Former House Rep. Tom Suozzi landed in Israel on Dec. 22 to demonstrate his “unequivocal support for Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world during this very tough time.”
In his three terms as representative for New York’s 3rd Congressional District (2017-2023), Suozzi, 61, called himself “one of the most reliable non-Jewish Democratic votes in the House of Representatives.”
Following the Oct. 7 attack, he issued a strong defense of the Jewish state, calling on “America and the global community to redouble our commitment to Israel,” and describing Hamas as “an evil that cannot be appeased or negotiated with.”
The statement was of a piece with Suozzi’s actions in Congress, where he proved a pillar of pro-Israel support. In 2017, he co-sponsored with Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) a bill that is highly relevant today—the Shields Act.
Passed into law on Dec. 21, 2018, it punishes the use of civilians as human shields. The law calls on the U.S. President to submit an annual list to Congress of all Hezbollah and Hamas members, or any agency, that uses civilians to protect military targets. The president will impose “U.S.-based property-blocking and visa sanctions” on those individuals and agencies, the law states.
Suozzi has spoken against members of his own party who have made anti-Jewish comments.
When Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) employed antisemitic tropes in 2019 suggesting American Jews were guilty of dual loyalty with her infamous “It’s all about the Benjamins remark,” Suozzi took to social media and the airwaves, tweeting that her remark was “not only inaccurate but conjures up the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes.”
“We have to stand up and call things that are clearly wrong—wrong,” he told CNN at the time.
Suozzi hopes to retake his seat in a special election on Feb. 13 after it was vacated by scandal-plagued GOP Rep. George Santos, ejected by the House, in part, for fabricating his Jewish ancestry.
Normally, the election would be a no-brainer for Israel supporters, but Suozzi’s Republican opponent has an unusually appealing personal back story. Mazi Melesa Pilip, 44, is an Ethiopian from Israel who served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces.
Signaling its satisfaction with both candidates, AIPAC has announced that it won’t take sides or get involved in the election.
For those voters torn between the two candidates, Suozzi tells JNS: “In the current climate in Washington, D.C. and in the country, there are a lot of pro-Israel Republicans right now. And if you want to keep support for Israel a bipartisan effort, you need strong, outspoken pro-Israel Democrats. That I think is just much more valuable right now.”
Suozzi spoke to JNS some 10 hours after his arrival in Israel.
Q: What have you done so far on your trip?
A: I met with the Neutra family, the mother and father, Ronan and Orna, whose son Omer, who grew up in Plainview, New York—they’re from Plainview—was in the IDF. He came here after graduating from Solomon Schechter high school, and joined the IDF and became a tank commander. And he was taken hostage on Oct. 7.
Q: What was it like meeting with them?
A: Omer is 22 years old, and we have three children—our two boys are 25 and 20. And my feeling was that I don’t know how they’re coping with the fact that they haven’t seen their son for 76 days. I can’t imagine dealing with that, when you can’t control the situation. And there’s really not much you can do to effect change other than what they are doing, which is meeting with people like myself, or meeting with the hostage negotiators for the United States and the president and others, and trying to bring attention to their son’s plight.
You know, many people have moved on with their lives and this is not on the front pages every day in the United States, but these families are just suffering so much.
Q: Where else did you visit?
A: We went down to Kfar Aza and toured that kibbutz and saw the devastation from the attacks on Oct. 7. I’m convinced, based upon what I knew before I got here, but also from the briefings I got … that Hamas is not some random, loose coalition of desert fighters. They’re a sophisticated, disciplined and focused terror army that is set on the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.
To walk through the rubble and hear, “This is where this person was killed and that couple was killed. And this is where someone dove on top of a grenade. And this is where the fence was breached. And this is where a rocket hit. These markings on the wall, a circle with a dot in the middle, means someone was killed here.” There were 60-some-odd people killed.
There was a woman that was murdered, a paralyzed woman. We’ve heard the stories about the children and about the babies, and parents shielding their kids, but it really just struck me, the brutality of murdering a paralyzed woman. To purposely do that.
Q: You said you oppose any conditions on U.S. aid to the Jewish state?
A: When I was in Congress, there were different times that different different aid packages came up, and people wanted to say, ‘We’ll give the aid if they do this, if they do that.’ And I don’t believe that we should be doing that. I think the aid should be unconditional.
Q: Are Jewish concerns—the war in Gaza, antisemitism—the number one issue in your upcoming election?
A: Talking to people in my district, they’re really much more concerned as a general rule about the cost of living and the economy and the immigration crisis. But there are some people for whom what’s going on in Israel is the number one issue. A part of my being here is to bring attention to the fact that this is important to me, and I think important to the people in my district.
Q: In terms of the many pro-Israel items of legislation and letters you’ve signed onto, is there a particular one you’re most proud of?
A: I’m certainly proud of my entire record. I was the leader with Congressman Mike Gallagher, a Republican, on the bipartisan Shields Act, which was to sanction Hezbollah and Hamas for using human shields to protect their weapons installations.
My first speech on the floor of the House of Representatives was on Jan. 5, 2017. And it was really to point out the unfairness of the U.N. resolution related to Israel. [U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 demanding Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory,” on which the Obama administration abstained, allowing its passage.]
I’ve been focused on Israel throughout my time in the Congress, and I think the knowledge that I’ve gained in the research related to the Shields Act legislation makes me really appreciate what’s going on now.