Dems reject Sanders’ platform proposal on Israel

The Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee on Friday voted down an amendment that would have called for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” and an international effort to rebuild Gaza during a meeting in St. Louis.

The amendment was introduced by Palestinian activist James Zogby, who said Senator Bernie Sanders helped craft.

Instead, the 15-member drafting committee approved a draft that advocates for a “two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that guarantees Israel’s security with recognized borders “and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”

The wording reflects Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on mutual recognition as outlined in the famous Bar Ilan speech in 2009. “In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence,” Netanyahu said.

In May, Sanders “>lobbying for a “new consensus” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The organization launched an online 

Senate amendment penalizing Palestinians for U.N. status does not pass

A U.S. Senate amendment that would have penalized Palestinians for seeking non-member state status at the United Nations was not attached to its intended law.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed late Tuesday, did not include among its amendments one that would cut funding to the Palestinians should they use their upgraded U.N. status to seek charges against Israel in international courts. The amendment also would have shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington until the Palestinians returned to peace talks with Israel.

It was not clear why the amendment was not approved.

The amendment had been introduced by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Nov. 29, the same day as the vote in the U.N. General Assembly enhancing the Palestinians' statehood status.

J Street, the liberal pro-Israel group, rallied against the amendment, with followers sending nearly 15,000 letters to senators and making close to a thousand calls.

Other amendments favored by pro-Israel groups passed, including one approving additional funding for Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system and one tightening Iran sanctions.

Netanyahu announces support for controversial libel law amendment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come out in support of a libel law amendment a day after Israeli journalists gathered to protest the bill.

The libel law amendment has passed a first reading in the Knesset, and was scheduled for its second and third readings Monday night. The measure relaxes the criteria for slander and libel, and more than triples the maximum damages for such infractions.

“As long as I’m prime minister, Israel will continue to be an exemplary democracy, and no one will tell anyone what to think, what to write, what to investigate and what to broadcast,” Netanyahu said Monday at a party meeting.

“We will preserve democracy, the freedom of expression and the rights of minorities,” he added.

On Sunday, reporters, editors and other Israeli media figures met to discuss their opposition to the libel law amendment as well as the upcoming closing of Israel’s second commercial television channel, Channel 10.

Amendment opponents say the measure will limit freedom of the press and stifle investigative journalism, and that the fines are excessive.

Political Journal

Israel School Teaches Peace Lesson

Racially motivated brawls at Jefferson High School this spring made the school appear, at times, like a miniwar zone. Which makes it especially interesting that L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) officials are learning lessons from Israeli and West Bank schools, where violence, even terrorism, is an ever-present undercurrent.

The person bringing those lessons to Los Angeles is USC professor Ron Avi Astor, who has spent his career studying school violence in Israel and the United States. His newest book, co-written with Israeli professor Rami Benbenishty of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, is titled, “School Violence in Contest: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender.” The two scholars conducted studies encompassing 30,000 Israeli students at a time.

A fundamental finding is that a school’s response to violence should relate to the type of violence: One size does not fit all. One of the first steps is to ask students, teachers and local authorities to describe the problem in detail, be it sexual harassment, weapons, gangs, bullying or something else.

Then, Astor said, officials should map the results. This process immediately reveals where students fear to go, allowing the school to target its response.

In Israel, national attention focused on the problem of school violence during the late 1990s. The government turned to Astor for advice. Acting on his input, schools put in place teacher training based on his methods, and a national dialogue on school violence in Israel began, Astor says. Since then, school violence has dropped by about 25 percent by his estimate.

Some of the schools facing the most hardships have fared best. Shevach Mofet in Herzeliya, for example, saw seven of its students killed in a Tel Aviv nightclub bombing.

The school managed not only to avoid fracturing into conflicting groups, but “created such a strong sense of community that a number of kids were propelled to colleges and good jobs, because they felt they were part of a greater cause,” Astor said.

He said that schools are not doomed to replicate patterns of violent behavior present in the communities around them.

“If you’re in a horrible neighborhood that has drugs and violence and political issues, and we have some of those in the West Bank, a school could shelter you,” Astor said.

The more actively the school assumes a positive, perceptive role in the community, he added, the more violent messages from the outside are mitigated. Schools that are more passive regarding a neighborhood’s ills — which focus, say, only on academics — tend to let in more of the violent messages coming from outside, Astor said.

The polling and mapping Astor and his colleagues developed in Israel and the West Bank are now at work in the LAUSD, where Astor sits on the Working Group for Safer School Communities. Students at Fremont High School in South Los Angeles and Gardena High School have already participated in mapping the dangerous areas around them, and eight more schools may soon follow. Infusing schools with a sense of purpose and community involvement is no quick fix, but the benefits over time can be transforming.

“Some of the schools we looked at were in the West Bank, where [students] go in with armored buses,” Astor recalled. “It’s amazing when you go into some of those schools. They are the most peaceful environments inside.”

Abortion Amendment on the Ballot

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for this November’s special election, he opened a Pandora’s Box. Schwarzenegger’s own initiatives (limiting teacher tenure, granting himself extra fiscal powers and changing the way legislative districts are drawn) are only three of eight now on the ballot.

One of the other ballot measures is a state constitutional amendment called Proposition 73, which would require doctors to notify the parents of minors who want an abortion.

In 1997, the California Supreme Court struck down a state law that would have required parental consent, calling it an invasion of privacy.

However, a constitutional amendment, such as Proposition 73, could preclude state judicial review.

The pro-73 campaign says that notifying parents of their child’s wish to have an abortion would help protect the pregnant minor by introducing mature decision making. It claims anecdotally that most people agree that parents have a right to be involved in this aspect of their children’s lives.

Proposition 73 opponents counter that teens who don’t tell their parents frequently have a good reason not to.

“We know that most teens talk to their parents,” said Hillary Selvin, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women L.A. “Teens who don’t usually [have] a reason — like abuse or incest caused by somebody close to the parent or by the parents themselves.”

Selvin said that the teens who are most alienated from their parents are the ones most vulnerable.

“They will either go out of state or try and get an abortion illegally,” she said. “And I think most of us thought we were past that point in this country.”

She added that pursuing a judicial waiver to parental notification, which Proposition 73 would allow, is an unrealistic option for a pregnant teenager to pursue.

Yes on 73 campaign staff did not return calls seeking a response.

Whatever else it does, Proposition 73 makes the abortion process more difficult and complicated; it would therefore be likely to reduce the number of abortions. That in itself would please anti-abortion activists.

By far the biggest financial backer of Proposition 73 is James Holman, a publisher of several Catholic newspapers, as well as the secular San Diego Reader. Holman has donated about $1.3 million to the campaign, and has in the past opposed abortion in general, with or without parental notification.


Washington Watch

Air Force Fight Moves to the Hill

The issue of religious coercion at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is starting to reverberate on Capitol Hill — with what one Jewish legislator said are ugly overtones.

And a chaplain who was fired for raising the issue of proselytization at the service academy said this week that a “disappointing” internal investigation by the Air Force demands strong congressional action.

In an interview, an angry Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said some of his congressional colleagues “just don’t get it. What I have learned is that the problems may not be confined to the Air Force Academy; the problem is here, in the halls of Congress.”

Last week, Israel introduced an amendment to a defense authorization bill expressing support for personal religious expression at the Air Force Academy, and demanded “corrective action reports” on “coercive proselytizing, intolerance and intimidation” at the school, he said.

Israel accused fellow lawmakers of “a jarring insensitivity to our concerns.”

Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) denied the existence of a problem at the Air Force Academy and warned that Rep. Israel’s amendment “would bring the ACLU into the United States military, it would bring the silly thinking of several of our judicial systems.”

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said the only problem at the controversy-plagued school is one of “political correctness.”

“Their response, essentially, was that the problem wasn’t those doing the coercing, but the victims who are complaining,” Israel said. “My colleagues seem to feel that the officers at the Air Force Academy who are pressuring subordinate cadets to adopt one religious view over another are simply pursuing their own personal religious freedom.”

Israel’s amendment, stripped of language that included “coercion” and “proselytization,” was rejected by the Rules Committee.

Israel accused the Republican leadership of “continuing to cater to right-wing extremists; any attempt to insist on moderation and pluralism and tolerance is struck down.”

Capt. Melinda Morton, the assistant chaplain at the school who was fired for raising the issues of religious intolerance and anti-Semitism, cast the problem in nonpartisan terms.

“Congressional oversight is very important,” she said. “The Air Force Academy is a direct reporting unit; we report to Congress, and the men and women who come here are appointed directly by congressmen and senators. So there’s a direct responsibility.”

She charged that an Air Force investigation into claims of religious intolerance has been superficial, at best. Despite her central role in the controversy “they didn’t even speak to me until noon on the last day they were to complete their report.”

Israel said that Jewish groups are not doing enough on the issue of religious coercion at the service academies.

“Any Jewish group that sat in on the Armed Services Committee last week would have realized that the problem is much more serious than they originally thought,” the lawmaker said. “I’m hoping the Jewish community — and the Catholic and Protestant communities — rise to this challenge.” — James D. Besser, Washington Correspondent

Big Church-State Battle Looming

Jewish groups are gearing up for what one activist called “the single-biggest faith-based vote by Congress ever” as Congress gets set to reauthorize the popular Head Start program.

The issue: Congressional Republicans, with strong White House backing, have announced plans to introduce an amendment that would explicitly allow faith-based groups that get federal Head Start money to discriminate in hiring employees.

Those provisions are necessary, supporters say, to allow churches and synagogues that participate in the program to maintain their religious character.

Orthodox Jewish groups agree.

“We call it religious freedom,” said Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union, which will support the expected amendment.

But church-state groups insist that it would open the door to widespread job discrimination using taxpayer dollars.

“We are arguing that Head Start is unique because of its pervasive nature, with Head Start programs in almost every congressional district,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. “And it’s a core civil rights and anti-poverty program; the idea of allowing discrimination in such a program is odious.”

Lieberman said it will be “the first time the House will vote to actually repeal an existing civil rights law in a floor vote,” a precedent that alarms civil rights groups.

It will also turn the Head Start reauthorization, one of few genuinely bipartisan bills in congress, into a partisan hot potato.

The amendment will be introduced on the floor by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, which recently approved the Head Start reauthorization by a 48-0 vote.

Even opponents predict relatively easy passage in the House, but the measure could get slowed in the Senate, where the administration’s faith-based agenda has faced tougher going. — JB


Reduce Oil Demand

The following are remarks and an amendment introduced by
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on March 19 to the House Energy Subcommittee that
propose an alternative energy strategy for the United States.

Mr. Chairman, I’d like to offer the “Keeping Faith With Our
American Soldiers” Amendment, which is at the desk.

In the next few days, more than 200,000 young American men
and women are stepping forward to defend freedom. They stand ready, if they
have to, to put their lives on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice for our

None of us in this room or in Washington are standing in
their shoes. We don’t face a fraction of the risks they do. So it is our
responsibility — in fact, our obligation — to make sure we are standing behind
them in every way possible.

Of course, our most basic duty is making sure we do all we
can to keep them out of harm’s way. They are ready to sacrifice everything; our
job is to do everything we can to make that sacrifice unnecessary.

That’s why I’m offering this amendment today. A few weeks
ago [Louisiana Republican] Rep. Tauzin noted that it was “insane” that we were
sending $20 million a day to Iraq even as the United States prepares to attack.

Well, it is obscene that we’ve been sending over $5 billion
per year to Iraq, and it’s dangerous that so many people in our country believe
this war is about oil.

My amendment helps make sure that war in the Middle East
will not be about oil. It says to our young men and women that they will not
have to risk their lives for oil. And it makes sure that American dollars
aren’t financing repressive, anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East.

Our nation produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, but we
consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. That dependence on foreign oil is bad
for us and also stifling to political and economic progress in the
oil-exporting nations. The oil nations in the Mideast are the richest countries
in the world, with the poorest, most disenfranchised people.

Today, more than 70 percent of all exports and investment in
the Arab world are tied to the oil industry. Those governments have had no
incentive to invest in other industrial sectors, in education, or to diversify
their workforce with women. Their unwillingness to modernize is a driving force
behind the unemployment, unrest and resentment feeding Islamic extremism.

My amendment is a small but important step in changing that
reality. It requires the federal government to propose, finalize and implement
a plan to reduce U.S. demand for oil by 600,000 barrels a day. This is the
average amount of oil we have imported every day from Iraq over the past five

The amendment focuses on oil consumption by all sectors of
the economy. This allows the administration to seek the oil reductions in the
smartest ways possible. Improving CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy]
standards is one option, but vehicles subject to CAFE only represent 40 percent
of our oil consumption. This amendment will allow the agencies to focus on all
sources and come up with the best plan possible to increase efficiencies and
reduce demand.

And if the agencies’ existing authorities are inadequate, it
expressly allows the agencies to request new authorities from Congress.

A couple of years ago, Vice President Cheney told California
that we couldn’t conserve our way out of the energy crisis. But here’s what
happened in California: Energy companies manipulated supply and prices went
through the roof. Gov. Davis challenged Californians to reduce demand by 10
percent. And with no lead time to make and execute plans, Californians reduced
demand by more than 10 percent. Despite widespread criminal conduct by energy
executives, we were able to conserve our way out of that crisis.

It was a remarkable effort that for reasons I don’t
understand, almost no one in Washington wants to acknowledge.

My amendment requires far less of all Americans. It
translates to a 2.5 percent reduction in oil demand, and we allow for a year to
finalize a plan and six years to implement it.

In absolute terms, this is a modest amendment. It asks
almost nothing from those of us who remain safe at home while our troops risk
their lives. But in symbolic terms for the young men and women preparing to
fight in Iraq, the significance of this amendment is incalculable.

If this subcommittee isn’t ready for this small step, I
don’t know how we can look our brave men and women in the eye when they come

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

Democrat Henry Waxman represents the 30th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.