Congress and the Western Wall

Just how much of a deal in Congress is the decision to freeze the deal on prayer?

US Congress 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Congress 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The decision to reverse plans to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall has raised questions about the impact in the US Congress.
An AIPAC delegation is meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after receiving protest calls from members of Congress. Several members of the House – including New York Democrats Nita Lowey and Jerry Nadler – have issued statements expressing concern for the decision.
Just how much of a deal in Congress is the decision to freeze the deal on prayer? The answer is: it matters, in a narrow but still consequential way.
Congress is about to leave for its annual July 4 recess. Members will hold Town Hall meetings, visit their local civic associations and chambers of commerce, march in parades. In all but a handful of congressional districts across America, it’s safe to say that the issue won’t come up. At all.
Legislative aides on Capitol Hill are scrambling to write briefing memos on Obamacare, Medicaid cuts, and jobs. The word “halacha” won’t be included. (A word, by the way, that most of my former colleagues would interpret as a Latino dance move).
Still, the issue is resonant for members in some districts, notably those with large progressive Jewish communities. These districts are in urban and suburban areas in New York, Florida, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. The members there are hearing from their constituents, those constituents are active in their communities, and the members will respond.
Finally, the issue is more acute when it impacts members of Congress in those particular districts who also occupy senior positions on committees of special importance to the US-Israeli relationship: the Appropriations Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and Armed Services Committee.
That includes New Yorkers Nita Lowey (and Eliot Engel, and Florida’s Ted Deutch). They wield power and influence, and while their politics may not be defined by this issue, their voices are important to be considered.
The issue of egalitarian prayer should be resolved with dialogue and respect. To the extent that reaction in the US Congress influences the dialogue, the influence of Congress on the issue should be properly understood.