In late 2001, America bore witness to 9/11 and the aftermath of President Bush preparing to intervene in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was around that time that the Second Intifada was at its peak. Yasir Arafat had rejected the proposed peace deal that President Clinton tried to broker, and instead moved toward a violent confrontation.
There was no effective border separating the Palestinian Authorities territories and Israel. The Israeli economy was affected by both the general 9/11 downturn and uncontrolled terrorism in the country. Tourism was drastically down, the streets of Jerusalem largely vacant, and there even were rumors that Israel bonds were not secure. The number of casualties and deaths, while less than during the Yom Kippur War, almost were comparable.
The Bush administration was submitting a request to Congress for a supplemental appropriations bill in the amount of about $81 billion dollars for the war effort. In that appropriations request were funds to help some of our Arab allies offset some of their costs for supporting the effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Israel had made a request for a $3 billion grant and $12 billion in American loan guarantees, which were worth even more than the grant due to saved interest costs and the ability to borrow.
The Bush administration decided to leave the Israel piece out and address it at a later time, which could have meant never. The Jewish advocacy community, realizing the situation was grave, turned to a great friend — then-Majority Leader Congressman Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — for help.
The majority leader called Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security advisor, and advised her that Congress wanted the funding for Israel in this adviser supplemental appropriations bill and that he personally would do everything he could to include it. He concluded that it would be better that the president get credit and input into the specifics for the supplemental appropriations for our ally and asked that the administration include these provisions for Israel in the submitted request.
The administration did make the requested change, and the bill included provisions for a $2 billion grant and $9 billion in loan guarantees for Israel, and Israel was able to complete the security perimeter and largely halt the terrorism and hemorrhage. Many Jewish lives were saved. Israel moved to a more secure situation, physically and economically. We were able to solicit this help at a crucial point in time. One phone call made the difference, because we had relationships to make our case for better American policy.
An important message of Passover is that we must remember that we are a vulnerable people. The Jews lived in Egypt for many years in prosperity and peace, and in the blink of an eye they were subscribed into involuntary servitude. So has been our fate as a people for thousands of years, having to flee one country after another, until now that we have our homeland, Israel. Jews have a sanctuary and the pride of a nation built with the help of God.
As with most of our battles for the survival of our people and homeland, we are expected to be active participants, to be willing to fend for ourselves, and to earn the help of the Almighty.
The educational process for members of Congress about the dangers of Iran, militant Islam, BDS, and other issues is an ongoing process. The legislators you meet in Washington on the Norpac mission likely will learn more from your exchange on these issues and pending related legislation than from any other source all year.
While it is fine to say how much you care about Israel to yourself, your friends, and your children, you demonstrate your intentions and commitment to our nation’s leaders by showing up. Members of Congress take note of actual citizen activity. Every email you send to our representatives is the equivalent of 10 votes, each phone call is the same as 100 votes. Showing up in D.C. personally is the equivalent of 10,000 voters. It may seem like a lot, and it is.
The extra effort is highly leveraged, which is why we put in so much work to make it possible. Norpac leadership is arranging meetings with 90 percent of Congress. We are all busy. But ask yourself: Is there anything you must do this April 25th that is more important than the opportunity to make the case for Israel personally to the receptive leaders of the world’s most powerful nation?
There are 52 Wednesdays every year. How many of them do you remember? Come on the Norpac mission to Washington on April 25. If possible, bring a family member, a child, or a grandchild who is 12 or older. It will be a Wednesday that you and those with you will remember for a lifetime.
Dr. Ben Chouake, M.D., of Englewood is the national president of Norpac, the largest pro-Israel political action committee in the United States. He runs a medical practice in Cliffside Park and is a board member of several Jewish organizations on the local and national level.