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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.”

 
 

New head of umbrella group spells out its priorities

Ruth Cole, the new president of the State Association of Jewish Federations, sees “senior population issues” as among the most important facing New Jersey. And the association is marshaling its clout and allies to ease conditions for that population.

The Ridgewood resident cited the association’s support of the “aging-in-place program — we are urging the state of New Jersey to direct resources to serving underserved seniors so they can … continue to live as well as they can in their own homes, along with transportation so they can get to health care, nutrition services, and socialization. That would maintain their quality of life and avoid [their having to live in] nursing homes.”

The cost of maintaining people in their own homes, she noted, is about 10 percent of what it would be in nursing-home care.

For example, she said, “we try to further legislation that would amend the laws to include volunteer drivers’ efforts” for senior transportation.

“We are collaborators,” Cole said of the umbrella organization created by the state’s 12 Jewish federations. “We build teams of people” — professional and lay leaders of affiliated agencies — “with mutual interests” about “the public interest.” And then those leaders, either individually or as a group, advocate for needed funding and/or legislation.

“We really need to continue to help nonprofit agencies find funding in this very tight budget situation in this state,” she stressed. “If we weaken our nonprofit agencies, then the state would incur greater expenses in administering these services.”

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At the annual meeting July 8 of the State Association of Jewish Federations, Ruth Cole was installed as the umbrella organization’s president. She is flanked by Jacob Toporek, its executive director, and Roy Tanzman, its outgoing president. Rachel Toporek

Another high-priority item is boosting the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “The people in our leadership care about this,” she said. They are “very supportive of increasing the activities of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and its visibility and viability.”

The association has “a long history of promoting New Jersey as a premier location for Israeli companies. Our goal is to assist Israeli companies in making their move to New Jersey a successful one.”

This state, she pointed out, is Israel’s 12th-largest trading partner in the United States. “That translates into millions of dollars annually for the economy of New Jersey.”

Noting that Gov. Chris Christie had expressed a commitment to leading a trade mission to Israel, Cole said that the association offered its help to set up areas of interest and meetings for the mission, which would enhance the economic development of the state.”

Homeland security is also high on the association’s list of priorities. “The New Jersey-Israel Commission,” she noted, “was one of the major sponsors in June of ‘09 of a symposium on terror medicine, preparedness, and transportation systems, etc., that should be protected.” A similar symposium, focusing on local preparedness for terrorism and disaster, is set for Sept. 22 at Montclair University and is being coordinated, she noted, by her husband, Dr. Leonard Cole, an expert on bioterrorism. “At last year’s symposium,” she said, Gov. Jon Corzine was the honorary chair, “and we are anticipating that Gov. Christie will be the honorary chair” of the September symposium.

The state association also advocated for the state’s divestment from Iran, and as of March, according to Cole, “had divested more than 90 percent of its investment in companies [that do business with Iran] and are working with our Community Relations Councils and other community partners to now work for the ‘No Nuke for Iran’ initiative and ‘New Jersey Stop Iran Now.’”

Cole came to the SAJF as a member of the board of trustees of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, where she serves as chair of Partnership 2000 with the city of Nahariya in the Western Galilee. A past chair of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and a past president of Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson, she was also chair of leadership development for the federation. Her fellow officers have similar federation activities on the résumés. (Cole’s is also heavily weighted with Hadassah accomplishments, and she is the current national chair of Hadassah magazine.)

Another representative from UJA-NNJ, Susan Penn, is a member-at-large of the association.

Members-at-large, Cole explained, “represent the other executive board members of the state association and bring years of dedication and experience in community policymaking and advocacy.”

Penn, Cole continued, “is a very experienced knowledgeable leader on these issues, since she has been a chair of the CRC and along with myself and others is a leader in the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,” a community-relations councils and policy group umbrella organization. “She and I work with Joy Kurland,” director of UJA-NNJ’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Asked how effective the association is, Cole said, “Very.” She noted that Stephen Sweeney, the president of the state Senate, had driven two hours from Gloucester to address the July 8 meeting, which had also been attended by the deputy consul general of Israel, Benjamin Krasna. “Having the top senator at our meeting,” she said, “indicates his respect for what we do.”

Meanwhile, “tough economic times require more advocacy and more education of our elected officials. You [have to] work with other bodies or you can’t be effective. It takes teamwork and working together to reach consensus and find a way to reach the goals — that programs that need to be supported are supported.” It helps, she said, that “the Jewish community leadership is strong, talented, experienced, and wise.”

 
 
 
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