Jewish leaders converging on D.C. for advocacy day on Iran
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Jewish leaders converging on D.C. for advocacy day on Iran

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Top U.S. congressional leaders and an Obama administration official are scheduled to meet with Jewish leaders to discuss how to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, which will handle legislation dealing with Iran sanctions, and the top two GOP lawmakers in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), will speak to and take questions Thursday from more than 300 Jewish communal leaders in Washington as part of the National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran.

Other congressional leaders and an administration official also are expected to join the event, although their appearances were not officially confirmed as of Wednesday morning.

Most of the participants in Thursday’s event also will visit Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to adopt sanctions legislation now before Congress, while some others will meet with officials at foreign embassies — including Italy, India and Russia — to drive home the importance of a united international front against the Iranian regime, organizers said.

The advocacy day is a key element in the major push to raise awareness on the Iran issue targeted at both the Jewish community and the rest of the country. It is being spearheaded by the Inter-agency Task Force on Iran, which is led by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, United Jewish Communities and NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia.

It comes a few days after nine rabbinical and synagogue organizations representing four Jewish movements issued a joint statement calling for American Jews to “make Iran a matter of the highest urgency,” and two weeks before a Sept. 24 rally in New York protesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the United Nations General Asembly.

Leaders of Thursday’s event say they will urge the passage of Iran sanctions legislation already pending before Congress, including the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act that would place sanctions on companies helping Iran to import and produce refined petroleum. But they also stress that their message is broader than just sanctions.

“Sanctions are a vehicle,” said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ and coordinator of the event. But the advocacy day also will serve “to try to bring a much greater awareness of the problem.”

Levin said it also will provide “an opportunity to present a unified message to the administration” regarding “our concern about a nuclear armed Iran, and what it means for the United States and the rest of the world.”

Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said the leaders coming to Washington will be diverse in geography and age, with lay and professional staff from  federations, community relations councils and national groups from as far away as the West Coast. Some students also are expected to attend.