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Newsdesk July 25, 2003

Feinstein Backs Vouchers

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has come out in favor of experimental school-voucher program being pushed by fellow Democrat, Washington Mayor Anthony Williams.

In an opinion article in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Feinstein wrote that although she has never before supported a voucher program and still deeply believes in strengthening America’s public schools, she also believes “that local leaders should have the opportunity to experiment with programs that they believe are right for their area.”

Williams shocked and angered many of his fellow Democrats with his voucher-based plan to improve the ailing school system in the nation’s capital. Under the proposed program, the government would supply scholarships of up to $7,500 per student to cover tuition and related costs at any private school in Washington. The scholarships would go to children whose parents earn less than 185% of the poverty level ($34,040 for a family of four). Priority would be given to students in Washington’s worst schools.

The Orthodox Union, which strongly endorses vouchers, sent a letter to Feinstein commending her “for putting partisan politics aside and courageously standing in support of educational opportunity for all children.”

Poll: Suspicion of Arabs Up

About 82% of American Jews agree with the statement that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories, but rather the destruction of Israel,” according to an annual survey by the American Jewish Committee.

In comparison, three years ago, only about two-thirds of American Jews agreed with the same statement. The survey, conducted annually since 1983, questions a representative sample of some 1,000 Jews from across America.

The head of the organization’s Israel office, Eran Lerman, said that the increasing suspicion toward Arabs was not just a result of the intifada but is also a response to the Durban Conference on racism in South Africa in 2001 and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The survey recorded a drop from 44% to 41% in the percentage of American Jews who believe that “in the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, [Israel should] be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.” At the same time, the percentage of American Jews who favor a partial or full evacuation of the settlements jumped from 62% to 65%.

A total of 61% of respondents agreed that “regardless of their individual views on the peace negotiations with the Arabs, American Jews should support the policies of the duly elected government of Israel.”

Gay Marriage Bill Blasted

Ultra-Orthodox organizations in two Canadian provinces are urging legislators to reject a bill that would recognize same-sex unions as marriages. An Ontario court ruling recently struck down Canada’s longstanding, traditional definition of marriage, and courts in Ontario already have sanctioned same-sex marriages.

“Our colleagues in Toronto and Montreal have done a great service in speaking out as forcefully as they did,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, an official with Agudath Israel of America. The Orthodox group’s main affiliates in Ontario and Quebec issued a forceful two-page memorandum against the legislation.

Rabbi Reuven Tradburks, head of the Vaad HaRabbonim, the Orthodox rabbinical council of Toronto, said that his organization also does not recognize same-sex unions as marriages but would not make a formal statement to that effect. “We’re happy to express an opinion, but we’re not in the business of issuing statements on these things,” he said.

Governor Approves Confab

New Jersey Governor James McGreevey said last week that he will not act to bar a conference organized by a radical pro-Palestinian student group from taking place on the campus of the state’s flagship public university.

While McGreevey and Rutgers University’s president, Richard McCormick, have criticized the Palestinian group’s views, the governor said July 17 that he endorsed the school’s decision to permit the event, citing freedom of speech. Some critics of the scheduled conference, including the New Jersey state Senate’s Republican president, John Bennett, and Amcha — The Coalition for Jewish Concerns, had urged the governor to prevent the school from hosting the conference.

The three-day conference, scheduled to take place at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus starting October 10, will be the third annual gathering of pro-Palestinian student activists from across North America. The activists have urged universities to divest from Israel, thus far with no success.

The student group hosting the conference, New Jersey Solidarity, says in its mission statement that it is “opposed to the existence of the apartheid colonial settler state of Israel” and that its members “unconditionally support Palestinians’ human right to resist occupation and oppression by any means necessary.”

The executive director of Rutgers Hillel, Andrew Getraer, said he was working with local Jewish federations and national organizations to plan a yearlong program of Israel-related “publicity, education and celebration” on campus. Getraer said that Hillel did not join in calls to ban the conference from campus, arguing that such an action would backfire against supporters of Israel.

Foxman Blasts Gibson

The Anti-Defamation League is criticizing Mel Gibson for screening his controversial forthcoming film about the final hours of Jesus’ life and not inviting Jewish communal leaders who have raised concerns about it.

Jewish groups are worried that the film, “The Passion,” will pin responsibility for Jesus’ death on Jews, although Gibson has insisted it is not antisemitic. Gibson has already screened a rough cut of the film for small groups of Evangelical Christians and Catholics. Attendees at these screenings have praised the movie in press reports.

A July 21 screening for a group of prominent Washington conservatives prompted the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, to accuse Gibson of trying to “surround himself with a cordon sanitaire of people who back him theologically and maybe ideologically and will stand up and be supportive when the time comes,” according to a report in The Washington Post.

After reading a draft of the screenplay, an ad hoc group of Catholic and Jewish scholars assembled by the ADL and staff at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded that the script they reviewed would be likely to promote antisemitism. In turn, Gibson’s production company blasted the scholars.

Arabs Line Up on Pipes

Arab Americans are being urged to call Congress to oppose Daniel Pipes’s nomination to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Monday was “National Call-In Day” for several Arab groups, who are urging members to contact the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that was scheduled to vote Wednesday on Pipes’s nomination.

Arab leaders claim Pipes is anti-Islam, an accusation that Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, denies. The American Jewish Committee and American Israel Public Affairs Committee are backing Pipes’s nomination.

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