Last August, just weeks before Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) would be voting on the historic Iran nuclear deal, he was in Israel seeing for himself the extraordinary provisions necessary to safeguard Israelis in the tumultuous Middle East.
During a tour of a thriving kibbutz on the Gaza border, there was a bustling childcare center completely under the cover of a concrete umbrella. A soccer field looked like any other but for the openings on either end of the goal posts serving as entrances to fallout shelters. A high-tech warning system loomed over the community, able to accurately countdown the number of seconds from when a missile is lobbed to impact.
It was then and there that the congressman truly understood the security concerns facing the United States’ closest ally in the Mid-East.
“It’s as real as it gets, short of being there under fire,” said Norcross, 57, who was traveling with a bipartisan delegation of freshman house members that was planned well before the controversial vote was scheduled.
Still, his mind was not yet made up right after the trip—even after visiting the Golan Heights and discussing the deal at length with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamim Netanyahu and with his fellow lawmakers.
Before coming to his decision that broke ranks with President Obama and the Democratic party—an announcement to oppose the deal he made Aug. 18 at Cong. Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill— Norcross spent untold hours reviewing the document, meeting with constituents and attending numerous briefings with high-ranking officials, including Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, military leaders, and others.
For his courage to make his decision based on the facts and his convictions, Norcross will be honored by Sons of Israel at its annual gala on Mar. 17, said Bill Chast, chair.
“When the president of the country who is also leader of your party tells you to vote for this, and then to stand up for your principals in spite of maybe the costs, I felt it was incredibly brave,” said Chast, noting that Norcross will receive the Orthodox synagogue’s community service award. “He didn’t have to do it. He could have sat on the sideline and waited a couple weeks the way most lawmakers did. I think he really looked at the issue and voted for what he felt was right.”
Ultimately Norcross was one of 24 house Democrats who voted against the deal.
“Probably one of my biggest disappointments since arriving in Congress was how this issue of nuclear proliferation became a political issue,” he said. “People were coming out within seconds, without even having the opportunity to review the document, forming an opinion. Unfortunately party lines became the basis for much of that vote. But I would never look at this from a political perspective and I didn’t.”
The House ultimately voted 269-162 against the agreement, mostly along party lines. But the vote didn’t stop the international pact.
“It’s not all good and it’s not all bad,” he added. “There were many grey areas here. Anytime you can push back a rogue nation from getting nuclear weapons, that’s good. But what are you trading for? That was one of my major concerns back when I made the decision and still is today.”
He noted that last month he co-sponsored a bipartisan bill known as the Zero Tolerance for Terror Act that would authorize expedited consideration of sanctions in the event that Iran commits acts of terror or uses ballistic missile technology.
His association with the local Jewish community began at the tender age of four when he attended nursery school at the JCC at its previous location on Route 70. “I remember dressing as a hamantaschen,” he said.
An advocate for a two-state solution, he voted in favor of providing more than $3-billion in aid to Israel in 2016 and fully supports the country’s longstanding commitment to provide $30-billion in aid to Israel over 10 years for Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow 3 missile defense systems. He also cosponsored legislation to require U.S. companies to disclose their participation in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions polices that target Israel.
Locally, Norcross is a regular at Jewish Federation’s Super Sunday fundraising effort and is working with the state and local Jewish Federations and synagogues to bring more federal funding to nonprofits like synagogues and community centers for security measures. .