Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) spoke before an invitation-only gathering at an event in a Merion Station home sponsored by the OU.
On Feb. 12, speaking before some 70 representatives of the Jewish community from Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania at the invitation of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) reiterated his support for Israel and concern for its welfare from potential Iranian attack. He also vowed to consider finding a way to use public tax money to relieve a portion of the financial burden on parents sending their children to private religious institutions.
Toomey attended a by-invitation-only breakfast and community gathering at the Merion Station home of Amir and Stacy Goldman sponsored by the OU. He was joined by a cross-section of the local Jewish community, including rabbis, educators and local leaders, as well as representatives from Scranton and Harrisburg.
For Toomey, who spoke for some 15 minutes and also took a few questions, it was an opportunity to connect in a non-political forum. “I wanted a chance to reach out to the Orthodox community so people would be able to share with me their concerns,” said Toomey afterwards. “Talk a little about the security issues that are close to the front burner or on the front burner — just a great opportunity to have a dialogue.”
During his speech, he gave an in-depth interpretation of how throughout its history, American leadership had been at the forefront of its strength. But in the wake of the passage of the Iran nuclear deal — which he believes will not deter Iran from eventually building a nuclear weapon — he fears that leadership has weakened, enabling other countries as well as ISIS to become a threat.
“We are now in a time where Islamic teaching is determined to destroy Western civilization,” warned Toomey. “Part of defending this civilization is recognizing Israel is part of that civilization. It’s the outpost of Western civilization on the edge in a very, very hostile environment.
“We have to be willing to defend it. The security of Israel is important to me. I think it’s our challenge moving forward to make sure support for Israel does not become a partisan thing. That kind of polarization would be tragic, but I don’t think it has to be a polarizing issue.”
Toomey also expressed outrage at a proposed rule imposed by the Obama administration, which would remove references of Israel in Israeli products coming from Gaza or the West Bank, calling it “at attempt to play into the boycott crap.”
“Why in the why in the world would we be participating in that?” asked Toomey. “It’s an outrageous movement we should be undermining and it’s based on a lie. I’m already on top of legislation that would repeal that proposal. It’s very disturbing; we need to speak out publically against it. I’m open to suggestions how to undermine that movement which is infected with anti-Semitism.”
He’s also open to suggestions of a way to implement a rule that would defray costs for families sending their children to religious institutions, since a good portion of their education is secular. However, Toomey cautions, it’s a complicated issue.
“I think we have a universal consensus that society has a responsibility to make sure every child gets the best education,” said Toomey. “That’s a real important value. It does not follow from that that the government has to provide that education. The government is the mechanism by which we ensure there’s an education available for that child. I have always been a big believer that the optimal way to fulfill that vision is to allow the resources — which, in this state, is property taxes — to be controlled by the parents. If you did that, you would open up a whole range of possibilities and would allow kids to get a better education. You’d create a much more competitive system which would raise the game for everybody and you’d do it at a lower cost.”
According to OU officials, having politicians like Toomey reaching out and speaking directly with the people enables them to better appreciate each other. “I think his restatement of his commitment of the things that are important to the entire Jewish community was really big,” said Elliott Holtz, co-chair of OU Advocacy Center and chairman of the Foundation for Jewish Day Schools. “It’s great when you have all these politicians in a small setting and they give a direct, strong response to really understand their commitment.
“It’s very different when people get to speak to a politician one-on-one,” he continued. “We don’t have enough people in the Jewish community who can actually take the time, who come to listen, to hear, to support a position important to us — regardless of political affiliation. That’s one of the reasons we get involved: to make sure to provide forums for everybody at a grass roots level.”
The OU intends to offer all candidates similar opportunities to discuss the issues. “The OU is not a lobbying organization,” said Amir Goldman, who has hosted Allyson Schwartz and other candidates in recent years. “Our objective is to make sure the community is aware to get out the vote. We fundamentally believe most of the issues are bi-partisan.”
As far as Toomey is concerned, any support he can generate is invaluable. “In Pennsylvania, statewide elections are often determined by very small, narrow margins, so every vote matters,” he explained. “I’ll be campaigning for support in every corner of the state, from every ethnic and religious group.”
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