The Virginia General Assembly recently approved a non-binding resolution in support of Israel, but only after references to the Old Testament and Judea and Samaria were removed. By a narrow majority, legislators also agreed not to expand rules that would have allowed for public prayer by “any deliberative public body,” including school boards.
Although state governments aren’t involved in foreign policy, Del. Brenda Pogge (R-James City and York counties), a conservative, put forth a resolution supporting Israel that quotes from the Old Testament and called Israel “a national home for the Jewish people in the historical region of the land of Israel, including the areas of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.” Her proposed resolution also stated “peace can be achieved in the Middle East region only through a whole and united Israel government under one law for all people.”
That nonbinding resolution proved controversial, and 20 Democrats in the House walked out during the vote in order to abstain, said Darcy Hirsh, director of Virginia government and community relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Northern Virginia) proposed a substitute resolution. “I wanted it to be more bipartisan” and less of a foreign policy statement, he said.
His resolution praised Israel for its relationship with Virginia and also expressed support for its right to defend itself and stated that “peace can be afforded in the region only through combined efforts and trust.”
The watered down resolution passed unanimously on Feb. 26. It was backed by the JCRC, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula, the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Ebbin said.
Hirsh was “thrilled” with the final resolution, especially since it had bipartisan support, something the original proposal did not.
Pogge also was pleased that the final resolution received unanimous support, although she said she still preferred the original wording. “The only real disappointment is that the amended resolution was not sent to President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu (as was called for originally),” she said in an email.
Her proposed resolution “was brought to me by a group involved with a national effort to see similar resolutions passed in all fifty states,” she said. She supported it, because “As a Christian, I take God at his word concerning the nation of Israel, and I believe that the Jewish people are his chosen people,” she wrote.
Also in the Virginia General Assembly, a bill on prayer at public meetings that would have gone beyond what the Supreme Court allowed last year in its decision in the Town of Greece v. Galloway was defeated in committee.
The proposal by Del. Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) would have allowed prayer at the vast majority of meetings and stated that the public body running the meeting can develop its own policy based upon advice from legal counsel.
Hirsh said the proposal “crossed the boundaries” and included school meetings where students may be present.
“They are impressionable. They can be coerced,” she said. The proposal was “extremely general, and we thought it could be abused” and would attract expensive litigation, she said.
During the JCRC’s recent advocacy day, members urged legislators to defeat the bill, she said.
Ebbin, one of only four Jews in the General Assembly, said the proposal showed a “total disregard” to religious minorities.
The proposal was defeated Feb. 23 in the Senate General Laws Committee, of which Ebbin is a member.