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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 13, 2009 Nonprofits fret over Obama's plan to tax wealthy By Jacob Berkman NEW YORK (JTA)--After offering strong support for President Obama's spending proposals, Jewish orgamza- tions are raising major objec- tions to a tax provision in the administration's budget plan that they say would lead to a sharp drop in charitable donations. Officials at the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Council for Public Af- fairs, as well as the Orthodox Union and the American Jew- ish Committee, are opposing a provision in the budget that the Obama administration says would be used to help create a $634 billion reserve fund to pay for health-care reforms. Set to take'effect in 2011. the provision would reduce the charitable tax deduc- tion for households earning $250.000 in gross income annually. Under the cur- rent system, those in the 35 percent tax bracket receive a 35 percent deduction on charitable contributions. Under Obama's proposal, the deduction would be reduced to 28 percent. The reduction comes on top. of general proposals for raising the marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. "We are generally sup- PAGE 15A William Daroff of the United Jewish Communities and other Jewish nonprofit executives are concerned that President Obama's tax plan will hurt their funding sources. portive of health-care reform and working with the admin- istration toward this goal, but I don't see it as my job to find the money for this." said William Daroff. UJC's vice president for public policy and the director of its Wash- ington office, which lobbies for hundreds of millions of dollars annually in federal money for social services. "It is my job to say this is the wrong place to get it because you are hurting those you are attempting to help--average folks in need of the services of chari- ties. Beyond that there are over 15 million people who work for nonprofits, and we are like a lot in the federa- tion system. We are laying off people." UJC, the national arm of the network of local Jewish charitable federations, and JCPA, an umbrella group bringing together national groups and local communi- ties, were among the many Jewish organizations that came out in support of the stimulus bill. And many groups back the push by the Obama administration for a boost in social service spending and reforms to the health-care system. Daroff says he's been hear- ing concerns about the tax provision, and about a half- dozen Jewish organizations are looking to the UJC to take the lead in fighting it. He floated a few alternatives to pay for Obama's programs-- a higher tax on cigarettes, a tax on employee health-care benefits ora raise in margin- al taxes but said ultimately it's up to the president to find an alternative. Even organizations like the AJC, generally associ- ated with foreign policy and church-state issues, are feel- ing the need to speak out. Executive Director David Hai'ris wrote an open letter to Obama administration budget czar Peter Orszag estimating that the provi- sion could cause a 20 percent decrease in giving among the $250,000-and-up set. "As most nonprofits derive 70 to 80 percent of their do- nations from a small propor- tion of donors who are major givers, thisproposal will deal a destructive blow to many charities," Harriswrote. Similarly, the OU ex- pressed "grave concern" over the tax provision and threatened to fight it in Con- gress unless it is immediately removed from the budget proposal. While such concerns are widespread among nonprof- its, Jewish and non-Jewish, some observers see them as an overreaction. The Center on Philan- thropy at Indiana Univer- sity acknowledged that the reduced deduction would "increase the challenges nonprofits have." but said it would only have a moderate impact. If the proposal had been implemented in 2006. the Indiana center estimated that the change would have caused a 2.1 percent drop in itemized giving by households with income of $250,000 and above. The far greater concern, according to center officials, is the de- cline in personal wealth and the economic crisis. All three factors combined would have resulted in a 4.8 percent drop in charity in 2006. The estimates, however, have not allayed Daroff's concerns. The UJC and the Jewish federation system it repre- sents rakes in roughly $.2.5 billion per year through its general campaigns and endowments. By Daroff's estimate, even if Indiana is accurate, the so-called mod- est cuts would cost the UJC $50 million per year. "That is a heck of a lot of funds for Jewish Family Services across the country," he said. "Maybe $50 million is not a lotof money to the endowment of the University of Indiana. but for the Jewish Family Services across the country that depend on do- nations, that is real money. Do the math: One or 4 or 8 percent doesn't sound like a lot of money, but do the math and that is real green money that is 10st." Diana Aviv. Daroff's pre- decessor at the UJC before becoming the executive director of the Independent Sector, a philanthropy lead- ership forum that has more "chan 600 member organiza- tions, offered a different take. "1 think there are argu- ments on both sides of this page that are important." she said. "and we need to weigh both sides of the arguments." Independent Sector issued a statement saying that the tax provision "could be a disincentive to some do- nors," but it has not formally adopted a stance, Aviv said. For some backers of the provision, it is not only a mat- ter of raising more revenue but also of equity among taxpayers. Those making less than $100,000 per year who donate $1,000 now recewe a $150 tax break, compared to those making $1 million per year who receive*a $330 tax break. The proposed rule would close the gap, lowering the deduction for wealthier Americans to approximately $230. Aviv noted that some be- lieve the tax provison could end up helping nonprofits. For starters, since the change would not take place until 2011. there could be a short-term spike in giving as donors try to get in their gifts before the provision takes effect. In addition, the provi- sion is being presented as a way to help fund changes to a more universal health-care plan a step that eventually could create major savings for charities. "That is the argument," she said. "But it is cold com- fort for some in 2011.'" By Sharon Udasin New York Jewish Week NEW YORK--A simple searchSor"Israel" on Google , Maps will give you more than just roadways and town names: photographed piles of Gazan rubble will pop out of the map, taking precedent over images of Israel's popular landmarks and landscapes. Google can't control which images appear be- cause the content is entirely user-generated also called "open-source" meaning that Web surfers can add or delete content as they please. And on many such opemsource sites right now, including Wikipedia and Flickr, Israel's image is far from favorable. But David Saranga, the media consul for the Consulate General of Israel in New York, plans to fight back. After launch- ing a pro-Israel campaign through Twitter.corn during the Gaza war and by bring- ing Maxim magazine into Israel last year. he says he is recruiting the best in the business to revamp Israel's online image. In just a few weeks, he will bring six American new media experts to photograph Israel. with funds from the Consulate and Israel's Ministrs, of Foreign Affairs. Rather than selecting people based, on their photography expertise, Saranga said that he is choosing his team members based on their proficiency editing blogs and open-source edia. After guiding the group members together for the first part of the week, he will send each person to a differ- ent part of the country not to touristy destinations like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. but Photo editing Israel00 online image instead to less trodden places like the fertile farms of the Galilee. villages in the Negev or small ancient cities like Caesaria. While participants are free to take photos of whatever they choose, Sa- ranga hopes that they will document the "real" Israel environmental advances, high-tech innovation, Israeli culture--instead of war. The bloggers will then upload their photo collections to varmus open-source sites, where young people will ideally access and repost the photos free of charge. But some experts wonder whether or not the project will really be capable of making a dent in the criti- cism that the Gaza war en- gendered. "While efforts like this trip can help Israel boost its image, much like trips by friendly journalists, they won't do anything against those campaigners tirelessly removing anything positive about Israel on platforms like Wikipedia and seeking to brand any Israeli or Jewish source as 'illegitimate.'" said Andre Oboler. a social media expert and CEO of Zionism On the Web. Oboler stresses that long-term success requires a wider response. perhaps led by a specialist organization or by turning Birthright alumni into on- line activists. However. Sa- ranga says the initiative will. he hopes, knock the pictures of destruction much further down the lists, behind photos of ordinary Israeli daily life. And because he has enlisted Internet- authorities like pen-named Wikipedia senior editor David Shankbone. Saranga thinks that there is a good chance they'll stay that way. Shankbone whose real name is David Miller--first visited Israel in December 2007. when Saranga led a group of journalists on a tour of the country's high-tech and environmental develop- ments. All in all Shankbone estimates that he illustrates over 4,000 Wikipedia articles with his photography. "The idea is to create a body of work that not only Wikipedia can use but that the general ,public can use," he said. Shankbone is not Jew- ish, but he said he learned extensively about the Is- raeli-Palestinian conflict in school. While he considers himself a supporter of Israel. Shankbone doesn't intend to make Wikipedia a Zionist Web site, and he doesn't look at the Gaza war as a black- and-white situationmIsrael had a right to respond, but its mode of attack was not without fault. Yet for Shankbone, the purpose of his photo expe- dition is not to document the aftermath of the war. "People want to talk to you about other things than just missiles." he said. Ideally, Shankbone said he'd like to end up at solar power plants in the Negev Desert or in a southern city like Eilat. because he spent most of his time up north during the previous trip. "I particularly like small towns, because my feeling is that anyone can come to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem." Shankbone said. While on open-source sites, users can add and remove other people's con- tributions as they see fit, only an administrator can permanently delete the posts from the storage database, Wikimedia Commons. In his three years working as a Wikipedia editor, however, Shankbone said that he has been careful to avoid inserting his own political positions, and readers have rarely altered his content. His collection remains the largest Creative Commons a Web-based data-sharing platform photograph com- munity generated by one person, he said. Another t'ip participant, blogger and social media consultant Tamar Weinberg, will be joining the team with her photograply-enthusiast husband. Weinberg said that she hasn't been to Israel in 11 years, and with all the in- novation that has developed since then, she hopes to document her trip through Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and blogging. "I want to capture the people, the places and the everyday life," Weinberg said. noting that she will take hundreds of photos on Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras, which were cer- tainly not available the last time she was in Israel. "I want to capture the essence of this beautiful country and to convey this to my follow- ers and readers on the social sites I plan to post these to." "I know that Israel has a lot to offer beyond what we hear in the media," she added. Critic Oboler, however, ques- tions whether "bringing out people like Shankbone will help directly with the grass- roots, anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic activity that oc- curs online." "What it will do is help in the fight for hearts and minds online," he said. "This proactive engagement is alsoimportant." "It certainly isn't going to " where hospitality' is tndya way of life! Allwithitt::ionei:: residence, we offer sisted Living, Skilled Nurshg and Rehabilitation Care. What makes us unique s ott :ability ;o provide full assisted Iiving and skilled trsing w.ii:ces 1 within-one communiLy. If a resident  ve::e&d: short tem tehalailitative services or long:{:E:s-nursing, we bave::It.l, : do mmthersim 0 activities pro is Unparalleled including a ll Various Jewish services are ored at Savannah Court thanks to our Friends at The Jef,sh Pavilion. be the silver bullet," Shank- bone agreed. "It does give Wikipedia the opportunity or responsibility to present accuracy." And while Saranga hopes to change the world's per- ception of Israel in the long term with the support of every American Israel con- sulate, he recognizes that, realistically, results will not be immediate. "At the end of the day, a single activity won't change perceptions; a single activity won't change the criticism generated by the Gaza war," he said. "But what is important is to cre- ate a critical mass of positive activities that will improve Israel's image." Reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week, www.jewishweek. com. 1301 W. 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