What is on Jewish organizations’ agenda for the new Biden administration?

The first item on the agenda is COVID relief for nonprofits, JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut told The Jerusalem Post.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-US vice president Joe Biden in Jerusalem in 2016. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-US vice president Joe Biden in Jerusalem in 2016.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
WASHINGTON ­– As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office and new members of Congress wait to be sworn in, Jewish organizations in Washington are working on their legislative agenda for 2021, thinking about what they should promote working with the incoming administration and what they should oppose.
While COVID-19 relief for non-profits and security grants for religious institutions will continue to top the list of priorities for 2021, some organizations also voiced concern about the possibility the Biden administration will return to the nuclear agreement with Iran.
One major challenge would be advocating for several issues and working with different members of Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is preparing to take a “virtual trip to Washington” in February, having a series of back-to-back meetings with members of Congress.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Elana Broitman, the JFNA’s top advocate for Jewish communities and head of public affairs. “We’re working on having the largest domestic Jewish mission to Washington.
“The federations and other Jewish organizations and communities from around the country will come and meet the new administration and the leadership of Congress, to present our mission and show that in a bipartisan way, we united behind some key points,” She said.
The first agenda item is COVID relief for nonprofits, JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut told The Jerusalem Post.
“There’s no question that the impact of COVID is going to continue for a while to come,” he said. “We have many people who have lost their jobs. Our community agencies, schools, JCCs and camps will have to incur many additional new costs due to COVID.”
Another item at the top of the list for JFNA is increasing security grants for nonprofits. Several Jewish organizations advocated quadrupling the federal funding from $90 million to $360m. annually in the past year.
“We see the continued rise of reports of antisemitism,” Fingerhut said. “We know that as antisemitism grows, the risk of violence grows. We have made progress in building out the physical security infrastructure of our community. But we have a long way to go, and we have to accelerate it. We have to get there faster. There’s no community large or small that is not at a potential risk.”
These two items are also a top priority for the Orthodox Union. One area that needs to be addressed in the COVID relief package is that schools return safely or continue to operate safely, Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union (OU) Advocacy Center, told the Post.
“We’re certainly going to work with the Biden administration on making sure that all of our Jewish community schools, along with all kinds of schools, get the resources and the support that they need to keep their kids and communities safe,” he said.
Measures to combat antisemitism will also get much attention, Diament said.
“We’re working on increasing the funding for the federal security grants,” he said. “But it’ll be the Biden administration that’s implementing that and other things that they can do as well to combat antisemitism. One of the reasons that Joe Biden said got him to campaign for president was what happened in Charlottesville – and unfortunately, we anticipate working with him on that,” he said in reference to the continued rise of antisemitism.
THE OU opposed the Iran nuclear deal during the administration of former president Barack Obama, Diament said.
“Joe Biden has said he wants to renegotiate and possibly re-enter a deal,” he said. “So we expect to be engaged on that as well.”
According to Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) chief policy and political affairs officer, who heads the Washington office, the global Jewish advocacy organization has been strong proponents of the NO HATE Act (National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality).
“We hope that somehow they can pass it during the lame-duck session,” he said. “But if it doesn’t, then we’ll want to go back to that early on in the next Congress.”
AJC is also advocating for the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act that the House has adopted, and Isaacson is hopeful for action in the Senate in the lame-duck session. The bill creates a fund that will be used to support Israeli and Palestinian cooperation on a range of topics.
“If it doesn’t happen in this Congress, we’re hoping it will be a priority in the next Congress,” he said.
“This was something that Congresswoman Nita Lowey was especially proud of and was championing and was part of her legacy, I think,” he added.
Isaacson said the AJC was critical of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, presented to Congress in 2015. Should the Biden administration seek to rejoin the deal, it will have to consult with Israel, he said, adding: “It has to be a much more robust agreement, and it has to be an agreement in which the United States consults closely with our allies in the Middle East, starting with Israel, but also the Sunni Arab states, with which Israel is now at peace.”
B'NAI B'RITH CEO Dan Mariaschin said the organization would focus on promoting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program into law and provide a path to citizenship for those protected under the act, known as Dreamers.
Additional legislation priority is the NO HATE Act, he said, adding: “As hate crimes against Jews and other minorities continue to soar, we hope that Congress will pass the act, which would strengthen federal laws that combat hate speech, threats and attacks.”
B’nai B’rith also supports the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, Mariaschin said.
“We hope that the current executive order against antisemitism, which achieves these aims, will remain in place,” he said. “If it does not, a legislative remedy would be in order.”
In the past, B’nai B’rith called for the creation of an antisemitism coordinator at the Justice Department who could work across agency lines to combat the rising tide of domestic antisemitism, Mariaschin said.
“The recent FBI report identifying Jews as by far the religious community most frequently victimized by hate crimes is evidence of the need for such a position,” he said.
Regarding foreign policy, Mariaschin said a bipartisan bill would help ensure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge if the administration approves arms sales to Arab countries.
He said he hopes Congress will pass legislation to elevate the position of State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism to ambassadorial rank. “Changing the title will send a clear message abroad that the fight against antisemitism will continue to be prioritized,” he said.
Regarding B’nai B’rith’s policy on Iran, Mariaschin said: “We call on the administration and Congress to apply concerted pressure on the Iranian regime to ensure that its nuclear program – as well as its ballistic-missile production, its support for terrorist organizations, its profligate human rights abuses and other malign behavior – are held in check,” he said.
The fight against antisemitism remains the primary concern for the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL views the threat posed by domestic extremists, both online and offline, as alarming, and demands greater attention and resources at the government’s highest levels, a spokesperson for the organization told the Post.
“We are also hopeful that the new administration will set a global example of moral leadership by pursuing a more just and inclusive society here at home,” the spokesperson said. “All leaders need to use their bully pulpit to lead America’s efforts in the fight against antisemitism and hate domestically and abroad.”
THE POST also reached out to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is not expected to issue its legislative agenda for a new Congress until early March.
“We look forward to working with the incoming administration and Congress on an agenda of further strengthening the US-Israel relationship and advancing our mutual interests in the region,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said. “We will put forward a specific legislative agenda in the new year.”
Logan Bayroff, director of communications for J Street, said the progressive Jewish group wants “to help provide the political space and impetus” to rejoin the Iran deal “and restart diplomacy with Iran.”
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said J Street would advocate to roll back President Donald Trump’s policies, “which moved the sides away from a viable negotiated solution, and replace them with constructive measures that advance diplomacy and conflict resolution.”
J Street is expected to advocate for taking Trump’s peace proposal off the table. According to Bayroff, the organization will push for restoring the US-Palestinian official relationship and aid, and reaffirming long-standing US policy with regard to the settlement expansion “and maintaining the distinction between Israel and the occupied territories to keep the possibility of two states alive.”
Hadassah national president Rhoda Smolow said the organization is focused on opportunities to secure important wins during the lame-duck session.
“Hadassah members are working to secure new funding for US-Israel medical partnerships to fight COVID-19, protect the USAID’s ASHA grant program, elevate the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism to the rank of ambassador and honor the service of the US Cadet Nurse Corps in World War II,” she said.
“Hadassah plans to actively engage with the 117th Congress and the Biden administration as strong advocates of our values and priorities, as we have for decades,” Smolow said. “We will focus on the US-Israel relationship, combating antisemitism at home and abroad, protecting women’s rights and building on the progress we have made to strengthen women’s health.”•