More than 125 lay and rabbinic leaders of Orthodox Jewish communities from across the country convened on Capitol Hill and at the White House June 15 for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C.
Throughout the day-long mission, the delegates focused on advocating for three issues critical to the Orthodox Jewish community: advancing school choice policies, which would help ease the financial burden of sending children to Jewish day schools; increasing funding for the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which supports improvements in security measures for Jewish community institutions around the country; and passing the Taylor Force Act, which will suspend U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it ends its practice of paying financial stipends to the families of terrorists.
“Coming to Washington is a very visible reminder of our commitment to those we represent and our appreciation for this country’s leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel,” said Orthodox Union President Mark Bane.
The day’s events kicked off with an opening session featuring Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the Education Committee. Chairwoman Foxx spoke of her deep commitment to school choice policies. Engel spoke of his commitment to pass bipartisan legislation — like the Taylor Force Act — to put an end to the Palestinian Authority’s terrorist stipends.
Orthodox Union delegates then met with their congressional representatives in smaller groups to discuss the policy agenda. After those meetings, the entire group reconvened for a luncheon with U.S. senators.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) announced the 98-2 vote that had just occurred in favor of new sanctions on Iran, for which he received a standing ovation.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the United States must make sure Iran is held accountable for its actions. “They haven’t moderated a bit,” Schumer said. “They’re still exporting terrorism.”
He also called for accountability from the Palestinian Authority. “Abbas has to stop making payments to terrorists and their families, and all elected officials should call them out” for this practice. He further stated he will support legislation like the Taylor Force Act if the Trump Administration cannot get the Palestinians to end the stipends.
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was among several senators who also spoke about the need to pass legislation like the Taylor Force Act.
In a sign of the bipartisan nature of their interests, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also addressed the OU delegates, noting that he was one of the original sponsors of the Taylor Force Act and that Congress must immediately take action to stop funding Palestinian terrorism.
Cruz also spoke about his support to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel. “Now is the time to recognize Jerusalem as the one eternal, indivisible capital of Israel,” Cruz said. “It is long past time to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, where it belongs.”
Other senators who spoke during the lunch were Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Bill Nelson (R-Fl.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), all of whom voiced their strong support for the OU Advocacy’s work and their ongoing efforts on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people.
The OU leaders then traveled to the White House. There, they met with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to discuss school choice initiatives; Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, who spoke about advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; and Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka, who provided insights into national security policy.
“We are grateful that so many prominent leaders of our community came to Washington and successfully advanced the critical policy priorities of security for Israel, security for American Jewish schools and synagogues, and school choice,” said OU Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland.
“Coming to Washington reminds all of us that we have great strength when we join together and speak with a unified voice in our nation’s capital,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “Our national delegation of leaders deeply appreciated the many representatives and senators who met with us and will be our partners on our policy priorities.”
By Zev Palatnik