December 23, 2005

Article on Young Israel Unfair to Eliot Spitzer

A December 9 article airs complaints from a disgruntled former employee of the state attorney general’s office (“Probe of Shul Group Had N.Y. Crimebuster’s Office in Tangles”). The article was misleading and unfair.

Here are the facts about this matter: In 1999, the National Council of Young Israel came to the attorney general’s office with a routine petition to refinance a mortgage. In the course of reviewing this proposed transaction, the attorney general’s office determined that a nursing home operated by Young Israel had received Medicaid payments to which it was not entitled. Promptly thereafter, the state began to recoup more than $6 million from Young Israel.

For the record, the overpayment to Young Israel arose as a result of the organization prevailing in a legal proceeding in which it was determined that the nursing home was not obligated to pay real estate taxes. State officials were aware of that decision, but the nursing home continued to receive a reimbursement rate that factored in the real estate taxes, even though they were no longer being paid.

In addition to the recovery of substantial funds, the attorney general’s office also insisted that Young Israel sell the nursing home and leave that business. A receiver was then appointed to oversee the nursing home until completion of the sale.

The attorney general’s office did not stop there. The office also insisted on substantial governance changes at Young Israel, including the departure of a former president of the organization, the implementation of enhanced fiscal controls and the requirement that Young Israel register with the state Charities Bureau and provide the bureau with annual financial statements. All of these actions have occurred.

In light of these facts, it is hard to understand why the Forward or anyone else would suggest that Young Israel received “unusually lenient” treatment.

Apparently, it comes down to the question of why a formal stipulation was not signed to memorialize all of the actions that the attorney general’s office sought in this matter. The answer is simple: It is because the person making unfounded complaints in the Forward, William Josephson, the former head of the Charities Bureau, said in a memo to his supervisors that obtaining the stipulation was “not worthwhile.” He may have been right or wrong about that, but it is unfair to blame others for his decision.

Finally, the Forward’s discussion of Josephson’s subsequent recusal from the case omitted some basic facts. The Attorney General’s office provided these facts to the Forward, but the article did not fully reflect the information we provided.

Josephson had a clear conflict of interest in the transaction concerning the sale of Young Israel’s building on West 16th street. While in private practice, Josephson had represented the Center for Jewish History, which was one of the parties interested in buying Young Israel’s property. While Josephson was reviewing Young Israel’s proposed sale of that building to another party, the Center for Jewish History communicated with Josephson about its interest in the property.

Moreover, at that same time, Josephson also maintained an office and received secretarial assistance and other benefits from his former law firm, Fried Frank, while Fried Frank was still listed as representing the Center for Jewish History. When senior officials in the attorney general’s office found out about these conflicts, he was recused from further involvement.

In the end, the Young Israel matter was handled appropriately. Money was recovered for the taxpayers of the State of New York, and the Young Israel organization was required to adopt appropriate reforms. It is unfortunate that the Forward article implied otherwise.

Darren Dopp

Communications Director

Attorney General’s Office

Albany, N.Y.

Selective Comparison Of Vietnam, Iraq Silly

A December 2 letter writer does such a good job of recycling the Bush administration’s well-polled arguments and imagery that I have to wonder whether they’ve stopped paying journalists to print their party line and started paying readers to write letters instead (“Foolish War in Iraq, Or Foolish Criticism of It?”).

While I’m glad the letter writer can admit that the Vietnam War was a failure, his comparison of current soldiers in Iraq and soldiers back then is just silly, especially his comparison of jungle and desert warfare.

In Vietnam, there was a draft; tens of thousands of GIs were there unwillingly. Soldiers in Iraq are volunteers, but there are plenty of them, contrary to what the letter implies, who are indeed asking, “1, 2, 3, 4, what are we fighting for, Halliburton?”

You’d also think that by now anyone who connects Iraq and the September 11 terrorist attacks would be ridiculed as much as, say, deniers of the Holocaust. But conflating Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden sure creates a lot of smoke and noise and emotion — which, I think, is the point.

Yes, Iraq is better off without Saddam at the helm. Yes, there is a chance for democracy there. But tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and more than 2,000 American lives later — not to mention the thousands of maimed GIs and civilians, not to mention the billions of dollars drained from the American economy — you’d have to be truly foolish not to ask if there was a better, cheaper, more effective way to get results.

Like diplomacy with teeth, for example.

Ian Kleinfeld

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Controlled Diet Needed To Keep Cattle Kosher

It was a delight to read the East Village Mamele’s column on the absolute necessity to eat healthy and genuine food (“Manic About Organic,” December 16). We still risk our health in eating kosher meat, as cattle are administered growth hormones, steroids and risk mad cow disease.

At a delicious glatt kosher Israeli steakhouse, we were taken aback when their va’ad harabbonim affirmed that all animals destined for kosher slaughter are not provided with a controlled diet. In other words, they were given processed pig parts and chicken excrement, like any non-kosher cow.

Therefore, he observed, kashrut applies only to the slaughter. Our ancestors never would have imagined a forced transformation of herbivorous cattle into carnivores, with its resulting mad cow disease. As the disease can not be eradicated with sterilization, it could spread into the supposedly safe parts by incidental contact with any cutting or processing tool.

Kashrut was meant to ensure health, and this lamentable skirting of humane treatment (in the feeding) and reason (using a loophole to control only the slaughter) is pernicious. Organic grass-fed animals will be the only solution until enlightened Orthodox ranchers combine both practices.

Allan Evans

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Help Poor, But Wisely

Judaism stresses the individual (“Poverty, Charity, and Justice,” December 16). We strive to learn, to be good and to help others. However, we were never raised with the ideal of forcing people to do something that they don’t want to.

Most Jews, I think, realize that the government will not always be there for them, and that we must defend ourselves, economically and security-wise. Just look at the private response versus the public response to Hurricane Katrina, and you’ll know who to count on.

The editorialist suggests that we “Give half to feed a poor soul, and half to advocates who are working to bring a genuine message of justice to Washington.” If the Jewish people were to listen to the Forward, half of their money would be spent on lining the pockets of political hacks.

So, on this Chanukah, I suggest that readers instead do something that makes a direct difference to those in need, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating clothes to the poor.

Jared Kotler

Rockville, Md.

‘Underdogism’ Politics Dictates Leftist Thought

Opinion columnist Leonard Fein writes of his futile attempt to reason with anti-Israel crazies, and comes to the conclusion that their venom is just plain old antisemitism (“Speak Its Name,” December 9).

It is also possible, however, that the entire spectrum of leftist politics, from the fringe to the moderate center, might be understood as an ideology of emotional identification with the victim — or, to coin a phrase, “underdogism.” The moderate left empathizes with the oppressed and vulnerable, and the radical left vents its rage on the oppressor of the underdog du jour.

Indeed, why else did post-Holocaust concern for antisemitism and Israel suddenly disappear as a sacred cause of the left after the Six-Day War? How else to explain why Israel and its supporters were suddenly made out to be evil oppressors, and not so coincidentally, the new darlings of the right?

Of course, no Jew wants to return to the bad old days of victimhood or to compromise Israel’s security just to placate masses of critics and haters of strong Jews. But might it not be such a bad idea, both morally and politically, for supporters of Israel to acknowledge that the miracle of Israel and the intransigent Arab reaction to it has led to terrible tragedy in the Arab world that all sides must address?

Jerrold Bonn

Elkins Park, Pa.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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December 23, 2005

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