Four young Israeli political leaders got a taste of American democracy while visiting New Jersey and Washington, DC, during the recent campaign season.
The Israeli delegation from the American Council of Young Political Leaders gathered in Freehold on Nov. 6 and 7, where they were hosted by Monmouth County Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Dist. 12).
About 40 people attended a brunch held that Sunday at the Freehold Jewish Center in honor of the visiting delegation. The following day, Casagrande also hosted a special meeting in her legislative office between the delegation and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4).
The Israelis discussed the U.S. electoral process and foreign affairs with the assemblywoman and congressman. Smith, a staunch ally of Israel, serves as a senior member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
During their U.S. visit, the Israelis toured Congress and the White House, met with U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ Dist. 12) and NJ Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Dist. 14), and visited various synagogues and schools.
“This has been an amazing program that will allow us to bring new ideas to Israel. We are learning a lot and contributing a lot, and making contacts that will last for many years to come,” said Shay Even of Ra’anana, a member of the Ra’anana City Council and the Meretz Party.
Other delegation members included Mordechai Ruham of Rishon Letzion, chief of staff with Silvan Shalom, Israel’s vice prime minister and a Knesset member for the Likud party; Dore Bloch of Jerusalem, head of volunteers and election day operations for Labor Party chair Amram Mitzna; and Linor Deutsch of Tel Aviv, spokeswoman and political consultant with the office of Shai Hermesh, Knesset member from the Kadima Party.
Casagrande herself is an alumna of the ACYPL program, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that coordinates international exchange activities worldwide for political leaders ages 25-40. The program is supported by the U.S. Department of State. Casagrande visited Nepal during her ACYPL trip last year, meeting with the president and prime minister there.
“We were so excited when ACYPL offered us the opportunity to host an Israeli delegation, which was coming to study American elections,” Casagrande told NJJN. “What better place to learn about it than in New Jersey, where we are famous for our vigorously fought elections.”
Meeting with groups like the Israeli delegation helps increase awareness of global diplomacy issues, she said. “We have a democratic fight here in the U.S., but it’s nothing like what the rest of the world goes through for their freedom,” Casagrande said.
The delegation was particularly interested in hearing about Smith’s involvement in efforts to impose sanctions on Iran and to combat anti-Semitism and human rights violations around the world, particularly in China.
“Last week the Senate passed two bills to ratchet up sanctions on Iran,” Smith said. “We are going after the Iranian Central Bank to make them accountable if they are found to be involved in a nuclear effort.
“If Iran goes nuclear, it will be catastrophic for Israel.”
Although their political beliefs vary, members of the Israeli delegation were in full agreement on the Iran issue.
“We believe that sanctions rather than military operations are the solution. It’s very important that Americans will move forward with sanctions,” said Ruham.
Smith spoke about his fight against anti-Semitism with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In 1982, during his first term in Congress, he took part in a congressional delegation trip to Moscow and Leningrad to interview refuseniks and engage Soviet leaders.
“Anti-Semitism is a grave human rights abuse, of which the ultimate horrid expression was the Holocaust,” Smith said. “The more involved I get with human rights, the more I realize that Israel needs more friends not less, and that Jews need more friends, not less.
“In Congress there is a strong consensus for Israel. Israel’s right to exist is absolute.”