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Congress delays sanctions bill, with AIPAC blessing

WASHINGTON – In a sign of closer White House-congressional coordination on Iran, Congress is delaying an Iran sanctions bill several weeks to give the Obama administration time to shepherd new sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee blessed the delay, in part because parallel measures are under consideration that would stiffen existing sanctions aimed at getting the Iranian regime to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

“We have always said that tough multilateral sanctions are the most effective means to persuade Iran to cease its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability — a demand repeated time and again by the international community — and we applaud the efforts of President Obama and his national security team to unite the other permanent members of the Security Council behind this urgent goal,” said a joint statement by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

The statement predicted passage by the “latter half of June.”

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of enhanced unilateral sanctions that would target third parties — including countries, individuals, and companies — that deal with Iran’s energy sector. The bills are undergoing reconciliation, and congressional leaders had said they would pass this month.

The Obama administration has lobbied hard to delay the congressional sanctions, fearing that they could alienate the major powers it has persuaded to join the Security Council’s multilateral sanctions.

The enhanced Security Council sanctions, targeting Iran’s banking sector and mandating inspections of Iranian ships, lack the bite of the congressional measures. However, they broaden multilateral sanctions to encompass whole sectors — banking and shipping — as opposed to individuals and entities. That would lay the foundations for future sanctions that could more broadly target the regime.

“AIPAC supports this decision and endorses Chairmen Dodd and Berman’s firm, public commitment to get tough, comprehensive Iran sanctions legislation on the President’s desk before the July 4th recess,” the lobby said in a statement. “We urge President Obama to sign and implement that legislation immediately upon its arrival on his desk.”

AIPAC was assuaged in part by plans to insert language in other bills that would inhibit presidential waivers on existing sanctions. Recent reports have revealed that U.S. businesses that have illicitly traded with Iran have done $107 billion in business with the U.S. government. The businesses got away with the double dealing because successive presidents have not used sanctions at their disposal since Congress passed sweeping legislation in 1996.

House appropriators announced Tuesday that they would attach language to a supplemental appropriations bill that would require contractors to certify that they are not doing business with Iran. The sanctions would still be subject to a presidential waiver, but on a case-by-case basis, and on condition of certification to Congress that the waiver was necessary for national security.

“One of the most effective things we can do to compel compliance with the Iran Sanctions Act is use the power of the purse,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who worked on the legislation with fellow appropriators Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) under the supervision of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee.

Israel told JTA that he was sensitive to Defense Department concerns that some companies discovered doing business with Iran also might be providing critical aid to U.S. troops, for instance with anti-explosive device materiel.

“Then the president should tell Congress, but it shouldn’t be done in the dark, it shouldn’t be behind closed doors,” he said.

Israel called attaching the language to the supplemental appropriations bill a “shot across the bow.” He was hoping to attach it eventually to all 12 appropriations bills in Congress.

Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) launched a parallel effort to attach similar language to defense authorization bills. His amendment would suspend for three years business with contractors that falsely certify that they are not doing business with Iran.

Authorization bills permit the government to carry out programs; appropriations bills fund the programs.

JTA

 
 

Bringing down the house: Beth Aaron expanion ‘long overdue’

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Photos from http://www.bethaaron.org

With several mighty blows of a backhoe, the house next to Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck was razed last week, launching the long awaited expansion project of the synagogue at 950 Queen Anne Road.

The $2.4 million project calls for a larger lobby, a new multi-purpose room, a new teen minyan space, and additional youth department rooms.

The multi-purpose room will provide more functional space for lectures, community events and social programming, such as the Shabbat morning kiddush, said Larry Kahn, co-chair of the expansion committee. The new youth department rooms, located on the lower level, will accommodate the increasing number of children attending groups on Shabbat and holidays.

The construction will also add 65 seats to the main sanctuary, restoring 35 seats that were lost roughly nine years ago when the synagogue bought permanent pews and adding 30 seats on top of that, Kahn said.

Construction — scheduled to begin in the next few weeks by the Ridgewood-based firm Visbeen Construction — is expected to conclude late next spring.

The house, which Beth Aaron had owned, had been rented by Rabbi Ephraim Simon, executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, who has moved to the north side of Teaneck.

With a roster of some 300 member-families, the expansion of Beth Aaron’s building —which hasn’t been updated since 1986 — is long overdue, congregants say.

Pews at Shabbat services are often packed, and several minyanim need to be held simultaneously to accommodate everyone. The Shabbat morning kiddush draws overflow crowds and members have lamented for years about the cramped party room where it’s difficult to host a sizeable brit breakfast or bar/bat mitzvah luncheon.

Parents have also grumbled about the challenge of running youth groups for children on Shabbat and holiday mornings when the classroom space is inadequate for all the grades.

Indeed, said Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs, it is not easy to serve the needs of everyone in the congregation in the current building. “This project will enhance our shul in numerous ways and allow us to serve all our members from the very young to old…. We’re extremely excited about the expansion. We are hopeful that this will be the beginning of another wonderful chapter in the history of our beit knesset.”

Synagogue President Larry Shafier said the new facility will allow us to “better serve our members and guests by providing for concurrent and additional prayer opportunities, classes, children, teen and youth programming, and an enhanced and more meaningful experience for everyone.”

Plans for the expansion were first introduced to the Orthodox synagogue in 1999. The project lay dormant for a number of years and was reactivated in 2006 after Rothwachs arrived at the shul.

Some congregants initially voted against the expansion, citing concerns about its high cost in a turbulent economy. But now, many of its critics have become staunch supporters of the project.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the amount and number of donations, especially in an uncertain economy, and we’re now running ahead of projections,” said Allen Friedman, co-chair of the expansion committee. “All of this indicates to us the importance the kehilla [the community] attaches to the project.”

The donations cover close to half of the project cost. But the synagogue still continues to collect more on its website. http://www.bethaaron.org., Friedman said.

“If we want a kehilla that will continue to be warm and to flourish, we need a building that let’s that happen.”

When the plan was initially proposed to the townshp, some neighbors expressed concern that an expanded building would bring more noise and parking woes to the neighborhood. But after they were invited to spend an evening at the synagogue to review the plans, they were won over, said Kahn. The township’s board of adjustment voted unanimously in favor of the project in 2009.

Beth Aaron was established in 1972 by Rabbi Meir Gottesman in a home on West Englewood Avenue at a time when many young people felt disenfranchised with their parents’ establishment synagogues, recalls longtime member and founder Mollie Fisch. Gottesman aimed to create a congregation that would attract young people who were rebelling against their parents and joining cults or running off to the Far East, she said. A Merrison Avenue family offered its basement in 1972 as a place for the congregation to meet and, years later, Dr. Stuart Littwin offered his home on Queen Anne Road, which eventually became the site for the existing synagogue building.

Although the expansion comes with hefty bills for members, Kahn says it has been met mostly with eager anticipation. “Many people are enthusiastic about the shul beginning a new chapter in its existence,” he said. “They’re looking forward to more opportunity for social interaction as well as spiritual growth in a setting that is conducive for that.”

 
 

House members put brakes on aid to Lebanon

 

Israel, Iran, court, entitlements — what would a GOP Congress mean?

Cantor could help GOP take the House, but can he win over the Jews?

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U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, shown speaking at the 2009 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, hopes to shepherd the GOP to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Robert A. Cumins/Jewish Federations of North America

WASHINGTON – Eric Cantor has spent a lifetime having fun wearing the other hat.

Among Jews, the Republican congressional whip from Richmond, Va., likes to play the genteel Southern conservative, the posture that won over his wife, a socially liberal banker from New York.

Among southerners, he’s the nice Jewish boy who belongs to an Orthodox synagogue and graduated from Columbia University but who has an easy familiarity with NASCAR, country music, and evangelical beliefs.

Profile

It’s an approach that has Cantor poised to become the highest-ranking Jewish member in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. If the Republicans take the House, as the pundits and polls are predicting, he is expected to rise to the position of majority leader.

Maybe even House speaker, as the buzz goes, if the new wave of Republican lawmakers decides to dump Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), whom some conservatives see as too close to lobbyists and establishment interests. Cantor, the only Jewish Republican lawmaker in the Congress, denies that talk.

At the same time that Cantor, 47, stands on the verge of what could be his greatest victory in his young career, he faces what also might be his greatest test: reconciling the liberal tendencies of the smaller, Jewish community in which he grew up with the sharp swing right in the larger, conservative community he has embraced.

He insists it’s not such a big deal.

“The American Jewish community is not unlike others in this country,” Cantor told JTA this week in a quick phone interview from the campaign trail, where he was been spending a frenetic summer and fall in hopes of helping his party win as many as 90 seats from the Democrats. “Jews are frustrated at their own economic circumstance.”

Cantor said that American Jews have nothing to fear from the Tea Party, the disparate conservative insurgency that appears ready to propel the Republicans to victory.

“Tea Party individuals are focused on three things: One, limited, constitutional government; two, cutting spending; and three, a return to free markets,” he said. “Most Americans are about that, and the American Jewish community is like that.”

In the same interview, Cantor laid out a proposal on funding for Israel that could test exactly how “like that” is the American Jewish community — or at least its organizational leadership.

Cantor said he wanted to pull the $3 billion Israel receives in funding from the foreign operations budget so that GOP lawmakers — who in recent years have been voting in increasing numbers against the foreign funding bill — may vote their conscience: for Israel on one bill, against countries perceived as anti-American on another.

“Part of the dilemma is that Israel has been put in the overall foreign aid looping,” he said. “I’m hoping we can see some kind of separation in terms of tax dollars going to Israel.”

Other Republicans have suggested putting the Israel funding in the defense budget, noting that most of the money is for defense assistance.

Prior to that statement, a number of pro-Israel officials had told JTA on background that they feared exactly such an initiative. However, the expectation was that it would come from Tea Partiers and not the GOP leadership, whom the pro-Israel officials expected to be an ally in making the case for foreign funding in January when the new Congress is inaugurated.

Repeated attempts by JTA in the wake of Cantor’s comments to reach the same figures — among them, some of the most voluble pro-Israel advocates — went unanswered.

The silence itself was not unusual — no one in a non-partisan role wants to stand directly against an entire party a week before Election Day. But it signaled the chasm with Republicans that pro-Israel groups may be looking at come January.

Democrats and their allies were not so shy in reminding Cantor of the traditional pro-Israel argument for wrapping spending on Israel into the broader foreign aid budget.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, called Cantor’s proposal “outrageous.”

“Manipulating aid to Israel in this way would dangerously threaten continued bipartisan agreement on national security policy and programs other than direct assistance to Israel that aid in its security,” she said in a news release.

The funding, Lowey said, promotes diplomacy and alleviates the factors that create a fertile ground for terrorist recruiters.

“Because it is inextricably linked with broader U.S. national security goals, separating assistance for Israel in order to make it easier for Republican members to vote against the foreign aid bill would be counterproductive,” she said in her statement.

Cantor outlined a much different view: Israel was not like other nations, he said.

“Israel’s survival is directly connected to America’s survival,” he said. “Israel’s security is synonymous with our own.”

Bridging divides is not new to Cantor. His conservative posture on social issues — he is against gay marriage and abortion — place him on the opposite side of most Jewish voters. And Jewish advocates for the elderly strongly oppose several proposals in his new book “Young Guns,” co-authored with two other youthful conservatives, Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The Republican trio calls for opening up Social Security and Medicare to private companies and raising the eligibility age for both plans. In addition, the book extols the GOP leadership’s voluntary freeze last March on earmarks, which Cantor wants to make permanent — and extend to Democrats, should the GOP win the House.

Jewish groups have relied on earmarks, the funds lawmakers set aside for their districts, to fund programs for the elderly.

Still, Cantor is always a welcome presence at Jewish communal events, associates say.

“He always has gotten community support, even though the Jewish community is mostly Democratic,” said Jay Ipson, a retired auto parts dealer who has known Cantor since he was a boy.

Cantor, who has a reputation for tirelessness, makes himself available to the Richmond Jewish community when he is home, Ipson says — visiting its institutions and working on its behalf. Cantor’s intervention on the state level helped Ipson establish the city’s Holocaust museum, which opened in 2003.

Richard November, a former president of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, said Cantor was typical of a younger generation of Southern Jews who refused to be circumspect about their Jewishness and would wear their identity with pride even as they ventured into the broader community.

November recalled tracking Cantor, who was the same age as his daughter, Debra, as he grew up.

“In my day — I graduated high school in 1956 — it was more isolated if you would, the Jewish kids stuck together,” he said. “During my daughters’ high school years, there was a greater acceptance of the Jewish students, the Jewish students were more aggressive in becoming involved in things that were not just Jewish.”

Cantor was well-turned-out early, he recalled.

“He always had a certain demeanor that most people don’t have at that age,” he said.

It helped win over his wife, Diana, six years his senior and a Goldman Sachs employee when he courted her while he was at Columbia.

“I said, ‘I thought you were Jewish?’ I’d never met someone who was Jewish and Republican,” she told The Washington Post in 2008.

In Washington, Cantor has made the Jewish community’s case to the Republican leadership, particularly as it applies to funding for safety net programs, said William Daroff, who heads the Jewish Federations of North America Washington office.

“He’s been helpful with legislative matters where there have been funding issues, issues around regulations, particularly with Jewish family service agencies,” Daroff said.

Some Jewish Democrats see Cantor as a friend and appreciate his outreach on Israel.

“We disagree on domestic issues, but when it comes to Israel there are no disagreements,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “His heart is in the right place when it comes to Israel.”

Cantor’s Jewish profile has, if anything, heightened as he ascended to the leadership. While his family remains Conservative, he now attends Orthodox services and, when his busy schedule allows, takes classes with a rabbi.

In “Young Guns,” his new book, he makes no bones about the Jewish values he brings to the GOP.

“I pray on Saturday with a Southern accent,” he said. “Paul and Kevin,” his co-authors, “go to church on Sunday and talk to God without dropping their gs.”

That’s an outlook appreciated by a professional Jewish class that has been stymied at times in reaching out to Jewish lawmakers.

“The Jewish community has unfortunately had its fair share of members who shy away from their identity as they embrace public life and build their careers,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch. “Eric has done the exact opposite.”

JTA

 
 
 
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