Do we need a Congressional Jewish Caucus, a group of Jewish legislators in the House and Senate who meet to discuss issues of importance to American Jews?
The Congressional Black Caucus is well-known, as is the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. Hispanics have two groups: a Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference. There’s also an Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs, an American Sikh Congressional Caucus and an Assyrian Caucus. And those are just the As.
So why is there no formally organized Jewish group in Congress to pursue common legislative objectives of interest to American Jews? After all, in the 116th Congress there are 28 Jewish members in the House and nine in the Senate.
According to reports, there has been an informal Jewish group meeting in Congress for years, and the group’s leaders (who are Democrats) are said to be discussing whether to formalize its existence, and whether to include Republicans. We think the answer to both questions is “yes.”
We are all painfully aware of the dangerous political partisanship that festers on Capitol Hill. The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) works to fit its Jewish constituency into the Democratic agenda, while the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) tries to fit its Jewish constituency into the Republican agenda.
A caucus of Jewish elected officials, however, comprised of people of goodwill who may differ on policy but who agree on more than they disagree, could help bridge partisan divisions, cool the rhetoric and help Congress elevate its game. They could return a much-needed nonpartisan focus to issues such as anti-Semitism and Israel.
The recent and sharp rise in anti-Semitism has made many Jews feel the need for Jewish political leaders to band together in an increasingly uncertain time, and has sparked increased discussion about the need for a formalized Jewish Congressional Caucus.
The idea was floated recently by Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, who explained that he was reacting against “Israel-bashing” from “ultra-left progressives,” such as Rep. lhan Omar, who in her criticism of Israel has invoked anti-Semitic tropes. Rosen also pointed to Rep. Steve King who commented, “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Reaction has been mixed. Halie Soifer, executive director of JDCA, said the idea is something her organization would support. RJC National Chair Norm Coleman, on the other hand, shot down the idea, choosing to focus instead on attacking Omar and demanding her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
We have had enough of the preprogrammed, political bickering. This is a time and an opportunity to lead. JDCA and RJC should seize the opportunity to work together to help establish a Congressional Jewish Caucus.