Virginia’s Jewish legislators emphasize protecting freedoms

Virginia state Capitol / Skip Plitt – C’ville Photography

By Dina Weinstein

Richmond, Va. — As the General Assembly body gaveled in last week, Jewish organizations and legislators in Virginia announced their priorities during the 45-day session.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which covers Northern Virginia, published a list of 13 state and local legislative priorities, including access to reproductive health, gun violence protection, voter access, fighting poverty, security for faith-based institutions, separation of church and state and support for the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board, as well as a list of federal issues.

“There is some legislation introduced and an effort to combat antisemitism — much of it came out of the governor’s Commission on Antisemitism and their report,” said Vicki Fishman, director of government and community relations for the JCRC. “We are in the process of working with our partners around Virginia and legislators to try to make those efforts successful.”

Fishman also highlighted a bill to update the Human Rights Act to ensure that antisemitism is included.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County), the former speaker of the House of Delegates, said she is closely aligned with the priorities of the JCRC. But, she said, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) does not share the same priorities on many of those issues, including ensuring broad health care access, gun violence prevention, protection for workers, workforce development, college affordability, support for veterans and protecting access to abortion.

“Those are just some of the issues that we’ve made tremendous progress on during my tenure as speaker, when [Democrats] were in control, and we are definitely at odds with the current administration,” said Filler-Corn, a member of Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield.

“I’ve been working with the Jewish community, sharing and talking about religious liberty and religious freedom as it relates to these abortion bans that the governor has said that he would gleefully sign,” trying to explain why the governor’s focus on banning abortion is in direct conflict with Judaism, which focuses on the life of the mother.

She organized an Interfaith Reproductive Liberty Coalition to further that message and introduced a micro stamping bill that requires new technology for firearms sold or transferred in Virginia that would allow guns used in crimes to be traced. Another bill focuses on helping veterans access mental health services.

Del. Marcus Simon (D), who represents Falls Church and Fairfax County, said the Virginia legislature is facing culture war issues that he finds “interesting to look at from a Jewish perspective,” chiefly Youngkin’s 15-week abortion ban proposal he highlighted in his State of the Commonwealth address.

“That is not consistent with our Jewish religious tradition,” said Simon. “We also have an issue where the freedom to choose what books we’re able to read and see at a library is under attack. The freedom to marry the person you love is something that we need to make sure we protect here in Virginia. And the freedom to seek out abortion care is something that everybody has a fundamental right to. Those rights and freedoms are in danger. My priorities are going to be finding ways to protect those rights.”

Filler-Corn and Simon expressed appreciation but also wariness about the Virginia Commission to Combat Antisemitism’s recommendations, which emphasize the need to teach the Holocaust in schools, when recent iterations of the Virginia History Standards have left out important aspects of centuries of slavery and institutionalized racism.

“I think white supremacy gets lost if you focus strictly on this issue of antisemitism, but the origins [of the Anti-Semitism Commission] have always seemed more political to me than policy driven,” said Simon. “It’ll be interesting to watch a number of people that I think identify as fundamentalist Christian introducing some of [the commission’s] recommendations.”

The JCRC will hold its Virginia Jewish Advocacy Day on Feb. 8. Youngkin, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares have been invited to address the group “It’s good to have a relationship [with legislators] so that we can be in a position to have an honest conversation and explain our position so that they can better understand it, even if they aren’t on board with our position,” said Fishman. ■

Dina Weinstein is a freelance writer.

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