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Environmental leaders roiled by oil plan

President Obama’s announcement last week that he intends to allow drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast drew swift condemnation from area political, environmental, and Jewish communal leaders.

Oil is “like coal, it’s not good from square one,” said Rabbi Lawrence Troster, a Teaneck resident who has worked with a number of Jewish environmental organizations. “They can’t guarantee there aren’t going to be oil spills and other things that won’t devastate the shore.”

Obama’s energy strategy called for the exploration off the Atlantic coastline from the coast of Florida up to Delaware. Obama also announced a series of car and truck fuel and emissions standards, and the purchase of 100 plug-in electric cars for federal agencies.

Troster called the oil exploration announcement “a calculated move,” a concession, to create leverage for Obama to tackle larger issues such as climate change.

The president “has some Democrats who are not on board on some of the climate change issues; this is a way of balancing some of the interests,” Troster said. “On environmental issues this particular administration is doing a much better job than the previous administration.”

He noted that it would be several years before offshore drilling became operational and even if the U.S. were to drill all of its domestic oil resources, it still would not be enough.

U.S. energy independence, he said, would not come from domestic oil drilling, but rather from pursuing sustainable alternative sources such as wind and solar energy.

“It’s really important in the 21st century and today’s economy to focus on modern techniques,” said Sybil Sanchez, director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

COEJL condemned Obama’s drilling announcement but praised other parts of the president’s strategy, such as improving fuel efficiency standards and regulating automobile greenhouse gas emissions.

“This administration is looking to take a comprehensive approach and we hope it will accomplish that,” Sanchez told the Standard. “We’re concerned when we see offshore exploration for oil drilling. We want to see more of a focus on clean technology.”

Reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security, Sanchez continued, but reducing fossil fuel dependence in general is also a national concern.

Obama emphasized in his speech that the emissions caps and domestic exploration are “part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

The Gulf of Mexico contains 36 billion to 41.5 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil and 161 trillion to 207 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas, according to the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service.

The Interior Department intends to hold two lease sales — one 50 miles off the coast of Virginia and the other in Alaska — by 2012. It is the Virginia plan that has drawn the ire of New Jersey’s politicians from within the president’s own Democratic party and the Republican party, despite its past support for domestic oil exploration.

“Even though the president’s draft plan does not propose drilling off the Jersey shore, it does allow oil and gas exploration just south of Cape May. That concerns me a great deal,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) in a statement to the Standard. “Furthermore, any oil spills resulting from drilling operations further south could easily follow northerly currents and end up washing onto our beaches.”

The United States cannot drill its way out of its foreign oil dependence, Rothman said. The country needs to focus on the development of new, alternative energy and on conservation.

“Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in a statement sent to this paper. “Giving Big Oil more access to our nation’s waters is really a Kill, Baby, Kill policy: it threatens to kill jobs, kill marine life, and kill coastal economies that generate billions of dollars. Offshore drilling isn’t the solution to our energy problems.”

The Garden State’s new Republican governor, Chris Christie, also condemned the plan.

“I oppose the idea of drilling off the coast of New Jersey,” Christie said in a statement. “New Jersey’s coastline is one of our economic engines and I would have to be really convinced of both the economic viability and environmental safety of oil and gas exploration off our coast. At this point, I’m not convinced of either.’’

According to Christie, Obama’s proposal so far includes areas off Virginia and the northern tip of Delaware near Cape May in the Delaware Bay. Though New Jersey’s coast is not included in the plan, an oil spill could have serious ramifications for the Jersey shore.

“That’s a reasonable fear,” Troster said. “When I hear there’s going to be more environmentally sensitive oil drilling, [I consider it] an oxymoron. It’s a very dirty form of energy production and I don’t think you can change that in any significant way.”

 
 

Obama, Jewish lawmakers discuss Israel, Iran

Amid perceptions that U.S.-Israel relations are at an all-time low, President Obama met with Jewish members of Congress last week and reportedly assured them that the relationship between the two countries is as strong as ever.

“It was a meeting of friends designed to talk about a very serious and important subject to all, namely, the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), one of the 37 members of the House and Senate who attended the hour and a half White House meeting on May 18.

A White House statement called the meeting “a wide-ranging and productive exchange about their shared commitment to peace and security in Israel and the Middle East.”

Obama, Rothman said, has been more supportive of military cooperation with Israel than any other American president. He pointed to $3 billion in military aid in Obama’s budget and an additional $205 million the president earmarked for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

The congressional delegation thanked the president for that support, according to Rothman, and for Obama’s role in Israel’s entry earlier this month into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which Rothman said would not have happened without the president’s intervention.

Rothman pointed to the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, jointly developed by Israel and the United States to intercept long-range rockets from Iran, as well as David’s Sling, jointly developed to intercept short-range missiles and Kassam rockets from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. He also noted last October’s Operation Juniper Cobra, which showcased American and Israeli defensive technology.

“The president thanked us for recognizing his military and intelligence efforts,” said Rothman. He noted also that he pressed the president on Iran, emphasizing that stopping the Islamic regime from obtaining nuclear weapons was separate from the issue of forging Israeli-Palestinian peace. The president agreed, Rothman said. According to the congressman, Obama reiterated that a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran was unacceptable and all options — including a military strike — remained on the table.

The level of Obama’s support for Israel has been questioned lately as the two countries squabbled over East Jerusalem construction and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s perceived snub during a recent White House visit. Some Israeli pundits have suggested that the Obama administration has purposely given Netanyahu the cold shoulder, while rolling out the red carpet for Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Rothman dismissed such accusations.

The president, Rothman said, acknowledged and “was pained by” what the congressman called mistakes by his administration and Netanyahu’s during the recent row. Many at last week’s meeting thought the United States overreacted following the announcement of new construction during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel earlier this year, Rothman said.

“The president thought both parties should have done a better job in managing that situation, that the Netanyahu government felt the same way, and that both sides had learned lessons from that incident, and now put that dispute behind them,” Rothman said.

Turning their attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the president told the delegation that no one could or should impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, dismissing rumors in Israeli media that he was preparing his own plan. Obama said a solution could only come from the Israelis and Palestinians, Rothman said.

“It was clear to me that the president wants to get beyond the issue of settlements and have the parties begin direct negotiations to resolve their differences and come to an agreement,” Rothman said.

Rothman said he warned the president that the Palestinians have historically rejected opportunities for statehood and may do so again. Obama told him that he would do all he could to encourage both sides not to miss the opportunity for peace and to move quickly to direct negotiations, Rothman said.

“The president also went into some details as to how he had privately and publicly communicated to the Palestinians that their acceptance and participation in acts of incitement of hatred toward Israel and Jews — in the Palestinian Authority media for example and in actions by Fatah — were completely unacceptable and in violation of the Road Map,” Rothman said.

Many of the congressmen encouraged Obama to publicly condemn Palestinian demonization of Israel and the Jewish people more frequently, Rothman said.

Finally, the congressional contingent encouraged Obama to make a trip to Israel and directly express to the Israeli people what Rothman called Obama’s “unwavering, heartfelt, and unshakable commitment to the survival and prosperity of the Jewish State of Israel.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, was the only non-Democrat at the meeting. Other attendees included New Jersey’s Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New York’s Rep. Anthony Weiner, Wisconsin’s Rep. Russ Feingold, New York’s Rep. Eliot Engel, Massachusetts’ Rep. Barney Frank, and New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer.

Sen. Arlen Specter, who lost last week’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, did not attend.

Lautenberg released a statement ahead of his meeting with the president, shortly after meeting with a contingent of local Jewish leaders last Monday about U.S.-Israel relations.

“Israel is a critical ally of the United States, and we must not forget our shared values and shared security interests,” the statement said. “I look forward to emphasizing this important strategic relationship in my meeting with President Obama and to continuing an open dialogue with members of the Jewish community.”

The president was “receptive” and “genuinely interested” in the advice of the congressional delegation, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler said in a statement issued after the meeting.

“We stressed that the U.S. must not in any way seek to impose a settlement on Israel, and the president agreed, stating that he would not do so, and that any agreement had to be negotiated between the parties,” he said. “We also urged him to make clear to the Palestinians that the U.S. will not do their work for them.”

Engel released a statement before the meeting about moving past the recent disagreements between the United States and Israel.

“Through quiet dialogue, we will overcome differences and learn from each other, and, in turn, our nations will become stronger and our relationship deeper,” he said.

 
 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Flotilla fallout: Political poker

New Jersey’s elected officials on both sides of the aisle appeared steadfast in their support of Israel after last week’s flotilla raid as Jewish leaders continued to lobby on behalf of the Jewish state.

“The most important thing that we as Americans can do,” said Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark, and former president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, “is let our elected officials know that we feel strongly that Israel’s insistence on inspecting goods that are being brought into Gaza is entirely justified. If the tendency by some in the United States to curry favor with the Muslim world trumps the absolute requirement for fairness and support for the only democratic regime in that area, then we’re giving up the moral high ground.”

It is not in America’s best interests, Cole continued, to weaken in its support of an ally — in this case Israel — lest other allies begin to feel they cannot count on U.S. support.

The State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents New Jersey’s federations in Trenton, is pressing state legislators to support Israel. Its director, Jacob Toporek, issued an open letter to Gov. Christie and the 120-member state legislature last week outlining the reasons for Israel’s blockade and its actions. Almost immediately, he said, he received a call from Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin of Monmouth County, who said she would introduce a resolution supporting Israel based on the letter.

“That’s a terrific response, unexpected, and we’re very pleased by it,” Toporek said.

“It’s all a public relations game. This open letter and resolution would be very, very helpful.”

Christie’s office acknowledged the letter on Wednesday but had no comment at that time.

“Hopefully as time passes and the outside world sees how Israel is really treating groups trying to bring in outside aid,” Toporek said, “they’ll realize what happened is a confrontation set up by those supportive of Hamas and who intend to put Israel in the worst light.”

NORPAC, the Englewood-based pro-Israel lobby, has been calling members of Congress to emphasize that Israel’s blockade is more of an arms embargo on Hamas, said the group’s president, Ben Chouake. Response on the Hill has been very positive, he told The Jewish Standard.

“They fully understand that Hamas is a terrorist group, that they’ve been overtly aggressive to the civilian population of Israel; they oppress their own people, and a flotilla of militants provoked violence against Israeli soldiers who gave them adequate warning and were peacefully trying to enforce an arms quarantine,” Chouake said.

At least among New Jersey’s representatives in Washington, NORPAC appears to be getting its message across.

“My colleagues understand that Israel has a legitimate right and important need to protect its citizens from rockets and guided missiles being brought to Gaza,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) told the Standard on Wednesday. “There is some regret over the loss of life, not withstanding the fact that those killed were almost certainly armed and well-trained jihadists bent on provoking Israel’s violent reaction and creating an international episode.”

Asked why President Obama has not firmly come out in support of Israel in this incident, Rothman credited the president for preventing a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel and calling for an international inquiry.

“In diplomacy, it is often the case that the most powerful and effective operations occur behind the scenes and that is what’s happened here,” Rothman said. “In my opinion — and in the view of the good guys as well as the bad guys around the world — actions always speak louder than words. Sometimes soothing words are possible along with quiet diplomacy, but sometimes they are not.”

Rothman’s colleagues in Washington issued their own statements supporting Israel’s actions.

“Israel has every right to defend itself and enforce its blockade against the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg said in a statement sent to this newspaper. “The organizations operating the flotilla made their intention to violate the blockade clear and refused Israel’s repeated offers to process the aid through appropriate channels. Clearly, there were people aboard the lead ship who were intent on violence and sparked the tragic events.”

In a statement to the Standard earlier this week, Sen. Bob Menendez outlined the necessity for Israel’s blockade.

“If the blockade were to be broken,” he said in the statement, “it would be impossible to tell which vessels were carrying humanitarian supplies and which were carrying deadly rockets. The bottom line is that the attempt to prevent materials that could be used against Israel from reaching Hamas is of vital interest to Israel and to its national security, and I fully support it.”

The senator went on to emphasize that the international reaction to last week’s incident could legitimize Hamas, which would undermine the peace process.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) said that it was regrettable that lives were lost in the raid but praised the bipartisan support for Israel in both houses of Congress. He affirmed Israel’s “right to protect its citizens.”
“It is crucial for the United States to stand beside Israel during these tumultuous times and I am heartened by the bipartisan Congressional support for Israel’s recent actions,” he said in a statement to this newspaper. “I believe the strategic relationship between our two democratic governments will continue to withstand the threats and actions of terrorists who seek to create a rift between our two nations.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) pointed to the need to keep weapons out of Gaza.

“Israel has the right to defend itself and its borders and to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons and missiles that it has proven it will use to attack innocent Israeli civilians with little restraint,” he said in a statement to the Standard on Tuesday.

Pascrell took a more sympathetic tone toward the people of Gaza, pointing out what he called “the ongoing humanitarian crisis” there. The current situation there, he said, is “unacceptable and unsustainable.”

“I am pleased the Israeli government has shown signs that it will consider modifications to their blockade,” the statement continued. “I believe that we can allow humanitarian goods to enter the territory while still ensuring that weapons are not imported and Hamas is not resupplied.”

Breaking from his colleagues, Pascrell called for the creation of an independent commission to conduct an impartial investigation of the flotilla incident.

“We are grateful that the leadership of the United States has been supportive in this matter,” Chouake said. “They well recognize the need for Israel to defend itself against the terrorist group Hamas and it is important to prevent arms from reaching these terrorists.”

 
 

Lockerbie bomber case not closed

 

Inside the Beltway

The Israel advocate’s guide to politics

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, New Jersey’s members of the House of Representatives took action last last month to support Israel’s military superiority in the region and enforce sanctions against Iran.

Israel’s missile defense

The Appropriations Defense Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives has appropriated $217.7 million — the highest amount on record, according to Washington sources — in funding for joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. The appropriation — the highest on record for such projects, according to Washington sources — is $95.7 million more than the original request.

According to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Subcommittee has allocated more than $750 million in federal funds for the Arrow and David’s Sling anti-missile systems since 2007.

“Chairman Norm Dicks, myself, and all the members of the Defense Subcommittee understand how important it is to be at the cutting edge of anti-missile technology, both to safeguard our own citizens and troops, but also those citizens and troops of our allies and friends, such as the people of the Jewish State of Israel,” Rothman said in a statement to this newspaper.

“Given the concern and attention that we are focusing now on every dollar we are expending on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer for all purposes, including the defense of the United States and its allies,” the statement continued, “it is a mark of the importance of these projects that they were all funded so robustly and fully by our subcommittee.”

The subcommittee has also allocated $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which the Jewish state expects to deploy in the fall.

The Defense Subcommittee has allocated nearly $1 billion toward these three programs since 2007.

“The growing proliferation and increasing deadliness of missiles around the world pose a direct threat to the U.S. and our allies, making funding missile defense systems vitally important for America’s national security,” said Rothman.

Sanctioning Iran

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) last week wrote to President Obama urging him to withdraw the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council because of the council’s anti-Israel bias and poor record.

Garrett put his pen to work again later in the week and fired off another letter to Obama and another to Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging follow-up action on Iranian sanctions recently passed in Congress.

The July 28 letter to Obama, who signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 in early July, requested a response from the president with a list of actions taken to implement the sanctions. The letter was signed by 38 Republican members of the House. The July 29 letter to Berman thanked the representative for his tough words on Iran but included a similar demand to know what action Berman would take. That letter was signed by 15 members of the House.

“Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a rogue state that poses a clear and present danger not just to the United States, but to our close ally Israel,” Garrett said in a statement to the Standard. “I want to ensure there is adequate oversight and robust accountability of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement the Iran sanctions legislation.”

A look at Lockerbie

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a FY 2011 State and Foreign Operations funding measure from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would require a State Department report on the early release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. The amendment requires the secretary of state to submit a report within 180 days of the legislation that describes the circumstances that led to al-Megrahi’s release.

Scottish authorities released al-Megrahi from his life sentence last year after doctors diagnosed him with cancer and estimated he had only a few months to live. He has exceeded that initial estimate, which has led to questions of the Scottish and British governments and BP as to whether a deal was made to free al-Megrahi in exchange for access to Libyan oil.

“A formal State Department review will help provide answers to the many troubling questions surrounding the early release of the Lockerbie bomber,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Nearly a year after his release, al-Megrahi remains alive while the authorities responsible for his freedom continue to point fingers and dodge questions. We must continue our rigorous investigation of this travesty to learn the truth and send a message that terrorists do not deserve any compassion.”

A Senate hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

 
 

Making a reservation for the Tea Party, and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

With a little more than a month to go before November’s mid-term elections, a new player has emerged on the field causing ripples in the Republican world and a mix of worry and relief among Democrats.

We speak, of course, of the Tea Party, the grassroots movement of protests that’s been sweeping the nation since early 2009. A number of Tea Party candidates have fared well in recent Republican primary elections, beating out GOP-favored opponents.

Most notably, Tea Party candidate Joe Miller upset Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary for her Senate seat, and Christine O’Donnell beat out GOP-favored U.S. Rep. Michael Castle in Delaware’s Republican Senate primary last month.

“The national Tea Party movement is the embodiment of political activism,” Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) said in a statement to The Jewish Standard. “Based on the results of recent primary elections, it’s hard to deny the influence the Tea Party movement has had on politics the last year. If the past is any indication of things to come, there is no doubt in my mind that the Tea Party movement will have an impact on the elections in November and beyond.”

Dr. Ben Chouake, president of the Englewood-based Israel political action committee NORPAC and a registered Republican, believes the Tea Party candidates are too far to the right to win in the general elections. While NORPAC focuses solely on candidates’ records on Israel, the Tea Party has put forward a cast of unknown candidates that has made life more difficult for the PAC to quickly determine their positions.

“Sometimes people are overly enthusiastic and trend toward candidates unvetted and poorly qualified,” he said.

The Tea Party victory in the Delaware primary has assured Democrat Chris Coons a victory in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden, according to Chouake. Castle, a former two-term governor, was the GOP’s best hope at winning the open seat, he said.

“The likelihood of the Senate switching majorities in this cycle has become slim because of the influence of the Tea Party in the Senate primaries,” Chouake said.

Tea Partier Sharron Angle, a former Nevada state representative, won the GOP nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in November, which, in Chouake’s opinion, almost guarantees the senator a victory.

“Sharron Angle is probably the weakest candidate in the field, at least according to the polls,” Chouake said. “While we’re neutral on the Tea Party issues, we’re happy to see Harry Reid has this best chance at re-winning his seat because he’s a good friend on U.S.-Israel relations.”

Reid visited Englewood on Sunday for a NORPAC fund-raising event — closed to the press — that drew about 30 people and raised between $25,000 and $30,000 for the senator’s re-election bid.

“On our issue he’s tremendously supportive,” Chouake said. “He has a deep understanding of the problems the Jews have had throughout history.”

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Reid is confident in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to win a peace agreement because he has support from Israel’s left and right wings, Chouake said.

Regarding Iran, Chouake said that Reid preferred to avoid military action but all options had to remain on the table because a nuclear Iran is the worst-case scenario.

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans blocked Democrat-sponsored legislation that would have overturned the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A 56-43 vote defeated a $726 billion defense spending bill that included a pay raise for troops and a repeal of the controversial policy that blocks openly gay soldiers from serving.

Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation. Reid voted against the bill, citing a Senate rule that allows him to reintroduce the legislation later if he votes with the majority.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) condemned Republicans for blocking the legislation. “This bill provides our military with new equipment and authorizes pay and health programs for our brave men and women,” he said in a statement. “This bill would also authorize the long overdue repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ No American should be barred from serving in our military simply because of their sexual orientation.”

 
 

Area leaders join mourning for Tucson victims

Shooting prompts local calls to tone down the political retoric

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NORPAC delegates met with Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last spring during the group’s annual mission to Washington. From left are Shayna Schwarzberg, Giffords, Milton Erdfarb, Nathan Orgel, and Dr. Stanley Zimmerman. Liz Berry

North Jersey political insiders joined people across the nation this week in lamenting Saturday’s deadly shooting in Arizona that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life. Some have added their voices to a widespread plea for a calming of political rhetoric that many have blamed for inflaming the alleged shooter.

“I believe that this tragedy may well cause people in Washington and in the media to take as great care with their choice of language as possible,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) told The Jewish Standard Monday, “without compromising anyone’s right to vigorously dissent or strongly argue against any policy.”

Many, particularly in the media, have put the spotlight on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Tea Party faction for heated political rhetoric that some theorize may have influenced the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner. During last year’s election campaign, Palin created a graphic of targets over districts the Tea Party would try to win, one of which was Giffords’. While many liberal pundits and bloggers have blamed Palin for influencing Loughner, Rothman urged patience while investigations into Loughner’s motives continue.

“Until all evidence comes in,” Rothman said, “it would be premature to come to any conclusions now other than this evil and deranged individual acted simply out of his own madness and personal demons.”

Still, Rothman said, last weekend’s events may cause people in Washington and the media to take greater care with their choice of language, although a balance must be struck to protect freedom of speech.

“We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world,” he said, “and we cherish our freedom of speech and opportunity to criticize the government and our politicians, as well as debate our friends and family about all the issues of the day. We do so quite often and quite loudly and with great passion, but there is never an excuse for violence.”

Rothman in December ended his service on the House Science and Technology committee, where he had served on Giffords’ subcommittee on space and aeronautics. Rothman and Giffords spoke often about their shared Jewish heritage, their families, and Gifford’s West Orange-bred husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

Giffords is “a fierce fighter,” Rothman said, for her constituents and for her principles. “Members of both sides of the aisle have great affection for her simply because of the kind of wonderful person she is,” he said.

Others outside of the Beltway took more critical stands against political mudslinging.

The rhetoric has “got to be toned down,” said Milton Edfarb, a resident of Highland Park and member of the Englewood-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC. Edfarb was one of several NORPAC members who met with Giffords during the group’s annual mission to Washington last spring.

“There seems to be too much vitriol being added to discussions,” he said. “We have to practice openness to people’s ideas and agree to disagree and do it in a polite manner.”

Divisive rhetoric is a problem in politics, said Harry Feder, another NORPAC member who spoke with Giffords several times during her recent campaign for re-election.

“When you get to Congress, people should be working together,” said the Riverdale, N.Y., resident.

Giffords was an “up and coming” member of Congress, said Feder, who called the shooting a tragedy for the Jewish community and for Tuscon.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also lashed out against provocative language.

“America must not tolerate violence or inflammatory rhetoric that incites political violence,” Lautenberg said in a statement sent to the Standard.

The senator also announced Monday plans to introduce legislation with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to end the manufacture and sale of high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, such as the high-capacity 33-round magazine clip Loughner allegedly used in his Glock 19 pistol. The high-capacity magazine allowed him to fire 33 bullets without reloading.

“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market,” Lautenberg said in his statement. “Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again. When the Senate returns to Washington, I will introduce legislation to prohibit this type of high-capacity clip.”

From 1994 to 2004, high-capacity ammunition magazines were illegal under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. When the ban expired in 2004, Republican leaders in Congress pledged not to renew it, and high-capacity clips have been legal to manufacture and sell since then.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) also lamented last weekend’s events.

“I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragic shooting in Arizona,” he said in a statement to the Standard. “I strongly condemn this deplorable act of violence. It has no place in our public discourse and it has no place in our society. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to Rep. Giffords, her family, her staff, and all the other victims and their families….”

Loughner headed to court earlier this week and while the investigation into his background continues, some were hopeful that out of tragedy can come something positive.

“I hope,” Edfarb said, “it gives people a chance to step back and say, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t say this.’”

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Pols support renewal of Lautenberg Amendment

Numerous Jewish organizations including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society joined Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in calling for the U.S. House of Representatives to renew a provision that fast-tracks asylum for religious refugees including Jews, Christians, and members of the Baha’i faith. HIAS also issued a statement decrying proposed cuts to an account the organization says provides vital help to refugees.

Inside the Beltway

In a Feb. 8 letter, the senators argued that members of Congress tasked with appropriations should renew the Lautenberg Amendment. Set to expire March 20, the amendment expands the definition of religious refugee and fast-tracks groups in immediate danger. Initiated by Lautenberg in 1990, it was originally designed to expedite the immigration of Soviet Jews and Vietnamese Christians to the United States.

The amendment clears bureaucratic hurdles for Jews, Christians, and Baha’is seeking to escape the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Without this safe means of exit, Iranian religious minorities are often forced to cross the border to eastern Turkey, where conditions for asylum-seekers are extremely unsafe,” the letter states.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) also weighed in on support of extending the Lautenberg Amendment.

“I believe this nation should be responsive to those who struggle to escape persecution due to their faith,” he told this newspaper. “I fully support Sen. Lautenberg’s efforts on behalf of [religious] minority applicants from Iran.”

Melanie Nezer, senior director for U.S. policy and advocacy at HIAS, told this newspaper that the delay that would result from some House Republicans’ call for the Lautenberg Amendment to be reframed as a stand-alone bill would result in at least 100 refugees seeking to emigrate from the Islamic Republic being placed in immediate danger.

“If [the] Lautenberg [Amendment] isn’t extended, the mechanism is not in place to process them through Vienna, so the people who need to flee [will be] forced to take dangerous routes through Turkey,” Nezer said. “These refugees include Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and others who historically have had great difficulty in Iran.”

Nezer also characterized cuts proposed to the Migration and Refugee Assistance account, which provides federal funding for refugees and internally displaced persons, as “drastic.” At the end of last week, the House approved cuts to the program, slashing its budget by 45 percent. Should the Senate approve these cuts, the State Department would have no additional funding to resettle refugees for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, according to HIAS.

“We’re talking about people who have been persecuted in their countries and forced to flee, who have left their homes, jobs, and families, and have literally nothing,” Nezer said. “Despite the fact that times are tough here, it is crucial that we help them.”

On the Israel front, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) issued a statement commending the Obama administration for using its veto to block last week’s U.N. resolution denouncing Israel’s settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace. He also spoke more generally about the U.N.’s treatment of Israel regarding settlements.

“The future boundaries of any two-state solution,” Rothman said in a statement, “must only be determined through direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and not at the U.N.”

In an interview, Rothman shared his view that Israeli settlements are not the true obstacle to resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

“In 1967, Israel was surrounded by armies about to attack who had pledged to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” Rothman said. “Israel responded heroically and successfully in defending herself, and ever since then has been urging the Palestinians to come to an agreement.… The Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer to the question of whether there should be an independent, contiguous Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel is the real problem, not settlements or any other issue.”

 
 

Henry Taub, 1927-2011

Lautenberg remembers Taub as a man who “helped robustly”

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Sen. Frank Lautenberg File photo

Sen. Frank Lautenberg said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that his longtime friend and former business partner Henry Taub was “distinguished by modesty and humility.” He was “concerned about all human beings,” not merely those who “had status and wealth,” Lautenberg continued. He was “very respectful” of those who needed help — and he “helped robustly.”

Taub was “devoted to the city of Paterson,” Lautenberg noted, creating “a program to help revitalize the economy and quality of life there. We were both fond of our roots in Paterson, both from poor immigrant families, and he had great concern for those who needed assistance. Whether fighting for better health or better education, Henry’s always been in the forefront.”

Lautenberg, who has been in the Senate for 27 years, said that “much of what I work on is a result of the honesty and decency and intelligence of Henry Taub, a reminder of all the time I spent with him and was able to learn from him, as well as my own instincts as what we should do as Jewish people.

“We’re very committed to our heritage, and that means a support of Jewish causes” as well as being “constantly concerned about the strength and the viability of the Jewish people.

“To save one life,” he added, “is as to save a nation.

“I believe in that, as did Henry Taub.”

 
 

Henry Taub, 1927-2011

Community mourns a ‘gentle man’

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The philanthropist Henry Taub with his wife, Marilyn, on a bridge at the Passaic River’s Great Falls in Paterson in 2010. Taub, who died at 83, was the founder of Automatic Data Processing and a passionate supporter of Israel and Jewish causes. Courtesy the Taub family.

Henry Taub, a Paterson junk dealer’s son who achieved success and wealth but never forgot his roots, was remembered Sunday for his humility and generosity before some 800 mourners.

“He was an aidel mensch,” said Rabbi emeritus Bruce Block at Temple Sinai in Tenafly. He was “a gentleman — a gentle man in every sense of those Yiddish words,” the rabbi said.

Taub, 83, the founder of what was to become Automatic Data Processing, America’s largest independent computer service company, serving clients around the world, died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York last Thursday after a long illness.

“There are so many people whom Henry Taub touched, and we are only a fraction of them,” Rabbi Jordan Millstein, religious leader at Temple Sinai, told the mourners who filled it. “Henry Taub planted and built for us so that we might prosper and find blessing.”

The son of Morris Taub, who until the 1960s could still be seen on his horse-drawn cart on Paterson’s streets, Henry got his early lessons in their immigrant, working-class neighborhood around Carroll Street. The elder Taub emigrated from Poland in the early 1920s. He began his junk business after being laid off as a weaver during the Depression and acknowledged in a 1967 interview in the now-defunct Paterson Morning Call that he no longer had to work, but it made him “feel better” to go out.

In later life Henry Taub never forgot his Silk City roots, giving generously to Paterson causes. A subtle salute to that fact was offered in the form of an escort by a contingent of Paterson motorcycle policemen for the funeral cortege to Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus.

He founded the Paterson Alumni Foundation, which was subsequently merged into the Paterson Education Fund, organizations committed to improving the schools and education system in Paterson. He also helped to establish the “I Have a Dream” program at School No. 6 in Paterson and created the Business Employment Foundation in that city, which placed more than 1,000 people in jobs.

Taub got his first job in a grocery store at 12, and worked his way through high school. Having skipped grades and finishing college in three years, he earned a degree from New York University in 1947 and began his career humbly, as an accountant in an office above a luncheonette.

In 1949, a client missed a payroll because the clerk responsible became sick. This set off a light bulb in the mind of the young accountant, who realized he could provide a payroll service to companies. He began personally delivering payroll checks by bus. The company was known as Automatic Payrolls Inc.

As the business slowly grew, Taub was joined by his brother, Joe, and a young insurance salesman, now senator, Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg’s job was to sell the service to other companies.

Lautenberg recalled those early years at Sunday’s service, telling of seven-day weeks and long days. A key year was 1961, Lautenberg said, when the company went public amid the blossoming of the computer age.

“I was looking forward to the 50th anniversary,” Lautenberg said. “I think we should still celebrate that.”

Lautenberg left the company after being elected to the Senate in 1982. A certain name recognition helped, he said. “People didn’t know Frank Lautenberg, but they knew ADP,” he said.

The company is based in Roseland and has some 550,000 clients worldwide and 42,000 employees. Most recently, Taub served as honorary board chairman.

Taub was direct in his dealings, but ran his affairs with a human touch, said Block. He was “intelligent, innovative, but he had something else — wisdom,” the rabbi said. “Henry knew how to lead. Hire the best people, let them do their jobs, and cheer them on.”

Block acknowledged the role of Taub’s wife, Marilyn, citing the adage that behind every good man is a good woman. “You were beside Henry,” he said to her at the service.

“He was an inspiration to anyone who knew him,” Lautenberg said. “He respected others for what they were, not what they had.”

Taub’s philanthropy was channeled through the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation and his legacy includes the Taub Center for Israel Studies at New York University, the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s and the Aging Brain at Columbia University, and the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. A trustee of NYU, he was honored with its Madden award.

At the American Technion Society, which helps support the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, he served as president from 1974 to 1976 and was on the board of governors from 1990 to 2003. Technion, Hebrew University, and Ben-Gurion University awarded him honorary degrees.

He had also served as president and board chairman of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (1981-1986) and in a similar capacity with the United Israel Appeal (1986-1990), as well as on the boards of the Rite-Aid Corp.; Hasbro, Inc.; Bank Leumi and Trust Co. of New York; Interfaith Hunger Appeal; and The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater.

Locally, Taub was a major benefactor of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

Those who worked with Taub recalled his particular blend of qualities. Among them is Howard Charish, formerly executive vice president of the UJA-NNJ.

“He was on the cutting edge of thinking and doing,” said Charish, now an executive with the American Friends of Bar Ilan University in Israel. He recalled a “get-acquainted” session with Taub, at which “Henry said, ‘No matter what the issue is, Howard, you’ll never see my ego on the table.”

“He read everything that was sent to him,” Charish said. “Meetings with him were direct, analytical. He wanted facts. It forced you to think.”

Leon Sokol worked with Taub as co-chairman of the Synagogue Leadership Initiative, under the auspices of the UJA-NNJ. The program worked to provide expert advice and leadership to help area congregations thrive, Sokol said.

“Henry understood that synagogues were the anchors in the Jewish community,” Sokol said. “Henry was hands-on. He chaired the steering committee. He was very involved.”

“He was always a gentleman, very kind and committed to the Jewish community,” Sokol continued.

Taub’s unobtrusive touch was evident when he was a part owner of the New Jersey Nets and served for a time as its chief executive officer. He stayed out of the locker room, notably entering once to congratulate players on making the playoffs.

Taub’s children gave the gathering a glimpse of his personal side.

“Dad was a selfless man, always thinking of others, not himself,” said son Ira. In some ways he was a simple man, who always traveled light, Ira Taub said, drawing laughter when he recalled seeing his father rinse out socks and underwear in a hotel sink.

Simple things gave him pleasure, the son continued. “He had a passion for sports,” he said, and was a fan of Janis Joplin.

Henry Taub’s daughter, Judith Gold, also drew laughter, recalling how her father helped her with an English paper. When she brought the paper home, with a grade of D, her father said: “Your teacher’s wrong and she doesn’t know anything.”

She told of asking for an allowance. Her father, ever the accountant, said, “Let’s see your budget.” She recalled meals together, laughter, and conversations.

“This was dad’s true legacy — family,” she said.

The days in the hospital during Taub’s illness were recalled by his son Steven, who said his father connected personally with the hospital staff — doctors, nurses, aides, cleaning people. “He greeted them daily with a smile,” Steven Taub said. “Dad had perspective,” he added.

Even though his father did not suffer from the disease, he donated his brain to Alzheimer’s research, his son said. The family had debated as to how this might conform to Jewish law.

“Nothing can be more Jewish than to help alleviate the suffering of others,” the son quoted his father as saying.

Along with everything else he was, Taub was a grandfather, and his grandchildren came together at the microphone to take turns reading a tribute they wrote jointly. They spoke of “memories filled with fun, laughter, and joy…. He loved to make us smile and laugh…. He was just as passionate about playing with us as he was about work.”

Lautenberg ended his tribute on a poignant note.

As the end neared, the senator, at the hospital, faced a dilemma. He was needed in Washington for a critical vote, but “I didn’t want to leave my friend’s side.”

As Lautenberg related, Taub’s son Steven put it in perspective with the question: “What do you think my father would want you to do?”

“I left for Washington,” the senator said, adding, “You didn’t have to be a Taub to love Henry — I loved Henry.”

He is survived by his wife Marilyn; his brother Joseph Taub (and his wife Arlene); his daughter Judith Gold (and her husband Ronald); his sons Steven (and his wife Benay) and Ira (and his wife Shelley); and grandchildren Samantha, Jessica, and Evan Gold, Matthew, Eliana, Joshua, and Sarah Taub, and Sydney, Alex, and Julia Taub.

Arrangements were by Louis Suburban Chapel in Fair Lawn.

 
 
 
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