December 21, 2007

Published December 21, 2007, issue of December 21, 2007.
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Bank Trivializes Suit

A December 14 article on several Israeli banks allegedly conducting transactions that benefited Hamas appears to create the impression that there is a rough moral equivalence between their actions and those of the Arab Bank of Jordan (“Two Israeli Banks Accused of Sending Millions of Dollars to Hamas Entities”). The impression of equivalence is created through the omission of two critical facts distinguishing the alleged acts of these two institutions.

These facts center on where the money came from, and where the money was going.

In the case of the Arab Bank, the money came from an alleged dedicated payment mechanism, largely originating in Saudi Arabia, to provide substantial and systematic financial benefits to the family members of suicide bombers and others involved in the intifada. The Arab Bank stands accused of having received lists of intended suicide bombers and forwarded money to them, operating through a branch in New York, and thus providing money, about $5,500 per suicide bomber, that acted as an incentive for the bombing.

By contrast, the Israeli banks — assuming the allegations against them are true — stand accused merely of forwarding money to the Palestinian Authority, which had under its wing at the time Hamas. There was neither an allegation nor an indication of any action by Israeli bank officials authorizing transfers of moneys to suicide bombers — the very thought is preposterous.

The strategy of the Arab Bank seems to be to trivialize the proceedings against it by relatives of suicide bombing victims, including those families I represent in the case against Arab Bank pending in federal court in New York.

Allan Gerson
Washington, D.C.


Free Choice for Schools

A careful reading of a November 30 letter to the editor supposedly supporting charter schools falls far short of doing that — but not in the way most Forward readers would suspect (“Support Charter Schools”).

First, there is no reason to believe that supporting charter schools has anything to do with, as the letter writer argues, “supporting an effort to deliver on a critical value of American Jewish liberalism: that the schools in our public system should further educational opportunity and high achievement for all.”

This is because there is nothing magical about a public system of education. In fact, if one believed in educational opportunity and high achievement for all, then one would support a free market for education without regard to whether that system were public or private, for profit or not.

Second, while the letter writer suggests that, “Prior to approval, authorizers must carefully consider whether a proposal will further the charter school movement’s objectives for increasing achievement and learning among at-risk students and ensure that furthering a group’s private interest or agenda is not part of delivering that promise,” I would argue that no authorizers can make that judgment prior to the charter school being launched and producing measurable results. That is to say, let the market decide whether the desired results are forthcoming and let the parents of the students decide whether any particular school is doing a credible job.

Certainly that is a much better way to be liberal: Allow free choice rather that allowing a so-called elite make the judgments in advance of measurable results. Education in our schools could hardly be worse than it is now. Let vouchers and parents make the choices necessary, not bureaucrats and so-called educational elites. If one is truly liberal, that would be a truer approach.

Ed Abbott
Miami, Fla.


Jewish Life up North

A December 7 article on the meteoric rise of intermarriage and limited Jewish community involvement in Portland, Maine, misses — as do most Mainers, both Jewish and non — a more encouraging story about Jewish life in the rest of the state (“Study Finds Intermarriage Peak in Maine”).

In Bangor, Maine’s third largest city, there is a small but committed Jewish community. In a city of 35,000, there are approximately 1,200 Jews.

Bangor has a long and rich Jewish heritage. Where three Orthodox synagogues once stood on three opposite corners of the same street, an Orthodox and Conservative synagogue still stand and a Reform synagogue is just three blocks away. The Jewish community has strong activity in all three synagogues. All three get along with each other, as evidenced by the collegiality of the rabbis who, with a spirit of cooperation, learn together each weekday. There is a functioning federation made up of members from the three synagogues and unaffiliated members of the community.

The Orthodox synagogue, the northernmost Orthodox synagogue on the east coast, maintains a daily minyan three times a day, often assisted by members from the Conservative and Reform synagogues. Most cities 10 times larger than Bangor struggle to make a daily minyan.

There are converts to Judaism in each of the synagogues. They are welcomed by their communities and have a high participation rate. There is a burial committee at each synagogue and the synagogues maintain five Jewish cemeteries and a Jewish funeral chapel. The city boasts a state-of-the-art mikveh, which is used regularly. And one of the more popular eating establishments in town — for Jews and non-Jews alike — is a kosher restaurant operated under the supervision of the Orthodox rabbi.

Jerome Kirstein
Past President
Jewish Community Council of Bangor
Bangor, Maine


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