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February 13, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 13, 2009 By Eric Fingerhut Jewish groups mobilize for stimulus package WASHINGTON (JTA) Wading into what has emerged as a major partisan fight, Jew- ish organizations in Washing- ton are lining up with Demo- crats in offering strong support for the $819 billion economic stimulus bill. Among those pushing hard for passage of the bill are offi- cials at the United Jewish Com- munities, an arm of the North American network of local Jewish charitable federations, and the Jewish Council for Public affairs, an umbrella or- ganization bringing together national organizations, the synagogue movements and more than 100 local Jewish communities. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is also pressing for the package, while the National Council of Jewish Women is backinganumber of provisions in the bill. Only the Republican Jew- ish Coalition is openly oppos- ing the bill. The organizations that back the bill are writing letters to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and urging supporters to contact their members of Congress. The UJC was going to bring 60 of its lay leaders here Feb. 4, the day avote is expected on the bill in the Senate, to lobby for its passage. The UJC delega- tion also will visit the House of Representatives to encourage support for the final version of the measure that comes out of conference committee. President Obama has said he wants to sign the bill, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, by Presidents' Day, Feb. 16. Most crucial to the Jewish organizations is the variety of assistance the legislation provides to low- income Ameri- cans, including more fund- ing for food stamps and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, an extension and modernization of unemploy- ment insurance, and a boost in the funding of the Social Services Block Grant. It also includes an increase in the Federal Medical Assis- tance Program, which would mean more federal dollars for state Medicaid programs, making health coverage more affordable for low-income families and providing vital funding for Jewish nursing homes and family services organizations. The legislation currently contains $88 billion in such funding, although UJC is lobbying to raise the sum to $100 billion. Jewish groups in their backing of the bill also cited the funding of green, energy- efficient infrastructure proj- ects and the hoped-for overall impact of the legislation in stimulating the economy. "We as a country need to get out of this recession," said William Daroff, vice president of public policy and director of UJC's Washington office. "Hopefully this legislation can help turn the tide," and give Americans the confidence that Washington is seriously dealing with the issue. "It is the top priority now, without any exception." said Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the JCPA. "Jewish values and Jewish interests are deeply bound How Israel coordinates humanitarian supplies for Gaza By Jenna Hanson Gisha also said that more from Israelis and 50 percent than a quarter of a million from overseas, Yaron said. JERUSALEM (JTA)With international aid organiza- tions describing the Gaza situation as a humanitarian crisis following the recentwar, Israel is grappling with how to allow in necessary aid while keeping material that could be used against Israel out of the hands of Hamas. Israel controls the crossings into Gaza along the Israel- Gaza border, and most aid from Egypt. which also borders Gaza, must first pass through Israel. This makes virtually all supplies flowinginto Gaza con- tingent upon Israeli approval. An office in the Israeli De- fense Ministry created after the 1967 Six-Day War is respon- sible for the coordination of humanitarian activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As supplies arrive for Gaza from all over the world from Europe to Saudi Arabia and even from Israel itself it is the office of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories that decides if and when the provisions will enter the strip. "We make sure there are no problems with what is sent. that it really is humanitarian supplies." said Peter Lerner. a spokesman for the office. "There are many orga- nizations in the world that want to send supplies to the Palestinians that are actually outlawed organizations." he said. referring to groups that aid terrorists. However. he added. "since the beginning of the war I am not aware of any circumstances where aid was refused." The war has left 50.000 Pal- estinians homeless and more than 5,450 injured, accord- ing to Physicians for Human Rights. Last week. Gisha: The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli non- governmental organization, reported that some 200,000 people in Gaza are without running water, and most oth- ers only receive water for a few hours every couple of days. Gazans have been without electricity for a month, but the Israeli Defense Ministry said it has repaired all the power lines between Israel and Gaza and is allowing fuel into Gaza so the Palestinians can power their own station. Israel's coordination office divides humanitarian sup- plies sent to Gaza into two categories. "Firstly, there are immedi- ate needs, such as medical supplies, food. fixing the windows--all the things that are needed riglat now." Lerner said. "The second category is made up of more long-term needs, such as rebuilding buildings and fixing hospitals and schools. Our job is-to coordinate these activities, to make sure thatthe supplies are being used for the purpose they were intended for." On the Gazan side. the co- ordination of supplies is done mainly through international organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross. Israel's coordination office depends upon these or- ganizations, which have large Palestinian staffs in Gaza, to take the supplies into the strip and ensure they stay out of the hands of Hamas. Much of the aid comes from NGOs, including Israeli ones. "At the beginning of the war, we put out a call for donations." said Ran Yaron, director of the Occupied Territories Depart- ment at Physicians for Human Rights in Israel. "Each week we received a list from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which detailed the items that were needed in Gaza. With the donation money we received. we bought items that were on these lists. The six truckloads we sent contained things like ICU beds, supplies which together had a total value of 10 million shekels"--roughly $2.5 million. Of the funds that came in as a direct response to the call for donations, 50 percent came Some groups, including Physicians for Human Rights and Gisha, charge that Israel is preventing essential humani- tarian supplies from getting into Gaza. Gisha spokesman Itamar Shachar said the Israeli gov- ernment is pursuing a "policy of deliberate obstruction" of humanitarian supplies and impeding the rebuilding of Gaza's water, sewage and power systems. He says Israel has not allowed spare parts necessary to repair these systems to enter the strip and has only permit- ted the passage of 64 percent of the fuel necessary to run Gaza's power system. "Right now, Israel is not allowing concrete into Gaza for the rebuilding of homes." Yaron added. "The windows of many homes and hospitals were broken during the war. and Israel is currently not al- lowing glass into Gaza." Lerner insists Israel is do- ing everything ft can to let in humanitarian supplies while keeping out materials that could be used for terrorist activities. Given the aptitude of Gaza's rocket and bomb makers, that makes a lot of seemingly innocuous material problematic. "We do not have the exper- tise to decide what is needed; we have the expertise to say what is not all right." Lerner said. "We will not allow hoses to pass in freely because hoses are put into rockets. We will not allow an unchecked amount of cement and concrete to enter because they will be used to build bunkers and underground tunnels for use against our soldiers." In the past, Lerner says, Israel allowed supplies such as hoses into Gaza and made sure they were installed for civilian use. But then Israel learned that the material was unin- stalled and taken by Hamas fighters for militant uses. "My first job is to protectthe citizens of Israel," Lerner said. PAGE 17A up with the policy selections of what will be funded," said Rabbi David Saperstein, the Religious Action Center's director and counsel. "These are issues of core concern." The stimulus bill passed last week in the House with no Republican support, and prospects for GOP backing in the Senate also appear bleak. Republicans say the bill con- tains too much in the way of spending and does not go far enough in terms of tax cuts. In sharp contrast, the UJC and JCPA feel so strongly about passing the stimulus package that both organiza- tions are endorsing the entire bill, as opposed to simply backing specific provisions. Such sweeping support for a wide-ranging spending bill is a first for JCPA. Susskind said. "We did it because we think it's a good bill," he said. The legislation funds top priorities for JCPA and the organization decided that "we need to step up and say so." Backing the bill "in its en- tirety strengthens the overall voice of the Jewish commu- nity," Susskind said, "because members of Congress want to hear a yes or no in order to know where their consti- tutents are. That clarity brings alotofstrengthwe don'talways have." Daroffsaid the UJC endorse- ment of the bill as a whole doesn't mean the organization supports every provision, but "in any piece of legislation that is thousands of pages long, there will be programs not agreeable to everyone." "For us to have been part of the discussions from start to finish and not to be supportive of the inevitable compromises would be disingenous and bad politics," he said. On the other side of the issue, the Republican Jewish Coalition issued an "urgent action alert" to its members the evening of Feb. 3, asking them to urge their senators to "reject any 'stimulus' plan that fails the test of 'timely, temporary and targeted'"--a test that the RJC argued the current plan does not meet. The group also took issue with "buy American" provisions in the bill, calling them protec- tionist, and joined Orthodox organizations in critciing the failure to include non-public schools in the "green" schools modernization initiative. In addition, the RJC called on the Senate to make time to debate Republican alternatives to the bill. The RJC alert made no mention of the provisions that Jewish groups have deemed critical. Saperstein said that the overall Republican opposition does not seem to be aimed at the bill's social service provi- sions or greening initiatives, but at "macro issues." "I find that encouraging," he said. The GOPvote is"not about" the Federal Medical Assistance Program, Daroff said, but "about the Republican Party trying to find a strategy," hav- ing lost control of the White House and Congress. UJC is urging Republican allies on the Hill to refrain from holding up the 90 percent of the bill that is "good public policy and good for the fed- eration system" for the small percentage of the legislation with which they may have problems, Daroff said. At the same time, he added, the UJC would support setting aside less critical provisions of the bil! if they proved too divisive, although Daroff declined to discuss specific examples. The National Council of Jewish Women objected two weeks ago when the White House removed a provision allowing states to expand Medicaid family-planning coverage without a waiver from the federal government. NCJW issued a statement say- ing it was "deeply disappoint- ing" that Obama had yielded to "anti-birth control forces." The Reform movement's Washing- ton office also urged that the provision be kept in the bill, but refrained from criticizing the president. Rather than endorse the entire bill. NCJW has come Out in favor of specific provi- sions because the legislation includes items on which the group has no positions. Sammie Moshenberg, di- rector of its Washington operations, said NCJW was focusing its support on the boost in assistance to the Federal Medical Assistance Program. food stamps and unemployment insurance. Investments in education and health care are also important to her organization, Moshen- berg said, because they will ensure that some of the jobs created by the package will go to women. THE 2009 CONGREGATION B'NAI ISRAEL CONCERT SERIES PRESENTS Cha/anut and 13ey00nd ttillliiln Jilck tentlelsen Iaz/an IPaol 13cldstein SUNDAY MARCH 1, 2009 4:00 P.M. CONGREGATION B'NA! ISRAEL 300 58 t" Street North St. Petersburg Tickets: $12 Students acclaimed Hazzan, The subject of jovial and u've known D. Goldstein. ungarded" len Kozinn, writing in the New York Times