Askanim Optimistic on Incoming Speaker Paul Ryan


The official election of Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House of Representatives brought hopes of unity and progress to a fractured Congress as well as to his own party. Those involved in advocacy on behalf of the Jewish community likewise welcomed his ascent, considering him a kindred spirit on many key policy issues.

Those who have had closer-up views of the new Speaker in his native Wisconsin were extremely positive as well.

“Fundamentally, he’s a very decent guy,” said Avi Zarmi, a Milwaukee-based activist for Agudath Israel and Chairman of Milwaukee’s North Shore Republican organization, who said he had met Ryan on several occasions. “He was sincerely reluctant to become Speaker, because he wanted to keep spending weekends with his family.”

He pointed out that as a devout Catholic, Ryan’s policies on issues of social morality are “in lockstep” with those of the frum community. Mr. Zarmi also cited the new Speaker’s outspoken opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement. In an article, Ryan referred to the agreement as a “terrible deal” that is “bad for the security of the United States and our allies.”

Wisconsin is one of the few states that offers private school vouchers, a huge financial advantage for yeshivah parents. Although the policy applies only on the state level, some saw potential with a supporter leading Congress. “I think a lot about vouchers and school choice,” said Aaron Cadle, a Wisconsin-based askan. “He is someone who might be able to do something to move this forward on a federal level.”

An official statement from the Agudath Israel of America highlighted Ryan’s record on Middle-East issues.

“He [Ryan] understands well the great strategic value of the U.S.-Israel alliance and the two countries’ shared democratic values and historical ties. Perhaps more importantly, he has demonstrated understanding of the grave dangers Israel faces — the violence in [Yehudah and Shomron] and Gaza, the scourge of terrorism, and the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Rabbi A.D. Motzen, the national director of state relations at Agudath Israel of America, based in Ohio, who had met outgoing Speaker Boehner on several occasions, looked back gratefully on his tenure.

“He [Boehner] had close connections to the Jewish community here in Cincinnati. School choice was one of the issues that he cared deeply about and he deserves to be commended for that.”

Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, also noted the former Speaker’s commitment to issues close to the community and was equally positive about his successor.

“John Boehner was a great legislator and leader to work with, as we did over the years, especially on issues the OU cares most about — the security of Israel and educational opportunity and choice. The good news is that Paul Ryan is committed to these policies and values as well, and we look forward to working with him.”

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