For weeks, Jewish groups worried about a “juvenile justice” bill that many said combined badly needed gun control measures with dangerous provisions on youthful criminals.
If anything, their worries proved understated.
Last week the House nixed gun control, retained the controversial criminal justice provisions — and, for good measure, added three amendments offered by religious right lawmakers that groups such as the Anti-Defamation League say are serious breaches of the church-state wall.
One Jewish activist termed the overall package an “absolute disaster.”
But the measure is far from a done deal. Congressional observers predict a tough fight when conferees try to reconcile the House bill with a significantly different measure passed by the Senate, which included modest gun control provisions.
Instead of gun control, the
House gave states the right to display the Ten Commandments in public places, including schools, and made it harder to sue schools for improper religious activities.
The measure also included a controversial “charitable choice” provision that would allow fuller participation by “faith based” organizations in providing federally funded social services.
“As passed by the House, the Juvenile Justice bill actually stands to make things worse by ignoring crime prevention and focusing instead on Draconian punishment for juvenile offenders,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “The gun measures were extremely modest — but even that was too much for the NRA.”
The Anti-Defamation League blasted the church-state provisions and their stealth passage.
“The idea that they allotted only five minutes each for debate on 44 amendments — in the middle of the night — is outrageous,” said Michael Lieberman, associate director of ADL’s Washington office, “especially for issues of such constitutional import.”
ADL termed it “a model of how not to legislate on these most important and divisive issues.”
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, expressed disappointment with the failure of the gun control effort and ambivalence about the Ten Commandments provision.
“From a serious religious perspective, it’s unclear what the value is of just having the Ten Commandments displayed,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that if Dylan Klebold had walked into the Columbine High school and had seen ‘thou shalt not kill’ on the wall, he would have turned around and left.”
And the OU is disappointed that lawmakers failed to act on proposals to clamp down on violent video games and movies marketed to children, he said, even though the group acknowledges potential First Amendment problems with such measures.
There was widespread agreement that the National Rifle Association chalked up one of its biggest victories ever.
“The fact that the NRA convinced the House to substitute ridiculous and unconstitutional religion-in-schools measures for realistic gun control as a response to Columbine is very worrisome and very sad,” said an official with one Jewish group here.
Hadassah Squeezed On Hillary Honor
Hadassah, the huge international women’s Zionist organization, is feeling the heat for its decision to give first lady Hillary Clinton the group’s highest award at its national convention in July.
But Hadassah leaders are sticking with their board’s decision despite opposition by what they say is a small minority.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, insisted that the award is inappropriate. In response to the Hadassah invitation, he said “we have informed our members around the country that [Clinton] personally invited Arab and Muslim groups who have publicly praised Hamas and Hezbollah to the White House. She has given credibility and legitimacy to groups who are not only hostile to Israel, but who have praised Israel’s enemies.”
He also pointed to Clinton’s statements last year expressing support for full Palestinian statehood, and said it is inappropriate for a Zionist group to honor her.
Marlene Post, the group’s national president, expressed outrage at what she said is an orchestrated campaign to give the humanitarian award a political charge.
“It’s disgraceful that anyone in the Jewish community would attack an organization with our history, which invests so heavily in Israel and which has members from all parts of the Jewish world,” she said.
She said Hadassah officials have received several hundred letters complaining about the award.
She rejected the charge that Clinton is hostile to Israel.
“I spent many hours with her during her visit to Israel in December, and I only heard positive comments,” she said.
“She has a definite love of Israel. It is true that she has been a supporter of certain solutions to the Palestinian problem, but so have been a majority of Israeli voters.”
Lynn Turkington, a vice president of the Philadelphia chapter, said that “a lot of us are going to the convention at least in part because Ms. Clinton will be there. She’s a strong advocate of the issues that Hadassah believes in — women, children, health care.”
More uncomfortable for the group is Ms. Clinton’s status as an all-but-announced candidate for the Senate from New York.
But Post said that “we made the decision back in September; we didn’t know she was running for political office then.”