Plenum To Tackle Palestinian Link
This year’s Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) plenum in Washington, which starts this weekend, will include the usual endless debates over religious pluralism in Israel, church-state issues and Jonathan Pollard.
But the hottest action could come over a broadly worded resolution on Jerusalem.
The original draft resolution expressed the view that Palestinians have “connections to Jerusalem.” Delegates from Baltimore propose adding the words “that should be addressed,” although they emphasized that they were not challenging the overwhelming Jewish consensus that Jerusalem must remain undivided and under Israeli sovereignty.
But the draft resolution infuriated some groups, led by the Orthodox Union, which will push an alternative that simply praises Israel’s traditional respect for the rights of all three major religions.
Another hot debate is expected on the question
of the restitution of Holocaust-era property.
A generic resolution supporting restitution efforts and encouraging negotiators to make fuller use of survivors groups is expected to be the flash point for intense, wide-ranging debates on how restitution money should be distributed and who should guide the overall effort.
The OU is also pushing a resolution calling for more communal support for Jewish day schools. At the last Plenum, JCPA voted against changing its traditional opposition to school vouchers, but promised to look into ways of supporting Jewish education, and the OU plans to make them live up to that promise.
“We believe strongly that the Jewish community has to put its money and its efforts where its mouth is,” said Nathan Diament, director of the group’s Institute for Public Affairs. “We plan to put out all the stops.”
Early indications suggest strong backing for the OU proposal. The Orthodox group is also challenging past JCPA resolutions opposing “charitable choice” laws that would cut down on restrictions which religious groups face in providing health and social services using government funds.
The object of all these debates is the creation of a “joint program plan” intended to guide the 122 local member agencies through the public policy mine fields in the coming year.
Plenum Facts and Figures
Some 400 delegates are expected at the Plenum, including representatives of most of the nation’s Jewish community relations councils. Speakers include Vice 0President Al Gore, Israeli ambassador Zalman Shoval and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose conservatism often conflicts with the liberal views of many local Community Relations Council leaders, will discuss the role of the judiciary in creating a just society.
In a stroke of good timing, the JCPA lobby day, Feb. 23, now marks the real beginning of a legislative session that has been delayed because of the prolonged impeachment debate.
JCPA, in conjunction with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, will also spend some time trying to define how environmental issues fit into Jewish activism — an issue that is particularly attractive to younger Jews.
And continuing a recent trend, there will be more spiritual content. Rabbi Harold Shulweis will serve as scholar in residence, leading a discussion of “Jewish public affairs from generation to generation.”
New Director At Shoah Museum?
The Holocaust Museum in Washington could have a new director as early as next week.
On Tuesday, a search committee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council tentatively offered the job to acting director Sara Bloomfield, who has won high marks for her performance since the messy departure of former director Walter Reich a year ago, but whose rumored appointment has also incensed Museum critics.
On Wednesday, the panel was expected to bring that recommendation — which came after interviews with six finalists — to the Council’s executive committee.
If all goes according to plan, members of the full Council will vote on Thursday and Friday via fax. A final decision could come as early as the end of the week, Museum sources say.
Recent reports about Bloomfield’s front-runner status prompted complaints from some Jewish leaders about her lack of scholarly credentials and her inexperience in the world of Jewish communal affairs.
But supporters say she has been an outstanding administrator who has brought a semblance of order to the controversy-plagued Museum. They cite her creation of an Office of Survivor Affairs and her role in developing the Museum’s highly successful traveling exhibition program.
But while opponents have faxed broadsides attacking Bloomfield to reporters, Council sources say there has been little evidence of an all-out lobbying campaign against her.
HIAS Fights Refugee Funding Cuts
Smaller numbers of Jewish refugees coming from the former Soviet Union mean lower funding from the federal government for resettlement — which could be a big problem if rising anti-Semitism in Russia triggers a new wave of departures.
That’s why the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has dug into its endowment to bolster resettlement programs in cities across the country.
HIAS is providing up to $1 million to stimulate creation of innovative refugee programs designed to compensate for decreased government funding.
In 1994, $46 million in federal funds went to Jewish communities to resettle 33,000 refugees; in 1998, the total had decreased to $14 million for 7,500 refugees.
“As the numbers decline, less federal money is available for our system,” said HIAS director Leonard Glickman. “But many of our communities are saying that you can only go so far in cost cutting. We need to retain the infrastructure to serve those who we know will be coming in the next few years — and to be sure it’s there if we ever need it.”
HIAS and other Jewish groups are alarmed by developments in Russia, where resurgent communists and nationalists are reviving traditional Russian anti-Semitism as the nation’s economic crisis accelerates.
“We know our system has to downsize and cut costs,” Glickman said, “but we also have to protect the core program for the future. The decision by HIAS to provide this money is a dramatic gesture highlighting that need.”
Jesse and Pat Eye 2000
Jewish Democrats are gleeful about the growing likelihood that columnist Pat Buchanan will make another try for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, a move that automatically sets back efforts by the GOP to attract Jewish voters.
But Jewish Republicans have their own secret weapon: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is acting more like a candidate for the Democratic nomination every day. Jackson, who has become a White House insider in recent months as he provides comfort and advice to a battered President Bill Clinton, was in New Hampshire last week, and probably not for the scenery.
The longtime civil rights activist told reporters that he is “seriously considering” running in a race in which the competent but dull Vice President Al Gore is the front-runner, with the equally dull former Sen. Bill Bradley far behind.
Immediately, Democratic analysts theorized that Jackson was really gunning for the No. 2 slot under Gore.
Jackson has worked to repair his image in a Jewish community he insulted with an ethnic slur in the 1980s, but Jewish Democrats fear that his presence as a contender for the nomination could cool Jewish ardor for the party. If Jackson is picked for either slot, it could provide an unexpected opening for Jewish Republicans — although their ability to exploit it fully will depend on the GOP nominee.
Buchanan has reportedly told friends he is considering another race, and that he is beginning to assemble a campaign team.
Jewish Democrats couldn’t be happier. Buchanan, a persistent and strident critic of Israel and the Jewish lobby, could offset an anti-Jackson backlash.
But some analysts say the impact of both is likely to be minimal next year, if recent political trends continue. “The lesson of 1998 is that voters want to move toward the center,” said a Democratic analyst. “The real question is whether the two parties will get the message. The party that doesn’t could be in for a very hard time next year.”
Falwell And The Teletubbies
First, Rev. Jerry Falwell produced a firestorm in the Jewish community with his recent announcement that the antichrist — the demonic force that many Christians believe will deceive the world just before the coming of Jesus Christ — must be a Jewish male alive today.
Falwell apologized for hurting Jewish feelings, although he didn’t change his assessment of who this satanic being might be.
Now, he’s run afoul of gay rights groups for attacking a popular PBS children’s show as a kind of homosexual fifth column among America’s children. In an article in the National Liberty Journal, Falwell warned that Tinky Winky, a character in the British program “The Teletubbies,” could be gay.
How does Jerry know? Tinky Winky is supposed to be a boy, but he carries a purse, and he’s purple —“the gay pride color,” he warned. And his antenna is triangular, echoing the triangular gay rights symbol. It may all be part of a convoluted plot by gays and their supporters to bolster the “homosexual agenda” by indoctrinating children early in their lives, he implied.
Jewish leaders who blasted Falwell for his antichrist remark were just scratching their heads this week. “Downright bizarre,” one commented about what the Washington Post dubbed the “Tinky Winky Stink.”
Gay rights groups weren’t so shy.
“Jerry Falwell’s paranoia about gay people has reached a new and ludicrous high water mark,” said David M. Smith, an official with the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization. “As farcical as it might sound, Falwell’s latest ranting has serious consequences. He continues to demean and insult gay people, which continues to foster a divisive environment in this country that sometimes leads to violence.”
No word yet on whether the Teletubbies are Jewish.