Some 700 hand-knit Norpac kippot were seen around Capitol Hill last week when the New Jersey-based Israel lobby held its annual mission to Washington.
Mission chair Dr. Mort Fridman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Norpac president Dr. Ben Chouake meet during Norpac’s mission to Washington May 9. Photo by Susan Greif
Between 680 and 700 people on 17 buses broke into 1’5 groups to meet with 475 members of Congress and staff on Wednesday, May 9, for what Norpac said was its largest mission yet to the capital. Dr. Ben Chouake, Norpac’s president, said the group met with 96 senators and 85 percent of the House, its highest number of appointments in its 14 years running the trip.
"This was an immensely successful effort to get people out and into the offices to meet with our leadership," he told The Jewish Standard this week.
On their way to Washington, participants watched a training video and held mock sessions, in addition to receiving the necessary background information and talking points. The groups went first to the Washington Court Hotel, where they heard presentations by members of Congress and AIPAC staff. From there, they proceeded to Capitol Hill for individual meetings.
Although Congress is supportive, for the most part, as regards foreign aid to Israel, the issue still topped Norpac’s agenda.
"[Meeting about] foreign aid, to a large extent, is a thank-you," Chouake said, "because the vast majority of Congress supports it. But it’s always good to remind [them] how beneficial it is."
Norpac members also sought to garner support for the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, meant to deprive Iran of the resources needed to further its nuclear program.
"We have gotten a large number of co-sponsors for that bill. The legislation has taken a large step forward because of our mission," Chouake said, although he could not yet say how many members of Congress were swayed by the legislation. "Many congressmen and senators are intimately aware of the problem [with Iran]."
Norpac also spoke on behalf of the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, which would create grants for alternative energy technology research in Israel, with the goal of making America and its allies energy independent. Norpac wants to see the bill passed this year, with $140 million in grants for Israeli scientists.
Last on the group’s agenda was a resolution introduced earlier this year by Rep. Steve Rothman to charge Iran’s president with violations of the UN charter and the International Genocide Convention for his calls to wipe Israel off the map.
"We’re hoping that all these measures will pass, and the key will be our ongoing relationships with members of Congress," said mission chair and Norpac vice president Dr. Mort Fridman. "We’re expecting our members to call and write to make sure the congressmen keep their commitments."
Norpac asked its members to send thank-you notes after the trip, and to try to establish ongoing correspondence with the congressmen and staff they met.
"Very often they can continue the relationship," Chouake said. "If there’s a new bill, or a congressman wants to go to Israel, [members] can assist them."
While the majority of the participants had gone on previous missions, this gathering welcomed some ’50 first-timers. Participants came from Bergen County, Riverdell, New York City, Edison, and the new Norpac chapter in West Orange, and two buses hailed from a soon-to-form chapter in Long Island, which Chouake said would open in the near future.
"I’m very excited about the Long Island chapter," he said. "The potential in that area is immense; they just have to get a little organized."
Fridman contrasted the successful Norpac mission to the failed effort of hundreds of rabbis who went to Washington in 1943 to implore President Roosevelt to bomb the train tracks leading to the Nazi concentration camps. The rabbis could not get the meeting. Fridman praised the Norpac members and noted the importance of the relationships they have built with Congress.
"These are people who are really patriotic Americans [and] who find it important to participate in our democracy," he said. "Our members feel they have to strengthen the United States, strengthen Israel, and strengthen the relationship between these nations."
Drawing a distinction between Norpac and the national Israel lobby group AIPAC, Fridman insisted Norpac members are not professional lobbyists.
"We are United States citizens advocating for the strengthening of our own country," he said.