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April 22, 2005

A Tale of Two GOPs

Opinion writer Jeff Ballabon and I are both Jews, so how is it that we can both read the same news and come to diametrically opposed conclusions (“In the Name of Values, Not Politics,” April 8)? He writes that “The Republican Party is defending our Constitution and the rights of individuals.” Has Ballabon read the denial of rights in the Patriot Act? Does he know what is going on at Guantanamo Bay? He should know that the rights of some individuals are being trampled.

Ballabon blames the “leftist mindset” for an increase in “respectable” antisemitism, but if he were to really look at antisemitism in academia, he would find that it is related to opposition to our Israeli policy, and that both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have consistently and faithfully promulgated that policy.

He compares the warm relationship of American Jews with President Bush to the community’s strained relations with Bush’s father, but he would do better to compare the current relationship with that of the warm and friendly bonds between American Jews and President Clinton.

Whereas Ballabon sees the Democratic Party as “desperately bent on undermining the foundation of commonalities on which the Constitution is predicated,” I see the current government as bent on doing exactly that. Our founding fathers were desperately afraid of religious control of our government. It should be funny to most of us that the Ten Commandments were placed around the country by Cecil B. DeMille to promote his movie, and that current members of Congress are trying to preserve this non-religious promotion. It was not the intent of our government framers to have religion in the center of government.

What are the commonalities on which the Constitution is predicated? Check out the Bill of Rights. We have a right to privacy in our own homes, to freedom from search and seizure without cause, to free speech. We have the right to not be discriminated against because of race, color, creed, religion and, yes, sexual preferences. We have the right to full protection of the law of the land, including Roe v. Wade. And our government has separation of powers, which means that the courts are independent of the legislative and executive branches of government.

Ballabon writes that, “Secularists want to invest government with the power to force citizens to abandon their scruples.” That is precisely what is happening in Washington today. Although I am not a secularist, at least Ballabon is right about one thing: My scruples are under attack.

Fern Katz

Southfield, Mich.

The Pope Went to Shul

As an amusing sequel to Marek Halter’s April 15 opinion article on Pope John Paul II’s sincere efforts to embrace the Jewish community both personally and institutionally, I would like to share with Forward readers a story that, indirectly, links the late pope with Passover (“A Pope Passes and With Him Dies A Golden Age in Interfaith Relations”).

A world famous chemistry professor received a large box in the mail — about a week after John Paul II’s historic visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986 — from his elderly mother living in Florida. After opening the box and discovering a children’s chemistry set, the professor telephoned his mother for an explanation.

She replied that she was only making good on a promise made to him at a Passover Seder 50 years before. Then, as a boy of 10, he produced the afikomen and requested a chemistry set as his reward. Fearing the dangers of the chemicals in the hands of a 10 year old, she refused his request. When pressed by the budding chemist when his request might be approved, she responded: “When the Pope goes to Shul!”

Ira Sohn

New York, N.Y.

Agudah Open to UJC

Agudath Israel of America is characterized in an April 8 article as “an ultra-Orthodox organization that refuses to work with the UJC because of its ties to the Reform and Conservative movements” (“UJC to Send First Gay Mission to Israel”).

For the record, while Agudath Israel indeed deeply disapproves of the UJC’s plan to help legitimate what the Torah in no uncertain terms forbids, we have in fact worked with the UJC on a number of occasions, and do not shun cooperating with it on an ad hoc basis regarding its worthwhile projects.

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Director of Public Affairs

Agudath Israel of America

New York, N.Y.

Respect Conference’s Nomination Process

As a member of the nominating committee of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, I feel compelled to respond to charges that appeared in an April 15 article (“Surprise Candidate Emerges at Leaders’ Group”).

I am particularly disturbed by the reported assertion of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, that, “One would have thought that if a name is brought in that is not part of the discussion, then some effort would be made to reach out to some of us. I would like to know whose brainchild it was to pick him.” That statement displays a lack of knowledge of or respect for the nomination process.

Whether or not a particular head of an organization or member of the community is surprised at the identity of the nominee is irrelevant. What is important is that the process proceeded fairly and that the candidate is worthy.

It is the job of the nominating committee to propose a candidate to the President Conference for approval at its general meeting, at which time additional candidates may run from the floor in accordance with conference rules. To ensure that it proposes the best candidates possible, the committee solicits nominations from all the member organizations, vets those nominees thoroughly, discusses their strengths and weaknesses, and assesses their skills and experience in relation to expected demands of the coming year.

The process proceeds in private, both to protect the candidates from public embarrassment and to ensure that committee members can express their thoughts and feelings honestly and openly. This year’s committee was blessed with five strong candidates, all of whom have made major contributions to the welfare of the Jewish people. Each was nominated according to the rules of the Presidents Conference.

The nominating committee, chaired by Mortimer Zuckerman, immediate past chair of the Presidents Conference, consisted of a diverse cross-section of conference leadership: male and female, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, past conference chairs and leaders of national organizations. All were strong-minded individuals who took their responsibility very seriously and acted in a thorough and deliberate way.

The discussion was lively, and the result unanimous: The candidates were all worthy contenders, but for this moment in time Harold Tanner is the strongest and best choice for selection as chair. He is a remarkable man — intelligent, respected, accomplished and committed to the welfare of the Jewish people here and abroad.

To imply that anything untoward took place — that committee members were unduly influenced by staff or anyone else, or that candidates were not all treated equitably — is to completely misunderstand the process and do a disservice to all of the candidates, who deserve our admiration and thanks.

Marsha Atkind

Past President

National Council of Jewish Women

Roseland, N.J.

Doctors’ Participation In Medicare Voluntary

As a physician, I take serious issue with the April 15 Tyler, Too column (“Doctors Start a Crusade”). There is nothing in the Hippocratic Oath that mandates that physicians become civic employees, or that our fee structure and income should be determined by our federal government or, for that matter, by private insurers. In fact there is nothing in it at all about the finances of medical practice.

Medicare is a contract with the public and only with the public. I participate in Medicare, but physician participation in Medicare is voluntary and is nowhere mandated in any code of ethics. In no way is non-participation in Medicare, or in any other “payor” program, unethical. Many quality and ethical physicians are opting out of many private plans.

Furthermore, the statement that, as we make our practices more efficient we knowingly dispense inadequate care is offensive, at least to this practitioner. There are many issues surrounding our healthcare delivery system that need to be addressed, but to make the statement that physicians who are responding to these stresses are unethical or poor physicians is not appropriate.

Dr. David Cohen

Wyckoff, N.J.

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