Orthodox Union convenes key meeting for candidate to explain stances and dialogue on foreign & domestic issues

Yesterday, Congressman Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee for US Senate from Pennsylvania met with Jewish leaders in Lower Merion, PA, at an event sponsored by the Orthodox Union (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

[Note to Editors: The OU is a nonpartisan, tax exempt organization, and may not legally endorse a candidate or meet with one candidate over another. The OU has extended an invitation to Mr. Toomey as well and looks forward to meeting with him.]

The meeting provided an opportunity for Mr. Sestak to dialogue with the community regarding his positions on policies relating to Israel and Iran, as well as domestic Jewish concerns such as religious accommodation and equity in education funding and services for all schools and students, including those in nonpublic schools such as Jewish day schools.

For example, Congressman Sestak was questioned on key votes he took on Iran sanctions, to explain why he did not sponsor bills on Iran sanctions and pro-Israel letters he chose not to sign. Of particular note, the Congressman said the one Israel related action he regretted was signing on to the infamous “Gaza 54” letter and if he had to do it over he would have sent an individual letter. The Congressman noted that he chose not to sponsor Iran sanctions legislation when President Obama requested more time for negotiations but that he did vote for the eventual legislation. As well, he noted that while he did not sign a letter to Secretary Clinton with other Members, he wrote his own letter to her on the issues. As well, the Congressman was asked to explain his appearance before CAIR, a national Muslim group that is hostile to Israel.

Congressman Sestak stated his firm belief that Iran must “not have” nuclear weapons and that a nuclear Iran could amount to “blackmail” against US troops in the region. He also stated he attended the CAIR event because he believes in speaking with all, including those who disagree with him.

Regarding domestic issues high on the Orthodox communal agenda, the Congressman voiced support for religious accommodations as well as certain types of funding for faith based organizations, including synagogues and day schools. He did state he would require those organizations to meet federal nondiscrimination standards in their hiring, an area that puts him at odds with the Orthodox community as well as other faith groups. When asked about whether he could support a federal education tax credit, similar to the Education Improvement Tax Credit that Pennsylvania enacted in 2001 that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for public and nonpublic schools including Jewish day schools in Allentown, Harrisburg, greater Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), the Congressman stated he was unfamiliar with the program but promised to look into it and provide a position shortly.

Howie Beigelman, OU Deputy Director of Public Policy stated:

The Congressman didn’t shy away from any question and is ready to dialogue with our community even on issues where we may strenuously disagree. At this point, that is as much as we could ask of him and we appreciate his willingness to meet and discuss both foreign and domestic issues. We look forward to a similar dialogue with Congressman Toomey as well.”

Note: To see video of the event, please see the OU/IPA homepage and the OU/IPA YouTube Channel.

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