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Ron Kampeas
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Netanyahu’s planned speech roils pro-Israel community

WorldPublished: 30 January 2015

WASHINGTON — When Israel wants something from the United States, it typically makes three stops: the pro-Israel lobby, Jewish members of Congress, and the White House.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored all three when he accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address Congress about U.S. Iran policy.

Neither congressional Jews nor the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were notified of the speech, much less consulted. The White House found out three hours before Boehner announced the address on January 21.

The result: Muted yet palpable discomfiture among the three sectors that Israel relies on to ensure continued support from Washington.


Slaughter in Paris

After Paris, reassessing how nations thwart attacks

Cover Story Published: 16 January 2015

WASHINGTON — These are the lessons of the Paris attacks for American Jews and U.S. law enforcement: Keep calm and cooperate.

Enhanced communication between governments has been a key element of America’s counterterrorism successes since 9/11, experts say, and more is planned in the wake of last week’s attacks in France that left 17 dead.

President Obama announced this week that Washington will host a summit on February 18 aimed at improving communications between nations that are would-be targets of terrorists. The U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, also outlined plans on Monday for better cooperation across national police forces and among U.S. law enforcement agencies to identify terrorist threats.


Scalise debacle

WorldPublished: 09 January 2015

WASHINGTON — A recent revelation that a top Republican addressed a white supremacist group is reviving an age-old Washington debate: How important are false steps from the past in evaluating a party today?

Not very, say Republicans, in the case of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives sworn in on Tuesday. In 2002, when he was a state legislator, Scalise spoke to a group affiliated with the white nationalist David Duke.

Not so fast, counter Democrats, who say the speech, while not indicting Scalise as a racist, underscores what they claim is the GOP’s propensity to flirt with extremists.


Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015

Three-term New York governor married assertive liberalism and sensitivity to the Orthodox

WorldPublished: 09 January 2015

Mario Cuomo, a three-term New York governor, was the rare politician who appealed to the Jewish tent’s opposite poles.

A strident liberal with a nuanced understanding of the sense of vulnerability among the deeply religious in a secular society, Cuomo died of heart failure on Thursday, just hours after his son Andrew was sworn in for his second term as governor. He was 82.

Lopsided Jewish support helped propel Cuomo into the governor’s office in 1982, 1986, and 1990. The state’s large Jewish community joined other liberal constituencies in celebrating the man who emerged in the 1980s as the most prominent vanguard against President Ronald Reagan.

Addressing a gathering of Holocaust survivors in 1985, Cuomo faulted Reagan for all-too-blithely ignoring Germany’s past when the president agreed to mark the 40th anniversary of D-Day at a cemetery containing the graves of SS officers.


Past and future in Kosovo

In heart of Muslim province, Jewish remnant stakes its claim

Cover Story Published: 02 January 2015

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Boxing Club Prishtina is a squat building on a narrow street around the corner from the parliament in the heart of Kosovo’s capital city.

Around the corner, a popular Italian restaurant draws the young Western Europeans and Americans in button-down shirts and open-toed heels who help keep the country running. Walk the other way and you’ll find a dim hole-in-the-wall bar/gallery crammed with their Kosovar peers.

But Boxing Club Prishtina stands unattended, plaster cracked or stripped away by wind, rain, and time. Its rusted metal awning droops into Mark Isaki Street.

Before World War II, the Jews of Kosovo will tell you, the building housed a yeshiva or Jewish community center or maybe both — or maybe neither. Maybe it will be restored or torn down, become a monument or a memory.


Will U.S. Jewish groups pivot left if Herzog wins?

WorldPublished: 19 December 2014

WASHINGTON — Come early next year, there might be yet another world capital that opposes Israeli settlement expansion and sees Benjamin Netanyahu as principally responsible for Israel’s isolation: Jerusalem.

Isaac Herzog, the Labor Party leader, is faring well in the polls since Netanyahu called for new elections earlier this month and the Knesset dissolved itself.

The prospect of a left-leaning government means that U.S. mainstream Jewish groups, which since Netanyahu’s election in 2009 have pushed back against claims that his policies have been detrimental, will have to reassess messaging.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

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Jewish groups taking the lead against campus sexual assaults

WorldPublished: 19 December 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Jewish campus groups were ready for the painful national dialogue that took place in the wake of murky rape allegations at the University of Virginia.

That’s because organizations like Hillel and historically Jewish Greek houses such as Alpha Epsilon Pi, Zeta Beta Tau, and Sigma Delta Tau had been having the conversations for months before the explosive Rolling Stone story made national headlines — first for the brutality of the alleged gang rape detailed in the magazine and then for the subsequent evidence of flawed reporting on the part of Rolling Stone.

Zeta Beta Tau joined Sigma Delta Tau and Jewish Women International in launching a workshop called “Safe Smart Dating” last year. Hillel International is a partner in the White House’s It’s On Us campaign against sexual violence, and the network of Jewish campus centers also has dedicated a stream of its Ask Big Questions program, which organizes lectures and salons on topics of Jewish interest, including sexual violence.

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Chabad attack means be prepared

WorldPublished: 12 December 2014

WASHINGTON — The stabbing of a rabbinical student at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn underscores three things that Jewish security officials have been urging in recent years: Be alert for copycats, cooperate with law enforcement, and don’t stay away from shul.

American Jewish community officials have worried about an attack on a synagogue ever since the murders in a Jerusalem shul last month, said Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Communities Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions.

It’s not yet known if the Jerusalem killings inspired the suspected assailant in the Brooklyn attack, in which a man entered the Chabad synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights section and stabbed Levi Rosenblat, 22. In an encounter with police that was captured on video, officers shot and killed the suspect after he refused to drop his knife.

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‘Motivated by fear’?

U.S. Jewish groups opposing Israel’s ‘Jewish state’ law worry about consequences

WorldPublished: 05 December 2014

WASHINGTON — It’s not unusual to hear U.S. Jewish groups speaking out against laws that discriminate and framing their protests as protecting Jewish interests.

What’s unusual is that the target this time is the Israeli government and the proposed law emphasizes Jewish rights.

At issue is Israel’s nation-state bill. If the Knesset passes it, the bill would enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state into law. Proponents say the bill would reinforce the Jewish character of Israel, but opponents charge that it would jeopardize the state’s democratic character and undermine Israel’s Arab minority.

Most major American Jewish groups weighing in on the debate are against it.

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Do not oppress the stranger

Obama’s order resonates with Jewish groups

WorldPublished: 28 November 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama did not mention Jews once in his November 20 speech announcing immigration reforms, but he ended with a flourish that would be immediately recognizable to anyone who has sat through a Passover seder.

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too,” Obama said in a live address from the White House in which he announced changes aimed at addressing the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants.

“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. “We were strangers once, too.”

Obama’s biblical invocation resonated with many of the Jewish organizations that have praised his initiative in the face of sharp criticisms from congressional Republicans, who have accused the president of executive overreach.

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