Terps for Israel lobbies, builds relationships with congressional staffers

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Maryland students join Terps for Israel to lobby Congress, Monday May 2. Photo courtesy of Jenn Miller.
Maryland students join Terps for Israel to lobby Congress May 2. Photo courtesy of Terps for Israel.

 

By Cody Branchaw
For the Mitzpeh
@Mitzpeh

Terps for Israel led a group of students to Capitol Hill May 2 to lobby senators and representatives, as the new administration’s rhetoric poses threats to overseas aid and involvement.

Fifteen students, most of whom are members of the bipartisan group, visited nearly a dozen lawmakers’ offices throughout the day to lobby for pro-Israel legislation, build relationships and ensure the continuation of foreign aid and protection for Israel.

Sophomore economics major Jonathan Allen, Terps for Israel president, has been on four of these biannual lobbying trips, but has continued to gain interest through the years.

“When I first went, I was shocked that what you say to members of Congress can truly make a difference and sway their opinions,” said Allen. “The impact that you as a student can have on the federal level with policies that affect not only your local community but the whole country and even matters on the international stage.”

Planning for the trip began weeks before as Terps for Israel Political Chair Jenn Miller called over 15 congressional offices in order to schedule lobbying appointments.

“It’s a lot easier than people think to have a meeting with a congressional staffer,” said Miller. “People complain all the time about the government not being accessible and lack of transparency and ‘no one’s listening’ and ‘they only listen to people with money,’ but staffers will even thank students for taking time away from school to come lobby their congressmen.”

The group met with both red and blue offices during the trip, including the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

“Being bipartisan is ingrained in our mission, which is why we met with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle,” said Allen.

After a few meetings, Allen said staffers and congressmen begin to recognize familiar faces.

“Something that I think is really important, and even more important than lobbying on the bills, is building a relationship with the staffers and members of Congress that you’re continuously meeting with,” said Allen, “because ultimately when it comes down to a big decision, you’ll have their ear because of that previous relationship.”

Terps for Israel is comfortable scheduling meetings with the staffers that work for congressmen, instead of insisting on meeting with them.

“In reality, when it comes to the nitty gritty stuff, it tends to be the staffers who know the most about it,” said Allen. “They’re the ones that work with the members of Congress on it and update them about any movements with these bills, so they do have power and it’s important to build a relationship with them.”

The group also understands how lobbying may seem like a dishonest or immoral practice, but does not share that view.

“I think what many people forget about lobbying is that yes, it’s designed to sway a politician a certain way, but it’s also about thanking them,” said Miller. “This is something Terps for Israel has stressed a lot because we very much value our relationships with members of Congress and their staff.”

Once the meetings begin however, conversations turn to serious global matters such as responding to Iran’s aggression outside of the nuclear realm.

“The Iran deal is already in place, we want to make sure it’s being followed to a tee,” said Allen. “At the same time, Iran is doing a lot outside of the deal such as illegal arms sales and supporting terrorist groups, which isn’t in compliance with U.N. resolutions.”

Each trip Allen has been on also included lobbying foreign aid to Israel and military assistance in the face of increasing aggression. The U.S. currently provides $3.1 billion to Israel, which is to increase to $3.8 billion for the 2019 fiscal year.

“Given the rhetoric from the current administration,” Allen said, “we were asking for a robust foreign aid package and didn’t want to see any disproportionate cuts to their package.”

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