High Level Government Officials And Congressional Leaders Brief Orthodox Union Leaders In White House, Senate And House Meetings; Justice Samuel Alito Addresses Leaders at the Nation’s High Court
National lay and rabbinical leaders of the Orthodox Union traveled to the nation’s capital on June 12th and 13th for the Union’s annual Leadership Mission to Washington. The two day mission was organized by the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs.
After a meeting of the Union’s Board of Directors, Wednesday’s Mission program was kicked off by the Hon. Jeremy Issacharoff, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of Israel in Washington. The discussions with the DCM focused upon the threat to Israel from Iran, the Hamas rocket attacks on Israelis in Sderot, the challenges to Israel from the current battle between Hamas and Fatah and the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Olmert to Washington.
The OU leaders then proceeded to the august halls of the United States Supreme Court for a dinner reception hosted by the newest member of the high court, Justice Samuel Alito. In the magnificent courtroom chamber, Justice Alito addressed the OU leaders and offered his insights into constitutional issues of interest to the OU community, most prominently religious liberty issues, as well as commenting on the inner workings of the Supreme Court. In appreciation for his gracious hospitality, the OU presented Justice Alito with a framed reproduction of the famous letter sent by President Washington to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island.
On Thursday, the delegation began its meetings with America’s policymakers on Capitol Hill where participants met separately with key House Republicans and Democrats. From the Democratic caucus, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD and chairman of the DCCC) represented the House leadership and spoke of his commitment to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act during this session of Congress as well as his support for ensuring continuing availability of federal homeland security grants to assist non-profit entities upgrade their security in the face of terrorist threats; both initiatives are strongly supported by the OU; Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) also spoke of the “WRFA” bill and her efforts as lead sponsor to secure its enactment; Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA and chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs) offered and extensive presentation on no less than three legislative measures he is pressing to deal with the threat to the West from Iran; Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY and chairman of the Subcmte. on the Mideast) focused his remarks on the complexities of the battle between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza; while Rep Steve Israel (D-NY) led an impassioned discussion about the need for seriously pursuing American independence from imported oil; finally, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) discussed her efforts (supported by the OU) to enact the Life Insurance Fairness for Travelers Act, a measure which will stop insurance companies from denying coverage to those who travel to countries such as Israel, Haiti and others.
Among Republican leaders, Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) praised the OU for its work in Washington as a moral compass to policymakers; Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) urged the OU to continue to work in partnership with her in support of the recognition of Jerusalem’s unification, confronting Iran and denying a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority any U.S. support; Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) spoke of his deep commitment to Israel; and Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) spoke of his leadership role on the Republican side to get the WRFA measure enacted.
The OU leaders then traveled across Capitol Hill for the Mission’s annual Senate Luncheon. In a formidable demonstration of their high regard for the OU and its influence, many senators attended and addressed the luncheon. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) praised the OU for its work in the policy arena and the productive partnership it has forged with her on a range of issues; but Sen. Clinton also spent much of her time uttering “sober words” recognizing the threats against both the U.S. and Israel from a radical Iran and a surging Hamas; Senator Clinton restated her strong commitment America’s support for the Jewish State. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) also powerfully addressed the threat from Iran and stated that “diplomacy without the credible threat of real action will not take us anywhere.” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) spoke of his passionate support for Israel as well, but also expressed his views about the need for America to be a nation guided by faith and values. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) addressed the role of Syria in the Mideast and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) reiterated her strong support for DHS support for non-profits such as the OU community’s synagogues and schools. Several newly elected senators addressed the luncheon, including Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) who urged the OU and its community to press for greater energy independence policies to free America from its reliance upon and its financial support for hostile countries, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
From the Capitol, OU leaders proceeded across town to The White House for a special session with Tony Snow, the President’s spokesman. Mr. Snow engaged in an extended question and answer discussion with the OU delegation on issues including U.S. policy toward Israel, the war in Iraq, the threat from Iran, federal funding for stem cell research, the President’s faith-based initiative and also offering insights into the “behind the scenes” working of President Bush and his White House.
This set of high-level White House briefings was facilitated and hosted by the White House’s liaison to the Jewish community Jeremy Katz, with whom the OU works very closely on behalf of the community and his colleague Scott Arogetti. Katz praised the consistency and steadfastness of the OU, stating that “you know what values the OU stands for and those are the policies the OU pursues.”
At the Mission’s conclusion, OU President Steve Savitsky stated that the Union’s work on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community’s values and interests in the arena of public policy is one of many critical roles the organization plays in its work to serve American Orthodox Jewry.
Moshe Bane, chairman of the Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, added that as representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community we are very appreciative of the time the White House officials, Senators and Representatives spent with us discussing critical issues. We cherish the fact that this country affords us the opportunity to engage with them, as Orthodox Jews, on policy matters.
Note to editors: Photos relevant to this release may be obtained by calling the OU Washington Office at 202-513-6484.
To view a video of Senator Clinton and Senator Lieberman at the OU Senate Lunch please click here.
Read The Politico’s article about the Mission here.