Twenty state lawmakers are joining forces to create the Maryland Legislative Jewish Caucus, joining their voices to speak out against antisemitism and hate crimes, while also promoting Jewish culture and heritage.

“Having a Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus will enable members of the General Assembly to advocate for policies important to the Jewish communities of Maryland,” state Sen. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat and co-chair of the new caucus, said in a statement announcing the caucus on Tuesday.

The other co-chair is Del. Jared Solomon, a Montgomery County Democrat.

“With antisemitic and hate incidents at record levels, the Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus will be an important voice in the General Assembly to combat hate, collaborate with our diverse partners, and celebrate Jewish culture and heritage,” Solomon said in the announcement.

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In addition to focusing on the rights and needs of Jewish Marylanders, the caucus said it plans to work with other caucuses “to protect and advance the civil rights and religious freedom for all.”

The new caucus has the support of the General Assembly’s presiding officers, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.

Other Maryland General Assembly caucuses include the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus, Maryland Legislative Asian-American & Pacific-Islander Caucus, the Maryland Veterans Caucus and the Women Legislators of Maryland.

The formation of the Jewish Caucus comes as the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas stretches on for more than 100 days since being sparked by Hamas’ devastating attacks against Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

Del. Jared Solomon, Montgomery County Democrat, is co-chair of the new Maryland Legislative Jewish Caucus. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Maryland state government has no direct influence on foreign affairs; however the state has sent money to help synagogues and other houses of worship improve their security.

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The state also has an order in place that bans companies from getting state contracts if they participate in a movement to boycott, disinvest or sanction Israel, known as “BDS.”

There also was a dust-up over the membership of the Maryland Commission on Hate Crimes, after member Zainab Chaudry, an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, made anti-Israel Facebook posts that were deemed disruptive to the commission’s work. After being briefly suspended from the commission, Chaudry was reinstated. The commission was created by state lawmakers and the state attorney general, whose office supports the commission, determined he could not legally remove any members.

The Maryland Legislative Jewish Caucus is launching with 20 Jewish lawmakers, and members say they will welcome more to join them. Those who are not Jewish but are connected to the Jewish community through their constituents, family or in other ways will be able to join as associate members.