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May 25, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 25, 2012 Much enthusiasm, muted criticism in Jewish reactions By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)---As soon as President Obama wrapped up the television in- terview in which he endorsed same-sex marriage, he called an evangelical minister who advises him to offer a heads up. Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, made a similar call to the Orthodox Union. The calls, made lastWednes- day before excerpts from the in- terview hit the Internet, dem- onstrated the White House's determination to preempt any backlash that the endorsement might engender from religious groups. Obama administration officials have been careful to emphasize that the president also backs protections for religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage. "He called to inform us about what the president was going to announce and put it in context," Nathan Diament, the OU's executive director of public policy, said of the call from Lew, himself an Ortho- dox Jew. The move appeared to have yielded some dividends. The OU said in a statement that it was "disappointed" by the president's new stance and reiterated Orthodox Jew- ish opposition to "any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same- sex unions." But the group also said that it "appreciated" Obama's praise of New York State's same-sex marriage law, which offers some protections to Obama's gay marriage support for religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. The Jewish community's reactions to Obama's remarks were auspicious for the White House: There was great en- thusiasm from most quarters, alongwith restrained criticism from Orthodox Jewish oppo- nents of same-sex marriage. Obama notably did not pair his endorsement of same-sex marriage with any nods toward a legislative effort, since he says the issue should be left to the states. Polls have found that up- wards of three-quarters of American Jews support same- sex marriage. Outside the Orthodoxworld, Jewish groups generally back it as well. Words like "historic" pep- pered statements by Jewish groups welcoming Obama's remarks. "It is a significant and historic step forward in the pursuit of equal opportunity, individual liberty and free- dom from discrimination," the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement, "and underscores the fact that no American should be denied access to the benefits of civil marriage because of his or her sexual orientation." In the interview, which aired in full, recently Obama--who had previously said he backed civil unions but did not sup- port same-sex marriage--de- scribed what he has called his evolution on the issue. "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and fam- ily and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly commit- ted monogamous relation- ships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together," he said, "when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." The Reform movement's Re- ligiousAction Center described the president's remarks as "a key moment in the advance of civil rights in America." "These rights are due no less to same-sex couples than heterosexual ones, as the president's comments today acknowledge," the RAC said. Among other groups prais- ing the president's endorse- ment were the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, the National Jewish Democratic Council and the United Synagogue of Conser- vative Judaism. Another Orthodox um- brella group, Agudath Israel of America, refrained from directly criticizing Obama in its statement, noting that the president was expressing his "personal feeling." RabbiAvi Shafran, Agudah's By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON 0TA)--Rich- ard Lugar was never considered to be one of Israel's leading advocates on Capitol Hill. Theveteran Republican sena- tor from Indiana, who suffered a primary defeat two weeks ago after 35 years in office, is famously his own man. Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Commit- tee, consistently backed defense assistance for Israel and in the 1980s championed freedom for Soviet Jews. But he was also known for pushing a more ac- tive U.S. approach to brokering Middle East peace than that favored by much of the pro- Israel lobby, and he preferred to move ahead cautiously on Iran sanctions. - Yet pro-Israel groups ponied up when Lugar came calling as it became clear that a Tea Party candidate was threatening to unseat him, lending logistical and financial support. Israel advocates and GOP insiders explained that Lugar representedabreedoflawmaker who pro-Israel groups see as valuable to their cause and dis- appearing: One who reaches across the aisle. "Lugar wasn't actively pro- Israel, but he wasn't anti either," said Mike Kraft, a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Com- mittee in the 1970s and 1980s who now is a consultant on counterterrorism and writes for a number of pro-Israel websites and think tanks. "But gener- ally losing a good, balanced, director of public affairs, told JTA in an email that the presi- dent's endorsement was "un- fortunate" to the degree that it advanced the cause of same- sex marriage. But Shafran also noted that "The president was clear about the fact that he was sharing the fruits of his own personal contemplation of the issue, not advancing any new federal initiative. He is leaving the definition of marriage to each state's electorate." That was the balance sought by the White House, according to an administration insider. In addition to Lew's call to Diament after the interview was recorded and before ABC released excerpts, Obama called Joel Hunter, an evan- gelical megachurch pastorwho has been one of the president's spiritual advisers. Hunter told The Wash- ington Post that while he disagreed with the president's new position, it did not damage their relationship. But Hunter told the paper that he was con- cerned about the effect that the push for same-sex marriage would have on religious liberty. "If there is a law that you cannot discriminate between same-sex couples and hetero- sexual couples, then eventu- ally there will be pressure on the Church to obey the law," Hunter said. "And there will be lawsuits that come testing this thing, and we just know that we will certainly be pressured to conform to the law." While the White House tried to reassure religious conserva- tives by stressing the measured natureofthepresident'sremarks, this did not seem to dampen the enthusiasmofJewishsupporters of same-sex marriage. "It will be a milestone in American history for gay rights," Rabbi David Saper- stein, who directs the Religious Action Center, told JTA. "He was laying down a marker about his personal commit- ment and not trying to deal with the policy issue. His state- ment provides momentum." Deborah Lauter, the ADL's civil rights director, said the president's statement follows a series of legislative advances on gay rights issues. She listed the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy that kept gay troops closeted, the extension of hate crimes laws to include gay victims, and the administra- tion's refusal to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in court. She noted the recent momentum in Congress to pass legislation that would protect gay employees from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. "It is more of a symbolic statement, but the administra- tion has been doing concrete steps," she said. Jewish groups that oppose same-sex marriage may have adopted a measured tone in response to the president's remarks, but there were still signs that the issue can be divisive within the Jewish community. Agudah blasted the National Lugar's defeat raises specter of more partisanship on foreign policy Medill DC via Creative Commons Sen. Richard ugar (r) accompanies actor George Clooney with Sen. John Kerry for Clooney's testimonial on Sudan issues in March in Washington, D.C. Lugar's defeat in a primary election has pro-Israel activists worried about bipartisanship in Congress. thoughtful guy on foreign policy is a real tragedy. It weakens the American political system." Lugar received $20,000 from NORPAC, a leading pro-Israel political action committee based in New Jersey--the most of any candidate this cycle. "We sent extra money to Lugar because he called and asked," said Ben Chouake, NORPAC's president. Chouake acknowledged that Lugar, 80, was "never the most" pro-Israel member of Congress, "but sometimes you have to back someone because of who a person is." He was referring to the Indianan's 36-year career in the Senate and his reputa- tion for getting Democrats and Republicans to work together. A pro-Israel political giver told JTA that Lugar also raised money from supporters oflsrael at events in Indiana and New York City. Ultimately it was for naught: Richard Mourdock, Indiana's state treasurer, easily defeated Lugar in the May 8 GOP primary by a margin of 61-39 percent. Mourdock now faces Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in the general election. Mourdock campaigned on a platform that opposed com- promise. "I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view," he told the Fox News Channel. Matthew Brooks, the Re- publican Jewish Coalition's executive director, said that Lugar's defeat had more to do with his particular vulner- abilities--he famously has not lived in his home state since the 1970s--than with any larger trend toward uncompromising partisanship in the party. "No matter how long you've been in office, politics starts at home--and maybe it would be a good idea to have a home in the state," Brooks said. A pro-Israel donor said that his fellow givers were now fo- cused on preserving the career of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who also is facing a Tea Party insurgent in next month's pri- mary. While some Israel Republi- cans are rooting for the estab- lishment GOP incumbents, it is not because their Tea Party opponents are hostile to Israel. Indeed, the Tea Party wave of 2010 has turned out to be pronouncedly pro-Israel, with the exception of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who says he would end assistance to Israel as well as all foreign aid. Pro-Israel insiders single out Sen. Mike Lee (R- Utah), a Tea Partier who ousted Robert Bennett, as a star of that class. Mourdock himself backed Israel Bonds as Indiana trea- surer and has initiated outreach to the pro-Israel community. The problem, the insiders say, is not one of enthusiasm for Israel but in how members of the party's rightwing have proposed changing the mechanisms for allocating foreign aid. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has always emphasized the importance of backing the entire foreign assistance package. The logic is multifold: Aid overall builds good will for the United States and its allies; the perception that aid to the developing world is inextricable from aid to Israel promotes good will for Israel in those countries; singling out Is- rael forassistancewhile neglect- ing other countries promotes unseemly stereotypes about Jewish influence; and cutting aid inevitably will likely lead to cuts in assistance for Israel, how- ever much the current Congress supports the country. "They want to cut everything but Israel, but in the end, if ev- erything else is cut, assistance to Israel will have to be cut," said the pro-Israel donor. Marshall Breger, President Ronald Reagan's liaison to the Jewish community, predicted that as Tea Party conservatives gain in strength, the pro-Israel community may have to work out a formula--first proposed in a 2010 interview with JTA by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), now the majority leader--whereby Israel assistance is treated separately from foreign assistance. "When the thinking is going to be, 'do you want to make a special exception for Israel or do you want to drop foreign aid for Israel?' AIPAC will likely say 'special exception,' " said Bre- ger, who is now a law professor at the Catholic University in Washington. More intangibly--but equally as critical--is how polarization has corroded bipartisanship in Congress, said Jason Isaacson, the legislative director for the American Jewish Committee. Even with overwhelming sup- port for Israel, the failure of the parties to forge compromises on foreign policy undercuts America's international pro- file--and that's not good for Israel, he said. "Because of the commitment Jewish Democratic Council for describing Obama's statement as advancing"tikkun olam," or the Jewish imperative to make the world a better place. "To imply that a religious value like 'tikkun olam'--and by association, Judaism--is somehow implicated inaposition like the one the president articu- lated is outrageous, offensive and wrong,"Agudahsaid.'`wehereby state, clearly and without quali- fication, that the Torah forbids homosexual acts, and sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony." The NJDC's chair, Marc Stanley, had referenced Obama's "unmatched record of progress in favor of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans." "President Obama has ad- mirably continued to dem- onstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans," Stanley said. "I am truly proud of President Obama and know that so many others in the Jewish commu- nity share my feelings." The Republican Jewish Coalition, which does not take a position on same-sex marriage, highlighted on its Twitter feed the statements of the OU and Agudah. Pressed by a Democratic activist on Twitter, however, the RJC said it did not neces- sarily support the groups' views. "But we do acknowl- edge that Orthodox Jews and traditional Jewish views exist," the RJC tweeted. of a great many people over a long period of time, support for Israel is a deeply entrenched nonpartisan sentiment," Isaac- son said. "What I do see under stress is the ability of either Con- gress or the executive branch to work together to pursue a consensus foreign policy." A senior GOP congressional staffer who supported Lugar conceded that Mourdock, albeit within his limited public experi- ence as a state treasurer, has been more unequivocal in his support for Israel than Lugar had been. "The statements that Mour- dock has made that are tmu- blingare less on policyand more on bipartisanship and working across party lines," said the staffer. "We haven't demonized each other enough? That sort of ideology isn't just a problem for centrists, it's a problem for anybody who wants to get something done." Morris Amitay, a former AIPAC executive director who now heads Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action com- mittee, said the failure to com- promise, which he blamed on both parties, was undermining the U.S. profile internationally. "Sometimes I long for the days of the Cold War," said Amitay, who first worked as a congressional staffer in 1969. "Now extremes at both ends have more influence than they should. We've got problems in LatinAmerica, Africa, especially northern Africa, Russia won't cooperate--and Congress can't function."