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Sticking Their Necks Out for Us 

“How can a public figure not see the difference between right and wrong? This is such a basic choice”


few weeks ago, I found myself walking the stately halls of the Russell Senate Office Building, one of the congressional buildings lining the blocks near the United States Capitol. Senators and their staff are based there, and in the capacity of my recent appointment as Director of Congressional Relations for Agudath Israel of America, under the direction of the Agudah’s veteran Washington Director, Rabbi Abba Cohen, the Russell and other congressional office buildings have become frequent spots on my regular visits to Capitol Hill.

It was a particularly blustery day, and I had a meeting scheduled with Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. Some of his Orthodox Jewish constituents were invited and joined on Zoom, and our time together was productive.

As the meeting was wrapping up, I thanked Senator Hawley for his strong and vocal support for Israel. His reaction surprised me: “How can a public figure not see the difference between right and wrong? This is such a basic choice,” he said. His staff was already rushing him to his next engagement, and I didn’t have time to respond.

Honestly, though, I wasn’t even sure I had an immediate response. We all know that Israel continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support from the leadership and majority of Congress. Still, not every rank-and-file member is rushing to loudly proclaim his or her support for Israel. Why are we not seeing unequivocal, wall-to-wall support for America’s great ally? Indeed, how can a public figure “not see the difference between right and wrong?”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to dozens of lawmakers and their staff, and I think an answer is coming into focus.

 Most elected officials do indeed understand that Israel has every right in the world to defend herself against a merciless enemy after a horrific terror attack, whose perpetrators vow to repeat it if given the chance. But that does not necessarily translate into vocal support and votes when they count most. Why not?

The answer may have less to do with them and more to do with us.

Let me be clear: Constituents need to engage legislators. That is why the Agudah has effectively mobilized the community for decades, urging members to meet and communicate with their senators and representatives on a host of issues. Contacting legislators is a critical tool that provides elected officials with a real-time pulse as to what the community is thinking and how their actions on Capitol Hill are being received by constituents back home.

But I have come to realize that there is an additional layer at play in the current circumstances — one that is new and different.

Since the war began, we’ve all become too familiar with rising anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents of the most frightening kind. And they haven’t only affected us, but others as well. For elected officials, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, bold statements or votes can put them and their staff in the crosshairs of very vocal and vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel mobs.

Don’t just take my word for it. In the weeks since October 7, members of Congress and their staff have experienced, firsthand, both vitriol and violence:

The office of Representative Dan Goldman, a Jewish Democrat from New York, was vandalized with red paint splashed on his office entrance proclaiming, “Free Palestine” and “Blood on your hands.”

Staffers for Representative Pat Ryan, also a New York Democrat, had to literally throw their bodies in front of the office door to keep an angry mob from forcing their way in. After failing to gain entry, protesters climbed onto the roof, screaming and terrorizing those inside until law enforcement showed up.

A flag hanging in the Washington Office of GOP Congressman Tim Walberg of Michigan, expressing support for Israel, was defaced with an imprint showing two bloody hands.

New York Democratic Representative Ritchie Torres, one of the strongest supporters of Israel in the House, is often harassed for his views at town halls.

When Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin presented before Congress on US aid to Israel, they had to testify against a deeply offensive backdrop: A group of American college kids who had painted their hands red and green, and “Free Gaza” scrawled across their palms.

And it’s not just happening in Washington, D.C. or New York. Across America, violent, Hamas-supporting thugs are trying to intimidate elected officials, acting as junior surrogates of the terrorists they support.

District staffers for Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, arrived at work one morning only to find that vandals had paid a nocturnal visit to their office, splashed red paint across the walkway, and sprayed anti-Semitic graffiti across the large glass windows and double doors to his Santa Fe office.

Texas Republican Representative Monica De La Cruz, who represents a district that borders Mexico, had slogans such as “Monica Murders” spraypainted on the floor of her local office.

Multiply that live intimidation and violence by thousands of angry, threatening phone calls and emails to anyone who is seen as supportive of Israel, or possibly leaning in that direction.

Many elected officials have braved this thuggery. They remain unfazed and forge onward, irrespective of what they are subjected to.

But can we really expect every elected official to be so resistant to the pressure? Members of Congress are, after all, people too. No one likes having their office defaced or being the target of a violent mob trying to break in. And when a member sees his or her colleague being harassed after voicing support for Israel, how can they not take note? Not to mention the cries from the UN and some in the international community that grow ever louder with each passing day of war.

Might a senator or representative not think that it would be wiser for future statements to equivocate a bit, and temper support for Israel?

When the next vote for a multibillion dollar defense package for the Iron Dome to Israel comes up, why should they risk raising the ire of the anti-Israel, pro-Hamas mob waiting to pounce when they could just abstain and keep a low profile?

Moreover, the emotional and physical safety of congressional staffers — who get all the blame and none of the credit for their bosses’ heroic stances — may also be an uppermost concern in an elected official’s mind.

Indeed, one House member I spoke with told me her staffer quit because the calls pouring into her office were so acrimonious that she simply couldn’t handle it any longer. This representative looked at me — almost accusingly — telling me, nearly begging me, that “we need to hear from you guys as well.”

She’s right. Shouldn’t they hear from us? Are we not the people who so value hakaras hatov — even, and perhaps especially, to those who have always supported Israel, and continue to do so during these trying times? Are we not obliged to extend hakaras hatov to elected officials who are, in some cases quite literally, sticking their necks out for acheinu bnei Yisrael? Are we foolishly taking them for granted? Yet, the appreciation and encouragement they have heard from Jewish constituents doesn’t begin to match the vitriol they are hearing from our adversaries. We must change that equation.

The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, which met recently at the home of Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita, discussed this issue and felt strongly that alongside strengthening our avodas Hashem, our shtadlanus should take the form of sending letters of thanks and reassurance to our elected officials. The Moetzes directed the leadership of the Agudah to publicize the need for people to engage now. Our gedolim are instructing us of the great value of hakaras hatov, the role it plays in shtadlanus, and the effect it can have in changing minds and attitudes. We must heed their call.

There is a war being fought by Israel, but there is also a war being fought about Israel. It’s playing out on the airwaves, but also in the offices of Congress.

We’re witnessing Congressional offices threatened and bullied by bloodcurdling Hamas supporters. So let us fight back, in our own, Yiddishe, way. Let us send emails and make calls in which we — politely but passionately — express thanks to the members of Congress, the staffers, even the receptionist, for their support, and encourage them to keep that support strong and steadfast.

Members of Congress should be secure in the knowledge that the American Jewish community has their backs. When that happens, lawmakers watching how pro-Israel politicians are acknowledged by a grateful constituency will be emboldened to come out publicly and forcefully in favor of Israel. With greater confidence all around, hopefully the next time the member sits down for his daily briefing, he or she will not be sitting opposite an anxious, dejected group of staffers.

It takes just a few minutes to call your representatives and senators. If you live in a district in which the elected officials are supportive of Israel (and defending American Jews against anti-Semitism, which typically goes hand in hand with defending Jews in Israel), call their office and thank them sincerely for their support. Mention that it’s not only you, but an entire community that is grateful for their backing. Show them that we cherish their courage.

If your representative is on the fence, call up and educate them as to why you — and hundreds of others — believe that they should take a stronger stance.

Send emails thanking them. Fill their offices with letters of gratitude. Meet with them when they’re in their local office. Members of Congress take note — and maintain a count — of all of this activity.

Not long ago, our community galvanized to make our position on the proposed changes to yeshivah education in New York unequivocally known. We shattered the record for public comments on any proposed regulation, and the regulations were put on hold for years and then scaled back.

It’s time to band together once again.

The United States government is the largest provider of security and economic assistance to Israel. Israel is at war. The bottom line is that American diplomatic, military, and economic support, al pi derech hateva, is key to saving Jewish lives. Therefore, as our gedolim are guiding us, we in America must encourage, nurture, and strengthen that ongoing support. So make the time to call or email your senators and representatives today.

No less than the safety of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael may depend on it.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 996)

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