Obama administration will not enforce anti-BDS law on West Bank settlements


The Obama administration will not enforce part of the new law to combat boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel when it comes to West Bank settlements.

“By conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity,” John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said Tuesday in a statement.

The language Kirby referred to is in a trade measure signed into law on Monday that requires U.S. negotiators to raise objections to Israel boycotts in their dealings.

The language, part of a broad Trade Promotion Authority passed by both chambers of Congress and signed this week by Obama, says that “discouraging” Israel boycotts would become one of the “principal negotiating objectives” of U.S. officials.

It also explicitly includes “persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories” as illegitimate targets for boycotts.

Liberal pro-Israel groups, including J Street and Americans for Peace Now, objected to that provision, saying that for the first time it would confer U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

The bill was otherwise backed by an array of pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The bill’s drafters include Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Juan Vargas, D-Calif.

Kirby said the Obama administration would continue to firmly oppose any boycotts of Israel, but would not abide by the clause referring to “Israeli-controlled territories.”

“The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them,” he said.

Abiding by the clause referring to the territories could compromise trade dealings with countries in Europe, many of which discourage boycotts of Israel within its 1967 lines but where there is also a range of policies governing how and whether to do business with Israeli companies operating in the West Bank.

Ron Bloom: Car czar in the Labor Zionist tradition


By now Ron Bloom’s professional road to becoming the Obama administration’s car czar has been widely reported. Missing from the coverage, however, has been any mention of those formative years at Jewish summer camp.

Born in New York City and raised in Swarthmore, a suburb of Philadelphia, much of Bloom’s early life revolved around Habonim (now known as Habonim Dror), a progressive Labor Zionist youth movement that emphasizes cultural Judaism, socialism and social justice.

It’s all part of an upbringing that the man overseeing the country’s bailout of the U.S. auto industry cites among his earliest influences.

“I had an aunt in the teacher’s union,” and relatives who were “Hebrew butchers and Hebrew bakers,” Bloom recently told JTA in an exclusive interview a few days after returning from a trip to Israel to attend the 80th birthday of an uncle who moved there several decades ago. “My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe; that was very much in my upbringing,” Bloom said.

Bloom’s parents met at a Habonim summer camp in the 1940s and moved to Israel, intending to make aliyah. Though they changed their minds and moved back to the United States, Habonim remained an integral part of their lives.

“My parents had always been supportive of doing something that we found meaningful,” Bloom said. “There was always a view that what’s going on in the world matters. We talked politics at the dinner table. Life was about engagement in the world.”

At age 10, Bloom was sent with his two siblings to Camp Galil, a movement-run summer camp near Doylestown, Pa. He returned each season for the next four years and later became a camp counselor.

One of campers was Jack Markell, who years later would become the governor of Delaware. Bloom reconnected with Markell, as well as with several other old Habonim friends, upon arriving in Washington for his new job. They are now “offering me home-cooked meals,” said Bloom, who is commuting between his family in Pittsburgh and his job in Washington.

Bloom recalled camp as “a fun experience” that afforded him the opportunity to “meet people from different places.” He said he never intended to go into the Labor Zionist movement professionally.

Addressing the question of how the experience influenced him, Bloom said, “It’s all a tapestry, and it’s hard to figure out what fits where.”

He says Habonim infused him with values that influenced the way he views public service. “We sang the songs, but it wasn’t about that,” Bloom said. “It was a broader sense of identifying with the underdog, and of observing the world through a lens, through people who don’t have as much and aren’t as lucky.”

The Labor Zionist movement prides itself in its direct connection with union work and its ability to inspire leadership, said Kenneth Bob, the president of Ameinu, the Labor Zionist organization that provides funding to the Habonim Dror youth movement.

Prior to his ascent in the Labor Zionist movement, Bob was actually Bloom’s counselor at Camp Tel Ari, Habonim’s leadership training institute. He recalled Bloom as being “a very serious, engaged person, there for the right reasons, to drink in the experience and learn as much as he could.”

Bob said there is a “great deal of pride” within the Habonim community regarding Bloom’s new position in the Obama administration.

“There’s definitely been a buzz on the online alumni listserv,” Bob said. “People are very proud, very supportive of Obama and excited about the things he’s trying to do, and to have one of our own helping.”

Bloom’s expertise in both private banking and the labor union movement, as well as his reputation as a passionate but pragmatic negotiator, helped him land what he says is the job of a lifetime.

A graduate of Harvard business school, Bloom worked as an investment banker for a decade before leaving the financial sector to take a position—and pay cut—with the United Steelworkers of America. Then, when Obama came into office, he became an aide to Rattner at the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry. When Rattner resigned after just five months, Bloom took over as car czar.

Now, there’s speculation in Washington that Bloom will be offered a new position next month overseeing manufacturing policy for the Obama administration.

Bloom said his decision to join the administration was, in part, the product of a broader sense of engagement and desire to improve the world, which he developed in his Habonim years. “That’s part of what I try to do in my work life,” he said. “That’s one of the things that made me want to work for Obama.”

As for the possibility of future assignments in Washington, Bloom said that the difficulties of commuting and the strain it places on his family would need to be taken into consideration.

“I’m not in a position to talk about future,” Bloom said. “I will stay as long as the president wants me to stay. If there are opportunities, I’ll consider them.”

In Reversal, U.S. to Join U.N. Rights Council


The United States will seek to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, reversing its policy of shunning the council and prompting concern among some Jewish groups.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced it would participate in May elections for a seat on the 47-member council, “with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights.” The Bush administration had withheld U.S. membership from the Geneva-based council for its failure to confront human rights abusers and its singling out of Israel for condemnation.

“The United States helped to found the United Nations and retains a vital stake in advancing that organization’s genuine commitment to the human rights values that we share with other member nations,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement announcing the decision.

“Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the Council to be balanced and credible,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said. “The U.S. is seeking election to the Council because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights. We hope to work in partnership with many countries to achieve a more effective Council.”

Since its creation in 2006 to replace the widely discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the council has passed 32 resolutions; 26 have been critical of Israel, according to UN Watch. More than half of the council’s members fall short of basic democracy standards, according to Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group. And in the past two years the council has moved to eliminate its country-specific special experts investigating human rights abuses in Darfur, Congo, Cuba, Belarus and Liberia.

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern about the Obama administration’s decision.

“There is no question that the U.S. can play a decisive role in making U.N. institutions more effective, but the Human Rights Council has deep systemic flaws,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “We remain concerned that the U.S. decision to join the Council before meaningful reforms are put into motion may not achieve this desired goal.”

The World Jewish Congress echoed that sentiment. “There are so many players on the Human Rights Council that do not have our interests at heart that I think it will mobilize against the things that the United States is going to fight for,” said Betty Ehrenberg, a spokeswoman for the WJC. “I’m not sure at this moment that the Human Rights Council is free enough of its past and present difficulties and complications to make this effort fruitful at this moment.”

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, said he welcomes the U.S. decision, “but only if it’s to vigorously push back against the world’s worst abusers.” He added, “The council is worse than ever before, pathologically obsessed with scapegoating Israel, while turning a blind eye to millions of human rights victims around the world.”

It’s hard to find good day school leaders these days


A dearth of leadership talent is affecting not only the likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft, it’s also wreaking havoc on the Jewish day school system as schools find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified heads.

Representatives from 11 Jewish educational organizations will meet next month at a think-tank at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. Working with strategic planners and other Jewish and general education experts, they will look for solutions to what they describe as a crisis.

“As soon as you bring it up with those involved in Jewish education, it’s like bringing up the topic of in-laws with a group of married people — there are a lot of nodding heads,” said Nina Butler, an educational consultant at the Avi Chai Foundation. The foundation has a special focus on day school education, and is one of the think tank’s organizers.

To some extent, the day school system is a victim of its own success, said Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE).

“This is basically a story about the phenomenally rapid growth of the day school system in North America,” he said. “For the last couple of decades, the addition of new schools and the expansion of schools has put a tremendous demand on the Jewish community to supply leaders and teachers. The growth has outstripped the capacity.”

There are roughly 800 North American day schools, and 60 new schools have opened since PEJE, a collaboration of major philanthropists to improve Jewish education, started in 1997, Elkin said. The number of children in day schools has increased by 100,000 since 1982 to more than 200,000 today, according to a 2003 Avi Chai census.

Frances Urman, director of the Day School Leadership Training Institute, founded by Avi Chai and run out of JTS, said her office has seen a “tremendous” influx of calls from schools across the country looking to fill their top spots. Her office runs a 14-month fellowship to train prospective day school leaders.

Marvin Schick, a senior adviser to the Avi Chai Foundation, said finding heads of school isn’t the only issue — there’s also the problem of keeping them.

Schick recently completed research for a study into Jewish day school leadership. He sent out 500 questionnaires to Jewish heads of school and got 400 responses.

The study looked at career path, salary, job responsibilities, career satisfaction and other areas. The data won’t be ready for release for several months, but Schick said it shows that a “significant number” of Jewish heads of school are “new or fairly new” at their jobs.

Most started out as teachers without expecting to go into administrative work, he said, and one out of five continues to teach on top of other duties. Schick also found that job satisfaction is very high among heads of school, with 90 percent of those who returned the questionnaire reporting less than 1 percent job dissatisfaction.

Schick said it was “remarkable that there is so much movement in the field.”

Los Angeles, home to 37 day schools serving 10,000 K-12th grade students, has bucked the national trend and enjoyed healthy stability in retaining principals and headmasters, according to Gil Graff, executive director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education.

“School heads have been drawn from a variety of backgrounds, including both Jewish education and public and private school administration. Rare are the instances of appointment as head of a day school in L.A., absent previous experience in a senior role in educational administration,” Graff said.

Still, the national crisis is cause for concern.

“Los Angeles, however, represents 5 percent of the schools and students in the American day school universe. Ensuring that, nationally, there is a sufficient pool of well-qualified heads of Jewish day schools to serve the needs of an expanding number of institutions is vital to sustaining and furthering the momentum of the day school movement,” Graff said.

PEJE’s Elkin said the average retention rate for heads of Jewish schools is three to six years, hardly enough time for an educator to leave a mark. For the schools to be successful, they have to figure out how to raise that rate to six to nine years, Elkin said.

When principals do switch jobs, it’s often because they find better opportunities, advancement or a preferable location, said Schick, who noted that “very few were fired.”

Some of the difficulty stems from the fact that schools are popping up in small Jewish communities, such as Kerry, N.C. and Asheville, N.C., said Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, an umbrella organization for the country’s 90 Jewish community schools.

Getting qualified people to leave bigger Jewish communities is often a problem, and getting them to stay when a job in a larger city opens up is difficult, he said.

A head of school functions like a CEO, maintaining curriculum and serving as liaison among the school’s board, faculty, parents and student body, while making sure that school finances are in check. Finding someone who is qualified to do all this — and who also has experience working at a Jewish school — is nearly impossible, Kramer said.

He added that about eight RAVSAK schools — about 10 percent of the schools in the system — look for new heads each year.

That’s why Debra Altshul-Stark, president of the board of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, considers her school very lucky to have found a qualified applicant to take over as head of school this year. The founding headmaster of the 25-year-old school retired five years ago, and the school couldn’t find a qualified replacement.

The board decided to try a three-headed approach. That flopped, as did a model of two heads of school.

When the board decided to go back to a single-head model, Stark was wary, because the first search had been so disappointing. This time 25 candidates applied; one had the general educational and Jewish educational background — and wanted to move to Milwaukee.

U.S. Must Act on Iran Nuclear Threat


Outrageous statements by Iran’s president calling for Israel’s destruction put Iran back on the front page for a few days in October. Such belicose rhetoric should surprise no one; the destruction of Israel has been Iranian state policy since the 1979 revolution.

What should be surprising is that even after the Sept. 11 wakeup call, we still have no effective policy for dealing with Iran. After a series of revelations regarding the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program in 2002 and after the revelation of Tehran’s significant assistance to Al Qaeda, we still have no policy for stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Our latest intelligence guesstimates that Iran is about six to 10 years from developing a nuclear weapon. We must take action now, however, if we are going to have any hope of delaying and hopefully stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

For five years, the Bush administration has been deadlocked and immobilized on our Iran policy. The purpose of this article is to outline steps we can take — short of war — to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. These same measures should be used to stop Iran’s massive support for international terror and improve its abysmal human rights record.

Our current strategy, to the extent we have one, has relied on European — and now Russian — negotiations with Iran. Hanging over Iran is the threat that should negotiations fail, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will refer it to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. But when the IAEA board met over the Thanksgiving holiday, the United States and Europe chose not to force the issue of referral, due to opposition from Russia and China.

That’s the fatal flaw in the strategy. Even if Iran were referred to the Security Council, Russia, and especially China, are likely to veto any meaningful sanctions, no matter how blatant Iran’s continuing violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In order to secure future sources of energy, China plans to invest $70 billion in Iranian oil fields. This creates an imperative on the part of the Chinese to use their veto in the Security Council to benefit their “partner.” So relying on the United Nations as the exclusive forum for pressuring Iran is a dead end.

President Bush has not only failed to take action against Iran; he also has made unilateral concessions to Tehran that are baffling. Earlier this year, he agreed to drop U.S. objections to Iran joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is critical to Iran’s economy. The Bush administration also announced that it will allow the sale of Boeing parts, so that Iran can repair its aging commercial aircraft fleet.

So for five years, we have done nothing to pressure Iran, save our still unsuccessful efforts to get the IAEA to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council, a forum Iran would like to avoid. Instead, we must use every available stick and offer some major carrots to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Among our nonlethal resources are:

1) Economic pressure on oil companies to deter investment in Iran’s aging oil fields.

2) The hint of economic pressure on China to secure cooperation at the United Nations.

3) Ending our trade with Iran.

4) Conditioning Iran’s entry into the WTO on a change in its nuclear policy.

5) Expanded support for Iranian pro-democracy forces

6) Broadcasting designed to influence the Iranian people.

7) Continued refusal to take the military option off the table.

We need to aim these resources at two separate targets. The first is the leadership in Tehran, which needs to conclude that it is simply too expensive to continue its nuclear program. The second target is the people of Iran.

Although pork may not be halal, any government that wishes to be popular with its people, even dictatorships like Iran, has to bring home the bacon. Iran’s population tops 68 million, while oil revenues total $602 per capita annually; so oil cannot alone substitute for a functional economy. We must convince the people of Iran that their already bad economy will get worse if government policies remain unchanged.

I will soon be introducing tough legislation designed to prod the Bush administration into adopting an effective position on Iran. First, my bill would close loopholes in a current law, the Iran Libya Sanctions Act, which was passed by Congress in 1995.

Under this law, European and Asian firms that invest in Iran’s oil sector are subject to U.S. sanctions. The infrastructure in Iran’s oil fields is aging and crumbling, and Iran’s capacity to bring oil to market is eroding. Western technology is badly needed if the Iranians are going to avoid a serious decline in oil production in the coming years. If these firms fear sanctions in the United States, they are likely to forgo investment.

Instead, the Clinton and Bush administrations turned a blind eye to every foreign investment in Iraq. My legislation would end this practice and require the president to impose sanctions.

My legislation also would impose a total embargo on Iranian goods in the United States. Unbelievably, we currently buy about $150 million a year in Iranian carpets, caviar, nuts and fruits. It would require us to oppose WTO membership for Iran and stop the export of Boeing parts to Iran.

It would allow the president to reduce U.S. contributions to the World Bank and other financial institutions should they loan money to the Iranian government. Since 2000, the World Bank has approved loans of more than $1 billion to Tehran. My bill also would end the reprehensible practice of U.S. companies doing business in Iran through their foreign subsidiaries.

I remain hopeful that this type of nonlethal leverage will cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program and support for terrorism and to improve its human rights record.

If necessary, military force must remain an option. A full-scale invasion of Iran is not possible, but a bombing raid or covert action to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities has been discussed in Washington and Jerusalem.

There are many problems with a military approach. In any event, we should not consider the use of force until we have exhausted our other options.

We need to act now. Forcing the Bush administration to adopt a tough policy on Iran — one that uses all economic, political and diplomatic measures at its disposal — should be the highest priority of Congress.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee.

 

Nobody Likes Saddam


So do you think America should go to war with Iraq?

The question is not idle.

This week, members of Congress and the Bush administration met with Jewish leaders in Washington to discuss President George W. Bush’s resolution on Iraq. While administration officials did not ask directly for Jewish support, some GOP congressmen did call for an active Jewish lobbying campaign on behalf of the Iraq resolution, reports our Washington correspondent James Besser.

Whether you approve or not, the groups who will lobby do so on your behalf. So now would be a good time to make up your mind, and make your voice heard.

Right now, it’s fair to say that the country’s 6.1 million Jews are of about that many minds when it comes to war with Iraq. Experts on both sides are hitting each other’s arguments back and forth like Venus and Serena.

There is no agreement on Iraq’s unconventional weapons capability. There is no agreement on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s willingness to use those weapons on a more powerful force rather than on, say, Kurdish children. There is no agreement on whether the aftermath of a successful "regime change" would plunge Iraq’s three large ethnic groups into murderous chaos or jump-start its highly literate and oppressed people toward democracy.

There is no agreement on whether America, in acting nearly unilaterally to attack Iraq, will alienate important allies and undermine the United Nations. Perhaps it will, by asserting its leadership, put both cowards and dictators on notice. There is no agreement on whether American forces can get rid of Hussein, and at what cost in American and innocent Iraqi lives. Some say ousting Iraq is the linchpin in America’s war on terror, others say it is a distraction.

Many Jews are inclined to agree with former Vice President Al Gore, whom they supported overwhelmingly for president in 2000. In a speech earlier this week in San Francisco, Gore bashed into Bush’s Iraq policy and called it a smoke screen for his failure to extirpate Al Qaeda. Or perhaps Jews would agree instead with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gore’s former running mate. On Oct. 15, Lieberman said the United States must be "unflinching in our determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq before he, emboldened by Sept. 11, strikes at us with weapons of mass destruction." That’s right: he said it Oct. 15, 2001.

The sides in this debate do not split Democrat and Republican, left and right, hawkish and dovish. As numerous pundits have pointed out, many experts with actual combat experience oppose rushing into war, while many of the officials who favor it never saw a uniform, much less combat.

Israelis, who have seen much terror and war, support immediate American military action against Hussein. Perhaps more than any other country besides Iraq, Israel will feel the war’s effect. Some argue that war on Iraq will bring about an immediate and perhaps devastating attack on Israel. Other experts say the Iraqi threat to Israel will only increase, so better to stop it now.

With so much in dispute, are there any points of accord? Nobody likes Hussein. Experts agree that he is developing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons, and at least trying to develop nuclear ones. But how soon will he be able to deliver these weapons, and, knowing the cost, why would Hussein, the consummate survivor, even want to? On these points, experts disagree.

No wonder, then, when GOP officials asked Jewish leaders to get behind the president’s resolution on Iraq, the leaders offered only qualified support for now. The board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation voted in favor of U.S. action against Iraq, on the condition that the United States first try all possible diplomatic solutions and that Bush not act with explicit congressional support, Besser reported. The American Jewish Congress is working out a statement of support, as is The Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations. The Conference represents 52 Jewish organizations nationwide and speaks to elected officials as the consensus voice of American Jewry. Its opinion in such sweeping policy matters can be important. Ideally, it reflects the positions of its member groups, which receive input from their constituents, like you.

But how do you go about deciding whether to support the Bush resolution or not? By turning to Bush. The president, in speeches, articles, interviews and especially in press conferences, needs to be as precise and as forthcoming as possible. He needs to provide, as Sen. Arlen Spector (R.-Pa.) has written, "information amplifying the specifics on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; the precise details concerning U.N. efforts to conduct inspections in Iraq, and Iraq’s refusals; the type of a military action necessary to topple Hussein, including estimates of American casualties, and how a post-war regime in Iraq is envisioned."

The president has yet to do this, and the ball is in his court.

The Necessary Fight


With all the discussion, confusion and controversy about the Bush administration’s planned actions against Saddam Hussein,it’s ironic that President Bush, a born-again Bible reader, appears to have rejected the Christian position and adopted instead the Jewish stance on self-defense and responding to evil people.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, instructs: "If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other one as well," adding: "Offer the wicked man no resistance."

One shudders to think of the consequences of such behavior in the face of the Hitlers of the world.

Moses, by contrast, in his first act as an adult, kills an Egyptian taskmaster who is beating a Jewish slave. His response to violence is not pacifism but defending the innocent, an approach taught clearly in the Talmud: "If someone comes to kill you, kill him first" (Sanhedrin 72a).

That blunt instruction, in turn, is based on a passage in the Torah noting that if a thief is killed while attempting to rob your house at night, "there is no blood guilt" (Exodus 22:1).

These ancient lessons are all too relevant today. When Islamic fundamentalists struck against America last Sept. 11, killing thousands of innocents, the United States responded by declaring war on the perpetrators and all those who seek to destroy this country through terror. Clearly, the notion of defending one’s self — be it a person or a nation — is accepted most widely, as is the understanding that as tragic as wars can be, they are necessary at times, and even moral.

Jewish law distinguishes between two types of war, one waged to conquer territory and one fought in self-defense. The latter, milchemet mitzvah, is literally considered to be a mitzvah.

The question today is whether the U.S.-planned invasion of Iraq to oust Hussein is a war of aggression or self-defense. Bush, given to seeing the world in black and white and articulating policy along those lines has come to believe that Hussein represents a clear threat to regional, and perhaps international, stability and must be removed. Bush has argued that Hussein’s race to develop biological, chemical and nuclear warfare — and the fact that he has used chemicals for the mass killing of his own people — are reason enough to act against him before he employs these instruments of mass destruction, as threatened, particularly against Israel.

Opposition to that position is mounting, though, even among the Republicans and close Bush allies. At first it was Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries that warned against a U.S. invasion, soon joined by the Europeans. They argued against America as Bully, trying to rearrange the world as it would like, not mentioning they do business with Iraq. Here at home, the Democrats have been calling for a debate on the planned war, given its profound importance. Fair enough, but their arguments seem to be more about the need for "a national dialogue" rather than specific reasons why a war would be wrong.

Most attention has gone to the opinion piece written by Brent Scowcroft in the Aug. 15 Wall Street Journal, warning that a war against Iraq would undermine Washington’s war on terror. Scowcroft, national security adviser for the first President Bush and a close family friend of the Bushes, argues that Hussein has not been tied to the Sept. 11 terrorists, poses no real threat to the United States itself, and that attacking him would not only be costly in terms of American dollars and soldiers’ lives but could unleash a more wide-scale war. Saddam, under attack, would strike at Israel, Scowcroft says, perhaps with weapons of mass destruction, prompting Israel to hit back, possibly with its own nuclear arsenal, setting off "an Armageddon in the Middle East."

Scowcroft says the key is for the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or face the wrath of the Arab world.

Certainly, there is reason for Washington to exercise great caution and careful planning before setting out to take on Hussein, as it has said it will. (One wonders what happened to the element of surprise in warfare, but that’s another story.) Going it alone, without the active help of Arab or European countries, would make such an effort all the more difficult. But Scowcroft, who opposed ousting Hussein in the Gulf War a decade ago, errs when he reasons that Hussein and the terrorist network are separate issues or that the United States must quell the Israeli-Palestinian violence before taking on Iraq.

This is all about confronting and defeating terror, not appeasing it or ignoring it, pretending it won’t hurt us. One lesson we should have learned from Hitler is that when a despot shows his willingness to murder civilians and proclaims his intentions to destroy a people, or a nation, take him at his word. Believe him, and the fact that he won’t stop until he is defeated.

The issue for the United States should not be whether to oust Saddam, but how. Turning the other cheek is suicide; what is called for is the moral imperative of destroying evil before it destroys you.

Budget Danger Ahead


In Jewish communal boardrooms in New York and Washington, all eyes are focused on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the tricky matter of U.S.-Israeli relations in a changing era.

But in communities around the country, many Jewish leaders have another big worry: the impending federal budget train wreck, and a state and local ripple effect that could produce real pain for needy Americans — including many Jews.

Congress and the administration are not eager to call attention to the mounting crisis, especially not in a critical election year. But the numbers won’t get any better for being ignored; indeed, putting off the day of budgetary reckoning may make the eventual crunch that much worse.

And that has huge implications for almost every item on the Jewish communal agenda. Government bookkeepers are working hard to paper over the crisis; Enron’s accountants could learn a thing or two from the administration’s budget director and congressional appropriators.

Still, it’s getting harder to ignore facts that are coming together to create an economic critical mass.

Government revenues have been down for several years, thanks in large part to the recession, producing a return to big budget deficits. Even if the economic recovery gathers steam, the problem will continue, thanks to the huge, backloaded tax cuts demanded by the Bush administration and endorsed by Congress, with support from a significant number of Democrats.

The recent sharp declines in the stock market and the literal evaporation of trillions of dollars of wealth will add new pressure on the revenue side of the equation. At the same time, spending needs are soaring.

The ongoing war in Afghanistan carries a hefty price tag, but that’s nothing compared to the projected costs of an assault on Iraq. The Pentagon is already working on the necessary buildup, and their bookkeepers’ eyes are spinning in their sockets.

The cost of homeland security is going up by the day, and a nation that suddenly understands its vulnerability to 21st century fanatics won’t complain about the cost.

At the same time, the demand for government services is growing as layoffs spread. More people out of work means more demand for a wide range of services.

And there’s the 800-pound gorilla of the baby boomer retirement crisis looming just over the horizon, but already filling budget planners with dread.

Long-term economic predictions are risky, and they are riskier in this new age of market volatility. A very strong economic recovery could quickly diminish the impact of these problems.

But few economists say that’s likely to happen, and many predict things could get worse before they get better.

The next Congress will have no choice but to start facing up to the budgetary carnage it helped create, and ledgers that went from big surpluses to big deficits in only two years.

Pressure on what’s left of the budget after defense spending, entitlement programs and debt service will be fearsome, producing a mad scramble among lobbyists for different groups to preserve as much funding as possible for their clients.

The crunch means that new spending programs are unlikely. Many Jewish groups would like expanded child-care services to ease the pain of families who have lost welfare benefits, or expanded drug benefits for the elderly or more money for immigrant and refugee services. But with the budget in shambles, extra spending is not on the agenda.

The crunch will have a ripple effect. Already, dozens of states are facing their own budget shortfalls; the return of red ink in Washington means the federal government will not be able to ease the burden.

So local Jewish groups that get both federal and state money to provide services could face a double whammy or potentially a triple whammy. If the recent plunge in the stock market isn’t quickly reversed, many Jews will find themselves with less money to contribute to the charitable organizations that will be called on to pick up the slack when government funding declines.

The accelerating budget crisis will also heighten the debate over faith based services. The Bush administration, with strong support in the Republican House, wants to shift the burden of providing important services to charitable and religious groups, a move liberal Jewish groups and church-state watchdogs oppose.

The accelerating effort to slash government funding will add to the pressure for such programs.

Aid to Israel is unlikely to be in jeopardy in the short term, but a long-term budget catastrophe will inevitably generate strong pressure on the entire aid program.

Pro-Israel leaders, worried about the huge proportion of the aid program that goes to Israel, have fought successfully for a bigger foreign aid pie in the past few years; the impending budget crisis could reverse that trend.

But it’s the domestic impact of the impending budget emergency that scares Jewish groups — the impact on needy people, including many in our own community. That, as much as the fight to protect Israel, will define Jewish activism for the next few years.

Mixed Message to Bush


One message from this week’s rally at the Capitol was clear — solidarity with the State of Israel and its people. Much less clear was the message to the Bush administration.
Signs, speakers and more than 100,000 demonstrators touted support for the U.S. war on terrorism. But few expressed support for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s current mission in the Middle East, his meetings with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the Bush administration’s call for Israel to end its military incursions into the West Bank.

A handful of U.S. senators and non-Jewish political leaders mentioned the Powell mission. American Jewish and Israeli leaders skirted it.

But while the Jewish leadership tried to stick to positive tones, a State Department official said the lasting image of the rally will be the negative response to the Bush administration’s sole representative, who spoke from the administration’s playbook.

Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense who is considered one of Israel’s staunchest advocates in the administration, was drowned out by chants of “Down with Arafat” and at times, booed when he spoke of an eventual Palestinian state and the death of innocent Palestinians.

“The fact that Paul Wolfowitz is booed for talking about the sufferings of innocent Palestinians, in many ways reinforces the deep divide between many people in government — even those sympathetic to Israel — and the pro-Israel community,” said a State Department official.

But the real question is, what impact, if any, the rally will have on administration policy.

The Bush administration is engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to walk a fine line between supporting Israel’s position that its offensive in the territories is part of the U.S. global war on terrorism, and asking Israel to withdraw its forces and return to political negotiations with the Palestinians.

Within the administration, the response appears mixed. One State Department official said he did not think the Powell team was about to change course because of the rally.
“Given his immersion in this problem,” the official said of Powell, “I am not sure he is worrying about what tens of thousands of people gathering on a spring day are saying.”
Others in the administration, however, said policy may not change, but the numbers that turned out can’t be ignored. “This is not going to change policy because policy is not based on what’s popular,” said a Bush administration official. But he added, “We hear so much from Jewish leaders. To see that many Jews turn out for this will just speak volumes.”

Where’s the Outrage?


For those who believed President George W. Bush would chart a moderate course, the administration’s first two months must come as a rude awakening. Those who were lulled into believing that Bush was a compassionate conservative have now discovered that only the latter half of this otherwise vacuous campaign slogan is true.

A virtually giddy George Feulner, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, recently described the Bush White House as “more Reaganite than the Reagan Administration.” And as Grover Norquist, a leading right-wing strategist, ungrammatically confessed: “There isn’t an us and them with this administration. They is us. We is them.”

Why is the far right rejoicing? Consider just a few examples:

The deeply divisive appointment of ultraconservative Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The reinstatement of an abortion gag order on international organizations providing family planning counseling.

The promulgation of so-called faith-based initiatives that are already stirring anti-Semitic rumblings, pitting service providers of various religious denominations against each other and calling into question the very definition and legitimacy of various faith communities.

The retraction of a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, coupled with a refusal even to acknowledge — much less react to — the phenomenon of global warming.

The withdrawal of new regulations that would have substantially reduced the permissible level of arsenic, a known carcinogen, in drinking water.

The willingness to open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling while simultaneously refusing to ask automobile manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency.

The refusal to impose any federal constraints upon hyper-profiteering electricity providers, as California citizens and businesses suffered through rolling blackouts and girded themselves for 50 percent-plus-aggregate utility-rate increases.

The repeal of workplace ergonomic safety rules designed to protect tens of millions of Americans.

The proposals to dramatically cut already modest funding of child care for low-income families, for programs designed to combat child abuse, and all trust-fund money earmarked for early learning.

The readiness to promote the interests of the ultra-rich by repealing the estate tax and providing them with the lion’s share of federal income-tax relief.

The passage of a bankruptcy-reform bill that will harm consumers while pandering to a credit-card industry that seduced those very consumers into amassing irresponsible levels of debt.

The ongoing push for a destabilizing, untested and unworkable Star Wars missile-defense shield.

The implementation of a sometimes schizophrenic foreign policy that seems destined to reignite Cold War-era hostilities.

The abandonment of a meaningful role (including the refusal to appoint a Middle East envoy with a specific portfolio) in helping to resolve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The precipitous termination of the American Bar Association’s 47-year-old advisory role in the selection of federal judges, thus raising the specter of temperamentally and professionally unqualified candidates being nominated and appointed for federal court judgeships.

Though many of these actions may well be examples of the reward-your-friends-and-punish-your-enemies game of politics, there is something missing — outrage. Having crafted the first Judenrein Cabinet since the Eisenhower administration, Bush is sucker-punching the Jewish community. Amazingly, mainstream American Jewry has reacted only with profound silence to the White House’s wholesale sell-out to the religious right, to fanatic ideological conservatives, to big business, and to every imaginable segment of the energy industry.

Only with respect to the administration’s misguided faith-based initiative has the mainstream Jewish community spoken up in any serious way. And even then, the criticism proffered by traditional Jewish organizations has too often been divisively targeted toward contesting the bona fides of putative non-Jewish service providers. While battling Bush’s desire to dismantle the wall of church-state separation is obviously necessary, it cannot be the beginning and end of Jewish activism.

In an era when coalition politics has become increasingly important to a vibrant Jewish community, we must engage and activate ourselves on many more fronts than those where we have been traditionally heard.

Our tradition commands us to work for tikkun olam, the healing or repair of the world. We cannot remain silent in the face of this assault on our community’s values by a right-wing administration with no mandate to impose its agenda upon the rest of us.

Though the Bush inaugural (with its multiple invocations of Jesus Christ) occurred less than three months ago, it is long past time for American Jewry to heed a serious wake-up call to conscience.

Douglas Mirell,
president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, can be reached at dmirell@pjalliance.org. Daniel Sokatch,
executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, can be reached via e-mail
at dsokatch@pjalliance.org. The
organization’s Web site can be found at www.pjalliance.org.

Sinai Dedicates New Memorial


There are few times when a sense of community is more necessary than when our lives are touched by death. Perhaps that is why more than 400 people from every point along the spectrum of the Los Angeles Jewish community came together Sunday at the site of the new Mount Sinai Memorial Park and Mortuary in Simi Valley for the opening of the park’s chapel and administration building.

Although the Mount Sinai Park in Hollywood Hills has long been a center of the Los Angeles Jewish community, officials there realized more than 10 years ago that at their then-present rate of growth, the cemetery would run out of ground internment space by the year 2015. The search for a new and larger site led to the former Douglas Ranch in Simi Valley, which had served as a recreation center for defense workers during World War II. The spacious parcel will enable Mount Sinai, a not-for-profit agency owned and operated by Sinai Temple, to continue providing burial space “for the next 200 years,” official said.

“There are probably 15 acres remaining undeveloped at Hollywood Hills of the 82 acres when we started,” said Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mount Sinai. “In Simi Valley we have about twice the land area and whereas here in Hollywood there are areas that are not really ideal for grave sites, in Simi almost all the land will work for ground burial or building a mausoleum.”

Set against the hills above the 118 Freeway, the 165-acre site was consecrated as a Jewish cemetery in March 1997. Construction began the following year with plans to begin internments in August 2000. Total costs for construction are estimated at $18 million.

Sunday’s ceremony included a tour of the administration building and the dedication of the chapel, which has been renamed the Kaminer Chapel in honor of Dr. Edward Kaminer of Sinai Temple, who was instrumental in raising funds for the new park.

The ceremony drew rabbis and other community leaders from the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding valleys, as well as representatives from Gov. Gray Davis’ office, the Southern California Board of Rabbis and the city of Simi Valley. Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple’s spiritual leader, gave a brief but moving speech thanking Kaminer and donor Ruth Ziegler for their contributions to the park and noting the important role Mount Sinai plays in supporting the bereaved.

“Here perhaps more than any other place we will remember the Talmudic admonition that we must bless the bad as well as the good,” Wolpe said. “Parents… children… husbands and wives [mourning the loss of loved ones] – this chapel will be made sacred by their love.”

Whereas the Hollywood Hills site is known for its “Americana” motif and rolling green hills, the new park, designed by Robert Levonian for Behr Browers Architects Inc., uses a combination of stone, glass and light wood to reflect the golden hillside on which it is built, similar to those of Jerusalem. The architecture and stained-glass windows in the chapel and the soon-to-be constructed Caves of Abraham burial structure – a traditional cave-style burial site that will conform to Israeli designs approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel – all build on a theme of the Old City.

A unique feature of the memorial park is the Ziegler Center, a study center and museum which is being developed as an electronic library and archive covering the history of Jewish community life in Los Angeles. The center is scheduled to open in 2001.

Saltzman recognizes that some families will continue to try to “stay together in death as in life” at the Hollywood Hills site. However, in a shrewd marketing move, Mount Sinai is charging about half as much for burial plots in Simi Valley as at the old park. Already, 1400 spaces in the new park have been sold. “There’s no question that there will be people who forego the savings in Simi in order to be buried with other members of their family,” Saltzman said. “But there will be other people who live out there [near Simi] or have children out there or who simply think it is a beautiful place and so will choose the Simi Valley site.

“I think the major hurdle we will have is psychological. It seems very far from the West side,” Saltzman continued. “But every time someone drives out there they tell me it only took about 35 minutes. They’re always amazed, but it’s just that you get on the 405 to the 118 and then you’re there.”