N.Y. congressman backs strong U.S. ties with Israel

Israel says religion never impacted him negatively in his hard-fought race against Republican Joan Johnson, an African-American town clerk.

"I ran and won on a good, strong message," Israel says. "Nothing else was as important as the issues."

Israel's Judaism has sparked some of his most important civic work. As a former legislative assistant to Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.), he focused on strengthening U.S.-Israel relations and the status of Soviet Jews, with whom he met during a 1985 trip.

During a stint as regional director of the American Jewish Congress beginning in 1983, Israel focused on creating a dialogue between the local Jewish and African-American communities.

In 1993, he edited a book titled "Great Jewish Speeches Throughout History."

Inspired by a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum two years ago, Israel founded the Institute on the Holocaust and the Law. Under the auspices of the AJCongress and the Touro Law Center, the Long Island-based institute studies the role of the legal establishment in Nazi Germany.

In addition to producing reports, the group has facilitated trips for U.S. civic leaders and members of the legal community to visit the museum.

"It's important to understand that laws can be used both as instruments of oppression and as safeguards for human rights," he says.

In Congress, Israel plans to continue promoting U.S.-Israeli ties. He says he will also encourage the United States to more strongly oppose anti-Semitic material in Palestinian school textbooks.

"Despite the best efforts of government leaders, the region will get locked into cycles of violence when Palestinian children are taught to hate," he says.

— Gayle Horwitz