News/Policy

Counterpoint: Who Is Disturbed, and Why?

by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Philadelphia-area lawyer and journalist whose focus is the Middle East Denying basic human rights to any ethnic group on the basis of membership in that group is surely anathema to all who believe in the fundamental dignity of human beings. For any government to refuse the right of residence, employment, security or reproduction (refusal to allow families to house their offspring is tantamount to a denial of reproduction), or even breathing rights, to a populace based on their membership in an ethnic or other group constitutes the most blatant form of racist discrimination. And yet the Meretz opposition to the construction of new homes in Judea and Samaria, and so the one being addressed in these opposing essays, turns the quest for justice and fairness on its head. Meretz demands that we adopt and endorse the Arab Palestinian leadership’s racist policy officially denying Jews the right to reside in, be employed in, be secure in, or even breathe in, the territories under dispute. If we are really concerned about the safety of Israel and of the United States, as Meretz claims is its motivation in making this request of us, wouldn’t they be asking us to vehemently oppose the racist operative documents and actions of the ruling Arab Palestinian parties requiring that the area in dispute be judenrein?

One Philadelphian Reflects on Another

by JSPAN Board member Ted Mann Ragan Henry died last month.

Prominent Israeli Author Sees Link Between Corruption and Occupation

AB Yehoshua is an Israeli novelist, essayist and playwright. Currently he is a senior lecturer in literature at the University of Haifa.

From the Press: Jews On First

Thomas Jefferson, Meet Abbott and Costello Have Jews at last found a permanently safe haven after 2,000 years of exile? Is it possible that the experiment in democracy in the United States, anchored in the Bill of Rights, has forever rendered our experience in the world as "post-exilic?" There has been an ongoing debate about these questions in the Jewish community. Some believe that with the exception of occasional visible acts of anti-Semitism, such as vandalism of a synagogue or the painting of swastikas on public buildings, there is no real threat to Jews in this country. Others believe that as a minority group, even in a relatively liberal democracy, there is never real security. Perhaps a third position is exemplified by the online publication, Jews On First, a serious website with a name that plays on the old Abbott and Costello routine and also refers to the First Amendment. Its position could be summed up as: "Yes, our country and constitution protect us from threats as we have never been protected before. But to remain safe, we must be vigilant in enforcing the First Amendment, which pronounces the need to separate ‘church’ and State."

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! JSPAN Files Its First United States Supreme Court Brief!

JSPAN's Church-State Policy Center has filed six "Amicus" (Friend of the Court) briefs over the past two years, the last one just two weeks ago in a case called Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. This one was of great significance to JSPAN, not only because it was our first such brief filed in a case pending before the United States Supreme Court, but also because the JCPA ("Jewish Council for Public Affairs"), after studying our brief, joined in it on behalf of the 14 national Jewish organizations and 127 Jewish communities in America whose social justice activities it coordinates. Boston-based JALSA ("Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action") joined in it as well. This is a major coup for JSPAN, and we owe our thanks to Alan Garfield, Seth Kreimer and Ted Mann for their work on the brief. This is an extremely difficult case and they managed to make our arguments in a very succinct manner. By way of background, the case arose in Pleasant Grove City, Utah, where Pioneer Park contains 15 permanent displays, including 11 that were donated to the City by private groups. One of these is a Ten Commandments monument that was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Summum, the plaintiff in the case, is a private religious organization that asked the city to display a stone monument, similar in size and nature to the Ten Commandments monument, containing the "seven aphorisms" of the Summum faith. When the city refused, Summum sued, alleging that the refusal of the city to permit installation of the proposed monument violated the Free Speech Clause of the United States Constitution as well as provisions of the Utah Constitution. The trial court denied the request, but a panel of the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded the case with instructions to enter a preliminary injunction in favor of Summum. Characterizing the earlier Ten Commandments monument as private speech, the Court of Appeals then determined that the city had created in the park a traditional public forum for the erection of monuments. Thus, it could not deny Summum the right to erect its monument based on content-based restrictions that were unlikely to pass strict scrutiny usually reserved for limits on free speech rights. The full court denied rehearing by an equally divided vote.

Visiting border shows human face of migrants

By Rabbi Steve Gutow Special to the Arizona Daily Star and JSPAN The immigration debate has been raging for quite some time and Congress still lacks consensus on meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform. The system is broken, and there are no quick fixes. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has worked extensively on the immigration issue, but I realized that working from New York, there is much I don't understand. So last month I took a trip to the Arizona border with the Jewish Community Relations chair from Tucson and two members of a group called the Samaritans.

Health Alert: Help Eradicate Jewish Genetic Diseases

On March 31, JSPAN was a co-sponsor of the symposium "Healthy Generations: Mobilizing Our Community to Prevent Jewish Genetic Diseases." The Albert Einstein Healthcare Network's Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases, one of the sponsors of the symposium, is dedicated to eradicating genetically inherited diseases prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish community. The Center has asked JSPAN to help alert the community to its critically important work. It has been estimated that 1 in 4 individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent is a carrier of a gene mutation that could result in the birth of a child with a serious, life-threatening disease. The Victor Center provides genetic education, screening and counseling to healthy individuals at risk for being asymptomatic carriers. With a simple blood test, carrier screening is available to identify a wide spectrum of diseases. Most often the diseases occur in families with no prior history of the disease. Carriers are only at risk of passing the gene change on to their children. It is important to realize that while the diseases are more common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, they also occur in other ethnic groups.

Religion in the Schools Case Argued Before the Third Circuit

Can a school district prevent the mother of a kindergarten student from reading from the Bible to her son's classmates? That issue is at the heart of a legal dispute that was argued a few weeks ago before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. JSPAN filed a friend of the court brief urging the court to uphold the actions of the school district. The case arose when Donna Busch, an Evangelical Christian, attempted to read from Psalm 118 to her son's class in the Marple Newtown, Pennsylvania school district. She came to the classroom as part of a curricular program known as the "All About Me" week during which parents are invited to share a talent, short game, small craft or story. After the teacher and and administrator acted to prevent Busch from reading Psalm 118 to the class, she sued. Backed by a religious right group, she claimed that the school district had engaged in "viewpoint discrimination" in violation of her First Amendment rights. A federal judge in Philadelphia ruled against Busch, but he also held that the school district had engaged in viewpoint discrimination. In her appeal, Busch contended that any restrictions on her speech must be viewpoint neutral, even in a school setting. She claimed that it violated her free speech rights for the school to restrict her speech based on its religious viewpoint.

A D'Var Torah for Shavuot

Rabbi David Straus is spiritual leader of Main Line Reform Temple Beth Elohim in Wynnewood, PA and a member of the JSPAN Board. And on the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the Sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to God. (Lev. 23:15-16) Take a census of the whole Israelite company by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head. (Numbers 1:2) Counting is very much on the mind of the Jewish people at this time of year. It is the theme of the Torah portions at the beginning of the Book of Numbers, which we began this past Shabbat. (The very title of this fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, makes this obvious, though the Hebrew title, Bamidbar, In the Wilderness is far more descriptive of this book- but that is for another D’var Torah.) Why would the Torah spend any time teaching us about counting? What ethical lessons are we to learn from these passages? And how might they inform how we are to live our lives today?

Representatives Leach and Shapiro Address JSPAN Fifth Annual Meeting

Reported by Ken Myers, Vice President and Program Chair At JSPAN’s annual membership meeting on May 19, State Representatives Daylin Leach and Josh Shapiro presented their views on the experience of the new generation of young Jewish politicians. Shapiro, completing two terms in the State House, explained his interest in politics with the proverb, “To whom much has been given, much is expected.” Although their backgrounds differ markedly - Leach worked his way up from poverty -both became lawyers, and as the discussion ensued, expressed many shared views. Board member Randy Schulz, moderator for the evening, asked how their religion and background influenced their political experience. Both Leach and Shapiro acknowledged that “diversity” among Pennsylvania communities raises challenges for legislators. Shapiro stated that it is necessary to recognize differences in viewpoint, if legislative progress is to be made. He noted the need for tolerance. Leach pointed to tougher election campaigns, less bipartisanship, and less civility in political debate.
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