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In deciding to join the fight against the Bush administration’s proposed “reforms” to Medicaid and Medicare, United Jewish Communities and its network of local Jewish charitable federations have taken an important step. What’s at stake is not just the integrity of the nation’s safety net for the poor and the aging, which the administration seems hell-bent on shredding. There’s a larger issue here, namely the credibility of the organized Jewish community as a force for good on the American scene.

For more than a year now, since the war against terrorism captured center stage on the national and world agenda, many of our community’s main representative bodies have been acting as if no other issues existed. Fearing to jeopardize the warm relations between George Bush’s Washington and Ariel Sharon’s Jerusalem, and aware of the vindictive tendencies all too evident within this administration, they’ve taken to subordinating virtually all other interests to the one overriding cause of the American-Israeli alliance against terrorism. Other issues of deep and compelling concern to Jews — abortion rights, civil liberties, care for the poor — have been shoved aside, despite the protests of our longtime coalition partners and, frequently, the needs of our own brethren. The strategy is a bad one, and as we’re about to learn, it’s unnecessary.

The UJC’s decision to stand firm on the healthcare issue calls to mind David Ben-Gurion’s response to the 1939 British White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Some argued for acquiescence, citing the overriding Nazi threat in Europe. Ben-Gurion said no: Fight both at once.

We can take a cue from Ben-Gurion: Fight the Bush budget as if there were no war against terrorism, and fight the war against terrorism as if there were no Bush budget.

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