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Jewish leaders grapple with the rough-and-tumble Internet

WASHINGTON – After the botched terror plot of the “Christmas underwear bomber,” David Harris took to the Huffington Post to argue that the United States had something to learn from Israel’s stellar record in airport security.

The argument seemed fairly innocuous as far as Israel-related matters go. But the vitriol unleashed suggested that Harris, the executive director of The American Jewish Committee, might write about the pleasant Israeli weather and still get hammered.

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American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris says, “To read some of the reactions to anything I write about Israel is sometimes to require a very strong stomach.” AJC

“israel is not on the front line of fighting Islamic radicalism it on the front line of creating Islamic radicalism,” said the second of hundreds of commenters, using the name “baffy.” “These crazy guys are trying to blow up Americans primarily because of our government’s support of israel’s illegal occupation of palestinian land as well as invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq etc.”

Off topic, like many of the comments, but not anti-Semitic.

Things became a little more questionable a few Web pages later in an entry by “jomamas”: “Jews need to get something straight: because somebody says ‘we shouldn’t be like Israel’, doesn’t mean that we want to be like Arabs or Iranians, nor does it make them anti-semitic nor Israel haters. I can’t understand how the relatively progressive and educated jewish population is so utterly and completely biased when it comes to the issue of Israel. I don’t like Israel. I am not anti-semitic. I don’t really like Iran or Syria either.”

As the response to Harris’ post demonstrates, defending Israel and Jewish interests in tweet time can be rough, anonymous, and dirty — and organizational leaders are grappling for strategies on dealing with the phenomenon of personal and anonymous attacks in the comments section.

“To read some of the reactions to anything I write about Israel is sometimes to require a very strong stomach — it can be nasty, over the top, vitriolic, and dripping,” Harris said.

Still, the AJC leader added, he enjoys access to readers unfiltered by letters-page editors.

“I welcome this new environment,” he said. “Everything I write, I write myself.”

And in the case of left-wing sites such as the Huffington Post, it is important to confront anti-Israel voices, Harris said, rejecting the view of a segment of the organized Jewish community that sees the fight for liberals as futile.

Harris, who also has a regular Jerusalem Post blog, raised some Jewish organizational eyebrows when he decided to reply with a second entry on the Huffington Post, this one commenting on his commenters.

“For some readers my last piece, posted December 31, provided a handy excuse to unleash their unbridled hostility toward Israel,” Harris wrote, and outlined his counter-arguments.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was less sanguine in describing the comments responding to the material that he has posted on the Huffington Post.

“It’s a magnet for conspiracy theorists and for haters,” Foxman said of the comments section. “I look at it and sometimes wonder why am I bothering.”

The answer, he adds quickly, is the “silent majority” — those who don’t post replies but are searching the Internet to learn and acquire the tools to defend Israel in their own communities.

Nevertheless, Foxman has his doubts.

“It’s a vehicle for educating, but it’s a vehicle for all the kooks in the world who want a platform,” he said. “I’m not sure we have the antidote.”

A spokesman for the Huffington Post, Mario Ruiz, said the blog endeavored to screen offensive comments.

“All comments made on blog posts are currently monitored by paid moderators,” Ruiz said. “While every effort is made to eliminate offensive comments, they do occasionally slip through the cracks of a process that handles nearly 2 million comments a month. But from its inception, HuffPost has taken comment moderation very seriously, and devotes a lot of energy and resources to maintaining a civil conversation, free of name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and offensive language.”

Ruiz said it was “great” that Harris was taking on his commenters.

Faulting the Huffington Post for such comments would be unfair, considering their ubiquity on pro-Israel Websites, including The Jerusalem Post, said Eric Rozenman, the Washington director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

“Look at the talkbacks at any place to any article that stirs a little controversy — the Post, Haaretz — it can be appalling and disconcerting, the kind of stuff you used to see on bathroom walls,” he said. “The technology has enabled the fringe to go mainstream, and no one knows what to do about it.”

While it’s difficult enough keeping the anti-Semitic genie in the bottle in the mainstream media, CAMERA’s most recent struggle has been with C-SPAN, the cable broadcaster dedicated to making government transparent through live broadcasts of the U.S. Congress and the executive branch.

For the last year and a half, CAMERA has tracked a cadre of diehard anti-Semites who have been abusing C-SPAN’s open-caller policy, injecting vitriol against Israel and Jews into just about any discussion, ranging from taxes to Middle East policy.

Until now, the reply from C-SPAN has been radio silence.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who has claimed he lost work because of his anti-Israel views, was a guest Jan. 4 on the network’s “Washington Journal” program. A caller identifying himself as “John from Franklin, N.Y.” launched into an anti-Semitic tirade saying he was “sick and tired of all these Jews” who were “willing to spend the last drop of American blood and treasure to get their way in the world.”

Jews, the caller said, have “way too much power” and “jewed us into Iraq.”

In response, host Bill Scanlan turned to Scheuer and said, “Any comments?”

Scheuer appeared to approve of what John had to say.

“Yeah. I think that American foreign policy is ultimately up to the American people,” he said. “One of the big things we have not been able to discuss for the past 30 years is the Israelis.”

On Monday, in response to a JTA query, the broadcaster acknowledged that the host should have been more proactive in dealing with the caller.

“Program hosts, whose role is to facilitate the dialogue between callers and guests, are certainly permitted to step in when a caller makes ad hominem attacks or uses obscenity or obviously racist language,” C-SPAN said in a statement to JTA. “Given that this involves quick judgment during a live television production, it’s an imperfect process that didn’t work as well as it should have that day.”

Readers can judge whether the Huffington Post’s screening process worked in response to Harris’ piece on Israeli airport security.

One official at another Jewish organization who also blogs on Huffington Post wondered about Harris’ decision to engage with the commenting crowd.

“Jewish fascists and anti-Semites are the prominent animals” in the comments sections, said the official who spoke on background to avoid a contretemps with Harris. “It’s like watching pornography — who’s going to get the sickest thing in.”

The official said he enjoys Huffington Post as a platform to reach liberal cognoscenti and the current political leadership — not the commenters “banging away in their footsie pajamas in their mothers’ basements.”

“To go to the comments and take them seriously — they’re not representative, you should stay away from it,” he said.

Harris says knocking those guys off the page is the point.

Ultimately, he adds, his target is the “sophisticated consumer” who can tell the difference between the vicious and the civil — and he noted that he also earned civil critiques from those who criticize Israel.

“I rely to a large degree on the sophistication of the consumer,” Harris said, “and I think we underestimate that.”

JTA

 
 

Poland’s tragedy is our tragedy

David HarrisOp-Ed
Published: 16 April 2010
 
 

Poll: Obama struggling with Jews, but not on Israel

WASHINGTON – A new survey shows President Obama struggling with American Jews — but not on Israel-related matters.

The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That’s down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. The AJC poll was conducted March 2 to 23 and surveyed 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from a consumer mail panel.

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This question, in the American Jewish Committee’s new survey, asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue?” AJC

Obama’s advantage among Jews versus the rest of the population appears to be eroding. The latest Gallup polling shows Obama with a national approval rating of 48, nine points below Jewish polling. Last May, general polling earned him 63 percent approval, 16 points below Jewish polling.

Despite the drop — and weeks of tensions with the Netanyahu government — Obama still polls solidly on foreign policy, with a steady majority backing his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the AJC poll.

It is on domestic issues that the president appears to be facing more unhappiness.

Jewish voters are statistically split on how Obama has handled health-care reform, with 50 percent approving and 48 disapproving. On the economy he fares slightly better. Jewish voters who favor his policies stand at 55 percent, while 42 percent disapprove.

The last AJC poll on the views of American Jews, released in September, did not address domestic issues, so there’s no measure to assess any change in support on the specific issues of health and the economy. Indeed, this is the first poll in at least 10 years in which the AJC has attempted to assess views on the economy and health care. However, Jewish voters in solid majorities describe themselves as Democrats and as liberal to moderate in their views, and traditionally list the economy and health care as their two top concerns in the voting booth.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the relatively low score on domestic issues underscored what he said was a steady decline in Democratic support among Jewish voters.

“This indicates a serious erosion of support,” he said. “It’s a huge drop. There’s no silver lining” for Democrats.

Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, countered that the poll did not account for Jewish voters who might be disappointed with Obama from a more liberal perspective — for instance, over his dropping from the reform bill of the so-called public option, which would have allowed for government-run health care.

Additionally, much of the AJC polling took place before Obama’s come-from-behind victory on March 21, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed health-care reform, Forman said. Since then, Democrats have said they see a turnaround in the president’s political fortunes. “The narrative was the president was in the tank,” Forman said. “This was when it was thought his initiative was dead.”

Obama fares strongly with Jews on homeland security, with 62 percent approving and 33 percent disapproving — a sign that Republican attempts to cast Obama as weak on protecting the nation have had little impact in the Jewish community.

He also scores 55 percent approval on how he handles U.S.-Israel relations, which is virtually unchanged since last September, when his handling of the relationship scored 54 percent approval. At that juncture, the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem were kept at a low bubble and were confined to U.S. insistence on a total freeze of Israeli settlement and the Netanyahu administration’s reluctance to concede.

The latest questions, however, coincided almost exactly with the period when U.S. officials accused the Netanyahu government of “insulting” the United States by announcing a new building start in eastern Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, and when the president refused to make public gestures of friendship during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s subsequent visit to Washington.

A question on Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear capability showed a statistical dead heat on the approval side between last September — 49 percent — and now, at 47 percent. However, disapproval ratings rose moderately, apparently borrowing from the “uncertain” column: Back in September 35 percent disapproved; now 42 percent give a thumbs down.

The marks compared favorably, however, with Bush administration figures. Bush scored 33 percent approval ratings on Iran in 2006, the most recent year that AJC asked the question.

Support for U.S. and Israeli attacks on Iran to keep it from making a nuclear bomb appeared to drop slightly. Asked about a U.S. strike, 53 percent said they would support one and 42 percent were opposed, as opposed to 56 percent and 36 percent in September. On an Israeli strike, 62 percent supported and 33 percent opposed, as opposed to 66 and 28 percent in September.

The only other question in the most recent survey directly addressing Obama’s foreign policy also showed strong support for the president: 62 percent of respondents agreed with Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. This contrasts with the consistently negative Jewish assessments of Bush’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, except in the period immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Approval of Obama’s foreign policies contrasts with increasing uneasiness in the Jewish establishment with the administration’s approach. Several influential pro-Israel organizations have spent months, to little avail, pleading with the administration to confine its disagreements to back rooms.

A handful of prominent Jewish backers of candidate Obama also appear to have had second thoughts. Most pointedly, in a New York Daily News column Monday, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor and a supporter of Obama during the 2008 general election, said he was “weeping” because the president had “abandoned” Israel.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most influential member of the Senate’s Jewish caucus, on Sunday pointedly avoided answering a question on ABC’s “This Week” about whether he agreed with a Netanyahu confidante who said Obama was a “strategic disaster” for Israel. Brooks, the Republican, predicted a tide of defections. “You’ll have a number of candidates” in areas with a strong Jewish presence “asking him not to campaign for them,” he said.

David Harris, AJC’s executive director, cautioned that low approval ratings did not necessarily translate into electoral losses.

Brooks said that he would advise GOP candidates to hammer Democrats hard on foreign policy, particularly in tight races in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida, where Jewish voters trended less liberal than on the coasts. “If Republican candidates are smart, they will make Democratic candidates in these races answerable to whether they support Obama’s policies of pressuring Israel,” the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition said.

Jewish Democrats are already preparing a response strategy of arguing that the relationship remains close on defense cooperation and other matters, despite heightened rhetoric on settlement differences.

Harris suggested that the polling showed that the American Jewish public would prefer to imagine a closeness rather than deal with tensions. Obama and Netanyahu scored similar solid majorities — 55 percent and 57 percent, respectively — on how they handled the relationship.

American Jews “don’t want to be forced to choose,” Harris said. “They would rather say a blessing on both your houses than a plague on both your houses.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of Jews think Israel should, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, be willing to remove at least some of the settlements in the west bank. But 61 percent rejected the idea that Israel should be willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”

The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted by the firm Synovate, formerly Market Facts.

 
 

Settlement freeze, Iran, peace talks to headline vital Obama-Bibi meeting

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rear left, and President Obama, flanked by Israeli and U.S. officials, are pictured at a Sept. 22, 2009 meeting in New York. The pair are scheduled to meet on July 6. Avi Ohayon /GPO/Flash 90/JTA

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters this week that he was misheard when he was quoted as telling Israeli diplomats that a “tectonic rift” was emerging between Israel and the United States. The Israelis didn’t get it, said the U.S.-born Oren: He meant there was a “tectonic shift.”

Whether there is a difference, and whether it’s meaningful, no one was going to say. The point was to get it right this time when the U.S. president and Israeli prime minister meet at the White House on July 6 or face a worsening of U.S.-Israel ties.

“The Americans and Israelis with whom we’ve met all seem quite optimistic that both sides are intent on having a positive meeting,” said the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who is in Israel this week. “Both sides understand that there’s a lot at stake in having a positive outcome.”

As opposed to the last two — or almost two — times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last visit to Washington, in late March, was marred by the aftermath of the tensions that followed Israel’s announcement about two weeks earlier of new building in eastern Jerusalem just as Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel for a visit. Top U.S. officials called the announcement an insult, and when Netanyahu and President Obama met they kept their deliberations behind closed doors, failing even to issue a summary statement.

Both sides spent subsequent weeks making up, with Obama administration officials emphasizing practical U.S. defense support for Israel and Netanyahu pressing hard for direct talks with the Palestinians. By the end of May, things looked good for a June 1 meeting at the White House.

But then came Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Netanyahu, already in North America, canceled his White House meeting and rushed back to Israel.

The Obama administration ostensibly supported Israel during the widespread outrage that followed, but the administration also pressed Netanyahu to set up an investigatory commission and flip its Gaza sanctions policy: Instead of a “white list” of permissible products to be allowed into Gaza, Israel created a blacklist of products it would bar from import to Gaza. That allowed a much broader array of goods into Gaza and marked a diplomatic loss for the Israeli government.

The sides are likely to come to the July 6 meeting with two items unresolved: What Israel plans to do once its 10-month partial freeze on west bank settlement building lapses in September, and how the sides plan to confront Iran.

The first issue is likely to be the most contentious: The Obama administration wants to keep the Palestinian Authority in the process, having finally lured it into proximity talks. But if Netanyahu doesn’t have direct talks to show for his efforts, it will be a hard sell to keep his right-leaning cabinet on board.

As an extra burr, Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat — who has national ambitions — is pressing ahead with plans to build in Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.

On Iran, the difference may be more fundamental. Ostensibly the news for Netanyahu is good: The U.N. Security Council passed expanded sanctions this month against Iran in light of its recalcitrance on making its nuclear program transparent. The sanctions themselves lacked serious bite, but they set the stage for much tougher sanctions — one set approved by the European Union and another passed by the U.S. Congress.

The congressional sanctions are the toughest ever, targeting third parties that deal with Iran’s energy and financial sectors. They have been welcomed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signaling the likelihood that Obama will adopt at least some of them. Already the Treasury Department has expanded sanctions targeting Iran’s shipping and banking sectors based on existing law.

The problem is, Israel’s establishment no longer believes sanctions will be effective and is eager to hear what, if anything, the Obama administration has planned for the military front. Obama thus far has laid back on such plans, or even on whether he would consider drawing up such plans for such a contingency.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the United States last week, and in his meetings with Clinton, national security adviser James Jones, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak outlined what is shaping up as his proposal to synthesize the two emerging crises: Barak wants Netanyahu to announce a bold peace initiative with the Palestinians as a means of freeing Israel diplomatically to operate in the military sphere should the need arise with Iran.

It’s not clear what his American interlocutors thought of the plan or whether it has resonance in Israel. A key element involves bringing into the government the centrist opposition party, Kadima, whose leader, Tzipi Livni, in recent weeks has indicated receptiveness to such overtures.

An Israeli initiative is necessary “to prevent our descent into isolation,” Barak told reporters after his meetings. “It is the only way to achieve real freedom to act when there are security events.”

JTA

 
 

Poll: Jewish support for Obama falling

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Answers to question No. 5 in the American Jewish Committee poll indicated falling support for Obama’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship American Jewish Committee

WASHINGTON – Jewish approval of President Obama is dropping, a new national survey has found.

Some 51 percent of American Jews approve of the job Obama is doing, compared to the 44 percent who disapprove, according to a just-completed American Jewish Committee survey. The numbers represent a drop from the 57 percent approval rating Obama got from Jews the last time the AJC did a survey, in March, and a sharp decline from the 79 percent approval rating Obama had among Jews in a May 2009 poll. Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in the presidential election two years ago.

The survey also showed 49 percent approving of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations and 45 percent disapproving. The AJC’s March survey registered a 55 percent approval rating for Obama on that issue, with 37 percent disapproving.

The differences between the two polls taken six months apart show both waning Jewish support for Obama and a narrowing of the gap between Jews and non-Jews regarding their opinion of Obama. Until now, Jewish approval of Obama has usually exceeded that of the general population by more than 10 points; this latest poll puts Obama’s Jewish approval rating at just 6 points higher than the national average of 45 percent.

The poll also showed a spike in Jewish support for Republicans in Congress — from percentages in the low 20s in previous elections to 33 percent in this poll.

The margin of error for the poll is 3 percent. For the survey, Synovate, formerly Market Facts, interviewed 800 self-identified Jews selected from a consumer mail panel between Sept. 6 and Oct. 10.

Regarding the issue of Obama’s handling of the economy, Jewish approval has declined since the March survey. In the current poll, 45 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove of Obama’s actions. In March, the numbers were 55 percent approving and 42 percent disapproving.

David Harris, executive director of the AJC, said the downward trend of Jews’ opinion of Obama is a reflection of “Where are we?” anxieties.

“To me, the common denominator pretty much across the board is a sense of growing anxiety and apprehension,” Harris said, noting the decline in Obama’s approval ratings on the economy and foreign policy since the March poll. “There’s a sense that things here and abroad are not necessarily getting better.”

By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval has risen: 62 percent of the respondents approve and 27 percent disapprove of his handling of U.S.-Israel ties, compared to 57 percent approving and 30 percent disapproving in March.

Harris said the most surprising result of the poll is that a majority of Jewish voters back Arizona’s new immigration law, which encourages police to check the immigration credentials of persons being questioned on other matters. The law already has sparked an exodus of undocumented workers from the state.

The survey asked its Jewish respondents: “A new law in Arizona gives police the power to ask people they’ve stopped to verify their residency status. Supporters say this will help crack down on illegal immigration. Opponents say it could violate civil rights and lead to racial profiling. On balance, do you support or oppose this law?”

The result was a slim majority in favor of the law: 52 percent to 46 percent.

“That one elicited the most surprise here,” Harris said. “You form a notion in your mind of what you think the likely response is to each question and then you check it against the reality. We did not expect to see majority support for the Arizona law.”

The poll also showed that American Jewish confidence in Obama’s approach to Iran has fallen, with 43 percent approving of the administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue compared to 47 percent in March. Some 46 percent disapprove, up from 42 percent. In a related question, about 59 percent of respondents support and 35 percent oppose the idea of the United States taking military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And about 70 percent support and 26 percent oppose the idea of Israel taking such military action.

A series of questions regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process yielded results similar to those of previous surveys, showing continuity in American Jewish views regarding a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and west bank settlements.

Matching the March results, the new survey found that 48 percent favor and 45 percent oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

A majority of American Jews, 60 percent, continue to support a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while 35 percent said Israel should compromise on the city’s status in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Regarding the dismantling of west bank settlements as part of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, 6 percent said that all such settlements should be dismantled, while 56 percent called for some and 37 percent called for none to be dismantled.

American Jews remain nearly unanimous, at 95 percent, in supporting a proposal requiring Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement. In March and in 2009, the figure was 94 percent.

JTA

 
 

Argentine Jewish community jobs’ program wins praise

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Rarely if ever had an Argentinean president praised work done by the Jewish community in front of so many people.

An employment program launched more than 35 years ago by AMIA, the main Jewish community organization in Argentina, has been a godsend for thousands of Argentineans — and like most of AMIA’s programs, the beneficiaries haven’t just been Jews.

“AMIA is a formidable ally of this government, and AMIA’s Employment Network is an honor for all of Argentineans,” President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner told an audience of 800 earlier this month at the annual fund-raising dinner for the program at the Buenos Aires Hilton Hotel.

The Employment Network, now Argentina’s largest, started in 1974 as part of AMIA’s Social Service Department to help unemployed Jews looking for jobs and provide a free hiring service for Jewish-owned businesses seeking personnel.

During the Argentinean economic crisis of the late 1990s, the program grew rapidly and widened the range of beneficiaries to non-Jews. It also became vital during the economic crisis of 2001, when Argentina experienced an unemployment rate above 25 percent and an estimated 40 percent of the country fell below the poverty line.

“You don’t have to be a member of the Jewish community to benefit from the services,” said Pablo Devita, who found a job through the network. “This is something highly remarkable.”

The program’s work during the 2001 economic crisis was supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, which helped enlarge its jobs network with a budget of approximately $3.5 million. Half is provided by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund and the rest is financed by AMIA.

Between 2002 and 2008, 16,000 placements were made at more than 9,000 companies. The Employment Network now has 10 offices throughout Argentina and an estimated budget of $1 million for this year.

In addition, it works with companies and nongovernmental organizations on joint actions to help the unemployed.

Juan Heredia was one of them. He lost his job when his security doors company Pentagono downsized, and turned to the Employment Network for a course in facilities and electricity appliance. Eventually he landed a job as chief of maintenance in a major community center called the Hurlingham Club, in the facilities areas.

“We are not Jews and they never asked us if we were,” Heredia’s wife, Silvina, told JTA, adding that “I am very grateful to the job service of the Jewish community.”

Heredia lost 46 pounds because of the depression he fell into during his two years without a job.

“Juan not only regained self-confidence but also thanks to this new job, we were able to keep our house,” Silvina said.

Some 10,000 people a year now use the network’s free services and workshops, and about 2,000 find a job through the service — on average nine a day. The Employment Network has a database of more than 600,000 job seekers.

Within the Employment Network, the Subsidized Employment Program is one of the more unusual initiatives. It matches unemployed people who have registered in AMIA’s database with companies that are looking to hire. The program subsidizes 30 percent of the new employee’s salary for the first six months and covers the cost of recruitment.

AMIA provides a team of expert interviewers who assess the profiles of candidates according to companies’ needs. The team presents its choices to the companies and based on the information, the companies decide which candidate suits them best. “They have the final say,” said Veronica Albajari, the program’s leader.

Since 2004, some 1,500 people who have come to AMIA asking for social assistance and food have ended up also finding a job through the program. For those in need that were offered a job and rejected it, AMIA discontinued the social assistance.

The Employment Network has become a model for employment agencies, the director of AMIA’s Employment Department, Ernesto Tocker, told JTA.

“We became a role model in terms of performance, services offered to both companies and candidates, and work efficiency of care, referral, and job placement,” he said.

The executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who received an award from AMIA in recognition of AJC’s support for the Jewish community in Argentina, echoed that sentiment, saying it’s an interesting model for agencies in the United States.

“I came here only for one day, only for this event, because it is very important for me to support the Argentinean Jews and to also express our admiration for this employment program,” Harris told JTA. “We stood here in bad and good times, and we will stand here in the future.”

As a sign of the importance of the program to Argentina’s economy, the fund-raising dinner drew not only President Kirchner but the ministers of justice, education, foreign affairs, and labor. Also on hand were Israeli Ambassador Daniel Gazit and Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor of the unit that is investigating the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

JTA

 
 

After U.N. votes for Durban III, battle lines are drawn

Marcy OsterWorld
Published: 31 December 2010
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva on April 20, 2009 prompted walkouts by numerous European countries. Michael J. Jordan

When the original U.N. anti-racism conference, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, devolved into an anti-Israel hate fest, Jewish groups around the world were caught unaware.

So when the Durban Review Conference was called for Geneva in 2009, Jewish activists started their fight early, persuading numerous countries to boycott the conference, dubbed Durban II, effectively blocking it from becoming a repeat of Durban I.

Now, with last week’s U.N. vote to authorize Durban III — a U.N. General Assembly session planned for September 2011 to commemorate the original Durban conference — the battle lines again are being drawn.

“The vote of the U.N. General Assembly, while not unexpected, sets the stage for a celebration of the outrageous events that took place during Durban I, which were permeated by manifestations of bigotry and hatred,” said a statement from the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “The event is scheduled to be held shortly after the 10th anniversary commemoration of September 11th. It is hard to imagine a more insensitive action, recalling that the attack on the World Trade Center that killed thousands was carried out by those influenced by the same hateful ideologies that Durban I came to represent.”

The first plans to boycott Durban III already are taking shape. Canada announced in November that it would boycott the September 2011 session on “Combating racism and follow-up of the Durban Program of Action.”

“Canada will not participate in this charade,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at a Nov. 25 news conference. “Canada is clearly committed to the fight against racism, but the Durban process commemorates an agenda that actually promotes racism rather than combats it.”

Both the United States and Israel have warned about Durban III turning into another occasion for gratuitous Israel-bashing.

When the matter came to a vote last Friday, the vote was 104-22 in favor of the special General Assembly session; 33 countries abstained.

“We voted ‘no’ because the Durban Declaration process has included ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and we do not want to see that commemorated,” said a statement by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice. “The United States is fully committed to upholding the human rights of all individuals and to combating racial discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry. We stand ready to work with all partners to uphold human rights and fight racism around the world.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement announcing its intention to skip the session.

“Under the present circumstances, as long as the meeting is defined as part of the infamous ‘Durban process,’ Israel will not participate in the meeting,” the statement said. “Israel expects the participants to deal appropriately with the serious manifestations of racism throughout the world, and to reject attempts to once again divert world attention from this dangerous phenomenon by means of cheap politicization.”

Condemnation of the U.N. vote by Jewish groups was fast and furious.

“The original Durban conference attempted to validate the perverse theory that Zionism is racism,” the B’nai B’rith International executive vice president, Daniel Mariaschin, said. “Durban’s legacy of hate, intolerance, and double standards should never be forgotten, and should certainly never be celebrated.”

The Anti-Defamation League called for a boycott of Durban III.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said the anti-racism agenda has been misappropriated. “The global campaign against racism has been hijacked by countries that have little regard for human rights and whose primary goal is to advance highly political agendas,” Harris said. “To bring this traveling show of hatred to New York is scandalous and will not advance the noble U.N. mission of defending and protecting human rights.”

At the original U.N. conference against racism in Durban, the United States and Israel walked out when it became clear that it had devolved into little more than an opportunity for vitriolic Israel-bashing that many said bordered on anti-Semitism. The conference’s final document singled out Israel for special condemnation.

In Geneva in 2009, several European and North American countries announced ahead of time that they would not attend the conference out of concern that its special focus on Israel would make a mockery of the issue of fighting racism, and several more walked out of the conference when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the occasion to bash Israel.

The countries that voted last week against the Durban III session were Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Netherlands, Palau, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Among the countries abstaining were Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, and Spain.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Pressing Israel in U.N. remains a U.S. taboo, veto on settlements resolution shows

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Construction workers labor at a construction site in the Har Homa neighborhood, south of Jerusalem, a day after the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction as illegal. Gili Yaari/Flash 90/JTA

NEW YORK – In the run-up to last week’s U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, the Obama administration faced a dilemma.

The administration views Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegitimate, and has made few bones about saying so, but it also rejects the notion that the place to settle the matter is the United Nations, with its long tradition of anti-Israel resolutions.

Put in a seemingly awkward position, the administration had to decide whether to veto a resolution whose substance it essentially agreed with at a time when the Arab street is looking for signs of the Obama administration’s proclivities on Middle Eastern issues, or discard America’s usual practice of vetoing one-sided U.N. resolutions on Israel and anger many Israel supporters.

While some left-wing Jewish groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now urged the president to shun the veto, adding to the pressure on Israel, the reaction from Capitol Hill showed that it wasn’t a stance endorsed by the left or right wing in Congress.

Republicans and Democrats both said that using the United Nations to pressure Israel was out of bounds. Leading members of both parties -- including Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip -- urged the president last week to veto “any U.N. Security Council resolution that criticizes Israel regarding final status issues.”

When the resolution finally came to a vote at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 18, the administration’s decision to exercise its veto earned praise from fellow Democrats.

“I praise the Obama administration’s veto, and call on the U.S. to reject any future resolutions at the U.N. that unfairly target Israel, and instead push the Palestinians back to negotiations where they belong,” said Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.). “I hope the Arabs, having failed to force the issue at the U.N., will return to the negotiating table immediately and begin the real process of reaching a solution.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, B’nai B’rith International and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee all issued statements expressing appreciation for the veto.

“Exercising the veto is a painful decision, particularly for an administration with a deep and sincere commitment to multilateralism,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “That is why we salute President Obama and his team for their courage in vetoing this mischievous resolution, which would have caused irreparable damage to the future prospects of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Obama used the veto for the first time after pursuing a compromise proposal -- a nonbinding Security Council statement calling settlements a “serious obstacle to the peace process” -- that ultimately failed.

The United States has vetoed dozens of Security Council resolutions condemning Israel going back nearly four decades. Occasionally, however, the United States has withheld the veto on resolutions focused on criticizing Israel, abstaining instead. On May 19, 2004, for example, the George W. Bush administration abstained from a resolution expressing grave concern for Israel’s demolishing of Palestinian homes in Gaza and criticized Israel’s killing of a Palestinian civilian in the area of Rafah, Gaza.

This time, the Obama administration’s willingness to countenance a compromise resolution, and its refusal to say in advance whether it would veto the resolution, suggested to many that its reliability with the veto was in question.

Obama has put the issue of settlements squarely in his sights as part of his Middle East peace push, and he has been generally warm toward J Street, dispatching top Middle East adviser Dennis Ross to address the group’s upcoming conference even as Israeli officials have shunned it.

While not fundamentally altering U.S. policy, which under several presidents officially has opposed settlement expansion, Obama has been far more vocal on the subject. All of which prompted reactions from Israel’s allies on Capitol Hill and beyond, several of whom reacted strongly to reports that the administration was pursuing a compromise.

Speaking in the council chamber on the day of the vote, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, rejected the resolution as unhelpful to restarting negotiations between the parties. But she was withering about the administration’s view of settlement activity.

“Our opposition to the resolution before this council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity,” Rice said. “On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.

“For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties and threatens the prospects for peace.”

Americans for Peace Now said Obama’s use of the veto represented a missed chance to exercise leadership that could yield a peace agre

JTA Wire Service

 
 

‘Miral,’ Israel, and the AJC

 
 
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