Christians challenge widening gap between rich and poor

A new resource pack has been published by Christian poverty action groups to help churches address poverty in the UK.

The Breaking Barriers pack has been produced for use during Poverty Homelessness Action Week, from January 28 to February 5, which also incorporates Homelessness Sunday and Poverty Action Sunday.

The pack contains ideas and tips for addressing poverty and raising funds for local and national projects. There are also materials to support reflection in worship and work with children and youth.

A prayer calendar features different barriers on each day of Poverty Homelessness Action Week to encourage participants to reflect and to act for change.

CAP is hoping churches, schools and community groups will use the ideas in the pack to show solidarity with people who are pushed to the edge of society, and challenge the barriers of misunderstanding, stigma and injustice associated with poverty.

Alastair Cameron of Scottish Churches Housing Action said: “Our society is full of barriers, and poverty creates many of them â barriers to getting on the housing ladder, or into a job, or even feeling safe in a particular part of town.

“False expectations set up by rampant materialism, status and acquisitiveness build barriers, too.

“The resource materials provide alternatives, giving ideas for how to build bridges within our communities.”

Niall Cooper, National Coordinator of Church Action on Poverty said: “Poverty and Homelessness Action Week will provide a timely opportunity for churches to reflect on one of the pressing topical issues of the day, namely: how can we break down the barriers between rich and poor; how can we start to break the barriers between those with wealth, money and power in society and those without.”

The Breaking Barriers resource pack is now available online at www.actionweek.org.uk

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Jewish Music, With Next-Gen Players

Two of the young musicians taking part in the Sidney Krum Young Artists Concerts.

It started with a teacher.

Sidney Krum, who came to New York from Poland as a child, had passed his bar exam, but he spent most of his professional life in New York City’s high schools. Much of the rest of his time he spent listening to, singing and collecting Yiddish music, eventually donating his collection to YIVO, where it became the core of what is now the Sidney Krum Jewish Music and Yiddish Theater Memorial Collection.

“YIVO has a wonderful collection of music,” says Yuval Waldman, an acclaimed violinist, conductor and instructor. “But music, if it’s not performed, is dead.”

This music, bit by bit, is being performed, thanks to its caretakers at YIVO. Appropriately enough, the concert series in which it is performed and which bears Krum’s name, has a strong educational component.

“In thinking how to properly honor him, it occurred to me that we could make these concerts an educational experience for the performers, not just the audience,” Jonathan Brent, executive director of YIVO, explains. We bring in gifted young musicians in their teens and 20s, from all over the city’s institutions for musical education €” Juilliard, Manhattan School, Mannes and others — and introduce them to this music, with Yuval [musical director of the program] teaching them the nuances and style. A lot of what makes this music distinctive and distinctively Jewish just isn’t written in the score.”

Today Brent readily admits that he didn’t know that this program was the first of its kind, but it is already showing green shoots, very close to home for the director himself.

“My daughter is a cellist who had learned a nigun [wordless melody] set by [Joachim] Stutschewsky for the program, and when she played it for her professor at Yale, he said it was one of the most beautiful pieces he had ever heard and insisted on her playing it for the department faculty,” Bent says, beaming. “This tiny thing — one piece of music, passed along to a music teacher who’s not even Jewish, and he wants her to play it for another group of teachers.”

Waldman, who programs the concerts as well, says that he is constantly thinking about what pieces deserve a showcase, which ones go well together and the many other considerations that go into building a musical program. After all, he has access to an immense collection, ranging from hazonos (cantorial music) to nigunim, from Yiddish theater songs to folk music.

It is the last that serves as the platform for this year’s program, he says.

œAll of the pieces we will be performing have their basis in Eastern European Jewish folk song,” Waldman explains. “We have a piece that was composed in Terezin that we obtained from the Israeli collection of music from the ghetto there that has never been performed in the United States.”

Brent has ambitious plans for the future, expanding on both the educational and performance aspects of the concert series.

“We hope to develop a YIVO Chamber Ensemble that could actually travel,” he says. “We’re still in the beginning, but there is a core group of very young performers in the New York area. I would love to see them go to synagogues and JCCs both in the area and outside of it. A comparable group could be assembled in Chicago using the students from their distinguished music programs, or Boston or Philadelphia.”

Given the profusion of world-class music education available in the U.S., one could conceivably expand this vision almost indefinitely.

There’s certainly enough music to explore, Waldman says.

“Most of the pieces in the archives are unknown,” he says. “There is wonderful Yiddish-based music that just isn’t being played. It is the expression of a vibrant, living culture. We are bringing the music to these young artists who are giving it their energy and enthusiasm.”

He laughs, and concludes, “We’re only hampered by money and time.”

The latest in the series of Sidney Krum Young Artists Concerts will take place on Thursday, Nov. 17 (7 p.m. at the Center for Jewish History [15 W. 16th St.]. For information, call (212) 868-4444, www.yivoinstitute.org).

 

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Making A Connection

At Denver GA, talking about connectivity and the lack of star power.

Denver — If there was one message that the Jewish Federations of North America was trying to promote at this year’s General Assembly conference here, it was connectivity.

Tweets from the conference were broadcast on large screens outside the main ballroom, sessions were organized by Jewish groups across the country rather than by the federations’ hierarchy, late-night salons were held to deconstruct those sessions and the conference’s tagline was “The original Jewish social network.”

Of course, connectivity is what the GA has always been about: an occasion for professionals from Jewish community federations, nonprofits and other fellow travelers to gather once a year, talk about their priorities, and get their batteries recharged for community service work and the tough job of raising funds for Jews in Israel and around the world.

It’s an increasingly difficult undertaking.

While Jews may be more socially connected than ever before, divisions over Israel, the partisan divide in the United States, the long-term shift away from federated giving and toward direct philanthropy, and the economic downturn all have made it more difficult for the federations to muster collective action to address the major Jewish issues of the day.

This year’s GA sought to address that problem both on the grass-roots and executive levels. Students from schools across the United States were flown to Denver to inject the conference with energy and engage the so-called next generation in the federation world. At the top, the JFNA’s board convened to vote on a new plan to mobilize collective giving overseas through something called the Global Planning Table.

There was much talk here about the GA’s lack of star power. The top speaker, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, last month canceled his planned appearance. While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in May and next month’s Union for Reform Judaism biennial in Washington landed President Barack Obama, the highest-profile political speaker at the GA was the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.).

Ultimately, however, the federation system will be measured not by the stars it can corral but by the ordinary Jews it can mobilize. Will Jews feel connected enough to the community to donate money to their local federation rather than just to their local synagogue or their favorite art museum? Can federations in the U.S. and Canada band together to support major projects to transform Jewish life in America, Israel and around the world?

The answers to those questions will be the enduring legacy not just of this GA but of the federation system as a whole.

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Amid Upheaval, National Council Of Young Israel Celebrates 100th

A promotion for the National Council of Young Israel's centennial celebration.

Number of dissident congregations is growing, and have issued letter calling for fundamental changes.

One the eve of the National Council of Young Israel€™s 100th anniversary dinner, an event that would ordinarily be cause for pride and celebration, long-running dissatisfaction among member synagogues with the group’s leadership continues to grow.

One dissident member now speaks of the “demise of this once-storied organization” even as more than 400 supporters are expected to laud the group’s leaders and former leaders Sunday at Terrace on the Park in Queens.

The coalition of disaffected synagogues is now said to have grown in the last year from 35 to 45; there are about 121 active Young Israel synagogues. The coalition congregations have signed a letter calling for fundamental changes at the National Council — including overdue elections for all executive board seats and an independent audit of the group’s finances. It asks that the changes be made immediately “as a good faith indication of your intention to overhaul the governance of NCYI.”

“Holding a centennial dinner now to celebrate Young Israel and honor members of the executive board who haven’t even been elected to their current terms — and who are presiding over what we feel is the demise of this once storied organization — is hypocritical and directly contradicts the principles on which this movement was founded,” said Avi Goldberg, immediate past president of the Young Israel of Brookline, Mass., and co-organizer of the coalition of 45 synagogues.

“We have left no stone unturned over the past 15 months in our efforts to restore the values of good governance and transparency to this organization, but the leaders are in breach of their basic fiduciary duties and have continually refused to change their behavior,” Goldberg added.

He was referring to thwarted attempts late last year by 35 member congregations to petition the NCYI to place proposed constitutional amendments on the agenda of an upcoming Delegates Assembly meeting.

The changes would have permitted a member synagogue to resign, repealed a provision that permits the National Council to seize the assets of a branch that is dissolved or expelled, and permitted the National Council to sue a branch only with the approval of two-thirds of member congregations. The proposals were submitted following an aborted attempt by NCYI in June 2010 to expel and seize the assets of a member synagogue in upstate Syracuse.

Beverly Marmor, the immediate past president of the Syracuse congregation, said she believed NCYI acted against her synagogue because it had elected a woman president (her) in 2008. The National Council denied it at the time and insisted it was acting only because the synagogue had failed to pay $20,000 in dues. It also rejected the congregation’s resignation letter, saying the NCYI constitution bars synagogues from resigning.

But in stunning admission this week, NCYI€™s counsel, Daniel Kurtz, acknowledged that the national leadership is trying to push back against what it sees as attempts by dissidents to make over the movement. They are looking, he suggested, at changing the traditional “role of women, how strictly they should be segregated, the height of the mechitza [synagogue divider separating men and women] — they want to relax centuries-old tenets. If you relax them too much, you get Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism.

œJews don’t have a pope and must follow centuries-old precepts. They are seeking to modernize. They want to play by a different set of rules. If they want that change, they should go off and start their own religion. My client believes deeply in Torah-true Judaism, and there was more than a little unhappiness with the dispute that arose because a congregation elected a woman president. You can’t do that if you want to be a Young Israel synagogue. That is not in its rules and it still resonates. …”

Asked about their back dues, Kurtz said that was an additional issue that irked the national leadership.

“Then the Syracuse synagogue said it was leaving,” he recalled. “But you can’t leave on your own. They were part of a continuum — it’s like a franchise. People belong because they believe in its principles. … You can™t just say you are moving in another direction. You can’t take that investment built up in Young Israel and use it for yourself. If you want to start something new, move across the street and start your own synagogue. You can’t take the ball and go home, because it is their ball.”

Goldberg insisted in response that the proposed amendments were crafted because of the national leadership’s “bullying and attempted expulsion of the Syracuse branch, and has nothing to do with women presidents or modernizing’ the Young Israel movement.”

“It is about balancing the levers of power, making the NCYI a more accountable, transparent and democratic institution, and stripping the leadership of its ability to bully and intimidate its branches with powers they wield from clauses that they have come to abuse over the past decade,” he said.

To address the concerns of the dissident synagogues, NCYI created a constitutional committee at the beginning of this year. The committee disbanded in September, however, after a co-chair, Mark Zomick, resigned citing what he suggested was the national leadership’s contempt for the committee. In an e-mail explanation at the time, he said the national leadership had spun a story [about the committee] filled with outright lies.”

In a later e-mail on Sept. 8, Zomick, former president of the Young Israel of Teaneck, N.J., said the current leadership has failed to €œadhere to procedural issues … [and] other matters that fundamentally affect the future viability of this organization.”

Zomick wrote of a “growing chasm between the leadership of the National Council of Young Israel and many of its branches. While the catalyst for this disagreement was the way NCYI handled the attempted discipline of a particular branch, the discord that has grown has largely resulted from the perception on the part of the branches that the national organization has not governed with fairness, transparency, accountability, and full adherence to its constitution and halacha [Jewish law].”

He pointed out that although the organization’s constitution calls for biannual elections, there has not been once since July 2007; no budget has been presented to delegates for approval for almost 20 months; there has been only one delegates meeting since July 2010 even though such meetings are constitutionally required three times a year; although the constitution requires an annual audit, one has not been conducted of the books and records “in recent memory.â€

Zomick noted also that although the constitution since 2004 has allowed delegates to participate in meetings via teleconference, Kurtz notified NCYI leadership in February that such a practice is illegal under New York State law. Delegates would now have to appear in person in order to vote on some issues. NCYI leadership withheld that information from members until August, he claimed.

Goldberg in an Aug. 23 e-mail used the words “disdain and outrage” to describe the coalition’s feelings towards the national leadership’s decision to wait until Aug. 18 to inform delegates they had to appear in person at the Aug. 30 meeting.

Evan Anziska, a delegate from the Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles and a co-organizer of the coalition, complained that the right to vote by telephone was “stripped away with no explanation given.” He said this and other “unacceptable actions together with the woeful leadership of this organization have led branch synagogues to feel more disenfranchised and alienated than ever before in Young Israel’s 99-year existence.”

Kurtz said he told NCYI leaders that he would be available to answer questions about the state’s voting requirements but that no one called. Critics said there were no calls because the national leadership concealed the information. And they pointed out that at a delegate’s meeting last December in Kurtz’s office delegates were allowed to call-in and vote by phone.

Kurtz said the December meeting was more of an informational session and that he doesn’t believe anything was voted on. He said he has recommended that proxies be used in the future for board elections, but he said proxies are not permitted for budget votes. Kurtz pointed out that there was an attempt Sept. 1 to approve the budget but that there was no quorum.

In answer to the other complaints, Kurtz said, “There is a recognition that the constitution calls for an annual audit and we will engage an auditing firm to do a regular audit.”

He said new elections would soon be held. He noted that the constitution calls for biannual elections and that the last election was skipped in error.

“There was no manifestation of corruption or venality or fraud,â he insisted. “These things happen all the time. They will have an election; no one is trying to avoid these obligations.”

He questioned also how truly representative the coalition is, pointing out that whether there are 121 or 140 NCYI congregations, as the national leadership contends, the 45 congregations signing the statement are still a minority. And he said the dissidents failed to confirm that a majority of their congregations’ members supported their positions.

œI don’t think they should be driving the majority of this organization that has been thriving for 100 years,” Kurtz said.

He stressed that the constitutional committee was to address the coalition’s concerns but said Goldberg “scuttled” it by becoming œdeeply engaged” in its workings when he was supposed to let it work on its own. But he said NCYI is still “open to dialogue” to resolve these issues.

Zomick told The Jewish Week that NCYI leaders are blaming everyone for the committee’s failure except themselves.

“I am confident that if they had put this issue at the top of their priority list, we would have been able to meet as a group and reach agreement on a proposal within a reasonable period of time,” he said. “The reality is that they worked at every turn to raise logistical obstacles which prevented meaningful progress …”

 

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When Is Jerusalem Not In Israel? On A U.S. Passport.

Menachem Zivotofsky, 9, sits outside the Supreme Court Monday after justices heard oral arguments in case brought by his parents

Supreme Court hears case of American-Israeli family who want birth country listed on son’s documents.

Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court convened Monday to ponder the implications of a single word that is conspicuously missing from the passport of a 9-year-old boy who was born in Jerusalem.

His name is Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, the son of Ari and Naomi Siegman Zivotofsky, Americans who made aliyah in 2000. Menachem’s grandparents, Bernie and Gitta Zivotofsky, live in West Hempstead, L.I.

Menachem was born at Shaare Zedek Hospital in western Jerusalem, but due to a controversial State Department policy, his U.S. passport does not designate “Israel” as his place of birth — despite a federal statute enacted in October 2002 that says Americans born in Jerusalem are entitled to have Israel listed on their official papers as their birth country.

The Zivotofskys want that law enforced so their son can claim what they feel is his birthright — the inclusion of the word œIsrael” on his passport, a statement “that the land of Israel has centrality for the Jewish people, the boy’s father, Ari Zivotofsky, told reporters after Monday’s court session.

“It’s a very personal issue,” he said.

A decision on the case is not expected for several months.

The arguments and counterarguments presented Monday before the high court focused on several key issues, including which branch of government has the authority to conduct foreign policy and whether or not the appearance of the word “Israel” on a passport is in fact tantamount to an expression of foreign policy.

It is not, argued attorney Nathan Lewin, representing the Zivotofskys. “It is purely a means of identification,” he explained in response to a question from Justice Elena Kagan.

The petitioners maintain that Menachem Zivotofsky is one of an estimated 50,000 Jerusalem-born American citizens who have been unfairly barred from listing their place of birth as “Jerusalem, Israel,” rather than simply “Jerusalem.”

The federal statute that grants those passport holders the right to essentially identify their place of birth as they see fit has been ignored by the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, with Bush claiming that it infringes on the president’s authority to formulate foreign policy positions, such as the administration’s stance on the status of Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the named respondent in the Zivotofskys’ litigation, heads the chief foreign policy arm of the executive branch. She has argued that the State Department’s regulations governing the passport designation of Jerusalem-born American citizens have rightly served to maintain U.S. neutrality on the sensitive issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem. The Zivotofskys contend that the policy is biased against Israel and against Jews who have a religious attachment to the land.

“Congress recognized that with regard to the 50,000 people who have a passport that says ‘Jerusalem, they are being denied a certain sense of self-respect that they feel they should be able to have in terms of their own identification,€ Lewin told the court in response to a question from Justice Samuel Alito. “This is not a statute that is designed to create some political brouhaha or make a foreign policy statement.”

Arguing on behalf of Clinton, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli acknowledged that the position of the administration is that the status of Jerusalem is disputed, and he added: “A passport is not a communication by the passport holder. It’s an official United States document that communicates the position of the United States.”

In response to a challenge from Chief Justice John Roberts, Verrilli added: “I do think that this is an area in which the executives got to make the judgment, because it’s of paramount importance that the nation speak with one voice.”

The executive’s handling of the Jerusalem issue, Verrilli told the justices, âis a very sensitive and delicate matter. This position was arrived at after very careful thought and it is enforced very carefully.”

The State Department has contended, according to the petitioners, that if American citizens who are natives of Jerusalem are permitted to self-identify as being born in “Israel,†that would create the misperception among Arab states that official U.S. policy on the sovereignty of Jerusalem had changed, which in turn could have serious foreign policy repercussions. The Zivotofskys, however, maintain there is no evidence that would happen.

Further exploring that issue, Kagan posed a hypothetical in an exchange with Verrilli. Suppose, she said, the law governing passports included a disclaimer that stated: “The recording of Israel as a place of birth on a passport shall not constitute recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.”

“Would that be constitutional?” she asked.

Probably not, Verrilli responded.

Yesterday’s oral argument session, which lasted about an hour, was witnessed by a capacity crowd that included a sizable contingent of spectators who appeared to be Orthodox.

Among them was David Poltorak, a 27-year-old law school graduate who lives in Washington.

“This is about the very essence of separation of powers,” he said prior to the start of the hearing “I’m not convinced that the president has the right to just not heed a law that™s been passed.”

Although Poltorak conceded that there are compelling legal arguments on both sides of the issue, “as a Jew,” he said, he was pulling for the Zivotofskys.

Following the hearing, Poltorak was spotted in a corridor not far from the courtroom. œNat’s performance was fantastic,” he said, referring to Lewin. “It was a slam dunk.”

“I think itâ€s still up for grabs,” countered his friend, Pesach Klein, a 24-year-old Washington resident.

Outside on the sun-drenched courthouse plaza, Ari Zivotofsky,ರ, a bearded and kipa-wearing neuroscience instructor at Bar Ilan University, was answering reporters€™ questions. His son, Menachem, was busy trying to shun the limelight, his face nearly buried in his fatherâs side so that little more than his knit kipa was visible.

It was his first visit to the United States. Asked about his impressions of America, Menachem said quietly: “It’s bigger than I thought … but it’s not as fun as I thought it would be.” 

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Federation Campaign Kickoff Nets $44 Million

Jerry W. Levin, UJA-Federation president, left; Marica Riklis, the charity’s campaign; Dan Meridor.

Despite a sluggish economy, a record total of $44 million was pledged at the inaugural event of UJA-Federation of New York’s 2012 Annual Campaign this week. The figure was $500,000 more than last year’s and $1 million more than the total pledged two years ago.

“In a time of great economic uncertainty, such loyalty and generosity is astonishing and inspiring,” said Jerry Levin, UJA-Federation president, in a release.

UJA-Federation’s overall campaign raised $188 million in 2010-2011, an increase of $7 million from 2090-2001. The total for 2008-2009, the year the recession hit, was $215 million.

The funds raised nationally by the Jewish Federations of North America were similarly affected by the 2008 economic downturn, decreasing from $1ᇼ billion in 2008-2009 to $938 million the next year and $925 million in 2010-‘11. Fundraising for this year’s campaign is “looking up,” a JFNA spokesman told JTA earlier this year.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor was keynote speaker at this week inaugural event at the home of Alan “Ace” and Kathy Greenberg, the 25th year the Manhattan philanthropists have hosted the kickoff.

 

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No Smoking Gun On Iran Nukes

A heavy water nuclear reactor near Arak, Iran.

Experts say evidence in IAEA report is nonetheless damning enough to warrant tightened sanctions

Washington  — The international nuclear watchdog has spoken on Iran, and although its report does not have the smoking gun some had anticipated, it makes a cumulative case damning enough for the Obama administration to ask for increased sanctions.

JTA canvassed Washington Iran-watchers on Tuesday afternoon in the hours after leaked copies of the International Atomic Energy Agency report — 10 pages, with a 14-page appendix accumulating the evidence — plunked down on desks across the U.S. capital.

“It’s a pretty impressive layout of the IAEA case based on the info they have that there is a coherent clandestine program dedicated to developing a weapon,” said Michael Adler, a journalist with the French news agency AFP who for years covered Iran’s nuclear program and now is a scholar in residence at the Wilson Center, a congressionally mandated foreign affairs think tank here run by the Smithsonian Institution.

But it’s not a document you can take to the president and say, ‘This is a serious threat, we’ve got to do something.’ It’s not enough for military action — it’s not enough of an incremental increase.”

The report, officially released only to the 35 nations that make up the IAEA, appeared late Tuesday on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security, which is headed by former UN arms inspector David Albright. The report describes as “credible” the information suggesting military dimensions of a nuclear program that Iran has insisted is peaceful, and it says some activities are specific to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

“Credible,” Adler noted, was well short of “very likely,” the language used earlier this year by the IAEA to describe Syria’s intentions before Israel destroyed an under-construction Syrian reactor in a 2007 air strike. Some reports in advance of the new IAEA report’s publication suggested that it would have new and damning evidence of an Iranian bomb in the making.

Nonetheless, Obama administration officials have said that they intend to use the report to make the case for intensified sanctions on Iran to other nations that until now have proven reluctant to ratchet up pressure, most significantly Russia and China.

“I can safely say the pressure is going to increase,” Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, told JTA in an exclusive interview the day before the report’s release. “The IAEA report will provide information and will provide impetus that will lead the United States and a number of our partners to tighten the pressure.”

Shapiro would not outline the nature of the pressure, but lawmakers in the Congress and pro-Israel groups already were citing the report Tuesday afternoon to tout legislation aimed at tightening sanctions. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said the report should trigger the sanctioning of Iran’s central bank, an action that would severely limit Iran’s trade opportunities by cutting it off from any interactions involving the United States.

âAction in the Senate and in the executive branch should occur on collapsing the Central Bank of Iran,” he said in a statement.

The American Jewish Committee agreed, issuing a statement urging “significantly toughened worldwide sanctions on Iran, focusing centrally on the regime’s Achilles’ heel — its banking and energy sectors.”

AJC also said “no options should be off the table,” code for the possible threat of military action. Leaks from Israel in recent weeks have suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were considering such action, although in the past several days Israeli officials have walked back from those claims.

âWar is not a picnic. We want a picnic. We don’t want a war,” Barak told Israel Radio on Tuesday before the release of the IAEA report. He said Israel “had not yet decided to embark on any operation,” but that the Jewish state needed to be responsible for its own security and keep its options open.

The strength of the report, analysts said, is that it shows how IAEA inspections, intelligence reports from IAEA member nations and debriefings of associates of A.Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist who sold nuclear know-how to Iran, corroborate one another.

The IAEA “wanted to go to lengths to show why this information was credible,” said Peter Crail, a research analyst at the Arms Control Association. “Not only did the intelligence agencies’ information match up with the agency’s own investigations of Iran, it did with discussions with members of the A.Q. Khan network.”

The report details evidence of an indigenous program to develop a trigger for a nuclear device and to acquire from overseas other equipment for manufacturing a nuclear delivery device. It also details evidence of efforts to set up a centrifuge system to enrich uranium to military grades.

The report makes the case that much of Iran’s progress was disrupted by revelations of the program in 2003, and that since then it has been slow to recover.

If anything, that makes the case for heightened sanctions, Crail said.

âThere’s a case to be made that existing sanctions on Iran’s nuclear missile program need to be strengthened by Russia, China and the developing world,” he said. “One of the things it details is that they’re trying to procure parts.”

If that’s not a smoking gun, it is its equivalent in terms of cumulative evidence, said Stephen Rademaker, a top nuclear negotiator for President George W. Bush and now a principal with the Podesta Group, a bipartisan public policy and lobbying outfit.

“It tees up the issue for a political decision as to whether the international community is ready to accept” a nuclear Iran, said Rademaker, who noted the significance of Russia and China’s efforts in advance of the report’s publication to keep it from being released.

“It’s easier to look the other way without the officially authorized international efforts pronouncing the information credible, he said.

Sharon Squassoni, the director of the Proliferation Prevention Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that the report was released absent the usual occasion of such reports — an impending IAEA board meeting.

That, she said, suggested that the inspectors believed the matter was urgent enough to merit widespread public debate.

“It shouldn’t just be about diplomacy among a handful of countries,” she said. “These are issues that affect everybody’s security. It€™s important to have this information in the public domain.” 

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‘Occupy’ New Third Rail For Jewish Mainstream

Two months into protests at Zuccotti Park, above, even left-wing Jewish organizations remain largely silent and noncommittal.

Center, left groups wrestling with how to approach the growing movement.

The organized Jewish community’s largest annual gathering — the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly — took place this week at the Sheraton Denver, less than a mile from the park where Occupy Denver protesters have gathered.

But the distance between the Jewish establishment and this fall’s grass-roots protests against banks, growing economic inequalities and unemployment, was, arguably, infinitely greater.

Two months into the protests, despite a fledgling, bottom-up Occupy Judaism movement taking hold within Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots around the country, mainstream Jewish organizations, even left-wing ones like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women, have remained largely silent and noncommittal about the Occupy movement.

The GA’s packed roster of lectures, discussions and meetings not only contained nothing addressing Occupy Wall Street, but nary a session on even the broader social justice, political or economic issues raised by the protests.

And beyond specific discussions about Occupy Judaism and potential anti-Semitism in the protests, the broader topic of the movement and its concerns has not — at least yet — surfaced much on rabbinic listservs or in sermons.

The irony is that, according to Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary, the “issue of extreme wealth inequality is something Judaism has been concerned with from biblical times,” with various laws, such as regular forgiveness of debts and a commandment to “return every 50 years to the land you began with” meant to prevent long-term accumulation of wealth.

Most public Jewish discussions so far about Occupy have been limited to the question of whether or not the movement is anti-Semitic. (The general consensus, since the Anti-Defamation League weighed in a few weeks ago, is that it is not.)

Nonetheless, progressive rabbis and leaders are beginning to weigh in cautiously, with many saying they share many of the social movement’s concerns but are unsure as to whether its focus and tactics are productive to bringing about political or social changes.

“Usually if you’re in an organization and want to make a decision about whether to support a project or event, you look at what other organizations are involved and what your relationship is with those organizations,” said Mik Moore, a consultant to nonprofits and former chief strategy officer of Jewish Funds for Justice, one of the few Jewish groups that has issued a formal statement on Occupy Wall Street. (That statement notes that “we are thrilled to see the issues we talk about every day — the need for good jobs, affordable housing and fair lending practices — appear on sign after signâ and that the Occupy protests are “a hopeful sign that, regardless of whether one agrees with any one particular issue or demand, Americans are expressing their right to be heard … when Americans engage in the public sphere to create a better future, this presents us with an opportunity to make history by expanding opportunity for all.”)

The Occupy movement€™s non-hierarchical leadership and lack of formal structures, Moore said, makes not just Jewish organizations, but lots of organizations nervous that they could be attaching themselves to something they have no control over, and that it could go in a direction they’re not comfortable with.”

To be sure, many individual Jews are participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests and its offshoots around the country, and a number have involved themselves in “Occupy Judaism” events — including Yom Kippur services, a sukkah and celebrations of Simchat Torah. The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, while not taking a position on Occupy Wall Street itself, supplied organizers with copies of “Lev Shalem,” its new High Holiday prayer book for the service.

“From our point of view, wherever there are Jews looking to address contemporary issues and bring more justice into the world, we want to be there to help,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

“This is an interesting example of where larger networked organizations can be part of innovative and grass-roots things taking place,” she said, adding that, while the prayer book had been developed for use in a synagogue setting, she was excited to see how the Occupy holiday services had “brought in a lot of Jews” who might not have gone to a traditional service.

The question of Occupy Wall Street’s anti-Semitism or lack thereof has been fueled in part by a controversial commercial aired by the Israel Emergency Committee, one the ADL criticized as being overblown.

Last week, 15 prominent Jewish politicians and organization leaders, including former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and directors of the left-wing Israel lobbying group J Street and Rabbis for Human Rights, issued a statement saying they “support both Israel and the ideas behind Occupy Wall Street and also strongly oppose right-wing attempts to smear the movement with false charges of anti-Semitism.”

Some Jewish activists privately speculate that donors and lay leaders — many of them so-called “1 percenters,€ with fortunes earned on Wall Street — are intimidating Jewish communal professionals who might otherwise support Occupy Wall Street. However, The Jewish Week was unable to find anyone, on or off the record, who could identify a donor or lay leader explicitly speaking out against Occupy Wall Street or threatening to pull funding from anyone supporting the movement.

Adding to the nervousness, a rumor briefly circulated in late October claiming that UJA-Federation of New York had distributed a memo forbidding employees from participating. Federation officials (and several employees interviewed off the record) said the rumor was baseless and that UJA has taken no position on Occupy Wall Street.

“We have not put out anything saying employees cannot attend Occupy Wall Street,” said Levi Fishman, a federation spokesman. If anybody from UJA is attending or involved, they’re doing it as private individuals, not representing UJA.”

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, director of North American Programs at Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, told The Jewish Week that most Jewish leaders are still trying to determine their opinion about the Occupy movement.

“Does endorsing Occupy Wall Street mean that we endorse the overall goals of economic justice or that we endorse every single person who has a sign? I am not sure people know what to make of them yet.”

A number of Jewish leaders who sympathize with the concerns driving Occupy Wall Street are nonetheless uncomfortable with much of the rhetoric emerging, particularly what some see as a tendency to demonize wealthy individuals.

“I think Wall Street is often unfairly maligned; and I think the key changes I’d like to see are more complex than the public focus of the protests,€ said Nigel Savage, who worked in finance before becoming the founder and director of the Jewish environmental group Hazon, in an e-mail interview. “But I nevertheless broadly support Occupy Wall Street, and went down and spent some time in the sukkah there, because in the broadest sense I think that it’s pushing public conversation towards what I think of as a sort of teshuvah — aiming to get America to return to its best.”

Rabbi Liebling, who served as executive vice president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and Jewish Funds for Justice before joining the RRC faculty, said that the reticence about the Occupy movement stems in part from Jews’ complicated history with money, whether they are being accused of being bloodthirsty capitalists or rabble-rousing socialists.

“Jews historically don’t like to speak out about” economic inequalities “because no matter what you say could spark some anti-Semitism somewhere.”

And taking a position on the Occupy movement is risky, said the consultant Mik Moore, because “most groups don’t want to be on record saying it’s great if in a month it devolves.”

The commercials accusing Occupy protests of anti-Semitism “can be effective as a warning shot,” he said, noting that while they “may be inaccurate as a characterization of what’s going on in the movement, they show a willingness to go after people for supporting it.

Despite the reluctance to become officially involved, many Jewish leaders €” when asked about the Occupy movement — said they are heartened to see people speaking up about the issues.

“I actually celebrate Occupy Wall Street, because the question has been in my mind, ‘When is America going to wake up and see what’s going on here?’” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founder of Panim, a Jewish leadership/advocacy training program for teens and author of the 2006 book “Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World.” 

While the movement so far is “inchoate” and lacking in specific policy demands, he is hopeful that its energy will be channeled into something more productive.

“If all this stays in the street, it’s not going anywhere,” he said, adding, it “will take more organizing know-how and savvy to make it something constructive.”

But Rabbi Daniel Smokler, director of Hillel€™s Senior Jewish Educators Program and a former union organizer, said the Occupy movement is “an essential voice in the conversation right now in the U.S.,€ and that he is “very much unconcerned by the analysis that they have no clear mission.”

“The purpose of it is not to issue Power Point presentations or policy papers,” he said. “It’s to generate a sense of urgency to address the big questions about the future of our society.”

“I think it’s a really great thing,” he added. “I think it’s ridiculous that we presume business needs to go on unchecked, that government is always inefficient and bad, that taxes can never be increased.”

But not all left-wing rabbis agree. Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, who has been outspoken in support of many progressive causes, including implementing a “Living Wage” law, wrote a blog post recently entitled “Occupy Wall Street? No Thanks.”

œWall Street is not what’s wrong with America,” he argued, adding that “consumerism, run-away self-aggrandizement, an eviscerated core ethic of national service, and a radically digitized, virtual world where we can be who we want, when we want, how we want are as much to blame.

Meanwhile, the far-left Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports Boycott, Delegitimization and Sanctions (BDS) efforts against Israel, drew parallels between the Occupy Wall Street movement and its own mission this week, by disrupting a Birthright Israel Alumni Community Wall Street Series speaker and issuing a statement called “Occupy the Occupiers.” The statement calls for “young Jews and allies” to “join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and with our Palestinian siblings living under their own from of occupation. Let us stand up to the 1 percent in our own community – the powerful institutions that support Israel’s corporate-backed military control of the Palestinian people and act as the gatekeepers for our community.”

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Obama’s Real Jewish Problem

Will liberal voters, disillusioned with President Obama, stay home next November. getty images

Progressives, pro-business voters may be more in play than expected, as GOP presses Israel issue.

President Barack Obama may have a Jewish problem when he runs for a second term a year from now, but it™s not the one most pundits identify and it has nothing to do with Israel.

While single-issue pro-Israel voters and Jewish Republicans continue to slam his administration’s erratic handling of relations with Israel, most analysts argue that the issue, like most foreign policy matters, will be peripheral in the election. In 2012, Jewish voters, mirroring the broader electorate, will focus with unusual intensity on one issue: the sputtering economy and the president’s inability to turn it around after the vertiginous plunge that brought him to the White House in 2008.

The fact that Israel policy will be a sideshow in an election shadowed by the Occupy Wall Street surge and the Tea Party movement, political opposites driven by shared concerns about dimmed economic prospects, might sound like good news for Jewish Democrats — but it may not be. 

Two disparate groups of Jewish voters may be more in play than the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach campaign cares to admit: centrist, business-focused voters who are frustrated by Obama’s seeming inability to carve out effective economic policies, and disillusioned Jewish progressives angry at a president they see as unwilling to confront the root causes of the economic meltdown and stand up for traditional Democratic ideals.

Most mainstream political scientists insist there’s still little partisan swing in the Jewish vote — maybe even less in 2012 than in recent elections because of the rise of candidates like Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“No one knows 12 months in advance what the election of 2012 will really look like, but Id be willing to make a major bet that Obama will do far better with Jewish voters once again than with the general population,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “Partisan leanings take over as Election Day approaches, and many people who had been considering straying return to the fold. The more conservative the GOP nominee, the more likely this is to happen — sooner rather than later.”

But there could be just enough of a swing to have an impact in key states if the election is close enough. And that swing is likely to be the product of domestic factors, not the concerted campaign by highly partisan conservative groups such as the Emergency Committee for Israel to depict Obama as a mortal danger to the Jewish state.

It is far from clear whether the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots across the country are capable of producing a viable political movement. Given the widespread distrust its activists seem to have toward both parties, some analysts say it is less likely to have an impact on policy and electoral politics than a Tea Party movement that has worked through — and in many ways changed — the GOP.

But there’s little doubt the OWS phenomenon reflects significant erosion in Obama’s progressive base, an electoral slice that includes a disproportionate number of Jews. Several polls in the past few weeks show continuing slippage in that base — a shift reflected in a more limited way in the Jewish electorate.

Last month I spoke to a high-ranking Democratic Party official who mirrored some of these concerns.

“Many liberals are disappointed with President Obama, and that includes a lot of Jewish liberals,” he told me. “There’s no risk these voters will vote Republican, but there’s a danger some of them — maybe more than some — will simply stay home next November, or even opt for a third-party candidate.”

Progressive excitement about the election of the first African-American president has given way to a widespread sense that his administration reflects little more than old politics in a new package, with a president who seems to advance a policy of preemptive surrender on core economic issues, including bank regulation, Wall Street and the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

A big drop in progressive turnout a year from now could prove disastrous for the Obama campaign — and a disproportionate part of that faction is comprised of Jewish Democrats.

The Democratic official I spoke to was worried but confident that in the end, Jewish voters will not stay home. Especially if, as expected, the GOP contenders steer to the right throughout the primaries, and even more so if the 2012 Republican ticket includes any of the Tea Party favorites.

“Put Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry on the ticket, and the problem goes away,” he said.

Frustrated Jewish liberals may just stay home next November, but another group of Jewish voters could give the GOP a second look, if the party’s nominee comes across as a sober, experienced manager with solid economic ideas.

Which is why leading Jewish Republicans lined up behind former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney more than a year ago.

As the Herman Cain comet flares out in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, and as Rick Perry struggles to regain the short-lived buzz surrounding his campaign, a growing number of analysts believe Romney, once seen as unlikely to survive a primary process skewed to the Tea Party right, may be the only contender left standing when the Republican convention convenes in Tampa next August.

Even some Democratic activists privately concede that to anxious Jewish business-focused voters, Romney may emerge as an acceptable alternative to a Democratic president who has failed to reverse the economic tailspin.

I haven’t encountered a single independent analyst who believes any GOP candidate, Romney included, is likely to match Ronald Reagan’s 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980 against the hapless President Jimmy Carter. But I€™ve met a few who believe that if Romney is the nominee and he runs toward the political center in the general election, he could win 30 or even 35 percent of the Jewish vote. That would likely be enough to make a difference under some Election Day scenarios.

And Romney’s appeal is unlikely to be based on GOP slogans portraying Obama as a danger to Israel, although that won’t stop him from trying as he dials for Jewish dollars.

A few months ago I asked a staunch Romney backer about his candidate’s appeal to Jewish voters.

“He understands business, he’s a grown-up on economics” was his response. “Sure, Jews continue to trend Democratic, but this administration hasn™t been good for Jewish business people, and these are the ones who are reaching into their wallets and giving to Mitt.”

The word “Israel” never came up in our conversation.

But this activist also conceded that Romney’s chances with Jewish voters could be hurt by the positions he may take to survive a slew of GOP primaries in which Tea Party and conservative Christian activists will play a huge role. And his Jewish totals could suffer if he is forced to take a vice presidential partner from the ranks of those two factions, just as John McCain was hurt by his selection of Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate.

So why the huge emphasis on Israel in GOP Jewish outreach? The simple answer: money.

My guess is that the breakdown of Jewish money is much more even than the typical breakdown of the Jewish vote — there are some very wealthy conservative Jews out there who give lots of money to Republican candidates,” said Alan I. Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist.

And Jewish campaign giving is much more Israel-focused than Jewish voting. So while the economy will be the overwhelming priority for a strong majority of Jewish voters, the Republicans are making the not unreasonable bet that in yet another presidential campaign certain to shatter spending records, playing the Israel card early and aggressively will pay significant dividends on their campaign balance sheets.

Obama is almost certain to win a substantial majority of the Jewish vote, and a Tea Party ticket could turn “substantial€ into “overwhelming.”

But he could face losses among centrist, business-oriented Jews if the Republican nominee runs a more centrist campaign in the general election and is able to offer solid economic credentials.  As the OWS movement spreads, with polls showing surprising popular support for its core arguments, the president also faces the danger disillusioned progressives — including many Jews — may opt out of Election 2012.

And the Israel card will still pack some punch in campaign finance — which is why the Democratic Party continues to pour resources into fighting the claim their standard bearer is anti-Israel. 

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As UN Push Fizzles, Abbas’ Path Ahead Unclear

PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Speculation that something dramatic is in the works.

Jerusalem — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ statehood push at the United Nations may be fizzling, but his supporters insist that he can find a way out of the impasse.

“Abu Mazen is a powerful leader and is very persuasive,” said Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s Knesset, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “He has managed to convince the majority of the Palestinian people that the way to reach statehood is through nonviolent means.

“The problem is that Abu Mazen does not see this Israeli government as a partner to peace. He believes they are anti-peace.”

Some in the Israeli government have no great love for the Palestinian leader either, particularly since he took the Palestinians’ case to the United Nations in September. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last month that Abbas is the main impediment to peace.

“If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas],” he told reporters. “If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat but a blessing.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres, however, responded the next day that Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “are serious leaders that want peace and are working to prevent violence and extremism in our region.”

Abbas now faces a daunting set of challenges, including strained relations with Israel and the United States, which are angry over the UN bid, and a Hamas movement waiting in the wings to seize on his stumbles. Abbas has insisted that he will not resume negotiations with Israel in the absence of a settlement freeze, so the way forward remains uncertain.

“The Palestinian leadership is now in the process of discussing the future and where it wants to go, what options there are on the table and the current status quo with Israel,” said Tibi, who was a special guest of Abbas during his September trip to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly.

With the peace process in a stalemate, Tibi said, “It is possible we could see some dramatic developments [from Abbas] in the near future.

Since Abbas’ Sept. 23 address at the UN General Assembly, when the PA leader told the world that it was time for a “Palestinian Spring” and to see an end to “63 years of suffering,” the Palestinians have faced serious setbacks. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Palestinians will not be able to line up the hoped-for nine Security Council member states — the number needed to give a green light for UN membership, though the U.S. has vowed a veto in any case.

In addition, Abbas’ Fatah party took a hit last month as a result of the prisoner swap that won captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit his freedom. Its rival, Hamas, managed to negotiate the release of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners from Israel. On the day of the prisoner exchange, there were reports describing green Hamas flags flying high over the West Bank.

In response to recent developments, and with statehood looking increasingly unlikely in the near future, Abbas has threatened to disband the Palestinian Authority.

“Of course Abbas is continuing on with his UN bid, but if it fails, he could decide to return the keys to Bibi and go back to occupation,” said Tibi, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

Tibi added, however, that Abbas also might decide to call for Palestinian elections in the near future. The latter path has been hinted at in recent months, with senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh suggesting that elections could happen as soon as January.

Hillel Frisch, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said he believes that the threat to dismantle the PA is little more than a scare tactic.

€œI doubt that someone would really dismantle an authority that commands some $3.1 billion directly or indirectly,” he said. “It would be very difficult because there has been so much invested in the PA. I think these are merely threats to put pressure on the U.S., to put pressure on Israel to dismantle the settlements.”

Frisch said that Abbas faces challenges to his authority both from Hamas and from younger Fatah activists.

“He is scared of factions within his own people, which could become a threat,” Frisch said.

âHe is not a strong leader, and as the situation deteriorates, there needs to be a strong person in charge,” he said, adding that former Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat “was a strong leader, but he did not have willingness. Abbas has a willingness but not the strength.”

Isaac Herzog, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee representing the Labor Party, sees the situation a bit differently.

“Abbas has been successful in uniting the Palestinian people and he has the overwhelming support in the West Bank,” he said.

Herzog said that Israel erred in not being more receptive to Abbas†statehood push.

“We should have run with it because at the end of the day, him and Fayyad are the best partners we can get,” he said. “I’m not saying Abbas is irreplaceable, but he is committed to preserving security and stopping terror, and he has achieved major success in building a political system that works.

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