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National Vouchers Pushed

Republicans in Congress proposed a national school-voucher program. The $100 million program proposed Tuesday would pay for low-income students in weak public schools to attend private or religious schools.

The money would go for tuition and for private tutoring. Politically conservative and Orthodox Jews support vouchers, saying they increase school choice and help Jewish day school education. Liberal Jewish groups see vouchers as a breach of church-state separation, and say they drain money from the public school system.

Security Funds Mandated

The Senate unanimously passed legislation that would release $25 million in homeland security funds for not-for-profit groups. The amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter and by Maryland Democrat Senator Barbara Mikulski, instructs the Homeland Security Department to disburse $25 million in 2006 funds by the end of 2007. The department has not disbursed any funds yet, saying they were reserved for “credible” threats, a standard Jewish groups said was impossible to meet. The legislation would allow money to be spent on potential threats. It comes a day after Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, told Agudath Israel of America that the policy was a mistake. He promised to reverse it. More than half of the $25 million set aside in 2005 — the first year that funds were allocated to not-for-profits — went to Jewish organizations, mostly for security measures, including barriers and gate systems. United Jewish Communities and the Orthodox Union led lobbying for the funds. Mikulski and Specter are also working to include $25 million in funds in the 2007 budget.

Pressure on Aipac Alleged

Prosecutors pressured the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to cut off two employees charged with dealing in classified information, lawyers said in a motion to dismiss the case. The brief, filed Tuesday, alleges that prosecutors conditioned their decision to drop an investigation of Aipac on the pro-Israel lobby’s agreement to fire Steve Rosen, the group’s foreign policy director, and its Iran analyst, Keith Weissman, and to stop paying the pair’s lawyers. Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman swear in depositions that Aipac lawyers and senior staff informed them of these developments in conversations March 2005, when Rosen and Weissman were fired, and that they subsequently acted as the government had asked. They also say they confirmed those terms in conversations with prosecutors. The brief says that the pressure to cut off payment for Rosen and Weissman’s defense amounts to interference in their constitutional rights. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return calls. Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for Aipac, called the brief “selective” and “a significant distortion.”

Gay Jew Pays for Ads

A Jewish businessman is paying for an ad campaign calling for Christian tolerance of gays. The Metropolitan Community Churches, a largely gay Christian denomination, chose conservative central Indiana for the first of what it says will be a nationwide series of ad campaigns. Billboards read, “Would Jesus discriminate?” Paying for most of the $100,000 campaign is a gay Jewish activist named Mitchell Gold, a furniture designer from North Carolina. “I’ve suffered a good amount of discrimination by people holding up their Bible,” Gold told The Associated Press in a story published last week.

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