In this era of partisan politics, when it seems that almost no issue is safe from the calculations and the vitriol of party interests, it is noteworthy when a significant piece of legislation is passed with support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act, sponsored by Reps. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), which passed this week in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 402 to 2, was just such a case.
The bill, drafted in response to the wave of threats against Jewish institutions earlier this year, increases federal penalties for bomb threats and other credible threats of violence against religious institutions. It would classify such threats as hate crimes and increase the penalty for destruction of the institutions’ property caused by fire or explosives from one year to three years.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have sponsored an identical bill being considered in the Senate, and enactment into law appears all but assured.
Such bipartisanship is a welcome timeout from the incessant political combat that poisons the air, impedes the legislative process and stalls the work of government. But it is especially welcome in this instance.
It is most encouraging that in the midst of this resurgence of the thug mentality of anti-Semitism, America’s leaders remain determined to preserve this country as a safe haven for Jews and other religious groups.
Congressional members of every kind — liberal and conservative, African-American, Hispanic and white, Jew and Gentile, southerners and northerners — all share a repugnance for the terrorist who targets America’s spiritual centers.
And even if some voted yea for the pragmatic reason that they understood it would have been politically incorrect if they voted nay, it still reflects the nationwide public sentiment that churches and synagogues should be protected.
The bill is also welcome in the context of the relationship between the United States and the State of Israel. In recent years, the historic bipartisan consensus of support for Israel has frayed distressingly. Criticism of Israeli policies and sympathy for the Palestinians within the Democratic party have gained traction to the extent that the Obama administration could withhold its veto in a key U.N. Security Council vote against Israel, the ultra-liberal J Street could be treated with respect by high officialdom and an Israel-bashing Bernie Sanders could run a serious campaign for the presidency.
In spite of all that, there remains, at this juncture at least, a solid belief that anti-Semitism is beyond the pale of decency. That despite the thinly disguised animus emanating in some quarters against Jews residing in Israel, it remains politically correct to publicly state that the Jewish people in the U.S. deserve every defense from the scourge of anti-Semitism.
“The dramatic rise in threats against religious institutions is deeply disturbing and makes it clear that existing federal laws do not suitably deter these acts of hate,” Kustoff said in a statement. “We must stand united against acts of hate and protect the rights of all Americans to worship freely and without fear.”
The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act is proof of the good faith behind such statements.
To be sure, history has taught the Jewish people that there are no guarantees. Governments which warmly invited Jews into their borders in one generation brutally expelled them a generation or two later. As the Torah puts it, “And Pharaoh did not know Yosef.” The monarch, or his successor, was able to turn against the Jews despite all the benefit they received from Yosef, even their very lives.
Nevertheless, the Jew is grateful for the refuge provided and the protection given; and knows that when times change it is a consequence of a change in the relationship with Avinu shebaShamayim. Their treatment of the Jewish people is a reflection of that relationship, and ultimately their friendship or hatred depends on us.
In the meantime, we appreciate this new legislation. It is a sign that not only is the relationship with America still uniquely positive, but that the relationship with Hashem is too; that He watches over us. He is our fortress and none other.