WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators – including majority and minority leaders, the House speaker and other US officials – participated in the Jewish Federations of North America virtual event on Tuesday. The event included panel discussions about resources to protect the Jewish community, the Biden administration’s first 100 days in office, and COVID-19 relief.
Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to US President Joe Biden and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, said that the administration recognizes “the growing antisemitism, white nationalism racial injustice, polarization [and] division in our country, and we have to tackle that.”
“We need to make sure that we’re providing nonprofits and especially faith-based organizations the ability to protect themselves,” he continued. “We want to deal with it in a long term approach, but we know we have to give people the ability to protect themselves and the people who worship right now.”
He also said that the administration would work with Congress to increase the security grant program for nonprofits. However, he clarified that he could not commit that the funding would be doubled to $360 million, as some Jewish organizations advocated. “We don’t know a number yet, but we’re going to work to make sure that that happens,” he said.
Richmond also laid out the administration plan for the upcoming weeks. “[President Biden’s] priorities are making sure that we get a handle on this once-in-a-century pandemic; that we deal with racial equity and make sure that we treat all God’s children the same and give them the opportunity to succeed; that we deal with a broken immigration system and that we continue to deal with the economic crisis that we face as a result of the pandemic and tackling climate change.”
Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said that when it comes to the security grants for nonprofits, the issue is how to sustain the resources. “There is funding available through grant funding, and I encourage folks to take advantage of that, but then how do you sustain it over time, [when it comes to] the personnel costs, or even updating the technology?” he said. “That’s something we’re working on with the Department of Homeland Security.”
“We’re going to continue to get DHS and FEMA engaged with the community to ensure that even after the grants are provided that there’s a continual relationship as to the best ways to further protect our communities,” Portman added.
He went on to say that the broader issue “is how do you come up with the culture of zero tolerance for antisemitism.”
“And I do think in the Trump administration, that attorney-general Barr was very clear about that. And I know the Biden administration will be doing the same thing, I’m sure, when they get their team there,” he continued. “But that’s important that we have prosecutions that are aggressive, are timely, and that we just have no sense of this country that antisemitism is something that could possibly be sustainable or acceptable.”
He added that someday perhaps measures such as the nonprofit security grant program won’t be necessary, “and that will be great.”
“But right now, they are necessary because all individuals can freely express their faith in this country without fear of bigotry or violent attacks,” he said.
Democrat Senator Chris Coons of Delaware addressed the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and said that there is continued bipartisan concern about Iran’s nuclear program and its destabilizing missile and regional activities.
“The Biden administration has made clear it will consult with Israel and our regional partners on its Iran policy. And the Senate will work to ensure this is the case,” he said. “When we look at the challenges around the region of the Middle East and beyond, both Republicans and Democrats understand we’re better equipped to bring stability and reach sustainable agreements if we consult closely with Israel.”
“I also want to commend the important strides Israel and countries in the region have taken towards peace by signing the Abraham Accords that are leading towards normalization,” he said. “President Biden has pledged to build on these agreements and both parties in the house and Senate support further normalization.”