Unsure On Iraq
Congress overwhelmingly approved a sweeping resolution last week authorizing President Bush to wage war against Iraq, but Jewish community leaders continue to be more cautious about the plunge toward war than most lawmakers.
On Monday the board of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs conspicuously declined to endorse the administration’s war policies. Instead, the umbrella group of 123 local Jewish community councils and 13 national organizations voted to “support current U.S. diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and to only use force as a last resort.”
Several participants described an energetic, wide-ranging debate and said the vote was less a repudiation of the administration position than a reflection that most Jewish community groups have simply not developed positions on the Iraq question.
signaled that the Jewish community just has not made up its mind,” said one participant. “We had some who actively supported the administration, some who were hard-core against the administration position, some who had questions about what happens afterwards and some who were concerned about process — how the Jewish community should decide these questions. Everybody’s reasoning was different.”
Two weeks ago, JCPA tabled a motion by B’nai B’rith to explicitly support the administration’s demand for broad war-making authority. This week the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also finalized a resolution supporting the goals of the Bush administration on Iraq but not endorsing any specific course of action.
“The Conference supports President Bush and the Congress in their efforts to gain Iraqi compliance with the unequivocal obligation to divest itself of weapons of mass destruction and the means to develop such weapons,” according to the statement. “We support the efforts to enlist the United Nations and international cooperation to secure Iraqi compliance, including the use of force as a last resort.”
One Presidents Conference leader said “this is a consensus organization, so the statement represents a lowest common denominator. But at the end of the day, the president will get the support he needs from the Jewish community.”
How Jewish Members Voted
Jewish lawmakers generally supported President Bush’s demand for sweeping war powers in congressional votes last week, but there was a big difference between the two chambers.
Jewish House members voted more than 2-1 in favor of the resolution that was sent to the White House. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, was the only member of the large New York Jewish delegation to spurn the president’s request. Other dissenters included Democrat Reps. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Bob Filner of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Jan Shakowsky of Illinois and Sandy Levin of Michigan.
Both Jewish Republicans — Ben Gilman of New York and Eric Cantor of Virginia — voted for the successful resolution.
But the Senate’s Jewish delegation was evenly divided on the resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.
Wisconsin and California each have two Jewish senators, both Democrats, and in both states the delegations split. In Wisconsin, Russ Feingold voted no and Herb Kohl voted yes. In California, Barbara Boxer rejected the president’s plea, while Dianne Feinstein supported the White House.
Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Senate’s only Jewish Republican, was on the fence until just before last week’s vote, but eventually came down on the side of the administration.
Rift Deepens Over Faith-Based Bill
The split is widening between major Jewish groups over a controversial “faith-based” bill that could come up in the Senate this week. The Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act of 2002, or CARE, is currently awaiting floor action in the Senate, where leaders are scrambling to negotiate an agreement to limit amendments that could bring it to a vote before Congress adjourns this week or next.
The measure includes assorted tax incentives to encourage charitable giving, but not “charitable choice” provisions that were the centerpiece of the administration’s original faith-based initiative. Those provisions would have removed safeguards to prevent the misuse of government money given to religious groups to provide social services.
Several major Jewish groups say the measure is still worrisome and they want it modified before passage. But the United Jewish Communities, which supports the CARE bill, this week asked its activists to weigh in for passage of the bill without amendments. UJC officials say the goal is to avoid changes that they claim would make the bill harder to pass in the frantic final days of the congressional session.
“While some of these amendments may well be worthy, we do not believe that the underlying bill does anything to change the current state of the law relating to the division between church and state,” UJC officials wrote in an “action alert” to its activists. “We are also quite confident that the adoption of these amendments would kill the bill.”
Specifically, UJC backs provisions that could benefit the social and health service agencies it supports. Those provisions include an “IRA charitable rollover” that would allow donors to transfer assets in their retirement accounts directly to charities without tax penalties, and the restoration of Social Services Block Grant funding, which supports community-based services.
“With federal dollars very constrained, the block grant funding is essential,” said Diana Aviv, UJC’s vice president for public policy. “And without the IRA rollover provisions, our charities will be worse off.”
But other Jewish groups argue that while the bill may be good for Jewish philanthropy, it could be a church-state Pandora’s box.
Michael Lieberman, counsel for the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, said the group “will not support the bill unless our concerns are addressed.”
Specifically, the ADL and other church-state groups want explicit provisions barring religious discrimination in hiring at religious agencies that get government money and language barring proselytization. ADL also wants language that explicitly requires religious materials be removed from the places where the nonreligious services are being provided.
Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee, said another reason for stiffening Jewish resistance to the CARE bill is “the increasingly active campaign by the administration to implement charitable choice even without legislation.”
Passing the CARE bill without changes to clarify church-state issues will only accelerate that process, he said. The AJCommittee, too, will support the CARE bill “only with implicit safeguards” on church-state matters, he said.
But Aviv said “we will be bitterly disappointed if this does not pass now.”
Christians For Israel
Last week’s Evangelical rally for Israel didn’t draw the record turnout the Christian Coalition had predicted, but the event — which was moved from the grounds outside the White House to the Washington Convention Center because of rain — did produce its share of controversy.
At the same time, promoters of the growing alliance between Christian conservatives and pro-Israel groups marshaled new evidence to show that the religious right has become Israel’s new best friend in this country.
A survey conducted by Stand for Israel, a project of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, found that while a majority of Americans support Israel and its efforts to stop Palestinian terrorism, support is weakest among “Democrats and liberals,” with just 46 percent of the former and 45 percent of the latter expressing support for the Jewish state.
According to the report, “Evangelical Christians who frequently attend religious services are among those most supportive of Israel. Fully 62 percent of conservative Christians say they support Israel and its policies and actions toward Palestinian terrorism, and among conservative Christian men this figure jumps to 77 percent.”
In an interview, Rabbi Eckstein said that one of the most striking findings involved the motivation of the Christians who support Israel.
“For years I’ve been saying that the media’s portrayal of the reasons Christians support Israel is hogwash,” he said. Apocalyptic prophecies are a motivator for only “a small percentage of them,” he said. “What surprised me in the study is that the main reasons Evangelicals and other Christians support Israel isn’t theological, it’s the shared democratic values of the two countries.”
Only 35 percent say they support Israel “because it is the place prophesized for the Second Coming of Christ in the New Testament,” according to the report.
Rabbi Eckstein said the study also showed a “surprisingly high” level of support among mainline Protestants and Catholics. His group is also sponsoring a nationwide Day of Prayer for Israel on Oct. 20, with some 16,000 churches already committed.
One endorser of the event: the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who this week apologized for his televised comments calling the prophet Mohammed a “terrorist.”
Rev. Falwell’s comments were denounced by the Anti-Defamation League, but the group’s director, Abraham Foxman, said there’s no reason pro-Israel groups should spurn the help of the Lynchburg, Va., preacher — or any other “Christian Zionist.”
“When they do get out of line, when they do resort to bigotry, they should be condemned,” he said. “We don’t have to accept Jerry Falwell’s mishigas.”
Referring to comments by one of the co-hosts of the Christian Coalition event, Foxman said, “So what if there were people at the rally who said church-state separation is a ‘satanic plot?’ We’ll fight them in the courts to protect the separation of church and state, but that doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t accept their help or that we shouldn’t accept their prayers for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Last week’s Christian Coalition conference and pro-Israel rally produced another Jewish firestorm: Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House Majority Whip, urged participants to “put people in office who stand for everything we believe in and stand unashamedly with Jesus Christ.”
That produced a quick blast from the National Jewish Democratic Council. NJDC director Ira Forman said “Mr. DeLay’s support of Israel is appreciated by many in the Jewish community, but his repeated statements of religious exclusivity threaten the atmosphere of religious freedom that our nation was founded upon.”