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Orthodox Union presses Congress to stand up for Israel

In unusual move, group sets up meetings between lawmakers and Orthodox Jewish constituents alarmed by antisemitic incidents since last month’s Israel-Gaza conflict

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., meets June 14 with Orthodox constituents in a meeting organized by the Orthodox Union. (Screenshot via JTA)
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., meets June 14 with Orthodox constituents in a meeting organized by the Orthodox Union. (Screenshot via JTA)

JTA — The Orthodox Union is setting up meetings between members of Congress and Orthodox Jewish constituents who are alarmed by antisemitic incidents since last month’s Israel-Gaza conflict, and by what they see as Congress’ failure to have Israel’s back.

“Many in Congress failed to stand up for Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to act in self-defense,” says a page on the umbrella group’s website that facilitates meetings between constituents and their lawmakers. “Further, while the battle between Israel and Hamas raged, we witnessed a shocking surge in violent attacks on American Jews. Too many elected officials have been either painfully complacent or very slow to denounce these anti-Jewish attacks.”

Meetings are being booked into next week, according to the Orthodox Union’s Washington office. So far, 87 constituents have met with the staff of 18 lawmakers from both parties in Alabama, Arizona, California, New Jersey and New York.

The meetings are unusual because of who is present. Typically, meetings on constituent issues actually include staffers from lawmakers’ offices and, often, representatives of constituent groups. The O.U. meetings include rank-and-file constituents and, in most cases, the lawmakers themselves. Most meetings have been via Zoom, but at least one has been in person.

During and after last month’s conflict, a number of progressives in the Democratic Party blamed Israel for its outbreak and called for cuts in defense assistance to Israel. Republicans and numerous other Democrats defended Israel and said assistance to the country should be untouched. Some advocated for new assistance to replace anti-missile interceptors expended during the conflict to counter rockets Hamas fired into Israel.

“Several of our O.U. community members expressed their concerns to the representatives about the increasingly hostile attitude toward Israel in the progressive wing of the Democratic party,” said Lindsay Barsky, the Orthodox Union’s director of Congressional Affairs. She said most of the meetings had generated sympathetic responses.

“Most representatives responded by sharing that they have the same concern. Democratic representatives were firm in their commitment to continue to stand up for Israel’s right to defend herself against Iran-backed Hamas,” Barsky said. “They also told the community members that while those voices are loud, they are in fact a very small number, explaining that most of the Democratic caucus are pro-Israel.”

Constituents also discussed their fears of antisemitic attacks and pressed for increased federal funding for security protections for nonprofits and houses of worship.

Among the Democratic lawmakers who have met with their Orthodox constituents are Ted Deutch (Florida), John Garamendi (California), Josh Gottheimer (New Jersey), Barbara Lee (California), Grace Meng (New York), Joseph Morelle (New York), Jerrold Nadler (New York), Kathleen Rice (New York), Albio Sires (New Jersey), Tom Suozzi (New York) and Paul Tonko (New York).

The Republicans have included Byron Donalds (Florida), Neal Dunn (Florida), John Katko (New York), Nicole Malliotakis (New York), Brian Mast (Florida), Gary Palmer (Alabama) and David Schweikert (Arizona).

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