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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

More on the meeting of Dem senators and Jewish leaders

JTA

July 22, 2009

By Eric Fingerhut

Democratic senators had their annual meeting with Jewish leaders this morning. First here's the brief, and then some more details from the meeting:

Leaders of 18 Jewish organizations met with Democratic senators Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill.

The Jewish leaders outlined their priorities to the 22 senators on hand for at least a portion of the one-hour meeting, organized by the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee and chaired by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs' Rabbi Steve Gutow focused on climate change and the environment, the Anti-Defamation League's Ken Jacobson discussed hate-crimes legislation, AIPAC's Howard Kohr discussed Iran and security progress in the West Bank and the American Jewish Committee's David Harris criticized elements of the president's Cairo speech and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Each prefaced their remarks by saying that Iran was the most critical issue for the community. The senators then called on representatives of other groups, who brought up health care and other matters.

One participant said that Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told the group that their help was still needed to pass legislation expanding federal government involvement in investigating hate crimes. The legislation has been passed by both houses of Congress, but still faces a conference committee. The participant also said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Israel our best friend in the world. The participant said, though, that most of the meeting was devoted to Jewish leaders providing their views instead of hearing the opinions of the senators.

Stabenow's committee has held similar meetings with Jewish organizations the last two years.

The National Jewish Democratic Council opened the meeting, with chairman Mark Stanley saying that the Jewish community has "multifaced interests."

One participant felt Harris' lengthy remarks were too critical of the president and said he was disappointed that the senators leading the meeting did not call on anyone with a more supportive view of Obama's policies in the Middle East -- although the participant did note that Kohr emphasized positive developments such as U.S. assistance in helping Palestinians improve security on the West Bank. The AJC leader criticized Obama's speech for linking the creation of Israel to the Holocaust without mentioning the 3,500-year Jewish tie to the land, and said he thought the speech put more onus on the Israelis than the Arab world. The participant said the remarks did not note what has occurred in the weeks since, noting that, for instance, the latter issue, especially, had been discussed with Obama at last week's White House meeting.

The meeting concluded with a d'var Torah by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the American Friends of Lubavitch's Washington office. Shemtov's message was that "just as there is more than one way to be pro-Israel, there is more than one way to be pro-peace."

"Show me a Jew who is against peace, and I would like to know what his Jewish source is," Shemtov said he told the group. "Show me a Jew who doesn't want a decent life for Palestinians," he said, and he'll ask what his Jewish source is.

Shemtov's remarks were portrayed elsewhere as a "dig at left-wing groups," but Shemtov said that was completely untrue.

The rabbi said he was saying that "fundamentally, there does not need to be a conflict between people of the Jewish faith and people of the Muslim faith. While we obviously have theological differences, they shouldn't be the basis for conflict."

While some say that peace needs to be "imposed" on the Middle East, Shemtov said "the Jewish quest is for peace," and it is conflict that has been "imposed" on the region.

One representative of a left-wing pro-Israel groups praised the rabbi's remarks.

"He was very positive," said Steve Masters, president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. "It was very clear he feels being pro-peace is an essential part of being a Jew."

After the jump, the list of Jewish leaders at the meeting (those groups not based in Washington sent high-level professionals from their New York offices or lay leaders) and the senators who participated:

First the senators:
Carl Levin
Ben Cardin
Harry Reid
Roland Burris
Sheldon Whitehouse
Ted Kaufman
Russ Feingold
Chris Dodd
Sherrod Brown
Robert Menendez
Tom Udall
Frank Lautenberg
Michael Benet
Arlen Specter
John Kerry
Al Franken
Jeanne Shaheen
Amy Klobuchar
Maria Cantwell
Jeff Merkley
Kay Hagan
Debbie Stabenow

And the Jewish leaders:

J Street: Jeremy Ben-Ami
Hadassah: Sandra Goldstein
AJCongress: Richard Gordon
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism: Dr. Cheryl Guttmann
NCSJ: Mark Levin
JCPA: Steve Gutow
AJComm: David Harris
ADL: Ken Jacobson
AIPAC: Howard Kohr
NCJW: Ann London
Brit Tzedek Vshalom: Steve Masters
AJWS: Ruth Messenger
UJC: Howard Rieger
Jewish Labor Committee: Sybil Sanchez
Chabad: Levi Shemtov
NJDC: Marc Stanley, Ira Forman
APN: Mary Anne Steiner
Rabbinic Assembly (USCJ): Jeffrey Wohlberg

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