Nadler: Ties 'endangered' if democratic principles abandoned

Skirting concerns over new government, NY lawmakers vow firm support for Israel

Congressional delegation tells Jewish community leaders that Washington will continue to back Israeli defense, with little mention of judicial overhaul, Palestinians

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

US House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks to Jewish community leaders in New York City, February 5, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
US House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks to Jewish community leaders in New York City, February 5, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — US Congress members from New York State expressed firm support for Israel in a meeting with Jewish leaders on Sunday, amid some tension between the Biden administration and the new Israeli government over its plans to curtail the judiciary.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week during a visit to Israel stressed the democratic values shared by the two countries, a clear sign that the White House is concerned over the new right-wing government’s legal initiatives. Speaking alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken also called for “urgent steps” to cool tensions with the Palestinians after a spike in violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Those concerns were largely absent at the Sunday event in Manhattan as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Grace Meng, Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clark, Mike Lawler, Gregory Meeks and Adriano Espaillat addressed an audience of over 250 at an annual Congressional breakfast hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

The lawmakers repeatedly stressed the importance of the US-Israel relationship and US support for Israel’s security.

“In a tough neighborhood, at the end of the day, the only language people respect is strength. You can achieve peace but it’s only peace through strength,” said Jeffries, the House minority leader. “So I think the Congressional delegation will remain committed on the Democratic side, every single member who’s here, to ensuring that we maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

“That is our commitment, it’s rock solid and we will never waver from it,” Jeffries said.

“Recent events highlight the dangers Israel faces every single day. Not only have we witnessed an aggressive resurgence of terrorist violence emanating from the West Bank, but the situation in Gaza remains extremely tense,” Meeks said. “I plan to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new government to jointly address our shared challenges, including the threat from Iran.”

US Rep. Gregory Meeks, Democrat-New York speaks during a news conference outside the USPS Jamaica station, in the Queens borough of New York, August 18, 2020. (John Minchillo/AP)

Meeks, a ranking member and former chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also said he “can now officially report” that the Iran nuclear negotiations are “off the table.”

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr. he said, “It is always the right time to do the right thing and it’s always the right thing to stand up for Israel.”

Lawmakers stressed bipartisan support for Israel, days after the Republican-led House ousted Representative Ilhan Omar from the committee due to her past comments deemed anti-Israel and antisemitic.

“We have an obligation and it is not just in terms of ensuring the safety and security of Israel but obviously our own security. Israel is our greatest ally and we need to continue to foster that relationship,” said Lawler, the lone Republican speaker.

Schumer also stressed the benefits of the relationship to US security, saying “our defense department depends” on Israeli defensive cybersecurity.

Nadler was the only speaker to address the Netanyahu government’s judicial plans. The issue of settlements and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians was also almost completely absent, besides several mentions of the importance of a two-state solution.

US House Representative Jerrold Nadler speaks to Jewish community leaders in New York City, February 6, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“Several of the policies and proposals coming out of the new governing coalition in Israel are very distressing,” Nadler said, echoing an op-ed he published in Haaretz last month. “I’m particularly concerned with the reported plans to undermine the judiciary and the system of checks and balances, which is fundamental to a functioning democracy.”

The US-Israel alliance is “rooted in democratic principles but that alliance will be endangered if democratic principles are not adhered to,” Nadler said, also highlighting a recent letter from 169 US Jewish leaders expressing concern over the judicial plans.

Jeffries said the US-Israel relationship was “anchored in shared democratic values.”

“It’s important to recognize Israel as a place that is and always shall be a Jewish and democratic state,” he said.

The Congress members also repeatedly called for combating rising antisemitism, with Jeffries calling Jew-hatred “a stain on our society.”

Meng, who co-chairs the House Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Antisemitism, outlined some of the group’s priorities, including better data collection on hate crimes.

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“This is a bipartisan issue,” Meng said. “It is very important that we speak up. We cannot only speak up when it’s hate at our community. We have to speak up when hate is directed at every community so we will continue to ramp up those efforts.”

In addition to the congressional delegation, Israel’s consul general in New York Assaf Zamir addressed the meeting. Representatives from the embassies of Japan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Germany and New York City officials were also in attendance.

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