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November 9, 2007     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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November 9, 2007
 

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 9, 2007 By Beth Young WASHINGTON (JTA)--" Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, promised she would haunt President Bush "again and again and again" with children's health insurance legislation. Jewish groups have been doing their best to join the ghostly chorus. Representatives of Jewish organizations have been working the phones the past three weeks in an ef- fort to line up the 290 votes needed in the House to over- ride Bush's veto of a mea- sure that would extend and boost funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Twice during those weeks, however, Democratic leaders have fallen short, despite support from dozens of Re- publicans. Still, the setbacks are not deterring a broad coalition of Jewish groups who want the program renewed and expanded. "No Jewish groups I know are opposed to it," said Hadar Susskind, the Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body of national public policy groups and local Jewish communities across the country. "I think it's absolutely a moral issue. It's absolutely unconscio- nable that we're the richest society in the history of the world and we're letting children go without health care." S-CHIP, established in 1997 and one of the signal successes of the Clinton years, is due for a reautho- rization this year. The pro- gam, aimed at families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford health insurance, reaches about 5 million to 6 million children. Democrats want to more than double the program's budget, from $30 billion t.o $65 billion over five years, with the hope of reaching another 3 milli0n to 4 mil- lion children. Bush wants to add $5 bil- lion over five years, which at half the health insurance inflation rate would force cuts. The president says some states are exploiting the program by not limiting it to families that earn twice the poverty rate--S41,000 annually for a family of four. A number of states have raised that ceiling by 50 percent or 100 percent, saying twice the poverty rate standard is not a re- alistic cap in major cities where rents and real estate continue to soar. Some GOP opponents of the proposed expansion have painted it as a veiled effort to march the country to- ward socialized medicine--a claim rejected by Democrats and some Republicans. The Senate passed the expansion by a veto-proof 67-39 vote. Among those voting in favor were the Senate's only two Jewish Republicans, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Such margins underscore the substantial Republican support the expansion has, and Pelosi hopes to chip away at the House's GOP stalwarts as congressional elections loom--hence her pledge to "haunt" Bush the first time the bill passed on Sept. 25. Bush vetoed that bill on Oct. 10. Several Jewish Republi- cans have come forward to back the Bush veto, includ- ing U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the deputy minor- ity whip. In an op-ed for JTA, Mi- chael David Epstein, the vice chairman of .the legislative affairs committee at the Republican Jewish Coali- tion, wrote: "Even before the program's original mission of covering needy children has been accomplished, congressional Democrats propose to spend SCHIP funds on adults--even child- less ones." The JCPA has led the Jew- ish community's charge for S-CHIP on Capitol Hill. The umbrella group sent activists to meet with Congress mem- bers before the failed Oct. 18 override bid. Back during the August recess, the JCPA mobilized its members to meet with their representa- tives in their home districts nationwide. On Oct. 25, the House considered a version of FOR KIDS Nevadans the legislation that was substantively the same as the first one it approved, nlthough in an effort to win over detractors, language was added to clarify that the program would not finance health care for adults, illegal immigrants or high-income families. Susskind said that in the time he has been monitoring the S-CHIP program, Con- gress has spent $17 million investigating whether ille- gal immigrants are taking advantage of the program, rally for children's health care, and has found only eight such scofflaws. "That's an exceedingly poor return on your money," he said of the investiga- tions. The Union for Reform Judaism, which represents 900 congregations, and the National Council of Jewish Women also have been push- . ing hard for the major boost in S-CHIP funding. In contrasC o thewomen's council, which blasted Bush, the fervently Orthodox or- ganization Agudath Israel Courtesy of Nevada for Health Care Oct. 16. of America favors working with the White House to arrive at a compromise that the president would not feel compelled to veto, Agudah generally sides with Bush on social issues, but represents a constitu- ency of large middle-class families trying hard to make ends meet. The United Jewish Com- munities, the national arm of the network of local Jew- ish charitable federations, also backs the expansion of S-CHIP. % D Max and Jose Nathans/Creative Commons Main square in Pekiin, the town where last 7~esday's riots took place. By Dina Kraft TEL AVIV (JTA)--Last week's severe clashes be- tween police and rioters in the normally sleepy Druse hilltop town of Pekiin are reopening old questions about delicate Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Druse leaders were quick to condemn the police deci- sion to open fire on rioters to quell violence, saying that if Jews had been rioting the police would have,handled things differently. "This is a day for soul- searching," Sheik All Slei- man, a community leader in Pekiin, told Israel's daily Ma'ariv. "Pekiin has a tradi- tion of coexistence. Every- thing that happened was a re- sult of police negligence." More than 20 people were injured in the violence that began before dawn last Tuesday when hundreds of residents began lobbing rocks and stun grenades at police who had entered the town to arrest several men in connection with a dispute over a cellular phone antenna. The police, saying they believed their lives were endangered, opened fire with live ammunition. One resident and one policeman were seriously injured in the fighting. During the melee, several demonstrators also seized a female police officer and set the home of a Jewish family on fire. Pekiin is a predominately Druse town that has a mi- nority Christian population and a few Jewish homes. One of the Jewish families there claims continuous residency in the town since the days of the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans in the year 135. With its rich Jewish heri- tage and colorful Druse cultural sites, Pekiin has become a popular stop for Israeli and overseas tourists visiting the Galilee. Israeli Jews seemed as surprised by the riots as were Israel's Druse by the police reaction. The Druse, a secretive sect within Islam with a commu- nity of about 118,000 Druse in Israel and nearly I million members elsewhere in the Middle East, are known for their strong loyalties to their home states. Most Druse men serve in the Israeli army; many become career military or police officers. "The violence in Pekiin is the beginning 0fthe process of Druse extremists imitat- ing the Arab separatists," columnist Israel Harel wrote in last Thursday's Ha'aretz daily. Harel counted the incident as more proof that Israeli Arabs are distancing them- selves from the state. Though many Druse in Israel do not consider themselves ethnically Arab, Israelis commonly lump them with the state's Arab population. "We wanted to believe it would be different with the Druse," Harel wrote. "But they proved in Pekiin that, regrettably, even this community's loyalty is con- ditional." Last week's incident im- mediately drew comparisons with the infamous October 2000 riots, when Israeli po- lice used live ammunition to confront Israeli Arab demon- strators rallying in support of the second Palestinian intifada that had begun just days before, Thirteen demonstrators were killed in violence that spread across northern Israel. After the riots, Israel launched a commission of inquiry that resulted in new guidelines requiring police to confer with local leaders before any type of serious operation. After last week's violence, which unfolded after about 100 police officers entered Pekiin to arrest five men suspected of tampering with a cell phone antenna, many observers said the Or Commission's guidelines were ignored. Muwafaq Tarif, a Druse leader, called the police raid a "mistake." "If the police had informed us--if they had told the religious leadership inside the village and in the com- munity-we would have avoided this whole mess," Tarif told Israel Radio. "We would have intervened and wouldn't have let this get out of control." Local leaders said the cell phone antenna recently installed just outside town was a significant source of tension, as many residents feared the health dangers the antenna might pose. Israel's internal security minister, Avi Dichter, prom- ised to launch an investigation into last Tuesday's incident but said anyone who tried to harm police officers would be dealt with severely. "The Israel Police, like any other body, is not im- mune from mistakes, and if we erred we will investigate and put things right," Dich- ter said. Hebrew University social psychologist Yisrael Katz said the quick escalation of events in Pekiin is indicative of a sentiment among the Druse that despite their service to the state, they still are not treated equally by Israel. "They see they are treated differently," Katz said. That has led "to a major division within the Druse community between those who want to be a part of Israeli society and those who identity first and foremost as Arabs and feel themselves to be part of a discriminated-against minority." t L i