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Newsdesk September 26, 2003

Groups Push for AIDS Funds

The campaign to push for more money to fight AIDS in Africa is uniting Jewish groups with rock stars, Christian leaders, human-rights activists and Africa advocates.

The orchestrated effort is aimed at trying to convince the White House and the Republican congressional leadership to appropriate the full $3 billion President Bush promised to spend fighting against AIDS in Africa during the next fiscal year. That was the amount called for in the Global AIDS Act, a measure promoted by the White House and signed by Bush in May that pledged to spend $15 billion over the next five years fighting the disease throughout Africa and the Caribbean.

Acting on a White House request, however, Congress voted to spend only $2.035 billion — two-thirds of the originally pledged sum — next year. The president, who unveiled his plan during his State of the Union address in January, and Republican members of Congress say developing countries currently lack the infrastructure to make use of the full $3 billion.

AIDS advocates disagree. They say that nongovernmental organizations and foreign governments can help struggling developing countries quickly improve their public health delivery services. Activists say that $3 billion instead of $2 billion this year could mean providing life-saving medicine for 400,000 people, caring for 500,000 orphans of AIDS victims and preventing an additional 1.6 million Africans from contracting the deadly virus.

“Millions die in Africa each year from AIDS and other preventable diseases; families lose their wage earners; millions of children become orphans with no clear means of support,” said Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, a New York-based program modeled on the Peace Corps. “Our government cannot continue to work for its global economic agenda while at the same time turn a blind eye to the most basic needs of the world’s poorest people.”

Messinger’s group organized a letter signed by other Jewish organizations — including the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Union of American Hebrew Congregations — urging congressmen to allocate the full amount. The groups argued that Jewish values “compel us to urge that you vote to fully fund the new AIDS initiative at the $3 billion mark that was promised earlier this year.”

In response to their critics, administration officials say that, under Bush’s leadership, AIDS spending has increased by 164%.

Orthodox Praise New Rules

The White House announced new regulations to allow religious groups to receive federal funds for charitable programs. Four new regulations were finalized Monday that would ease religious groups’ access to grants for homeless shelters and drug rehabilitation centers, and would allow these programs to discriminate in hiring based on religion. Several other proposed regulations also were announced. The faith-based initiatives have been opposed by many in the American Jewish community who fear they will blur the constitutional separation of church and state. They also worry that religious groups will mix charitable services and proselytizing. Orthodox groups, however, support the initiative because they believe it treats religious groups fairly and equally.

Al Qaeda Targeted El Al

Thai police reportedly foiled an Al Qaeda plot to down an El Al airplane and attack Israeli passengers at Bangkok International Airport. A man arrested three months ago by police in Thailand was found to have detailed plans of a plot to attack passengers in the terminal and shoot down an El Al plane with a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. Al Qaeda operatives are the prime suspects in an attack last November on an Israeli aircraft in the skies over Kenya. The plane managed to evade those missiles and land safely in Tel Aviv.

Single Mother Ending Protest

The woman who prompted a nationwide movement in Israel by single mothers protesting welfare cuts is going home. Vicky Knafo, who set up a protest camp outside government offices in Jerusalem after walking 125 miles from Mitzpe Ramon to the capital in July, will return home to run for political office. Knafo said she will run for a council seat in her hometown, and she began dismantling the protest campsite Tuesday.

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