Gay Bill Divides Groups
Passage of legislation aimed at prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation has split Jewish groups working on Capitol Hill.
The controversial Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed last week by the House of Representatives, is considered a major legislative breakthrough for advocates of gay and lesbian rights.
“This is the most important civil rights legislation for the gay and lesbian community so far,” said Michael Lieberman, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Civil Rights Policy Planning Center.
The ADL was one of the strongest supporters of the bill. Other backers in the Jewish community included the American Jewish Committee and the Reform movement.
Groups representing the Orthodox community were initially joined in opposition to the bill, fearing that it would force religious institutions to abandon their hiring policies regarding gays and lesbians. The Orthodox Union joined several Christian groups in lobbying for the inclusion of a broad exemption for religious entities in the bill. This provision was eventually included in the House version and is expected to be part of the bill when it is presented in the Senate, as well.
Agudath Israel, which represents ultra-Orthodox Jewish organizations, argued that the exemption is not sufficient.
“The bill diminishes religious rights in favor of other civil rights,” said Abba Cohen, Washington director and counsel of Agudath Israel.
The Senate is expected to take on the issue shortly. The White House has threatened in the past to veto the bill.
— Nathan Guttman
Dollar Hurts Charities
The decline of the American dollar is hitting Jewish charities that use American funds to support programs outside the United States.
The dollar has been on a slow decline against the euro since January 2003, when the two currencies were basically even. Last Friday marked an all-time low, as the dollar traded at $1.45 against the euro — a decline of more than 11% percent since the start of the year.
The dollar also has fallen sharply against the shekel, to 3.93 shekels per dollar from 4.30 in January.
The dollar’s weakness already has hit such groups as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the two overseas arms of the North American Jewish federation system, particularly hard.
The JDC allocates some $360 million annually in 66 countries; 90% of the funding comes from American donors. While the budget number has stayed the same since January, its value has declined significantly. That has made the $70 million the JDC spends in Europe every year 10% less effective in 2007.
“Ultimately we provide less service if the dollar doesn’t go as far,” the JDC’s chief financial officer, Eugene Phillips, told JTA. “People are getting hurt.”
The impact has been most severe in the former Soviet Union, Phillips said. The cost of home care for the elderly, for example, has jumped to $2.43 per hour from $1.42 per hour a year ago.
The Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental agency that runs welfare and education programs in Israel and abroad, is similarly at risk, because 70% of its income is received in dollars while 80% of its expenses are paid out in shekels, chief financial officer Yaron Neudorfer said.
The Jewish Agency has been able to soften the blow of the declining dollar by hedging its financial exposure through currency insurance. After the shekel-dollar exchange rate became extremely volatile in 2006, the agency bought an option from an Israeli bank that allowed it to lock in a specific shekel-dollar rate, netting the agency some $1.5 million in savings for ’06.
From Aipac to IPF
The former professional head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has joined the dovish Israel Policy Forum.
Tom Dine, a former executive director of Aipac, will serve as a consultant to the forum, in charge of advising the board and senior leadership and of advocacy efforts aimed at lawmakers and presidential candidates.
The IPF was founded in 1993 in order to support the Oslo accords. It has since advocated a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This is the time to focus on the peace process and to work with the administration, especially with Secretary Rice, to make Annapolis happen,” Dine told the Forward, referring to the upcoming peace conference.
Dine headed Aipac between 1980 and 1993. He later went on to direct the American government-run Radio Liberty, broadcasting to former communist countries in Europe.
The IPF is still in search of a director general since the departure of David Elcott last month. Dine said he is not interested in heading IPF but rather sees his job as helping the new executive director, once one is chosen.
— Nathan Guttman