Newsdesk July 4, 2003

Group Set to Fight Tax Cuts

President Bush’s tax cuts and budget policy appear to be driving a wedge between the Jewish community’s public policy arm and the national federated system it is meant to represent.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a policy-coordinating body for 13 national Jewish organizations and 123 local community relations councils, passed a resolution last week calling for “appropriate funding of social programs and, if necessary to accomplish that goal, repeal of the federal tax cuts enacted during the past two years.”

The United Jewish Communities, the roof body of Jewish welfare federations, has rebuffed invitations from the council to join its efforts to fight past and future federal tax cuts and budget reductions that many observers say will hurt the country’s neediest citizens. Proposed budget cuts being floated in Washington may cost the network of Jewish federations $7 billion in services to the poor and elderly, according to the council’s executive director, Hannah Rosenthal.

Rosenthal said that UJC has declined her appeal to join a taskforce charged with implementing the council resolutions. The snub, and UJC’s refusal to comment on the resolution, is in keeping with the organization’s silence in the face of the recent spate of federal tax cuts. The organization’s top professional leader, Stephen Hoffman, has insisted that tax policy is not a “Jewish issue.”

The council’s resolution comes as Jewish social-service agencies are faced with growing waiting lists for help and increased cuts in state aid resulting from the recession and changing federal budget priorities.

According to Rosenthal, Medicaid — the federal- and state-funded healthcare program for the poor — could be cut by $94 billion. The food stamps program faces a possible $12 billion cut, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families might be slashed by “several billion dollars,” Rosenthal said.

The council taskforce will assess the various proposed cuts being floated in the House of Representatives, Senate and White House and report back within six weeks on ways to oppose the reductions during Congress’s summer recess. Although the council’s resolution takes issue with Bush’s most recent $350 billion tax cut, Rosenthal said the organization’s priority now is to fight budget cuts during the upcoming appropriations process.

Arabs Face Claims

The World Jewish Congress and Jewish diplomats from around the world have stepped up their efforts to seek redress for Jews expelled from Arab lands just as Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are moving forward.

Congress officials this week called the forced expulsion of Jews from Arab countries after the birth of Israel “ethnic cleansing” and blamed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem. A delegation of Jewish groups took its grievances this week to Lord Michael Levy, Britain’s special envoy to the Middle East, and Baroness Symons, the British minister in charge of Middle East affairs.

The meetings were held one week after the newly formed group Justice for Jews from Arab Countries released a report alleging that Arab governments had colluded against their native Jewish populations. The new group is backed by Israel and a list of high-profile public figures, including former American ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke; Irwin Cotler, a member of the Canadian Parliament; and George Weidenfeld of Great Britain’s House of Lords.

Organizers of the effort, including several Israeli government officials, said the claims of Jewish refugees would serve as a counterweight to Palestinian refugees seeking the right of return to Israel. But several Israeli left-wing activists have warned that, although Jewish refugees have legitimate claims, pressing them during negotiations with Palestinians may impede peace talks.

Restitution Summit Set

The Jewish federation system will try to broker a deal between Holocaust survivors and the main survivors restitution organization, which are warring over how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution.

The United Jewish Communities is scheduled to host a summit July 7 at its Manhattan headquarters between the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation-USA, which represents some 500 grassroots survivors groups nationwide. At stake is a 1995 decision by the Claims Conference to spend 20% of the proceeds from sales of unclaimed Jewish property in the former East Germany on Holocaust education. The survivors foundation insists all of the money should go to aid ailing, needy victims.

N.J. Poet Canned

New Jersey lawmakers voted to eliminate the position of poet laureate after the incumbent, Amiri Baraka, who suggested that Israel had advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks, refused to leave the post. On Tuesday, the state Assembly approved a bill cutting the $10,000 stipend for the post after Baraka, formerly LeRoi Jones, refused calls by Governor James McGreevey to resign, the Associated Press reported. Baraka, who as a black radical in the 1960s espoused antisemitic views, stirred controversy after taking the job last July with his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America.”

Israel Boycotting BBC

Israel cut off ties with the British Broadcasting Company to protest its broadcast of a program about non-conventional weapons said to be in Israel. The boycott decision was in response to the rebroadcast of the program, which Israel claimed was biased and disregarded the threats the country faces.

Israel said government offices would not cooperate with BBC producers and reporters, that Israeli officials would not give interviews to the British network and that BBC employees would face difficulties obtaining visas in Israel.

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Newsdesk July 4, 2003

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