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Washington — Jewish communal activists, however, don’t see the change in language making much of difference, since they believe that the community’s institutions are still under threat.
“Unfortunately, we believe that Jewish institutions are objectively at high risk of terrorist attacks due to their ideologies, beliefs and mission and can well document that risk,” said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president for federal government affairs at Agudath Israel of America, said “The eligibility criteria remain and have been clarified and our institutions fit them to a tee. Whatever the changes have been made in the guidance, the essential reality remains: our institutions because of our “ideology, beliefs and mission” — eminently reasonable criteria outlined in the guidance — have been targeted and are at high risk — and need this protection.”
William Daroff, vice president for public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America and one of the chief lobbyists for the program, dismissed the importance of these changes. He said JFNA did not suggest or provide any input when DHS decided to add religion as a preference for selecting grantees. “We never recognized or otherwise noted this question or footnote in our guidance to the field,” he said.
In recent months, Jewish groups involved in securing the funds were warned of impeding budget cuts and even the chance that the program would be eliminated, as was the case with several other small homeland security grant programs. Congress had cut the overall grant budget of DHS by $1 billion, and therefore funding was reduced for all grant programs, including NSGP. DHS now expects that 150 institutions will be able to receive grants this year, each at a maximum level of $75,000.
Jewish groups, led by JFNA, the O.U. and Agudath Israel, lobbied the administration to save the program in an effort that reached senior officials at both the Homeland Security Department and the White House. Jewish reaction to the announced cuts was mixed. Daroff said JFNA was “grateful although not delighted” with the decision. “While the cut represents a smaller overall grant budget for DHS, the allocation remains a stark acknowledgment of the risks to the nonprofit sector in general, and the Jewish community specifically.”
Jewish activists stressed that the decision to slash funding for the program was ill-timed in light of the growing threat to Jewish institutions worldwide. In addition, the FBI believes that a terror suspect arrested earlier in February near Capitol Hill had intended to carry out an attack against a synagogue in the Washington metropolitan area. Lawmakers from New Jersey, which was hit recently by a number of anti-Semitic-driven attacks against local synagogues, requested that the administration keep funding the grant program.
While acknowledging that there is no more that can be done to increase funding for the current grant cycle, Jewish groups have already began lobbying Congress for higher levels of funding for NSGP in the 2013 budget.
Contact Nathan Guttman at email@example.com