It’s Time to Stop Making Israel a Wedge Issue in American Politics

We have just come through perhaps the most expensive, partisan and divisive election campaign in American history. Increasingly sophisticated polling and persuasion techniques allow candidates, parties and shadow 527 groups to target their appeals with precision. In 2006, the divide and conquer strategies have been applied in ways that portend long-term harm to Israel and its special relationship with the United States. For the first time, we witnessed a coordinated effort to make support for Israel a wedge issue. In a series of ads in Jewish newspapers around the country, the Republican Jewish Coalition argued that Jews should align themselves with the Republican Party because “the Democratic Party is changing. And the far left, anti-Israel segment is gaining control.” Democrats and their support groups naturally responded by citing the traditional support of the Democratic Party for Israel, and argued on the basis of issues such as abortion rights, stem cell research and an increase in the minimum wage that Jews would not have to compromise their values in voting for Democrats. There you have it. Will support for Israel now join gay marriage, faith based initiatives and the right to bear arms as the newest abyss separating Republicans from Democrats? We hope not.

Burt Siegel: On the 2006 Election

Like many JSPAN members I am somewhat groggy as I write this, having sat at my computer until the wee hours watching the results incrementally change in two of the Philadelphia suburban congressional races. But I will try to share a few quick observations about what this week’s election results might or might not mean. First, while the overall results were clearly extremely positive for the Democratic party in terms of winning seats and now controlling both the House and Senate, as in the last congressional elections in which the Republican party retained control, many races were decided by very narrow margins. It would be risky, therefore to see this election as an overwhelming mandate for the Democrats to change the course of the nation in profound ways. If anything, it was an indication that America remains basically one of the least ideological of nations, and when we seem to be veering too far toward the political or social policy edges, centrists will be elected. It may well have been an arrogant lack of understanding of this political fact of life that brought a number of the more ideologically driven Republicans to resounding defeats. The other factors in the Democratic victory were, of course, the various scandals in which Republican politicians were caught and the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. Now, however, the Democrats will need to demonstrate that since the US has been “riding the tiger” of this war for several years, they are the party with plans to get off without the tiger taking an even bigger bite out of us. While polls have indicated from the start that most Americans Jews did not support the war, any disastrous development in that part of the world can have serious implications for Israel and US engagement.

We Were Gerrymandered... Do We Care?

This article was written by JSPAN Vice President Kenneth Myers. Gerrymandering is on our minds. The election this week allayed some of our worst fears, showing that an extremely unpopular ruling party can lose their majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives when there is a major revolt at the polls. But should we really be comforted? Let’s look at some results from Pennsylvania, where we have been gerrymandered pretty effectively. There were 19 races in which a Republican and a Democrat ran for the Pennsylvania State Senate on Tuesday (in six other races – five in Democratic districts, one in a Republican district - only one of the major parties ran a candidate). In total for all 19 races, Democrats polled 758,118 votes, and Republicans polled 742,363 votes. With just over half of the vote, you would expect Democrats to take 10 out of the 19 contested seats. With just under half of the vote, you would expect Republicans to take the other 9 seats. But what actually happened? Democrats took just 5 seats, Republicans 14. Those who cast 50.5% of the votes took home 26% of the prize. Those who cast 49.5% of the votes walked off with 74% of the Senate seats. Despite a big victory for Democrats in most other contests in Tuesday’s election, the Pennsylvania Senate was unchanged: the Republicans went in with 14 of the contested seats and came out with the same 14 seats.

Record Number of Jewish Candidates Elected to Congress

This week’s elections saw a record number of Jewish candidates elected to serve in the United States Congress. Yet, with 13 Jews in the Senate and 30 in the House of Representatives, the United States remains in third place worldwide for the number of Jewish legislators, behind Israel and Great Britain.

JSPAN holds town meetings on "Fixing Medicare D"

On Thursday, October 26, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network held two town hall meetings on the problems with the Medicare Part D program and ways to fix the system. Tom Sneddon, the Director of PACE and PACENET since 1984, and Bruce Sigman, former president of the PA Pharmacists Association, were on hand for the events. The evening program, featuring Sneddon & Sigman, also had members from the Medicare advisory group Apprise on hand. Mr. Sneddon told the audience that Medicare Part D brought about a system that is dysfunctional. Currently, there is a large prescription drug coverage gap where seniors must pay 100% of the cost. Brian Gralnick, JSPAN Board member and moderator for the events, commented that this 'doughtnut hole' is "is so big Homer Simpson can't eat it." Pennsylvania is one of only a few states with a service like PACE, a totally income based service that provides drug benefits to seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid. The complaints with the Medicare Part D system are threefold:
  1. confusion on which plan to take;
  2. seniors not knowing there was a deductible;
  3. the prescription drug coverage gap, known as the "doughnut hole."

Saving Energy, the World and Money – and a New Take on Hannukah Lights

Sometimes issues like global warming seem beyond our reach – but they are quite easy to address when a lot of us take the same steps together. Here is a painless step – one that can even save you money – to reduce our energy consumption. And cut back the greenhouse gas that we (indirectly) generate by using electricity, raising the issue of global warming. JCPA (the Jewish Council for Public Affairs) and COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) have announced a program entitled “A Light Among the Nations -- How Many Jews Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?" Here is the main step in the program: For Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, purchase and install an energy efficient, cost effective compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb.

JSPAN prompts Florida Republican Party to repudiate bigoted remarks by Representative Katherine Harris

According to a copyrighted story in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Florida GOP leaders have finally repudiated offensive comments by Congresswoman Katherine Harris. According to the newspaper, "The Republican Party of Florida pointedly said in a late September letter to [JSPAN] that it does not 'condone' Harris' position." "While candidates like Congresswoman Harris are affiliated with the Republican Party, they do not necessarily speak for it," wrote Carole Jean Jordan, Florida GOP chairwoman. The controversy arose in August when Harris was quoted in the Florida Baptist Witness as saying, "If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin." She also claimed that the separation of church and state was "a lie." When confronted by Fox News, Harris tried to sidestep her remarks by saying that she supported the State of Israel and Holocaust education. JSPAN President Jeff Pasek immediately wrote to leaders of both the Florida Republican Party and the Republican National Committee calling on them to repudiate Harris' comments, noting that "neither support for Israel nor endorsement of Holocaust education will smooth over open pandering to religious bigotry."

M.J. Rosenberg: Getting Out of the Box

This piece was originally printed at the Israel Policy Forum It becomes clearer every day that Prime Minister Olmert needs to take some dramatic action to reverse Israel’s current predicament. The Lebanon war is over, for now, but Israeli soldiers remain in Hezbollah’s hands. The tenuous cease-fire is holding but Hezbollah remains an armed force with the ability to hit Israeli cities when it chooses. In Gaza, progress toward a unity government has stalled with no interlocutor apparently able to convince Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept agreements previously negotiated by Israel and the PLO. With Palestinian living conditions deteriorating rapidly, it would not take much to spark a Palestinian civil war and reignite the intifada. There is, of course, a vocal minority in Israel that prefers that Israel not have a viable Palestinian negotiating partner. These people worry that because successful negotiations inevitably lead to mutual compromise, it is best when the Arab side is represented by its most extreme elements. Then the “no partner” mantra can be employed and everything will stay the same. But most Israelis and Palestinians do not cherish the staus quo. According to the polls, some 70% of Israelis want to see the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians toward the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

Chirls & Frankel Receive JSPAN Social Justice Award

On Tuesday, September 19, JSPAN presented Larry Frankel, Legislative Director for the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, and Andrew Chirls, Immediate Past Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, with its second annual Social Justice Award. Larry Frankel has been with the ACLU since 1992 and in his time with the organization has lobbied, written, and spoken out on issues like the death penalty, reproductive freedom, and gay & lesbian rights. Recently he was involved in opposing an effort in the state legislature to ban gay marriage. Andrew has been in practice at Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen since 1982 and in addition to experience in age and gender discrimination claims, he successfully tried, for the plaintiff, the first case presented to a Pennsylvania jury for discrimination based on AIDS/HIV status. From state representatives to former councilmen to attorneys working for civil rights - all came out in honor of Larry & Andrew's achievements. JSPAN is proud to have given its second annual Social Justice Award to these two outstanding individuals for their work in advancing Tikkun Olam.
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