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Newsdesk February 6, 2004

Budget Sparks Worries

Spending on Israel remains unaffected by fiscal belt-tightening in President Bush’s proposed budget, but domestic programs are under the knife, including those that most affect the Jewish community.

Surveying the details in the budget Bush handed to Congress on Monday, Jewish organizational officials were especially worried about funding for the elderly.

In Israel aid, Bush is proposing $2.58 billion for fiscal year 2005, which formally starts on October 1 this year.

That includes $360 million for economic aid and $2.22 billion in defense aid. The figures are consistent with the seventh year of an aid restructuring program agreed to by the two governments, gradually reducing economic assistance to Israel while increasing military aid. Also unaffected is $50 million for refugee resettlement in Israel, primarily for Ethiopian immigrants. The State Department also is budgeting $25 million to explain U.S. policy — including support for Israel — to the Islamic world.

The budget’s overall priority appears to be protecting Americans at home and abroad. Domestically, however, few programs outside the Education Department get perks, and a number of social service programs are targeted for elimination.

That has some communal officials worried, since Jewish social services rely on federal money for about 60% of their funding — about $6 billion out of $10 billion per year for spending on nursing homes, hospitals and services for the elderly, according to unofficial figures.

“Looking at the budget as a whole, we’re concerned that it would freeze non-defense and non-security programs,” said Charles Konigsberg, the top Washington lobbyist for United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the North American Jewish federation system.

In particular, Konigsberg said he was concerned about President Bush’s failure to extend emergency federal contributions to Medicaid beyond June and plans to cut funding to the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services that are likely to adversely affect the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities program pioneered, to great acclaim, by UJC and its member community federations. Konigsberg also lamented proposed cuts to the Department of Transportation program that supplies transportation for the elderly.

One bright spot, Konigsberg said, is the $80 million earmarked for elderly immigrants, which will extend a seven-year assistance program to immigrants who have not yet become citizens.

Consistoire Quits CRIF

An Orthodox Jewish organization that runs the majority of synagogues in France and the chief rabbinate quit the CRIF umbrella body of French Jews. The director of the Central Consistoire, Frederic Attali, said that his organization is demanding that its representation be increased to 50% of the CRIF council, “since we represent three-quarters of the membership in CRIF.”

According to Attali, CRIF has refused to increase Consistoire representation from its current level of 10%. CRIF spokeswoman Edith Lensczner said the Consistoire’s decision was “terrible,” though she added that CRIF had not been informed officially of the move. “This is the last thing the Jewish community needs in the current context,” she said.

Iran Trip Slammed

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is being urged by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to drop plans to send aides to Iran, according to a report Wednesday in the New York Sun.

The Conference reportedly sent a letter to Specter, a Republican, asking him to forgo a trip with staffers from the offices of senators Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, and Robert Ney, a Republican of Ohio. The staffers’ trip was aimed at setting up a visit to Iran by the three senators in March. It would be the first official Congressional visit to Iran since 1979.

Rabbis To Debate Fence

Conservative rabbis are preparing to debate a resolution supporting Israel’s West Bank security fence during an upcoming Jerusalem gathering.

The debate, set for the Rabbinical Assembly’s 104th annual convention, which is taking place February 9 to February 12, will come after some of the rabbis from across North America — 300 are expected to attend — tour the fence February 10.

The fence resolution already is generating some buzz, say members of the rabbinical group, which claims 1,600 members in 20 countries, including Israel’s Masorti rabbis.

“There are feelings that the fence is helpful, and that parts are a wall and are not helpful,” said the R.A.’s executive vice-president, Rabbi Joel Meyers.

Gibson, ADL Trade Notes

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League rejected an overture from Mel Gibson about his upcoming movie on Jesus.

Over the weekend, Gibson wrote to the ADL’s Abraham Foxman, an outspoken critic of the film, asking him to set an “example for all our brethren” by following the path of respect and “love for each other despite our differences.” Foxman wrote to Gibson that his letter “does not address any of the issues we raised” and does “not mitigate our concerns about the potential consequences” of his forthcoming movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” which the ADL and others see as blaming Jews for the death of Jesus. The film is slated to be released later this month.

For almost a year, Gibson has turned a cold shoulder to Foxman’s entreaties to preview the film and discuss its content. However, the ADL leader and a colleague gained entry to a January 21 screening of the film for a group of Protestant ministers in Orlando, Fla.

On Monday, Foxman said the unfinished version he saw included a scene in which a Jewish mob pleads with Pilate to crucify Jesus and shouts, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”

That single sentence, found in the New Testament only in the Gospel of Matthew, has been used historically to accuse the Jewish people of collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that “a close associate” of Gibson, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the scene would be deleted.

However, even if that scene is deleted, it won’t make much difference, Foxman has said.

“The film is a continuum of ‘the Jews did this and the Jews did that,’ while the Romans mainly come off as good guys,” he said.

Group Scores for Workers

An organization linked to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles won a significant victory for Latino and Asian garment workers. Wet Seal, a large-scale retailer, agreed in a recent settlement with Bet Tzedek that it bears responsibility if one of its contractors underpays workers. The settlement is likely to have a major effect on California’s $22 billion apparel industry, which employs 140,000 workers.

Fund Wants Money Back

The German foundation compensating Nazi-era slave laborers wants unclaimed funds returned for distribution to other Holocaust survivors. The Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, a joint creation of the German government and industry groups, presented its proposal to the German parliament’s Committee on Internal Affairs. Under the plan, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and other organizations distributing the funds would be required to return unclaimed monies after 30 months. In the past, some organizations in Eastern and Central Europe entrusted with the task of distributing funds to survivors have been overwhelmed with claims, and some funds reportedly have been squandered. Germany pledged roughly $5 billion to the fund in 2001.

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