeli conflicts against Hamas and Hezbollah?
A: I want to do everything that’s positive for Israel. As I said at the beginning of the conversation, Israel is a stronghold of democracy in the Middle East. Israel allows a democracy—a people’s government that protects its [citizens]. I make that pledge to do everything possible as a freshman congressman for Israel.
Q: What is your take on U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority?
A: As a freshman who was sworn in recently, it’s something that I would need to research, so I can’t give you an answer to that.
Q: What’s your reaction to America moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
A: I have an interesting anecdote about that. I have many members of my kitchen cabinet who are of the Jewish faith and the day before that occurred, I was with Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) doing an endorsement of my campaign, and he was scheduled to go to Israel for the establishment of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Wilson is a role model, a friend and one of the leaders in Congress. He impressed upon me the importance in how many presidents in the past promised to make this occur and yet it hadn’t happened. President [Donald] Trump made this happen. Wilson was able to be in Jerusalem for the establishment. He sent me back pictures; we had many great conversations from that event. I view him as a role model, as a leader on these issues. He’s a resource to me. We’ve had frank dialogues about the importance of the U.S. to maintain a strong relationship with Israel and perhaps even more support of Israel.
Q: Have you ever been to Israel?
A: I have not yet.
Q: Do you plan to go on the trip organized by AIPAC every summer?
A: If invited, of course, I would go. I would be honored to participate in that. I definitely want to go.
Q: What’s your reaction to the rise in anti-Semitism nationally and abroad, especially in the aftermath of the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue shooting in your home state?
A: I trained at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and I have compadres that are of many faiths, but one of my closest groups of friends that I established on my first day of my internship was Bruce Waldholtz and his wife, Baila Pakula. These are great friends. We’ve watched our children grow up; we attended each other’s children’s’ weddings. Bruce grew up in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. We talk on the phone every week, if not every day. I grieved with Bruce over this horrific act. I know how it impacted him, his family, his community, and yet his faith is incredibly strong. When I voted to pass H.R. 221, which established a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism worldwide, within two hours I was on the phone with Bruce. He made me aware of the impact of that tragedy in Squirrel Hill.
Q: Now that you’ve been sworn in, do you have any specific plans relating to the U.S.-Israel relationship such as future legislation?
A: My personal agenda is to do anything positive for a strong Israel.
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
A: You didn’t ask how I met my wife. I am a Christian, but my wife and I met when we were 12 years old at the Jewish Memorial Center in Altoona, Pa. The Jewish Memorial Center, which still exists today, ran basketball leagues. My wife was a cheerleader on an opposing team when I was a basketball player. I love to share that if it wasn’t for the strong Jewish community in my district, I might have never met my wife.
And Bruce and Baila Waldholtz, who are great friends, visit Israel several times a year. Bruce is a physician. They bring physicians from Israel who come and stay with his family [while they] train [medically]. He and his wife definitely make me aware of what the influence of a strong U.S. government can have on Israel.