‘I don’t recognize our country’: Jewish lawmakers under siege respond

The new Congress has at least 33 Jewish members, in the House and Senate, among those who would have been present today.

JANUARY 06: U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over Presiden (photo credit: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES)
JANUARY 06: U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over Presiden

It’s been a day unlike any in modern American history. As an armed mob broke into the US Capitol building, vandalizing offices and taking over the dais on the Senate floor, lawmakers have gone under lock and key. At least one person was shot and critically injured.

Capitol Police evacuated Congress members who were going through the ceremonial function of counting the electoral votes, which a group of Republicans, led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, had sought to derail. President Donald Trump, still refusing to accept his loss, had urged protesters to march to the Capitol.

The new Congress has at least 33 Jewish members, in the House and Senate, among those who would have been present today. There are hundreds of Jewish staffers, too, although the pandemic has many working remotely.

Here are some snapshots of experiences gathered from social media postings by Jewish lawmakers and in interviews with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Rep. Elaine Luria

“Just had to evacuate my office because of a bomb reported outside, while the President’s anarchists are trying to force their way into the Capitol,” Luria, a Virginia Democrat recently reelected to her sophomore term, tweeted. “I heard what sounds like multiple gunshots.”

Luria, like virtually every other lawmaker — a handful of leaders are the exception — are housed in buildings adjacent to the Capitol.

She is a retired Navy commander. 

“I don’t recognize our country today and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans,” she said.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin

Two other Jewish Democratic sophomores from Michigan were taking shelter together. 

“I am remaining safely in my office, as are my staff who were directed to stay home,” said Slotkin, a one-time CIA analyst. “Rep. Andy Levin is with me since his office building was evacuated.”

Rep. Andy Levin

Levin, Michigan Jewish royalty whose father is retired longtime Rep. Sander Levin, posted video to social media to say he was safe, and smiled at first: He was still steeped in the good news for his party that Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had won Senate races in Georgia, handing the Senate to Democratic control.

“The joy of that is washed to the side at the moment as we are going through an assault on our democracy right here in the Capitol complex,” he said. “The president of the United States has encouraged his supporters to overrun the US Capitol.”

Levin recalled seeing affronts to popular protests as a longtime human rights campaigner, interviewing dissidents in hiding in Haiti and China.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this here as a member of Congress,” he said.

Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Kathy Manning and David Cicilline

Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who led impeachment hearings, and Manning, D-N.C., a past chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America, declined interviews for now. Both told JTA that they were safe.

Manning on Twitter later described “a frightening lockdown of the House Chamber, with a harrowing evacuation of members and staff that could easily have resulted in injury or death.”

“This attempted coup is an act of terrorism,” Manning said. “Those responsible must be held accountable.”

Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee who was Schiff’s impeachment deputy, said on Twitter that he was safe and sheltering in place.

“Make no mistake: President Trump and his enablers are directly responsible for this violence,” he said.

Cicilline, D-R.I., had a similar message on Twitter, where he said he was safe.

“This is outrageous, and the president caused it,” he said. “We should impeach and convict him tomorrow.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Brian Schatz

Jacky Rosen of Nevada said she was safe. “The violent attacks we are seeing on our democracy today are reprehensible,” the Democrat said on Twitter. “It’s time for us as a nation to come together and denounce hate and violence.

Brian Schatz, the Democratic senator from Hawaii, pledged to return to the business at hand — affirming Biden’s election. “We will perform our obligations as they are written in the Constitution,” he said on Twitter. “Authoritarianism will not win.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Ben Cardin

Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who is set to become the majority leader in the Senate, chided Trump on Twitter. “It’s a little late for that. Don’t you think?” Schumer asked Trump on Twitter after the president called for peaceful behavior and praised the police on the same platform

Cardin, the Maryland Democrat who is one of the more soft-spoken members of the Senate was unusually brutal, quoting the same Trump tweet calling for peaceful protest. “Pouring the gasoline, lighting the match and then praising the firefighters,” Cardin said.

Lee Zeldin, David Kustoff and Steve Cohen

Zeldin of New York and Kustoff of Tennessee are the only two Jewish Republicans in the House. Before the insurrection, they had  — at the last minute — each expressed guarded support for the congressional challenge to the electoral vote.

Both said they were safe and called for calm. “This isn’t the America we love,” Zeldin said on Twitter. “We can debate & disagree, even on Jan 6th after a Presidential election, but in our republic we elect people to voice our objections in the Capitol on this day.”

“These actions are unacceptable,” Kustoff said. “We are a nation of laws, not a nation of violence.”

Kustoff and Steve Cohen, a Democrat, share the distinction of being Jewish members whose neighboring districts encompass an entire city, Memphis, with a tiny Jewish community. Cohen’s half of the city is predominantly Black. He did not hold back his anger on Twitter at what he perceived was the police’s restrained treatment of the insurrectionists.

“I must say what I’ve been thinking,” Cohen said on Twitter. “If these criminals were black There would have been bullets tear gas and there would’ve been arrests and there would’ve been confrontations. For some reason these white rednecks got away with doing what they wanted to and went into the night.”

Susan Wild

Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat, was seen in a dramatic Getty photo, lying, panicked on the House floor as Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat reached out and calmed her.

“Harrowing day, but I’m still here,’ Wild said on Twitter after hearing concerns from constituents. “We will certify this election. We will fulfill our duty to this country. We will not be intimidated by the actions of these terrorists.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders

The Vermont Independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020, becoming the first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests, was ready to render his historical judgment of the Trump presidency. “The man directly responsible for the chaos of today is Donald Trump, who has made it clear that he will do anything to remain in power – including insurrection and inciting violence,” Sanders said. “Trump will go down in history as the worst and most dangerous president in history.”

Multiple Jewish organizations from all sides of the political spectrum forcefully condemned on Wednesday night the violent protests that erupted earlier, when pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol.

“We share the anger of our fellow Americans over the attack at the Capitol and condemn the assault on our democratic values and process,” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said in a statement. “This violence, and President Trump's incitement of it, is outrageous and must end,” AIPAC’s statement reads.
Senator Norm Coleman, Chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted: “I worked at the Nation’s Capitol. It’s a sacred place. The insurrection we saw today was despicable. The mob can never be allowed to rule-and sadly, the President whipped up the mob. The election is over-and anger over the outcome cannot be an excuse for mob violence.”
The Conference of Presidents of major Jewish Organization said in a statement: “The orderly transfer of power is a hallmark of and essential to American democracy. We are disgusted by the violence at the US Capitol and urge the rioters to disperse immediately. Law and order must be restored, and the peaceful transition of administrations must continue.”
“We are shocked and horrified by the violent riots taking place on Capitol Hill at this time,” The American Jewish Committee (AJC) wrote on Twitter. “The peaceful transition of power is the bedrock of our democracy.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) wrote in a press release: “We watched as a symbol of our nation's democracy was attacked, with violent anarchists threatening the peaceful transfer of power, and we know this was not a spontaneous event. President Trump incited this insurrection, and he should be immediately removed from office for abuse of power.”
Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington condemned “the lawlessness and violence taking place in our nation’s capital.”
“Today’s attack on the most precious of American democratic traditions, the peaceful transfer of power, is reprehensible,” the organization said in a statement. “The riots and loss of life are the inevitable result of President Trump’s and others’ incitement and the spreading of misinformation and conspiracy theories about theft and fraudulence in our presidential election, the fairness and authenticity of which have been confirmed by Republican and Democratic state and national elected officials and by multiple federal and state courts.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote: "We are witnessing an unprecedented assault not just on the US Capitol building and members of Congress, but on American democracy itself. The scenes of insurrectionists breaching Capitol security, of Senators and Representatives hiding under chairs on the chamber floor praying with the chaplain while Capitol police stand at the ready, are terrifying and heartbreaking.”
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) National President Rhoda Smolow and CEO Janice Weinman released the following joint statement: “The criminal behavior and events of this afternoon are abhorrent, as are attempts to disrupt democracy with incitement to violence. As Jews, we know the power of words and demand our elected leaders raise the level of discourse and lead with civility.”
Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Rabbi Abraham Cooper condemned the storming of the Capitol, saying "“The right to protest is sacrosanct in American life. But the very values and rights bestowed by our democracy are degraded and diminished when police officers have to draw their guns to protect our duly elected officials in the heart of our nation by violent protesters who have stormed Congress and by their reckless and dangerous behavior have inflicted grievous wounds on our nation."
"Nothing, not even the emotional charges of voter fraud in a presidential election, can ever legitimize or excuse such behavior," continued the statement. "For as the Talmud warns, ‘Pray for the welfare of the government, for without it... man would swallow his fellow man.’ Today is a dark day for all Americans.”
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt stressed that ADL has said "again and again, [that] extremists must be taken at their word."
"First there was volatile rhetoric online, then explicit calls to violence and now people are acting on those calls in the nation’s capital and flagrantly breaking the law. It must end now," added Greenblatt. "The President has promoted sedition and incited violence. People assaulting law enforcement officers or breaching government buildings must be arrested and held accountable."
The ADL head added that "what is happening right now at the Capitol is a direct result of the fear and disinformation that has been spewed consistently from the Oval Office. President Trump has a responsibility to call for an end to this violence and unrest that he has sowed. His campaign of disinformation is a clear and present danger to our democracy."
Greenblatt called on social media companies to suspend Trump's accounts.
In response to Twitter's decision to suspend Trump's account for 12 hours, former MK Dr. Nachman Shai, the IDF spokesman during the Gulf War who took the role of communicating with the public and keeping the nation calm, tweeted "Now Twitter is waking up? Too late, too little, but this will help for the future, Twitter, Facebook and all the other networks, the responsibility is on you and do not pretend to be innocent. You're not."
Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded to the storming of the US Capitol by protesters on Wednesday night, stating that the pictures from the scene "hurt the hearts of everyone who believes in democracy."

"The pictures from Washington hurt the hearts of everyone who believes in democracy," tweeted Gantz. "I did not believe I would see such pictures in the most powerful democracy in the world. This is proof that before political rivalry, we must agree on the rules of the game: Maintaining the rule of law, respecting democratic procedures and respectful discourse. I hope the horrific event comes to an end soon, and without any casualties."

The National Council of Young Israel joined Jewish organizations in condemning the violence at the Capitol, saying "While peaceful protests are an essential element of our country’s democratic framework, the violent protests and wanton attacks that we witnessed today are deplorable and a dangerous assault on the very foundation upon which this nation is built. Law and order are critical components of this country’s very existence, and those individuals who breached the Capitol doors and illicitly entered the building in a blatant and deliberate attempt to sow chaos and serve as a disruptive force should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The Council additionally denounced the recent vandalizations of the homes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, calling the actions "cowardly" and stressing that "no lawmaker, irrespective of their political party or ideology, deserves to be subject to such despicable behavior."