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Record delegation from NORPAC advocates for Israel in D.C.

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Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) meets with a delegation from NORPAC.

At 4:30 a.m. last Wednesday, while most people were still dreaming in bed, 1,040 people were getting ready to join the NORPAC Mission to Washington. The non-partisan North Jersey political action committee supports the U.S.-Israel relationship by advocating on key issues, including foreign aid, Palestinian incitement, the Middle East peace process, and Iran sanctions.

Twenty-four buses pulled up to the Washington Convention Center in the late morning to be greeted by a lineup of speakers from Congress as well as a keynote speaker. The participants flooded two ballrooms and began the program by singing The Star Spangled Banner, Hatikvah, and in recognition of Yom Yerushalayim, “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.”

After an introduction by Dr. Richard Schlussel, the mission chair, speakers included Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Dr. Mort Fridman, NORPAC vice president, introduced the keynote speaker, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

Following the speeches, 450 members of Congress — including 95 senators — held private meetings with NORPAC participants, who advocated on four issues.

The first issue was the 2011 foreign aid request for Israel, which is expected to be $3 billion. Of that aid, 70 percent is in the form of credits to be spent in the United States, supporting high-tech defense jobs.

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Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren addresses the group.

“This aid is more of an investment than an expense,” said Dr, Ben Chouake, NORPAC president. “Given Israel’s strategic location on the Mediterranean with access to the Red Sea, and other vital shipping lanes, it is imperative that Israel continues to serve as a port of call for our military and intelligence operations,”

Participants noted to members of Congress that the United States is slated to provide a $550 million aid package to the Palestinians in the disputed territories and Gaza. They wanted assurances that the Palestinian Authority would be held accountable for the allocation of the funds, inasmuch as more than $7 billion of aid to the Palestinians cannot be accounted for. NORPAC members also advocated that U.S. aid be conditional on ending anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian news broadcasts, publications, and schools.

The participants urged the lawmakers to support the U.S.-led peace process, under which Arab states and the Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel. According to Chouake, “Although the current Israeli government has accepted the concept of a two-state solution and has made countless other concessions, Arabs and Palestinians refuse to even recognize a Jewish state. Peace cannot possibly be achieved when one of the parties is unwilling to recognize the other.”

The last item on the NORPAC agenda called for urging legislators to encourage the process to proceed and to support the final version of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.

Different versions of this bill have been passed by the Senate and House and are now in reconciliation. Mission members stressed the importance of the bill’s passage in order to send a clear message to Teheran that its current course toward nuclear armament cannot stand.

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Rep. Eric Cantor was one of the speakers

According to Chouake, who said that NORPAC put the Iran Sanctions bill on the map three years ago, it is critically close to passage. He added that members of Congress from both parties agreed that time is running out to address this existential threat to the world and, in consensus fashion, pledged to resist attempts to weaken or delay the bill.

The group heard concluding addresses by Reps. Eric Cantor (R-W.V.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

Schlussel said of the mission, “We were all gratified at seeing so many of our members being received so graciously by our nation’s leaders.”

For more information on NORPAC and the mission, go to www.norpac.net or call (201) 788-5733.

 
 

Lockerbie bomber case not closed

 

Mosque near Ground Zero?

‘This could have been us’

Cordoba House supporters cite religious freedom as crux of debate

Some local groups strongly support the mosque.

While their reasons range from First Amendment freedoms to trust that rank-and-file Muslims are well-intentioned, they speak with passion about the right of their fellow citizens to build houses of worship.

Rabbi Steven Sirbu, whose Teaneck synagogue has partnered with the town’s mosque, Dar-Ul-Islah, to create an ongoing Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, wrote to his congregants, “I have long believed that Muslims occupy a similar place in American society today that Jews occupied about a century ago.”

“It is a community largely of immigrants who have come to America seeking a better life,” Sirbu continued. “It is a community struggling to determine which traditions to keep and which to shed in an effort to acculturate to American norms. And it is a community which is misunderstood by a large number of Americans who fear its influence.”

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Rabbi Steven Sirbu, left, Rabbi Neal Borovitz, and Rabbi Kenneth Brickman

The religious leader of Temple Emeth pointed out that “it wasn’t long ago that synagogues were blocked by non-Jewish residents who didn’t want them in their backyards. The Jewish Center of Teaneck had to acquire its property near Cedar Lane through a third party, well aware that if their identity as the true purchaser were known, the sale would have been canceled.”

The rabbi told The Jewish Standard that he introduced the topic of the mosque at a Torah study discussion on Shabbat morning and that his congregants overwhelmingly supported the project.

“There was the sense that this could have been us,” he said, “and that these are the types of Muslims that we ought to be working with, building bridges.”

A similar sentiment was voiced by Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, who suggested that “we are only a few decades away from when Jews were kept out of Tenafly, when our neighbors tried to block the building of synagogues.” (For excerpts from his pre-Shabbat message about the mosque, go to ‘Good people can disagree’.)

Rabbi Kenneth Brickman, leader of Temple Beth El in Jersey City, signed a letter in support of the mosque written by the interfaith Hudson County Brotherhood-Sisterhood Association and published in the Jersey Journal. Urging respect for minorities and for religious freedom, the letter took issue with a “very anti-Moslem” opinion piece and cartoon that had previously appeared in the paper.

Brickman said the issue of the mosque has clearly divided the Jewish community.

“Some of my best friends don’t agree,” he told the Standard, noting that ultimately he concluded the issue is one of religious freedom “and it should go forward or it could happen to us.”

While he was away for much of the summer, he said, “my colleagues who were around said it was a hot topic of conversation at social occasions and services.”

Brickman said that by weighing in on the issue, “the Anti-Defamation League inspired other Jewish organizations to take a more public stance. (See related story.)

“I get the feeling that some responses were because of the ADL statement,” he said. “They didn’t want it to stand as the only public statement.”

Sirbu said that while some argue against the building of Cordoba House, citing the loss of life on 9/11, to hear most of the arguments “is to be exposed to a series of rants motivated, it seems to me, not by grief but by animosity, fear, and politics.”

Questioning the comparison between the treatment of Muslims here and treatment of adherents of other religions in Arab countries, Sirbu wrote to his congregants, “One opponent of the plan said that the Cordoba House should not be built at the proposed location so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s prohibition on churches and synagogues is outrageous, but do we really want to adopt Saudi standards for New York City?”

Nor does he accept the argument that the mosque should not be built near Ground Zero because it is “holy ground,” citing vocal protests recently held against mosques in Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Sheboygan, Wis.; and Temecula, Calif.

Wrote Sirbu, “In Temecula, one protester held up a placard that said, ‘Mosques are monuments to terrorism.’ To me, this is so telling. If we allow the Cordoba House to be displaced from its intended location, we implicitly endorse the idea that every Muslim seeks to undermine our country — an argument made against our people countless times throughout history.”

Sirbu, who attended community-wide Iftar celebrations sponsored by three local mosques at the Glenpointe Marriott hotel in Teaneck Saturday night, said the topic of the Manhattan mosque was raised by several guest speakers, including Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin and Rep. Steven Rothman. Iftar is the celebratory meal that breaks the fast of Ramadan at the end of each day of the month-long fast. Sirbu pointed out that the root of the word is the same as that for “haftarah,” meaning conclusion.

The rabbi said there were hundreds of participants from the three mosques, some 12 representatives from his congregation, and dignitaries including not only the Teaneck mayor and Rothman but Sen. Robert Menendez, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, and various Teaneck officials.

“The tenor of Rothman’s remarks was very positive,” he said. In addition, the congressman “made an offer. He said that since young people need to understand all [our] rights and liberties, those present should encourage them to apply for an internship in his office.”

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, noted that there have been no meetings over the summer of the Bergen County Interfaith Brotherhood Sisterhood committee, nor any formal interactions between the JCRC and the local Muslim community. However, he said, “We will be open to discussing this issue with all of our interfaith partners when we reconvene our meetings after the High Holy Days.”

He added that his personal reaction to the building is that “it will more parallel a JCC than a synagogue.” He is preparing his second-day Rosh HaShanah sermon “on the topic of our entitlements and responsibilities as Americans and as Jews living in a multicultural, religiously diverse society.”

 
 

U.S. aid to Israel is pragmatic

 

Menendez meets with Conservative rabbis

Egypt is a topic of 90-minute conversation

Sen. Robert Menendez met with a dozen Conservative rabbis from across the state in his Newark office on Feb. 10. During the 90-minute meeting, the conversation ranged from international concerns, including the unfolding events in Egypt, to sanctions against Iran to such domestic issues as health-care reform and bullying.

“It was a positive exchange,” said Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, in Woodcliff Lake. “There wasn’t much in the way of disagreement of any kind.”

The meeting was arranged by the senator’s office, as part of an ongoing outreach to hear concerns of members of the community. It was coordinated by the New Jersey region of The Rabbinical Assembly.

“It was interesting that the senator was interested in hearing the voice of the rabbis of the Conservative movement,” said Rabbi Joshua Cohen of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, in Franklin Lakes.

The rabbis coordinated beforehand what questions to ask the senator. “Especially on some of the specifics of the future of the Middle East, and on health care, there was some disagreement among the rabbis,” said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken.

“Egypt visually and verbally dominated the discussion,” said Shull. “He spoke favorably about the desire of the Egyptian people for a more democratic government.”

“As we were speaking with him, we were watching the developments on the television right behind him. It was breaking news,” said Cohen.

On other international matters, “he spoke in favor of strengthening the relationships between Israel and the United States,” said Shull. Shull said he brought up the issue of “the Jewish people’s historical right to a country. I thanked him for the fact that he had spoken on the Senate floor after President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, noting that the president had omitted the link of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and that the Jewish connection to the land was not just due to the Holocaust.

“I asked him if this point would be brought up with the Palestinians, pushing them to publicly acknowledge that the Jewish people have a connection to the land. His response was rather evasive,” said Shull. “He said he would continue to make the point that needs to be made about the historical connection.”

The rabbis raised the issue of Iran, and Menendez stressed the importance of stopping Iran’s nuclear efforts, they reported.

On domestic issues, the rabbis raised the issue of bullying. “He emphasized that while the government can do certain things, lots has to be done at home. Parents have to teach our children not to bully and how to stand up against bullying,” said Shull.

Also on the agenda was Obama’s health-care reform. “It affects small businesses, which include many members of our congregations,” explained Cohen.

Menendez said that legislation isn’t always perfect, said Scheinberg. “He said that doesn’t mean you throw out the legislation, it means you improve the imperfections.”

The group also discussed immigration.

“I was remarkably impressed with his total command of the details of every issue,” said Scheinberg. “I appreciated his directness and passion.”

Also at the meeting from this area were Rabbis Fred Elias of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, David Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, and Neil Tow of the Glen Rock Jewish Center.

 
 

Inside the Beltway

Oren, JWVets visit local pols in D.C.

The New Jersey Department of Jewish War Veterans made its annual visit to Capitol Hill earlier this month, where members of the group met with Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.) to lobby for a Jewish chaplains’ memorial in Arlington National Cemetery and federal aid for homeless veterans.

Carl Singer of Passaic, past commander of the Jewish War Veterans for this state and a retired army colonel, told this newspaper that Pascrell has been “very responsive” to the group’s concerns.

“We need permission to have this memorial put in place there, in memory of those Jewish chaplains that died in service,” Singer said. “There are similar ones for those of other religions. It’s a bill that’s long overdue.”

Singer added, “It will not cost the government any money; private citizens have raised funds for it — and veterans’ organizations.”

His organization also lobbied for continued funding of New Jersey’s VA hospitals, nursing homes for veterans, and for a facility — yet to be built — to help homeless veterans, according to Singer.

“Congressman Pascrell is himself a veteran and… you get an extra feeling of empathy from him,” said Singer.

Pascrell reported that the president’s budget proposal increases funding to $949 million for programs benefiting homeless veterans.

Last week, Pascrell joined Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in sponsoring a resolution honoring the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and recognizing the impact of the tragedy on national movements to improve conditions for workers.

“The tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire was one of the salient events that taught us that, as Americans, we must be capitalists with consciences,” said Pascrell in a statement. “Women and children, some of them immigrants, perished unnecessarily simply because their employer protected profits instead of people.”

Also last week, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) met with Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. According to a statement from Menendez’s office, “The two discussed the continuation of the strong bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel through and beyond the current crises in the Middle East, as well as the critical importance of deterring Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Menendez also released a statement for Purim condemning anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and elaborated in an e-mail that “[a]nti-Israel vitriol that directly translates into anti-Semitism has seen a resurgence recently. It is both taught and tolerated in many foreign nations. And even here at home, we are seeing an increase in hateful rhetoric against Israel that can’t be tolerated. We are seeing evidence in the media, across university campuses, and in public boycotts and rallies.

“Of all occurrences,” he continued, “the continued incitement against Israel and Jews within the Palestinian media, mosques, and schools is the most concerning. It is time to speak out and say this will not stand.”

 
 

Could U.S. still fund PA that includes Hamas?

Menendez opposes unity government ‘with an unreformed Hamas’

On Monday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement that a “Hamas-Fatah unity government threatens to permanently derail the peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas is a terrorist organization that denies Israel’s right to exist and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. In its role as Israel’s ally, the U.S. should stand by its refusal to work with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless it accepts the Quartet conditions of recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and endorsing previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements in order to participate in the transitional government and elections.

“We must also make clear,” he added, “that should [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas continue in a unity government with an unreformed Hamas that it will jeopardize its relationship with the United States and its receipt of U.S. aid. The legitimacy of any peace process must always be weighed against the assurances Israel needs for its security and the security of the region. Peace is impossible so long as terrorists have a seat at the table.”

Jewish Standard

 
 

N.J. lawmakers laud decision to boycott ‘Durban III’

The Obama administration announced last week that the United States would not participate in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to take place in New York City in September, during the U.N. General Assembly opening session. New Jersey members of Congress commended the president’s decision, noting the irony that a conference purportedly against racism has in the past degenerated into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic event.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement: “I applaud the State Department’s decision to forgo participation in the Durban III World Conference Against Racism this year. People of democratic principle understand the misnomer, that Durban III will be yet another ugly opportunity to single out Israel and become a megaphone for anti-Semitism and anti-American vitriol.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) responded to the Standard’s request for comment, saying, “President Obama has made the right decision to pull the United States out of this year’s conference in New York City.” (Both men signed a letter last year led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] urging the U.S. to refrain from participating in the conference.) “Instead of providing an opportunity to address the very serious issue of racism,” Lautenberg continued, “the Durban conference has been tainted by anti-Semitic and anti-American demonstrations. This conference,” named for the first such gathering in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, “is intended to provide a forum on eliminating discrimination, and the United States should only participate when this issue can be legitimately addressed.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), reached for comment by the Standard, concurred with Menendez, stating, “Despite being called a ‘Conference Against Racism,’ Durban III, like Durban I and II, is exactly the opposite. The agendas of these Durban conferences have been and continue to be filled with anti-Semitism and hateful attacks against Israel. I applaud the Obama administration for announcing that America will not be taking part in this charade.”

Rothman contended that the administration’s decision to forgo “Durban III” signals not just a commitment to stand with Israel in diplomatic forums but on security issues as well.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) also weighed in, saying, “The president made the right call…. The original conference in 2001 contradicted itself with displays of blatant anti-Semitism. Intolerance committed under the guise of breaking down racial barriers is simply an insult to American intelligence, and I’m glad the United States won’t be participating in the event.”

The first Durban conference was described by many commentators as an anti-Israel hate-fest, with representatives of the Arab Lawyers’ Union at one point passing out pamphlets depicting hook-nosed Jews dripping blood from their fangs with pots of money nearby. The conference produced a document condemning Israel as racist while condemning no other country. Speakers included Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro, who reportedly delivered an anti-American tirade.

“Durban II,” in Geneva, Switzerland in 2009, featured as its keynote speaker Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts about the Holocaust and endorsed the destruction of Israel. At Durban II, he characterized Israel as a “racist government” and condemned its establishment.

The United States and Israel walked out of Durban I, and the Obama administration made the decision to boycott Durban II 48 hours before it opened. Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland joined the boycott.

Critics contend that by waiting until two days before Durban II to decide to boycott it, the Obama administration weakened efforts to build a solid coalition of democracies to boycott the event. Both Great Britain and France attended in 2009, although both countries’ representatives walked out during Ahmadinejad’s speech.

Commentators have speculated that timing Durban III to coincide with the annual opening of the General Assembly may increase the presence of prime ministers and presidents who might not otherwise attend. There is speculation over whether the timing and location of the event is coincidental. The conference is being billed as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of Durban I — but some say it is too close to the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for comfort.

So far, the conference has met with opposition from the U.S., Israel, and Canada.

 
 
 
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