Frist Hailed on Stem Cells

By E.B. Solomont

Published August 05, 2005, issue of August 05, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Erstwhile Christian conservatives are criticizing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for endorsing a bill that would expand federal support for stem-cell research, but Jewish organizations are hailing the Tennessee Republican.

Frist’s decision — outlined in a lengthy July 29 speech on the Senate floor — came as a surprise to the bill’s supporters, who had feared in recent weeks that Frist would prevent the measure from coming to a vote. Just weeks ago, a Frist staffer told delegates to Hadassah’s national convention in Washington that his boss would oppose the measure, which loosens some of the restrictions placed by Bush in 2001 on federal funding of stem-cell research.

Some Christian conservative leaders have slammed Frist over his Senate speech, with a few suggesting that his position cost him an invitation to speak at an upcoming rally in support of Bush’s judicial nominees. Frist, however, has been cheered by Jewish organizations across the political and religious spectrum, including Hadassah, the Orthodox Union and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure in September. If it passes, Bush is expected to veto the bill.

Seeking to bypass a confrontation with Bush, Jewish organizations had said that in the coming weeks they will expend little energy on lobbying or criticizing the White House. But instead, Jewish organizational officials then said they will focus their energy on helping to build the two-thirds majorities required in both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto, should Bush reject the measure.

Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said last weekend on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” that he has about 62 votes lined up, five short of a veto-proof majority.

Stem-cell research, which advocates say could produce cures for a wide range of diseases, has found tremendous support across the religious and political spectrum in the Jewish community.

The Orthodox Union has spoken out in favor of stem-cell research and the current bill, in sharp contrast to Christian conservative groups that say any destruction of human embryos — even ones outside the fetus slated to be discarded — represents the taking of a human life. The O.U.’s executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, met with Frist to discuss the issue, as have other Jewish groups.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that the stem-cell issue has been his group’s number-one issue this year. Hadassah made it a centerpiece of its convention last month, which featured 1,500 delegates branching out on Capitol Hill to hold 200 meetings with lawmakers and their staffers.

“From a purely tactical standpoint, this is the time to reach out to members of Congress, because they will be voting on the legislation,” said Marla Gilson, director of Hadassah’s Washington Action Office. “Our message to everyone was the same. We support stem-cell research.”

In May, Hadassah hosted Frist at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, where the doctor was briefed on scientific advances at the research facility, including stem-cell research. Afterward, Hadassah officials said, Frist was heard praising Hadassah’s initiatives, including during a speech in May at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Even days after Frist’s recent announcement, Jewish activists who support the measure were struggling to explain his apparent shift on the issue.

“You never can really quantify or evaluate what changes a person’s mind, or what influences their decision-making,” Gilson said. But, she added, meetings with constituents “days before a key vote has got to have an impact.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.