New Restitution PanelGets Bipartisan Support
Democrats and Republicans seem to be in complete accord on a proposal to set up a special commission to look for Holocaust-era assets in this country. Last week, the Clinton administration and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) announced an agreement to create the presidential panel, which will examine assets such as gold, gems, bank accounts, insurance policies, financial instruments and art works that came under the control of the federal government after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, according to Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat, the administration’s point man in the restitution fight.
“A U.S. Holocaust Assets Historical Commission is a concept whose time has come,” he said last week. “The United States government has been an international leader in focusing attention on these tragic and complex issues
— both by conducting historical research and by developing mechanisms to achieve justice. Now the time has come to look more closely at assets here at home, and to do so with sensitivity and urgency.”
The commission will build on the efforts of the inter-agency panel on the subject Eizenstat currently heads. The panel’s first report focused mostly on looted assets in Switzerland; later this month, it is expected to issue a second report zeroing in on the other wartime neutral countries.
The new commission will issue a final report by the end of 1999, he said.
“This sunset date is very important, both to expedite the commission’s work and to be consistent with our ‘millennium’ call to all nations involved in these issues that they complete major historical research and make any appropriate commitments to restitution by the end of next year,” he said. “A dozen countries have already established similar commissions, and we expect that our commission will coordinate its efforts with theirs.”
The 23-member panel will include 11 private citizens appointed by the president, three representatives of the executive branch, eight members of Congress and Miles Lerman, the newly reappointed chair of the Holocaust Memorial Council.
At a press conference last week, Eizenstat also announced that the State Department and the Holocaust Museum will co-host the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in early November, a followup to the December conference in London on pilfered gold. The new conference will focus primarily on insurance and art works.
Legislation creating the commission was introduced by Rep. James Leach (R-Iowa) and D’Amato, chairs of the two banking committees, with broad bipartisan cosponsorship.
The World Jewish Congress, which has taken the lead in the fight for restitution, is urging Congress to approve the commission quickly.
Nasty Surprise On Food Stamps
Jewish officials in Washington got a nasty Passover surprise last week when Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) threw a monkey wrench into the effort to restore food stamp benefits to refugees and legal immigrants.
A House-Senate conference committee had agreed to restore $818 million over five years. The administration, pressed by immigrant and refugee advocacy groups and the Jewish community, had demanded $2.5 billion. The benefits were cut off by the 1996 welfare reform law.
All that remained was for final approval by the House and Senate, which was expected late last week. But Gramm and several other Senate conservatives put a “hold” on the bill that included food stamp appropriations because it would override the welfare reform bill, regarded by the Republicans as one of their top achievements in recent years and signed by the same president who now says it needs to be fixed.
Adding to the problem were comments by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) suggesting that when Congress gets back after its spring recess, he will not push for approval of the food stamps provisions.
Jewish groups plan to use the spring break to appeal to Republican leaders in the Senate. But time is working against them.
“Every day this is put off increases the likelihood this money will be shifted to some other use, especially highways,” said an official with one Jewish group here. “Gramm singlehandedly made it significantly harder for those of us who have been working to make sure the hardships created by the welfare bill are addressed in a responsible way.”
More On Orlando Rally
The saga of a massive April 29 rally in Orlando celebrating Israel’s 50th anniversary continues to percolate in Washington and Jerusalem.
The event, which promoters say will attract up to 18,000, has angered Jewish leaders because of the high proportion of Messianic Jews among the planners and scheduled speakers. Almost all of the Jewish leaders invited to participate have declined, but promoters say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still scheduled to address the group, probably via satellite television hookup.
Last week, the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group, privately wrote to House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s chief of staff, Arne Christianson, urging the GOP leader to decline his invitation to the rally.
“We always encourage the closer working together of Evangelicals and Jews,” said the group’s director, Matthew Brooks. “But once you cross the line and work with groups that have as their primary purpose the conversion of Jews, we feel that’s inappropriate.”
Brooks said that while the rally ostensibly celebrates Israel’s 50 years of existence, “these are Messianic Jews. They clearly have ulterior motives no matter how the event is being marketed.”
Meanwhile, the final program for the conference has been distributed, and if anything, the Messianic content has increased.
Mark Powers, national director of Jews for Judaism, an anti-missionary organization, said that “of 47 speakers listed, 32 are Hebrew-Christians, have strong ties to the Hebrew Christians or are themselves involved in deceptive proselytizing to the Jewish community.”
The glossy brochure also features the logo of the conference — a Jewish star engulfed in flames in the rough shape of a dove. Does that signify the horrors that await Israel during the “end-time” events prophesied by many of the rally’s participants?
Organizers aren’t saying.
Gun Ban Pleases Feinstein, Jewish Groups
Jewish groups and a number of legislators were pleased with this week’s decision by the Clinton administration banning the importation of some 58 modified semi-automatic assault weapons.
President Bill Clinton announced the decision on Monday, following a study by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF).
“As everyone knows, you don’t need an Uzi to go deer hunting,” Clinton said. “You don’t need an AK-47 to go skeet shooting. These are military weapons, weapons of war.”
The decision pleased Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had been battling a number of gun importers — including an Israeli concern that wanted to market modified Uzis in this country. Feinstein’s efforts had irritated the Netanyahu government, which said it would stop the sale only if other gun importing countries did the same, and generated strains with pro-Israel groups, which initially feared she was singling out Israel for special criticism.
But Feinstein made it clear she was fighting to bar imports from a number of countries that, she said, threatened to flood American cities with inexpensive, deadly weapons.
Feinstein called the action “bold and courageous,” and said that it will “keep nearly 1.6 million dangerous rifles out of this country.”
Jewish groups were also pleased.
“We’re delighted with the decision,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women, a group that supported Feinstein’s gun control efforts. “We think it will go a long way toward helping keep our cities and communities safer. We hope Congress and state and local officials will follow President Clinton’s lead.”
B’nai B’rith Do-Gooders
Those do-gooders at B’nai B’rith are doing good once again over the Passover season.
The Washington-based group is conducting seders for the homeless and providing holiday packages in a number of cities.
In Boston, B’nai B’rith members have distributed more than 400 Passover packages to new immigrants and senior citizens; in Washington, 150 low-income Jewish families will get home deliveries of full Passover meals.
In Las Vegas, members are teaming up with Jewish Family Services for a seder, and in Los Angeles, B’nai B’rith is organizing seders for some 1,400 disabled and indigent Jews.
The group has already distributed 500 packages in Brooklyn and more than 2000 in Manhattan, with an emphasis on the elderly and new immigrants — many of whom have never celebrated the holiday before, the group said.
There are similar programs in Oakland, Palo Alto, Calif., Philadelphia, San Francisco and Minneapolis.
That’s a lot of matzah.