New York Congressional Delegation Promises Vigilance, Concern
Each year for the past thirty two, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC-NY), together with UJA-Federation, has sponsored an Annual Congressional Breakfast at which the politically involved and popularly elected meet and greet. The well attended event is something of a combination between a gathering of family and friends and a political rally. It allows/enables elected politicians of every party to break bagels together – with lox and cream cheese, of course – and present their positions concerning diplomatic and foreign policy issues, especially those of specific importance to the Jewish community. The over-subscribed 2011 event included comments from both New York Senators, Schumer and Gillibrand, U.S. Representatives Gary Ackerman (D), Eliot Engel (D), Michael Grimm (R), Steve Israel (D), Nita Lowey, (D) Carolyn Maloney (D), Jerrold Nadler (D), Charles Rangel (D), Edolphus Towns (D) and Anthony Weiner (D). More than 300 local and national Jewish and other ethnic and religious leaders elected and appointed public officials and a cadre of diplomats was present. Opening remarks were given by Shlomi Kofman, Deputy Consul General of Israel in NY.
The event, chaired by JCRC-NY President Alan S. Jaffe included participation of Board Member Ester Fuchs and Jerry W. Levin, President of UJA-Federation of New York. Special wishes for speedy recovery were conveyed to JCRC Executive Director Michael Miller and Board Member Sally Goodgold.
Queens based Congressman Gary Ackerman stressed the need to support the young people in the streets in their quest for democracy and freedom. Rep. Nita Lowey, from the Westchester region, praised President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s quest for “orderly transition” in Egypt, “in the context of Camp David.” Maintaining the relationship between the United States and Egypt she noted was “essential.” She assured that “many on both sides of the aisle are supporters of Israel” saying she had worked to “make sure Israel aid money is protected and Egyptian and Jordanian foreign aid is protected…We must work in coalition…to defend Israel and foreign aid and must make it clear that the social agenda is critical.”
Newly elected Republican Congresswoman Dr. Susan Oppenheim, said “the greatest threat is from within,” advocating a “less invasive” “spend less and spend it right” approach.
Representative Elliot Engel, a vocal advocate of strong US-Israel relationship was warmly received. The Congressman stressed the need for strong sanctions against Iran, voicing his concern with the growing and menacing influence of Iran in South America and their relationship with Venezuelan President Chavez.
Senator Charles Schumer noted that we are in a “bad news /good news” situation. Looking at Egypt, he said “There is a reasonable path for a good outcome, but there is reason for worry. A stable Egypt is vital to Israel’s strength and stability.” In establishing the “cold peace,” Mubarak “recognized that fighting with Israel was not good for his own people.” A takeover by the forces of democracy, said the Senator, is “the good path.” “Most people on the streets are not Islamic fundamentalists, demonstrations have remarkably not been anti American, fundamentalist, nor anti Israel.”
Cautioning that the “bad model is Iran,” he continued, recalling that the Iranian people were secular and pro-western until the revolution “when their legitimate concerns against the Shah were hijacked.” A good model would be a “moderately democratic Egypt that would keep the cold peace and channel people’s concerns for their improvement.”
Schumer praised the “brilliance” of Israeli and American soft warfare against the Iran and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. He noted that “sanctions are having tremendous effects on gasoline and banking” and “can actually bring a change in the government of Iran.”
New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand noted that President Obama was “trying hard to find a smooth transition to a true democracy” in Egypt and had “enormous concern… that the right leadership could emerge.” Turning to the issues of Iran, she warned “there are wolves on every doorstep,” calling the issues “highly complex” she noted that “We need to get better transparency and accountability and have the ability to shut down secondary contracts” of companies attempting to do business with Iran.
It was noted that former President George W. Bush had described national security as “defense, development and diplomacy, we must make sure both international and domestic priorities are supported on both sides of the aisle.”
Congressman Steve Israel spoke of the economic importance of oil emphasizing that “every barrel of oil that Iran sells is a down payment on a centrifuge…despite sanctions; billions of dollars are going to companies investing in Iran through contracts with intermediaries.” He said seventy four violators had been discovered. “We will strip any company that does business with Iran of any dollar.”
Veteran Congressman Jerold Nadler cautioned that “we don’t know which way Egypt will go…the military has said it will keep the peace treaty.” The US must “balance between being seen as pushing an ally and encouraging the revolution. What happens in Egypt is going to be crucial.”
Nadler praised the use of covert rather than overt warfare against Iran, saying “war with Iran would mean 40,000 missiles launched against Israel.” Covert war, in combination with sanctions was much preferred. He noted that the administration has worked to stop “loose nukes” including material that “went missing” when the USSR fell. “The United States must recover that material and get it out of the black market” demanded the Congressman. “We have stepped up funding and (increased) behind the scenes work dealing with the rogue states that might sell such material.”
Nadler, who has significant expertise with transportation issues, discussed a Bill that will assure that every container in any foreign port bound for America must be inspected.
Manhattan based Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney warned that we “must work together against Durban III, slated to be held at the United Nations. “There must be no participation in Durban 3; Durban 1 and 2 were platforms for anti-Semitism. Greater accountability from the United Nations must be required.” She recalled the recently passed “Zagrouda” Bill, providing health care benefits for 911 first responders, saying it was the “least we can do as a grateful nation.” She praised New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly who “stands up for New York,” and noted that the delegation, with the help of Congressman Peter King had “saved 100 million dollars for Homeland Security” a significant amount of which will come to New York City to “protect visitors and New York’s citizens.” Reflecting the words of colleague Nadler, Maloney noted that we are digging out of the deficit and recession and must add more jobs. “This is not the time to cut the budget. Cuts will hurt and hamper economic recovery.”
Representative Anthony Weiner challenged the distribution of United States foreign aid to Egypt questioning why 75% of the aid should have been military. “We should not be providing military aid in order to gain allies in countries ruled by despots.” He demanded that the United States “must invest funds in completely uncontaminated companies only.”
Weiner concluded his remarks in a slightly uncharacteristic way. “May G-d bless the 160,000 military personnel in Iraq and Afganistan, and may G-d bless America!”
Did he forget? Where was his characteristic “am Yisrael chai?”