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Jewish groups still angling for health care bill fixes

WASHINGTON – Repair the world? Jewish groups would be happy just to fix health care legislation.

For months, Jewish groups have been at the forefront of lobbying the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for health care reform, framing their support within the Talmudic mandate of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. The National Jewish Democratic Council even earned a special thank you from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) when the bill finally passed the Senate on Dec. 24.

Now that the House and Senate versions of the legislation are on the verge of converging into a single bill acceptable to both houses of Congress, the Jewish groups that focus on health care lobbying have correspondingly sent out the usual statements praising its advance.

Each of these statements, however, is peppered with a plethora of qualifications – most having to do with the absence of an option for government-run health plans that would compete with the private sector, although there are other aspects that irk Jewish groups, including language on abortions and pricing for seniors.

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Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, seen here at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on March 27, 2009, led the effort to pass health care reform legislation. Center for American Progress Action Fund

The statement from the Reform movement’s Religion Action Center was typical of the Jewish responses.

“The time is long past due to repair our broken system that leaves over 47 million people uninsured and millions more underinsured each year,” it begins. “We commend our nation’s senators who have been working tirelessly to bring us to this historic moment.”

Then comes the “while”: “While we are pleased to see a commitment to increased access to health insurance, we remain disappointed with key pieces of the legislation. The bill lacks a government-run public insurance option, which would control costs to further improve affordability and accessibility of care. We are also concerned about severe limitations to women’s access to reproductive health services.”

Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy for B’nai B’rith International, said health care reform advocates hoped to salvage some elements of the public option in the final version of the bill, once it emerges from a conference of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“The important thing is to make sure there’s a mechanism to ensure competition,” she said, even if such an option is not government run; one possibility is the creation of nonprofit cooperatives. Health care reform advocates want a public option to crack insurance monopolies and duopolies that prevail in many states.

Like many other health care reform advocates, the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella body for federations, focused on urging Congress to preserve the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, a voluntary insurance buy-in that covers long-term care for the elderly and disabled; both Senate and House bills include versions of the CLASS Act.

“This is the largest step forward in long-term care reform since the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid program nearly 45 years ago,” said William Daroff, the federation umbrella’s Washington director. “We believe the CLASS Act would create a fiscally responsible program that will strengthen our ability to deliver vital services to those most in need of them in our community.”

Critics contend that the proposed insurance plan is not self-sustainable and will require massive taxpayer funding.

“The real danger comes after 10 years, when the long-term care program will increase deficits and create even greater pressure for government rationing of medical care,” Scott Harrington, a professor of health care management at the Wharton School, wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal.

Jewish groups, representing one of the most rapidly aging demographics in the United States, also want to see aging removed as an insurance pricing factor, just as the legislation does with pre-existing conditions. They also want to remove the “doughnut hole” from Medicare, the government-run insurance program for Americans over 65. Currently, medicines are subsidized up until $3,000; recipients must then cover a “hole” of about $3,600 until they are again eligible for government subsidies.

For some groups, a critical issue is abortion. Both versions of the bill would introduce bureaucratic restrictions that abortion rights advocates believe eventually could end any government funding for insurers who provide abortions. The House version bans insurers from paying for abortions for clients eligible for any public funding; the Senate bill introduces a process for paying for abortion insurance that critics say is cumbersome and could lead to insurers simply not offering the coverage.

“On the one hand this should be a great moment,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women. “On the other, the extension of coverage to many people comes on the back of women’s access to reproductive rights.”

The intense, heated and often personal nature of the debate did not leave the Jewish community unscathed.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who had backed versions of the public option in the past, withdrew his support recently, saying he no longer believed the government could afford them.

That led to at least two petitions from American Jews urging Lieberman, the best-known Orthodox Jewish lawmaker, not to turn his back on the helpless.

“In our eyes, this is not the behavior of an ‘observant’ Jew,” said one petition, organized by Philadelphia’s Shalom Center and signed by 2,000 people, including 126 Jewish clergy. “’Tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice justice shall you seek,’ is among the Torah’s most important commandments. And in pursuit of justice, no autonomous Jewish community has ever allowed the poor to go without healing.”

That in turn led to a blast from Agudath Israel of America, which said that impugning belief was out of place in the public square.

“People should not appropriate the mantle of Judaism to promote their own personal or political convictions,” said Rabbi David Zweibel, the executive vice president of the organization, which is fervently Orthodox. “The Torah has much to say about caring for the sick. But turning it into a tool to promote a particular provision of a health care plan — or into a bat with which to pummel an outstanding public servant who happens to think that provision is objectionable — dishonors the Torah.”

JTA

 
 

Health-care vote could mean tough campaign for some Dems

WASHINGTON – A window was shattered by a pellet gun in an apparent vandalism attack at her Tucson district office. Sarah Palin has put her on the list of Democratic lawmakers she is targeting this fall. Arizona Tea Party activists are pledging to help defeat her bid for re-election.

All this because Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) voted for health-care reform.

Giffords is one of a few Jewish Democrats political observers say could have a difficult re-election campaign because of her vote for the controversial Democratic-backed health-care bill.

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A glass door at the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shattered in an apparent vandalism attack just hours after Giffords voted for the health-care reform bill in Congress. Gary Jones

The bill passed March 21 would provide access to insurance for more than 30 million uninsured Americans, provide subsidies for those who cannot afford it, eliminate the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and require all Americans to buy insurance or pay a tax. Republicans have attacked the bill as too costly and portray it as government takeover of the health-care industry.

While support for the health-care bill represents a potential political liability if disaffection with the president runs high on Election Day, November is still far enough away that it’s not clear how much influence it will have.

The general mood of the country, which probably will depend on the state of the economy, will likely be the determining factor, said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. If the mood is sour, he said, voters “are going to evaluate health care in that light.”

Two-term congresswoman Giffords is in a more vulnerable spot than most. She hasn’t been in office long, and her district is not solidly Democratic. John McCain won it in the 2008 presidential election, with 52 percent of the district vote.

Helping those who cannot afford health insurance, rather than focusing on re-election, was Gifford’s paramount concern in deciding which way to vote, her spokesman said.

“The congresswoman is convinced it was the right thing to do, and good for the country,” said her communications director, C.J. Karamargin.

Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who has been particularly outspoken on health-care issues, is another potentially vulnerable Jewish Democrat. Grayson has called the U.S. health-care system a “holocaust” — making him a darling of the left but a target of the right.

Grayson unseated a four-term Republican in 2008 to win the 8th congressional district in Florida, which includes part of Orlando. While President Obama carried the district in 2008, George W. Bush carried it in the prior two presidential races.

National Jewish Democratic Council CEO Ira Forman acknowledged that votes in favor of health-care reform could be problematic for Jewish Democrats like Giffords and Grayson, but he is “doubtful it will be the determinative vote” for an incumbent’s prospects of survival this fall.

Victory on a historic reform of health care “is much better for Democrats in general” than a defeat, Forman said. However, the larger issues of the economy and the unemployment rate are likely to be greater factors for vulnerable Democrats come election time, he said.

The only Jewish Democrat to vote against the health-care bill was New Jersey first-termer John Adler, who also is likely to face a tough battle in November. Hailing from a district in the Philadelphia suburbs, Adler will be facing off against former Philadelphia Eagles lineman John Runyan.

Adler said he did not back the legislation because it didn’t do enough to control costs and make health care affordable for his constituents. He also reportedly had encountered strong opposition to the bill at meetings throughout his district.

Obama carried Adler’s district by five points in 2008, but Bush eked out a slight win in 2004. Before Adler, the district’s congressional seat was held by a Republican for 16 years.

Adler’s vote will make it easier for him to argue that he is “not a rubber stamp” for the president.

The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, agreed that the health-care bill is likely to be a big issue in the 2010 election. The RJC has called for repealing the bill.

More upsetting than the bill itself, Brooks said, is that, “with an exploding debt and deficit, the president is focusing not on jobs but on health care.”

Meanwhile, at least one Jewish Republican challenger is hoping that his opposition to the health-care reform legislation will help him knock off a Democratic incumbent. Randy Altschuler, a contender for the GOP nomination in New York’s 1st congressional district, which includes much of Suffolk County on Long Island, said he backs repealing the health-care legislation and replacing it with a different type of reform because the “spending, tax increases, and heavy government intervention” outweigh its “marginal benefits.”

Altschuler first must win a tough primary race against Chris Cox, Richard Nixon’s grandson, before being able to square off against incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop.

“That’s a race where these kinds of issues are going to resonate,” Brooks said of the brouhaha over health care.

JTA

 
 

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.

 
 

Obama spreads the love, keeping Jewish leaders happy — for now

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond going forward, whatever happens.

Jewish leaders have kicked the tires and they’re buying — although anxious still at what happens when the rubber hits the road.

News Analysis

“It’s a positive development,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. “There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?”

Tensions between the administration and Israel were sparked in the first week of March, when Israel announced a major new building initiative in eastern Jerusalem during what was meant to be a fence-mending visit by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the trip was followed by a 45-minute phone berating by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then statements by senior administration officials that the announcement had been an affront.

That in turn spurred howls of protest by top Jewish figures saying that while Netanyahu indeed had blown it, the backlash should have ended with Biden’s rebuke. Worse, opinion-makers in Washington had seized on a paragraph in 56 pages of Senate testimony last month by Gen. David Petraeus in which the Central Command chief said that one of many elements frustrating his mission in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli peace freeze.

The turning point, Solow said, was the letter he received April 20 from President Obama.

“Let me be very clear: We have a special relationship with Israel that will not be changed,” Obama wrote. “Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

Obama suggested that the letter was prompted by the “concerns” Solow had expressed to White House staff. Solow said the letter was a surprise.

Whatever the case, the letter was only one element in a blast of Israel love from the administration, including speeches by David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, at the Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day festivities, and to the National Jewish Democratic Council; Clinton to the Center for Middle East Peace last week and to the American Jewish Committee this week; Petraeus, keynoting last week’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s commemoration at the U.S. Capitol; Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, meeting recently with a group of 20 rabbis; Jim Jones, the national security adviser, last week at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Jones’ deputy, Daniel Shapiro, addressing the Anti-Defamation League next month.

The main theme of the remarks is, as Jones put it, “no space — no space — between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”

Petraeus especially seems to have developed a second career keynoting Jewish events. He also spoke recently at the 92nd Street Y in New York and is addressing a Commentary magazine dinner in June.

Much of his Holocaust address, naturally, concerned itself with events of 65 years ago, but he couldn’t help wrenching the speech back into the present tense to heap praise on Israel.

Speaking of the survivors, he said, “They have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies.”

The blitz also has assumed at times the shape of a call and response. After the initial “crisis,” a number of Jewish groups wondered why the administration was making an issue of Israeli settlement and not of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to renew talks until Israel completely froze settlement-building and of continued incitement under Abbas’ watch.

In fact, the administration repeatedly warns against any preconditions and has made a consistent issue of Palestinian incitement, but Clinton appeared to get the message that the message hasn’t been forceful enough.

“We strongly urge President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel now,” she told the Center for Middle East Peace on April 15. She also called on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians.”

Jewish leaders also were wounded by what they saw as a dismissive attitude to Israel’s contributions to the alliance.

“It is Israel which serves on the front lines as an outpost of American interests in a dangerous part of the world,” Lee Rosenberg, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee president, said April 14 at Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. “Israel’s military expertise and the intelligence they share with us help the United States remain on the offense against those who seek America’s destruction in some of the darkest and most difficult places on the planet.”

Cue Jim Jones, addressing the Washington Institute exactly a week later.

“I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America,” Jones said. “Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities, and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats.”

The feel-the-love show extends to Israelis as well, a marked change from the no-photos snub Netanyahu received when he met at the White House with Obama in late March.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates rolled out the red carpet for his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, on Tuesday, a signal that the sides are coordinating closely on Iran containment policy. And when the Israeli defense minister met at the White House with Jones, Obama dropped by Jones’ office to chat informally — a signal that presidents have traditionally used to underscore the closeness of a relationship.

Furthermore, the administration is not limiting its message to Jewish audiences. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke last week to the Arab American Institute and made points that essentially were the same as Clinton’s when she addressed the Center for Middle East Peace.

“Our position remains clear: We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” Rice told the Arab American group. “Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should continue to make every effort to ensure security, to reform its institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement.”

Differences remain — like Rice, Clinton has emphasized that the Obama administration is not about to let the settlements issue go. More subtly, Obama is not going to concede in his overarching thesis of a “linkage” that has been repudiated by Israel and its defenders here: that Arab-Israeli peace will make it much easier to secure U.S. interests in the region.

“For over 60 years, American presidents have believed that pursuing peace between Arabs and Israelis is in the national security interests of the United States,” Obama said.

That’s essentially true — Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made the same point multiple times, but not with the doggedness and emphasis of Obama.

Jewish leaders said they would closely watch the aftermath of next month’s visit to Washington by Abbas, when the sides are expected to announce the resumption of talks. The nitty-gritty of the talks may yet derail the new good feelings; how that works depends on communications, said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“This charm offensive is part of a prefatory way of setting up the communications so that when we get to proximity talks we will all move forward instead,” he said.

Critical to that success was listening, said Nathan Diament, who heads the Orthodox Union’s Washington office.

“Too many of the tensions of the past months have been generated by a lack of communication,” Diament said. “But just as important is for the administration to talk with, not just at, the community. The president benefits from having more input inform his policy choices.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish groups call for civility

WASHINGTON – Americans have witnessed racist epithets, homophobic slurs, and spitting on a congressman in the realm of public discourse. Now a number of Jewish groups are saying enough is enough.

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League issued a call for civility.

The “Statement on Civility in National Public Discourse” was unveiled during a panel discussion on “Restoring Civility to Passionate, Partisan, Political Debate” at the ADL’s National Leadership conference in Washington.

“We stand together today to call for civility in our national public discourse,” the statement says. “Let our debate on the issues of the moment be thoughtful and reasoned. Let us look to our elected leaders for leadership, whether or not we support their policies. Let all of us, across the political spectrum, encourage advocacy that is vigorous; pointed but not personal or hostile. We reject appeals to bigotry, racism, and prejudice. We reject calls to violence. In our national discourse in 2010, let us cast American democracy in the best possible light.”

The ADL call for civility comes on the heels of a similar measure adopted in February focused on combating incivility among Jewish groups, particularly those with differing views on the Israeli-Palestinian debate. It was passed in Dallas as part of a resolution at the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group bringing together the synagogue movements, local Jewish communities, and several national organizations, including the ADL.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, recounted the events that led to his organization’s declaration.

“The level of incivility and debate relating first to the health-care bill and now the immigration debate, the Arizona legislation — it has been a crescendo, a back-and-forth of not discussing things civilly,” he said.

The ADL plans to reach out to its 30 regional offices to bring the pledge to elected leaders to sign in an effort to “lessen hostility in the language of debates,” Foxman said.

The first to sign were Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, and Matt Brooks, his counterpart at the Republican Jewish Coalition — two groups that have not enjoyed the most cordial of relationships.

The groups even argued as to the wording of the pledge, with Forman not entirely pleased with what he described as the final “watered-down” version. Brooks requested the removal of “mean-spirited” before he would sign, Forman said. Brooks replied that neither the ADL nor the NJDC pushed back over the changes and that his edits “made for a tighter, cleaner, neater document.”

Foxman brushed off the quibble saying, “Yes, people gave input, but ultimately they were signing on to our statement.”

Forman also was willing to shift into a conciliatory mode.

“Congratulations are due to the ADL, all of us, Democrats and Republicans, for we start with this minimal statement and build on it,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of the health of democracy and Judaism that we bring back civility in discourse.”

Brooks agreed, saying, “I believe very strongly that we need to vigorously debate issues of the day, but in a way that’s respectful of the political process, that doesn’t engage in racial or religious or ad hominem attacks.”

With most forms of incivility happening in the public eye — at town hall meetings, on the Senate floor — the ADL believes that the media and the public are the best-positioned to police the matter.

Foxman said, “People can argue strongly and passionately about what they believe, and when they realize being uncivil is counterproductive to them and their cause, there will be a positive response.”

The JCPA has particularly focused on the increased heat in recent years among Jewish groups when dealing with Israel, with the rise of pro-Israel groups like J Street that perform open criticism of the Jewish state.

J Street has taken shots at Jews who associate with right-wing Christian evangelicals, saying that they are abetting a movement that imagines Israel’s destruction. More conservative groups have accused J Street of consorting with Israel’s mortal enemies.

“We are experiencing a level of incivility, particularly over issues pertaining to Israel, that has not been witnessed in recent memory,” the JCPA resolution said. “Where such polarization occurs within the Jewish community, it tears at the fabric of Klal Yisrael —our very sense of peoplehood — and is a cause for profound concern.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of JCPA, said that though the details are not yet firm, a committee representing Jews from “left to right” will be put in place by June and will be charged with designing a multi-year plan to combat incivility and teach proper discourse.

“We need to know how to show respect when we agree,” Gutow said, “and when we do not.”

JTA

 
 
 
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