WASHINGTON (JTA) — The top four congressional leaders told Jewish officials from around the country they were committed to backing Israel’s war with Hamas until the terrorist organization is wiped out.
The comments came Tuesday at a rally of 350 Jewish leaders from around the country organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in coordination with the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It drew the Senate majority and minority leader and the U.S. House of Representatives majority and minority leader. There is no Speaker in the House currently.
The top-level turnout was a testament the degree to which the pro-Israel community has galvanized the political class since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and how support for Israel has not abated even as it mounts a massive counterattack by air and has announced plans for a ground invasion.
Each speaker expressed unstinting support for Israel’s war aim, to destroy Hamas. President Joe Biden, who is flying to Israel on Wednesday, has also said that Hamas must be eliminated.
New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat and the minority leader in the House, cited the week’s Torah portion to justify the removal of Hamas from the earth.
“Noah was the only righteous man in the world consumed by violence, corruption and evil, this land filled with evil — it was described in Hebrew as Eretz Hamas,” he said, repeating “Hamas” for effect.
“The Torah portion ends with a flood that eradicates this evil and an ark that saves Noah from it,” Jeffries said. “These verses remind us of the role that Israel must now play in eradicating evil.”
Like other Democrats speaking, he distinguished between Hamas and the 2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza. “International law is the law with respect to Palestinian civilians who have been callously put in harm’s way by terrorists,” he said. “However, this is a moment for accountability and Hamas will be washed away.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish New York Democrat who is the majority leader, said he would push through assistance for Israel in the Senate and find a way to get the House to approve it, although that body can barely function while its Republican majority tussles over who should be speaker.
“I will lead the effort of the United States Senate to provide Israel with the support needed to fully defend itself from this monstrous attack,” Schumer said.
Schumer also described meetings he had on a two-day bipartisan visit to Israel this week, when the delegation at one point had to rush to a safe room because of a rocket siren. “We sat down with Israeli leaders. They asked us, they had a list of what they needed — so many things like JDAMs and Iron Dome.” JDAMs convert bombs into guided missiles, and Iron Dome is Israel’s missile defense system.
“We will not just talk about waiting for the House, we will move aid through the Senate as quickly as possible, and I do believe that we’ll get a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate,” he said. “It will force the House in whatever way they decide,” Schumer said to laughter.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who as majority leader is the most senior Republican while the House awaits the next speaker, said a pro-Israel resolution, with the backing of 423 of the 434 House members, was ready to move as soon as a speaker is in place.
The Biden Administration wants to attach emergency assistance for Israel to a request for assistance to Ukraine, which an increasing number of Republicans oppose — including Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who is vying for the speakership. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, is among the Republicans who favor assistance to Ukraine and to U.S. allies near China, and suggested that he would back coupling the requests.
“This is what I’ll be fighting for in the coming week as the Senate considers the resources we must put into our defense and the additional assistance we need for Israel and other democracies in Europe and the Pacific,” McConnell said.
Schumer also said he would push for greater assistance for security for Jewish institutions. The grant program for vulnerable nonprofits currently stands at $360 million. Jewish groups want it to go up to $500 million.
Jeffries, who is the first Black major party leader in Congress, said the Jewish community could count on significant support. “You have friends in the African American community, all throughout the country too numerous to mention,” he said.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary, outlined the outreach his department has made in recent days to Jewish communities fearful of a spike in antisemitism because of the war.
“The grief will not subside soon, the hurt will pass from generation to generation,” said Mayorkas, who is Jewish. “So will our resolve, our faith, the practice of it and the values that we have that bind us together. This Department of Homeland Security is here for you. We are here with you.”
Noa Ben Artzi described surviving the massive Hamas attack on an outdoor concert, lying under bodies, hearing her friends shot and discovering afterwards that her best friend had been killed.
Fifty of the Jewish leaders were set to travel Tuesday evening to Israel in a solidarity visit. Every seat had a blue ribbon with a pin, a symbol of the demand for the return of some 200 hostages Hamas took during its raid.
Shortly after the end of the rally, which took place at the historic Sixth and I synagogue in downtown Washington, Hamas officials said Israel bombed a hospital, killing hundreds. Israel blamed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, saying one of the terror group’s rockets fell short.