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June 5, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 5, 2009 PAGE 15A By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA) It's not an actual office and the staff consists of only two part- time volunteers, but afteryears of talking, the Conservative movement is finally taking steps to establish a presence in the nation's capital. The movement's Rabbinical Assembly has selected two Washington-area rabbis to head up its advocacy efforts, tapping Rabbi Jack Moline as the organization's director of public policy and Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt as director of its Israel Advocacy Office. Both come to their new posts with virtually no learn- ing curve they are media savvy, well versed on the key issues and already have built relationships with a number of key D.C. players because both have been advocating as individual pulpit rabbis for two decades. "It's an extension of the work I've been doing for a number of years." said Weinblatt. the spiritual leader at Congrega- tion B'nai Tzedek in Potomac. Md.. who has been a frequent leader and speaker at com- munity pro-Israel rallies in Washington. Joking that he'd be fitting in the job "between 2 to 4 in the morning," he emphasized that "when something is im- portant, you find time to do it." Moline. the leader of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alex- andria, Va., has been pushing for a stronger Conservative movement voice in public policy debates. He participated in events and discussions at the Democratic National Conven- tion last summer dealing with the intersectidn of religion and politics. "I am very glad to see us do- ing officially what we've been doing in ourvarious communi- ties," Moline said. The recent appointments represent a groundbreaking move for the Conservative movement, but also under- score the degree to which it has lagged behind-other denominations. For nearly half a century, the image of a Conservative rabbi--Abraham Joshua Hes- chel marchingwiththe Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has served as the iconic image of rabbinic political activism, but it's the Reform and Orthodox synagogue movements that have carried the political mantle in Washington. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which opened its Washington office more than 40 years ago, has !0 staffers working on legislative issues. The Orthodox Union's decade-old headquarters here has four legislative staffers. RabbiJulie Schonfeld.thein- coming executive vice president of the RabbinicalAssembly, said that establishingaWashington presence is one of her priorities because she believes being a part of the public policy debate is a selling point for Conserva- tive Judaism. "We live in a time when people are questioning what these denominations are all about," she said. "This is part of a vision of what it means to have a vital movement." The Orthodox Union's direc- tor of public policy, Nathan Diament, said that he saw the RA move as a "giant Step forward" for the Conservative movement--and had already scheduled a lunch meeting with Moline for last week. "I know they've been talking about it for a very long time," Diament said, adding that Conservatives would have to "find their niche to make their unique contribution to the public policy debate," adding that he looked forward to work- ing with the group on issues where they agree. Moline said that his first task is to go through the many pub- lic policy resolutions that the RA has passed over the years to see exactly where the orga- nization stands and "set some priorities." Weinblatt said he had started the same process on Israel-related issues. "The goal is to take issues on which the RA has taken a stand and bring a unique perspective from the point of view of Conservative Judaism," Moline said. 'The congregational arm of the movement, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. in the past has at- courtesy of Jack Moline Rabbi Jack Moline (r), speaking with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Moline's son Max at the Virginia Statehouse, has been named director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly. tempted to wade into the public policy arena---a staffer based in New York spent time working on Washington public policy matters, thenthe public policy portfolio was given to the di- rector of the organization's D.C.-area regional office but never made much of a ripple. The outgoing United Syna- gogue executive vice president, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, said his organization learned about the Moline and Weinblatt appoint- ments"the same time you did" but added that he hoped and expected the rabbis to "find ways to include other parts of the movement." That is the goal, Schonfeld said. "This has been something our members have been calling for fora long time," Schonfeld said. "There's a hunger for this.'" By Stewart Ain New York Jewish Week NEW YORK--Reports that at least two of the four men charged with the attempt to bomb two Riverdale syna- gogues had become radical Muslims while in prison has refocused attention on this problem. "I hope thiswill cause an im- petus for change to see how recruitment is accomplished in prison and what needs to be done in the future, " said Yehudit Barsky, director of the American Jewish Committee's division on the Middle East and international terrorism. She said that since 9/11 there have been congressio- nal hearings and reports on the recruitment of potential terrorists from among prison populations. In 2004, the Office of the Inspector General of the U. S. Justice Department expressed concern that federal prisons might become recruiting grounds for militant groups. Two years later, a report by George Washington University and the University of Virginia warned flatly that American prisons had become a major breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. "The U. S., with its large prison population, is at risk of facing the sort of homegrown terrorism currently plaguing other countries," the study said. Authorities said the four men who allegedly planted car bombs outside the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center and planned to shoot down military aircraft with a Stinger missile were all homegrown terrorists. Three are Americans and one is Haitian. The explosives and the mis- sile were all fakes, provided by an FBI informer who had tipped off authorities a year ago. Since then, authorities said they monitored the sus- pects' every move. Steve Emerson, who fre- quently writes and lectures about terrorism, said the radicalization taking place in prisons "should not shock anybody... It has been going on for a while." "There have been various cases where converts [to Islam] have come out [of prison] and carried out attacks," he said. "The problem is that there is no effective monitoring or supervision of the materials that come into the prison because they are couched in religious terms or in foreign languages. And there is al- most no monitoring of the imam--full-timers and part- timers interms ofwhatthey tell prisoners." Sarah Elshazly, who has trained law enforce- ment officers on the subject, echoed that observation. "There are people who look at prison as fertile ground," she said, adding that there are some imams who preach hate in prison. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-River- dale) said there is a "strain of Islam that obviously is a dangerous strain, and we have to take precautions that our prisons are not a breeding ground of radicalism." He said efforts should be made to ensure, that the imams who teach in prisons "'are not radicals who will rile people up." Emerson maintained that the institutes that graduate imams in the United States "have largely become radical- ized--they teach jihadism or they are governed by the Muslim BmtherhoodY The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent organization of Hamas, which is on the U. S. and Israeli list of terrorist organizations. But Zead Ramadan, presi- dent of the New York chapter of the Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR), stressed that "Islam is at its core a peaceful religion" and that those who advocate violence in the name of Islam "have misrepresented it." He said studies have found that inmates who convert to Islam while in prison "almost never go back to prison: "Islam makes them under- stand whatintegrity is, what honor is, and the value of human life," Ramadan said. "Islam makes it clear that God does not like it when humans oppress other people, psychologically or physically .... What happenedwas an outrage against Islam.'" A spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Prisons. Traci Billingsley, insisted that the bureau does not "believe there is widespread terrorist- inspired radicalization or recruiting occurring in federal prisons." She said that be- cause the potential does exist, however, the bureau takes a number of steps to ensure it does not occur. And she said there is "no evidence that inmates are being converted to Islam by extremists in federal prisons.", "Historically, between 5 and 6 percent of the federal inmate population identify themselves as Muslim; this figure has re- mained quite constant for the past several years." she said. Among the steps Billing- sley said the bureau takes to prevent the radicalization of prisoners are the following: The most dangerous and sophisticated international terrorists are housed under the most restrictive conditions allowed in order to ensure that they cannot influence others, gain reinforcing prestige, or use other inmates to send or receive messages. Over the past few years vet- ting and screening protocols for contractors and volun- teers used to provide inmate religious services have been significantly improved. This includes close coordination with the FBI regarding the vetting process. The bureau has expanded training for chaplains and other staff regarding the su- pervision of religious service providers and all religious activities. Inmate religious services are always supervised by staff, and no inmate is ever placed in a position of actual or implied religious authority over other inmates. The bureau has also taken significant steps to improve screening of reli- gious written materials and has standardized authorized religious clothing items. In 200Z federal prison authorities removed all but 150 books per religion from prison chapels, fearful that the other books might promote "violence and radicalization." Ira response to lawsuits and complaints that First Amendment rights were being violated, the 'emoved books were returned. Despite these steps, Emer- son maintained that federal prison authorities "have not done a good job in vetting the material brought into prisons or the imams who come in." Barsky of the AJC pointed out that there are organiza- tions that "send literature gratis to prisons in hope of converting people there." She noted that sometimes a prison will have no Muslim cleric and "Muslim extremist organizations will take advan- tage of that" in the nature of the material given to prison libraries. "In 2008, they in- ventoried thousands of books, and extremist material far outweighed the mainstream and moderate," Barsky said. "Some had Muslim Brother- hood ideologies and others had anti-Semitic Muslimtheology. Emerson pointed o~ that there are countless state and local prisons in which radical- ization of prisoners also takes place without any central 6versight. "You have to remember that wardens look for peace and to a large extent, Islamic prison- ers don't act up in prison," Emerson said. "They are very disciplined. All the wardens care about is what happens inside. After they get out, he doesn't care; it becomes the problem of law enforcement." He pointed out that he found instances in which state prisons had contracted with organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood to provide services or religious materials to the prisons. Barsky agreed, saying: "The targeting of prisoners by ex- tremists is not limited to federal prisons, it's all over the country. These organizations are look- ing for converts to their cause and are taking advantage of the fact that they can send material to prisons. No one would say that people in prison should not have religious texts to read, but ifyou are indoctrinating people to hate others, it goes against the concept of rehabilitation in prison." Rep. Peter King (R-Mass- apequa Park), said he too views the radicalization of prisoners as a"major concern. "He noted that just a few hours before the Riverdale arrests, FBI Director Robert Mueller hadbeen saying thata"disadvantage"ofclosing the prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba was the "radicalization" the terror suspects there could have on inmates in other prisons. "I have discussed this with prison officials in California and New York," he said. "It's an ongoing issue and there are a number of prisons where mostly African Americans are radicalized and convert to Is- lam andwhen they are released they are hired by mosques to provide security." At the arraignment of the four suspects, Assistant U. S. Attorney Eric Snyder described James Cromitie, 55, as the leader of the plot, saying he recruitedthe others. And he said Cromitie expressed a hatred for Jews. "These were people who were eager to bring death to Jews," he said. The other men were identified as David Wil- liams. 28, Onta Williams. 32, and Laguerre Payen, 27. All were held without bail. Reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week, There's a difference in our service You'll see it in your yard MLc Maurice Lawn Care Maintenance Landscaping. Irrigation ma u rice lawncare@yahoo, com ] Ir ]nr r i r[/rnl]l'Ill