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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

 

Berman, Ros-Lehtinen press Obama on sanctions enforcement

_JStandardWorld
Published: 03 December 2010

WASHINGTON – The top Republican and Democrat House foreign policy members called on the Obama administration to more closely scrutinize nations that do not comply with Iran sanctions.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, convened a hearing Wednesday on imposing tougher sanctions on Iran.

“There seems to be no doubt that Chinese companies are pursuing energy investments and selling Iran refined petroleum,” said Berman, who initiated the expanded sanctions act passed earlier this year. “The Chinese acknowledge it. I’d like to know why we haven’t sanctioned any of the Chinese companies engaged in clearly sanctionable actions. I’m concerned that we will not be able to sustain a robust sanctions regime if we don’t impose sanctions in an even-handed manner.”

President Obama had sought and received latitude in the bill to waive sanctions against countries he deemed cooperative in otherwise isolating Iran until it suspends its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Also addressing the hearing, where top administration sanctions officials were set to testify, was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is slated to replace Berman as committee chairwoman in the new Congress.

In addition to China, Ros-Lehtinen said Armenia and Turkey had expanded economic ties with Iran, and that Russia had offered defense assistance to Syria, an Iran ally.

“We must ensure that the tools we have are used to their maximum effectiveness, and look for new means of compelling Iran to cease activities that threaten our security, our interests and our allies,” she said.

Both Ros-Lehtinen and Berman praised countries that had recently added Iran sanctions, including Japan, South Korea and a number of Western nations.

Iran, meanwhile, has agreed to send a representative to talks next week in Geneva with the six major powers that shape the international community’s policies on the Islamic Republic: the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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