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Senate Approves ‘Faith-Based’ Bill

The Senate last week passed an amended version of the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, a bill that encourages charitable donations to faith-based organizations by offering donors tax breaks and other incentives. Ninety-five senators backed the bill. Only five were opposed.

The bill, which is the legislative centerpiece of the Bush administration’s much-touted “faith-based initiative,” was held up for a long time because several Republican senators insisted that the measure include provisions that would specifically allow religious groups benefiting from government funding to discriminate based on religion in their hiring practices.

The provisions that would have allowed for religious discrimination were opposed by most major Jewish groups, as well as civil rights and church-state watchdog organizations. The provision was recently dropped from the bill, paving the way for last week’s vote, which major Jewish organizations hailed. “We applaud the elimination of these unconstitutional provisions, which would have provided direct funding for houses of worship, authorized government-funded employment discrimination on the basis of religion, and threatened the religious liberty of social service beneficiaries, who are often the most vulnerable members of society,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Orthodox Union also welcomed the legislation, although it noted that it has always opposed the position that held that the controversial provisions were unconstitutional.

The Anti-Defamation League, which also applauded the legislation, said in a statement that it is still concerned about what it characterized as the Bush White House’s ongoing attempts to bypass the legislative process by issuing executive orders pertaining to faith-based organizations. “We remain deeply concerned about the administration’s vigorous efforts to implement its faith-based initiative independently — through new rules and regulations clearly designed to facilitate funding faith-based organizations,” said the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman.

Arab Groups Push Corrie Resolution

Pro-Palestinian organizations are trying hard — though with little success — to rally congressional support for the so-called “Rachel Corrie Resolution,” a House concurrent resolution that calls on the United States government to investigate the death of the young American “human shield” who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza last month while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.

The language of the proposed legislation is deliberately mild. It expresses sympathy for the loss of Corrie’s life and “calls on the United States Government to undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie.” It also “encourages the Government of the United States and the Government of Israel to work together to determine all the circumstances that led to this incident and to ensure that an incident of this kind never occurs again.”

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state who represents the district in which the Corrie family lives. Originally, Baird had called on the State Department to file criminal charges against the Israeli government if an investigation should find misconduct. That, however, does not appear in his proposed legislation. Despite the mild language, only 16 House members co-sponsored the resolution by the end of last week.

Arab-American and Muslim organizations are calling on their supporters to lobby House members to support the resolution, in order to give it “high visibility.” At the moment, the legislation is hardly visible, and it has very little chance of making its way to the House floor for a vote, congressional staffers said.

Israel Ponders Iraq Pipeline

Would a free, independent Iraq reopen its old oil pipeline from the northern town of Mosul to the Mediterranean Israeli port of Haifa?

While the idea sparks the imagination of many Israelis and Americans — and apparently is quite appealing to some Jordanians as well — officials representing the three countries are referring to it as “premature” and “currently implausible.”

They are not saying impossible, though.

Several leading Jordanian officials, including the kingdom’s foreign minister, energy minister and official palace spokesman, all denied last week reports in the Israeli and international press, based on accounts from unnamed Israeli officials, that Israel and Jordan have been discussing the reopening of the pipeline.

But the Jordanian ambassador to Washington, Karim Kawar, told a B’nai B’rith forum in Washington last week that his country “has been discussing setting up a pipeline that flows west from Iraq.” It would be “up to the governments” of Iraq, Jordan and Israel “to talk to each other” about stretching the line all the way from northern Iraq to northern Israel, Kawar said.

Iraq is likely to focus more attention and energy on attempting to export oil through its southern port of Umm Qasr, Kawar said. Reopening the pipeline that used to stretch 360 miles through Jordan is only a theoretical option at the moment, Kawar said, because most of the line, which was shut down 55 years ago, has been sold for scrap.

Reuters last week quoted a source in Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructure as saying that Jordan and Israel will hold meetings to study the prospects of restarting the oil pipeline. Reuters quoted the sources as saying that restarting the pipeline could reduce Israel’s fuel costs by 25%.

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