High Level Government Officials And Congressional Leaders Brief Orthodox Union Leaders In White House, Senate And House Meetings
100 national lay and rabbinical leaders of the Orthodox Union traveled to the nation’s capital on Wednesday, May 10th for the Union’s annual Leadership Mission to Washington. The two day mission was organized by the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs.
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Wednesday’s program included a visit to the Embassy of Israel as well as a dinner meeting which featured a presentation by E.J. Dionne, the noted political analyst for The Washington Post. Discussions at the Embassy focused upon the continuing challenges in the resettlement of Gaza evacuees and the ascent of Hamas to power.
On Thursday, the delegation began its meetings with America’s policymakers with a series of briefings by high level White House officials. In his first appearance before a national Jewish organization since becoming Chief of Staff, Joshua Bolten addressed the OU leaders. In the course of his remarks, Mr. Bolten reflected on President Bush’s personal commitment to Israel’s security and combating anti-Semitism. On the policy front, Mr. Bolten forecast that President Bush will propose new school choice initiatives, designed to further empower parental choices in educating their children, in the coming year.
Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams discussed the current discussions between the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians in anticipation of Prime Minister Olmert’s impending visit to Washington. In the face of the threat from Iran and the challenge from Hamas, Abrams too underscored President Bush’ deep personal commitment to Israel’s security – noting the historic de facto security commitment the President has made in the face of Iran’s threats, in the absence of any formal U.S.-Israel security pact. Abrams also re-stated the Administration’s firm policy against dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Abrams noted that the U.S. has yet to agree to any international funding “mechanism” to be proposed by Quartet partners and that presently the U.S. is working to achieve a “financial blockade” of funds that Hamas may access.
Tevi Troy, Acting Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, came to speak to the OU leaders mainly regarding education policy issues – a critical area of concern to the Orthodox community. Troy restated the President’s commitment to empowering parental choices as to how and where to educate their children.
This set of high-level White House briefings was facilitated and hosted by the White House’s liaison to the Jewish community Jay Zeidman, with whom the OU works very closely on behalf of the community. All the participating White House officials expressed appreciation for the OU’s representation of the Orthodox community and the promotion of the community’s interests and values in the public policy arena. Zeidman 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.”
The OU leaders then traveled to Capitol Hill for the afternoon’s interactions with the U.S. Congress. The afternoon began with a luncheon in the U.S. Senate at which special presentations were made to Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) for their leadership role in working with the OU to successfully appropriate federal homeland security funds for the explicit purpose of making grants to synagogues and other vulnerable nonprofit institutions to improve their physical security in the face of terrorist threats.
In a formidable demonstration of their high regard for the OU and its influence, many other key senators addressed the luncheon as well. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) praised the OU for its work on behalf of the community in Washington and spoke of his commitment to passing federal education tax credit legislation; Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) praised the OU for its efforts, with a broad coalition, to combat the genocide in Darfur; and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) 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. Others attending the luncheon and addressing OU concerns included Senators George Allen (R-VA); Tom Coburn (R-OK); Norm Coleman (R-MN); Joe Lieberman (D-CT); Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Bill Nelson (D-FL); Mark Pryor (D-AR); Rick Santorum (R-PA); Arlen Specter (R-PA); and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Following the Senate luncheon, the mission moved across the Capitol to the House of Representatives where participants met separately with key House Republicans and Democrats. Among Republican leaders, Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) praised the OU for its work in Washington as a “moral compass” to policymakers; Middle East Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) urged the OU to continue to work to pass tough legislation codifying U.S. policy against dealing with Hamas; Education & Workforce Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) committed to hold hearings on education tax credits; and Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) spoke passionately of the need to contain the Iranian nuclear threat. From the Democratic caucus, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) asserted that if indeed Israel withdraws from areas of the West Bank, the U.S. must ensure that Israel receives serious international recognition of its self declared borders; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) spoke of the budgetary challenges confronting social welfare programs; and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) spoke of his commitment to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
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.
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