Name: Omri Rahmil
Hometown: Los Gatos, Calif.
Position: Policy adviser for Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill.
Alma Mater: UC Santa Barbara; political science with a focus on international relations
Washington Examiner: How’d you get to Washington, D.C., from UCSB?
Rahmil: I knew I always wanted to work in foreign policy; I just didn’t know in what capacity. I did two summers interning doing high tech sales. I knew that wasn't for me. So, after my junior year abroad in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to intern at AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] over the summer [of 2013] and that really sort of hit the nail on the head on knowing what I wanted to do after I graduated. So, I graduated early from UCSB, and I went out, and I started working at AIPAC, actually, as my first job. ... I was the campus outreach director. So, I was involved with getting African-American students, Hispanic students, and Christian students involved in pro-Israel politics.
Washington Examiner: What originally piqued your interest in foreign policy?
Rahmil: My parents. My dad’s an immigrant from the Soviet Union, bound for Israel and eventually the U.S. So, I was always pretty fascinated with his story and sort of how he ended up in California, a successful guy in tech. So, I grew up always thinking about the world. And then, in high school, I took a comparative politics class, and I learned about Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, and I just imagined being Japan at the time and seeing this great white American fleet coming through and understanding what they thought. And I was really interested in that form of diplomacy and global affairs after that class.
Washington Examiner: What specifically did you do for AIPAC and then continuing work after college?
Rahmil: I was getting students who weren’t raised in a Zionist household, for example, to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship and how they can be involved in strengthening it. So, I did that for a stint, and then I ended up at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for a bit, and that's where I was right before I came to the Hill.
Washington Examiner: How do you define Zionism?
Rahmil: That's a good question. I think Zionism is the movement that’s working to guarantee that the Jewish people have a country to call their own and live safe and secure to live their lives as Jews.
Washington Examiner: What did you do at the Washington Institute?
Rahmil: I was doing research on U.S.-Turkey relations under [Turkish Research Program Director] Soner Cagaptay. And, really, the core of my work culminated in helping him write an article on what the U.S. can learn on how the Ottoman Empire navigated the Protestant Reformation ... and how we can learn from that in dealing with the Sunni Shiite divide [within Islam].
Washington Examiner: How did you meet Rep. Roskam?
Rahmil: My friend who was working at Roskam’s office at the time asked me if I knew anyone who was interested in Middle East policy, because Congressman Roskam, even though he's not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he's really active in that sphere, and he wanted someone in the [legislative] shop just to work on those issues. So, I sent my resume along, and I ended up getting the job.
Washington Examiner: So, what's your day like as a policy adviser?
Rahmil: Day-to-day, I'm working on particular Iran-related legislation and the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] right now. So, drafting legislation and amendments, op-eds, speeches, articles, meeting with stakeholders. I do have also the communications aspect of pushing our message out there. It's a lot of research and a lot of writing. There's not necessarily the steady flow of committee-related work [because Roskam isn't on House Foreign Affairs]. But having Congressman Roskam be as active as he is in this field, we do try to stay busy and try to really stay attuned to what's happening in the region and make sure that we can play a helpful role and weigh in when necessary.
Washington Examiner: How is he so active without being on the Foreign Affairs Committee? Is that an impediment?
Rahmil: I think it’s sort of special having someone so focused on this work that he wanted to hire someone to work on one section of foreign policy But, he grew up tracing to Israel. His dad bought Israel bonds during the times when Israel was constantly at war in the '60s and '70s. He has a tree planted in his name in Israel. So, he's really grown up appreciating the U.S.-Israel relationship, U.S. foreign policy. So, he does try to have an active role in those discussions. We work really closely with all the relevant committees, but we have found a way to tie in his portfolio on the Ways and Means Committee into the Middle East space.
Washington Examiner: How has that work changed since President Trump took office?
Rahmil: There’s definitely been a change. Right now, we have an administration that’s really sort of reforming American policy in the region, and, I think, doing a much better job of strengthening the relationship with our allies and trying to weaken our adversaries. So before, we'd be working on legislation that was opposed by the former administration. In 2017, I think we've gotten a lot more support from the executive branch.
Washington Examiner: Do you find that you're in a position to drive policy? Or, now that's it's not adversarial anymore, how much are you setting policy as opposed to reacting to the president?
Rahmil: I think we’ve been pretty active on a few key initiatives. One is combatting the [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] movement. We have one bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, I think with 270 or 265 cosponsors, which really pushes back at the manifestation of the boycott movement against Israel in international bodies. We’ve been good at driving the conversation there, and the administration has been working in tandem in pushing back against an upcoming U.N. resolution blacklist that they’re trying to publish against companies operating in Israel. And I think my boss has really done a great job of being out front on the issue of pushing back against economic investment in Iran. He’s been really leading the charge against selling Iran militarily-fungible aircraft that they have been using to transfer troops and weapons to Syria, and they will continue to do so. And he’s been taking a really strong stand in saying, "American companies, British companies, you should not be selling Iran these planes, they will be used illicitly.”
Washington Examiner: What do you do in your free time?
Rahmil: For the past few years, I’ve been an assistant coach at Woodrow Wilson High School, helping them coach the wrestling team. That’s been a really great experience getting to know some really awesome kids, and seeing the only D.C. public school with a wrestling program make some great strides and become a powerhouse in D.C. And I’m currently involved in a program in Anacostia, for a few middle schools out there, so that’s going to be a really exciting endeavor.