JCPA: Government Shutdown Is “Insult to Our Democratic System”


Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will run out of money, leaving 9 million women and children without nutrition assistance. WIC office in Kings County, Cali.

— by Benjamin Suarato

Unable to agree on a new appropriations bill, Congress has instead opted for a government shutdown, “which its impact will be felt most by the vulnerable among us,” according to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“This government shutdown is a product of a dysfunctional Congress,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

And once again, our most vulnerable must suffer. Because of this dysfunction, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will run out of money, leaving 9 million women and children without nutrition assistance. Head Start, which creates opportunity for children, would also suffer an immediate reduction. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees in each of our communities, who will still be expected to meet their financial obligations even as we, as a nation, neglect ours. It is a callous abdication of our political leaders’ responsibility, and an insult to our democratic system, to ask those with the least to suffer from an inability to compromise.

More after the jump.
Last month, JCPA Vice President and Washington Director Jared Feldman sent a letter to Congress urging them to “craft a federal appropriations bill that prevents a government shutdown and furthers fiscal equity.” Citing the Biblical command that “there shall be no needy among you,” the letter specifically called to protect WIC and Head Start, among other programs, and for a restoration of the cuts from the sequester.  

“The clock is ticking on how long dysfunction can rule,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold.

States can temporarily shoulder extra burdens, but as the days continue, the effects of a government shutdown will grow more serious. The stakes are too high for our leaders to be focused on political posturing, instead of serious governing. We call on Washington to quickly end this shutdown by passing a budget that restores funding to critical programs, promotes opportunity, helps to lift our most vulnerable, and ends the cycle of a country that lurches from crisis to crisis.

President Obama, Please Address Court’s Jerusalem Decision


Israeli Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs asked President Barak Obama to use his authority to undo the damage caused by Federal appeals court ruling, declaring unconstitutional a 2002 U.S. law permitting American citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Israel” on their passports. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the 2002 law wrongfully intruded upon a President’s sole power to recognize foreign governments. In 2012, the JCPA joined an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in defense of the law. JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said:

The Court’s disappointing opinion allows the State department to continue the unfair policy, treating those born in Jerusalem differently than all other foreign cities in which passports are issued. We call on the Administration to right this wrong, and allow Jerusalem-born applicants who desire so to list Israel on their passports.

More after the jump.
JCPA Chair Larry Gold said:

The opinion deeply conflates the President’s power to recognize foreign governments with Congress’s power to regulate immigration. However, the policy set by this opinion is much broader: it permits the Department of State to delegitimize the nationhood of persons born in areas that are under dispute, such as Jerusalem. While no one questions the President’s prerogative to set foreign policy, this case permits a policy that unnecessarily drags people born there deeply into the politics of the conflict itself.

While the U.S. has consistently recognized the state of Israel since independence was declared in 1948, it has refused to recognize any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.  

Jewish Organizations Welcome Renewal of Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry

In response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the basis to resume peace talks, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We welcome this apparent progress toward peace, and commend Secretary of State Kerry for his leadership and effort and pledge our support for such efforts as they move forward. We pray that this is the beginning of a process that will lead to a lasting agreement that will bring true peace and stability for a region that has known conflict for thousands of years. We call on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with a true willingness to work for peace and we pray that the vision of the prophets will soon be fulfilled.

JCPA and JStreet comments after the jump.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs Chair Larry Gold said:

This is an opportunity that for the past two years has been extremely elusive. It grows out of the recognition that peace and security, prosperity and independence, cannot be reached by any path other than direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. We have no illusions about the difficulties ahead. The issues that must be resolved are profound. But the status quo is unacceptable. Israel’s future as a secure and democratic nation state of the Jewish people cannot be fully preserved without establishment of a stable, viable, and independent State of Palestine. We encourage both sides to show the courage, flexibility and persistence necessary for these talks to be successful.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

This is a great achievement for Secretary of State Kerry who invested so much time and diplomatic effort in finally bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Last week, we and the American Task Force for Palestine joined together in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the administration and leaders in Congress to express our support for this effort and for a negotiated peace. Two states for two peoples cannot be achieved without a strong U.S. leadership, and we are thankful to Secretary Kerry and President Obama for their leadership. But the hard work is just beginning. As we move forward, we urge all who want peace to support these negotiations and to encourage reconciliation, not division.

JStreet President Jeremy Ben-Ami said:

Secretary Kerry deserves the recognition of the entire world for his determination and creativity in achieving this breakthrough. We are confident he will remain fully engaged as the parties get down to negotiating. We thank President Obama for making this issue a top foreign policy priority of his second term.

We call on Congress and American Jews to get fully behind this peace effort to give the parties the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary to resolve their conflict.

Achieving a two-state solution is a vital U.S. national security interest and would inject much-needed stability into an increasingly unstable region. It would deal a setback to extremists and terrorists around the world who have exploited this conflict to mobilize support for their violent methods.

Such an agreement is also the only way to secure Israel’s future as both a democracy and a Jewish homeland and would provide Palestinians with a vehicle in which to fulfill their self-determination and national aspirations.

We know that difficult days lie ahead, but we are convinced that with persistence, creative mediation and international support, a deal is within reach. Vocal minorities on both sides can be expected to oppose the negotiations going forward, but must not be allowed to frustrate the desire of clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to end this conflict.

JCPA: Middle East Peace Must Be Negotiated, Not Imposed


JCPA President Steve Gutow

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) today reaffirmed its support for U.S.-led efforts to restart direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. The call came in response to issuance of new European Union (E.U.) guidelines restricting its economic engagement and other activities with Israeli entities beyond the so-called “Green Line” (pre-1967 armistice lines). The guidelines do not affect economic activities of individual E.U. member countries. The JCPA described this action as “one-sided pressure.”  

“A final and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two parties. Permanent borders must be mutually agreed upon, not imposed by outside parties like the European Union,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold.

More after the jump.

Europe is, and long has been, an important economic partner of Israel’s, and it maintains close ties to the Palestinians as well. These relationships should be used as leverage to help bring the two sides together. This one-sided pressure contributes to a growing movement to isolate and unfairly blame Israel alone for the stalled peace process. We join with Israeli President Shimon Peres and other Israeli leaders in calling on the E.U. to reconsider the decision.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

Last week, we were in Washington, D.C. with the American Task Force for Palestine to express our mutual support for the U.S. efforts, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, to facilitate resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. That is why we are dismayed by the E.U.’s decision this week, which we believe only complicates those efforts. What’s more, these unhelpful guidelines fail to distinguish between the West Bank, Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem. There has been a virtually uninterrupted Jewish presence in Jerusalem for three millennia, with the exception of twenty years (1948-67) when Jews were denied the right to visit their holy places.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Part Of Voting Rights Act


These areas with historic patterns of disenfranchisement had been required to obtain pre-approval of certain changes to their voting laws. (Google map by the Washington Post.)

The White House released today the following statement by President Barack Obama on the Supreme Court Ruling on Shelby County v. Holder:

I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act — enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress — has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.

As a nation, we have made a great deal of progress toward guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.

Reaction from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs follows the jump.


Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 at the conclusion of the famous march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow:

The fundamental premise of our democracy is that every citizen can cast a meaningful vote and together those votes will create a republic that is representative of the people. Today’s ruling is distressing because it makes it more difficult to ensure the integrity of our voting systems. The Voting Rights Act is one of the most effective civil rights laws in our nation’s history and is still needed. There are great disparities in how Americans vote. Long waiting times, identification requirements, and widely varying registration and voting technologies all affect the way Americans experience their right to vote and tend to have an onerous and disproportionate affect on minority populations. Preservation of the VRA remains essential to our national progress toward a more perfect union. Unfortunately, the decision handed down today undermines the Federal government’s best tool to ensure this progress. We are up to the challenge implicit in this ruling. Congress needs to act to remove the obstacles to the ballot so that no American is denied the right to vote.

JCPA Chair Larry Gold:

Equal participation for all is at the heart of our work as an agency and part of the American Jewish community’s legacy. Our gains have been won through hard work and dedication, and that same spirit will continue to carry us in the work that lies ahead. A federal role in ensuring a fully participatory democracy is still necessary and a strong VRA remains a vital interest. The JCPA has a long history of advocating for voting rights. Today we recommit ourselves to the principles of the VRA we first advocated for decades ago. We find the same resolve today to work with Congress and the President to repair the Voting Rights Act that we had in the 1960’s when we worked with Congress and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on this very bill. We stand committed to ensuring all American citizens a meaningful vote and the systems are in place to root out discrimination from our political process.

New Opportunity for House Farm Bill

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs welcomed the House of Representatives’ rejection of the proposed Farm Bill. The bill, which included a $21 billion cut to SNAP (formerly food stamps) failed by a vote of 195-234.

“Now is time to press the restart button,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The House of Representatives defeated a Farm Bill that would have eliminated food assistance for 2 million individuals, many of whom are in working families with children or seniors.  Now Congress has the opportunity to debate a serious food policy that aims to feed all Americans, not take food from the hungry.  

More after the jump.
We will continue to work with our partners in Congress and our allied faith and anti-hunger advocates to protect SNAP. We encourage Congress to move forward with a more responsible Farm Bill, one that doesn’t aim to undermine our safety net.”

“Hunger cannot be legislated away or zeroed out through budgeting. It must be confronted with compassion and effective solutions. In SNAP, we have both,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold. “Since the beginning of the recession, SNAP has done exactly what it was designed to do: meet the needs of those who suddenly found themselves unemployed or struggling to support their family through no fault of their own. With a near 97% efficiency rate, SNAP has raised 3.9 million people out of poverty in 2011 alone and kept even more from hunger while also contributing to local economies.  We thank the majority who voted to protect our most vulnerable and are eager to continue working with Congress to pass a Farm Bill that addresses our deficit in a serious manner without targeting the poor our society should be protecting.”

Israel Recognizes Conservative, Reform Rabbis


Rabbi Miri Gold

Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein office announced yesterday that 15 Reform and Conservative rabbis will be recognized as rabbis of non-Orthodox communities and put on the state payroll for the first time — on a par with Orthodox community leaders. This out-of-court settlement brings to a close the 2005 petition before Israel’s Supreme Court by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and Reform Rabbi Miri Cohen of Kibbutz Gezer. The decision allows for equal financing of non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities throughout the country, but so far does not extend to the larger cities.

Rabbi Gold, who first heard the news on the radio said, “This is a big step for religious pluralism and democracy in Israel.  Israeli Jews want religious alternatives and with this decision the State is starting to recognize this reality. There is more than one way to be Jewish, even in Israel.”

The ruling in this case follows other successes by the Israel Religious Action Center including the placement of a Reform Rabbi in Mevasseret on the Religious Council there, the finding that forced gender segregation on public transportation is discrimination and prohibited, and the allocation of pre-fab units to non-Orthodox congregations for synagogue buildings.

According to DEBKA, “they have a long way to go before their authority is accepted for performing marriages, conversions and other religious matters along with Orthodox and Haredi rabbis.” However, this decision has hailed as an important milestone by the Conservative and Reform movements.

Reaction after the jump.  
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Vice-President of the Rabbincal Assembly
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international body of Conservative rabbis

This is a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world. In order for Judaism to grow and thrive in Israel, it is necessary that the government recognize its obligation to provide equal funding to various Jewish religious streams and expressions that flower in the Jewish state.

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, President of the Rabbinical Assembly

The announcement of Israel’s Attorney General Weinstein represents a dramatic step forward in the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel. The historic inequities in the funding of local community rabbis in Israel has long hampered efforts to bring a greater variety of spiritual options to Israelis.  Hopefully, this decision will open the door to new and exciting Jewish spiritual opportunities that will strengthen Israel, and bring Israelis to a new appreciation of Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA; The Reform Israel Fund
ARZA is the major American Reform Movement funder of the Israel Religious Action Center, an arm of the Israel Reform Movement, that brought the case to court six years ago.

Miri’s success is success for all of us. With patience and perseverance, we will build an inclusive democratic Israeli society. Israel’s Declaration of Independence guaranteed religious freedom, it has to be that this freedom is for all Israeli’s, Jewish as well as Christian and Muslim. This decision brings us closer to the day where this will be the reality in Israel rather than the ideal.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism

This is a watershed moment for the Reform Movement and for religious pluralism in Israel. Mazel tov to Rabbi Gold and the many activists who work so diligently to ensure the eventual and thorough embrace of liberal Judaism in Israel.

Kenneth Bob, President, Ameinu

This historical decision is an important first step toward the recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism by the State of Israel. There is still much work to be done, but it’s a big victory for pluralism and religious freedom in Israel. We salute the efforts of the Conservative and Reform movements and will continue to stand with you.