Over 400 Jewish Federation Activists from 65 communities traveled to Washington, DC, and met with over 190 Congressional offices to advocate for legislation that would support Israel, combat antisemitism, and help secure Jewish communities.
“We stand here in the Capitol of the freest, safest, most powerful open, inclusive democracy in the history of the world,” said Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut. When historians write of today, he said, they will write that “the Jewish people came to the Capitol of the greatest democracy in the history of the world, and stood up for the renewed Jewish sovereign state.”
The activists urged their members of Congress and Senators to advance the Antisemitism Awareness Act, pass military support for Israel, and increase funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).
The Antisemitism Awareness Act would require the Department of Education to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, the gold standard that has already been adopted by 1,200 entities including 45 countries and hundreds of municipal governments and universities.
Shortly after the October 7th attacks against Israel, the White House proposed a $14.3 billion emergency assistance package to Israel as part of a supplemental package. Israel, facing security challenges from an array of Iran-backed actors including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Houthis, needs support for missile defense including the Iron Dome and David’s sling, as well as other advanced weapons systems that will help Israel defend her people and prevent the war from escalating more broadly. The legislation has strong bipartisan support.
Finally, the life-saving NSGP has been a critical instrument in helping synagogues, Jewish communal institutions, and other nonprofits and houses of worship secure themselves in the face of rising domestic extremism and hatred. Federations strongly support a $500 million funding level for the program, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) proposal for a $1 billion NSGP supplemental that would be available immediately and support the strength of the program in the long run.
Activists heard from Gili and Maya Roman, whose family member Yarden Roman was released from Hamas captivity, even as her sister-in-law Carmel Gat remains a hostage in Gaza. Gili said the support of the Jewish community has been critical in the fight.
“It's the deepest possible support that one can imagine," he said.
Israeli Amb. Michael Herzog spoke of the ongoing trauma being experienced by Israeli society and laid out the four goals of the war: to dismantle Hamas’s war machine and remove its leadership to ensure they cannot rebuild it; release all the remaining hostages; restore Israel’s shattered sense of security in Israel and rebuild the communities that have been destroyed; and avoid a regional war. Israel was thinking about a future, non-Hamas force that would rule Gaza, that would include Palestinian forces, he said, and was working to face off humanitarian problems.
“It is not in our interest that there will be a humanitarian disaster or catastrophe in Gaza,” he said. “we don't desire these people to come in harm's way or be subject to humanitarian catastrophe.”
He also spoke of the critical importance of North American Jewish backing for Israel.
“You have no idea how important your support is. The people of Israel know it, they appreciate it. And I'm here on their behalf to say…thank you.”
Activists also heard from Adm. John Kirby, a spokesman for President Joe Biden’s National Security Council, who assured the activists that releasing the hostages has been and remains a top priority, and that he was hopeful about ongoing negotiations.
He encouraged Jewish Federations to be steadfast in their activism.
“Every single person in this room has a story, every single one, and I guarantee you that some of the stories, if not most, are pretty compelling. So I would encourage you to also make sure you’re finding a way to tell your story out there, certainly to people well beyond the Jewish community, so that people understand these are real lives that we’re talking about,” he said.
A bipartisan, bicameral group of members also addressed the Federation activists following their meetings, including: Sen. Katy Britt (R-AL), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Rep. Richie Torres (D-NY).
On Tuesday, Fingerhut moderated a panel on the IHRA definition on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the Gemunder Family Foundation, with speakers including Combat Antisemitism Movement Advisory Board Member and former U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Elan Carr and Brandeis Center President Alyza Lewin. The panel was and included remarks from Lawler and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).
To learn more about how to get involved with Jewish Federations advocacy efforts, contact your local Jewish Federation.