Rep. Cori Bush’s staff, St. Louis Jewish leaders meet to discuss Israel, other topics


Two members of Rep. Cori Bush’s staff (left and fourth from left) met with leaders of American Jewish Committee St. Louis, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, and National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis.

Rep. Cori Bush’s staff members met Tuesday with St. Louis Jewish communal leaders to discuss a number of issues, including the leaders’ concerns about the Democratic congresswoman’s controversial comments on Israel.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, said Bush’s staff was “very receptive” to hearing their concerns on Israel and understood the important role the Jewish State plays for local Jews.

“We brought up the fact that Israel is a major priority area within our Jewish community,” Picker Neiss said. “We know people are in our Jewish community have been deeply concerned about some of the congresswoman’s remarks about Israel, and we want to be a resource for her and her staff. We want to be able to talk more about [Israel].

“They acknowledged that of all the areas we have talked about previously, they knew there were some divergent opinions around Israel but also said explicitly that because this is an area where we have disagreement, this is an area where, all the more so, we need to keep talking.”

Access MO advertisement

The hour-long meeting occurred after Bush upset some American Jews by expressing support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel during her campaign. And during a May speech on the House floor, she described the country as an apartheid state in likening its “brutalization” of Palestinians to St. Louis police forces’ actions towards Michael Brown and protesters in 2014 in Ferguson.

The meeting took place at the representative’s St. Louis district office and included Bush’s chief of staff and outreach coordinator; leaders of JCRC; Jewish Federation of St. Louis; American Jewish Committee St. Louis; and National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis.

“The meeting was a positive first step in the relationship between the Jewish community and Rep. Bush and an excellent example of coordination between Jewish organizations in St. Louis,” Nancy Lisker, regional director of AJC, stated in an email to the Light.“The goal was to listen and learn how Rep. Bush’s agenda intersects with each organizations’ priorities.”

After the meeting, Picker Neiss on Twitter shared a photo and wrote, “Always an honor and pleasure to meet with the hardworking team of @RepCori.”

Bush tweeted “Thank you!”

Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to Israel, attendees discussed issues such as racial equity, environmental justice, voting rights, reproductive health and LGBTQ equity, Picker Neiss said.

The JCRC director pointed out that other St. Louis Jewish leaders have previously met with Bush’s staff and that Israel is not the only concern for local Jews.

“What we are hearing from our Jewish community are people who want to talk about the environment and racial equity — and certainly also talk about Israel — but that’s not the only reason we have a relationship with her. It’s not the only thing we talk about with any of our other elected officials,” Picker Neiss said.

Jennifer Bernstein, NCJWSTL advocacy manager, said she focused her conversation with Bush’s staff on maternal fetal health and other reproductive justice issues and “how we can work together on those shared priorities.”

Israel “didn’t come up a ton,” Bernstein said. “As someone who is pro-Israel myself, I was a little apprehensive about that, but I think with anyone in government, you are always going to have issues where you are going to have to agree to disagree.”

The local leaders and Bush’s staff also discussed a possible town hall gathering with the Jewish community.

“As with any interaction, the relationship will develop over time and the key will be an honest dialogue and the ability to agree to disagree,” Lisker stated. “As a national organization, AJC looks forward to being a resource for Rep. Bush in both her district and in DC through our national office in Washington.”

Brian Herstig, president and CEO of Federation, echoed the other Jewish leaders’ thoughts in a news release.

“It’s vital that we keep the lines of communication open,” stated Herstig. “The more we understand each other the better we are able to cooperate and collaborate on the many important issues of the day as well as those that will emerge in the future. We hope that we will have many opportunities to work together.”