National Poverty Summit

On Wednesday, April 2, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow took part in the National Poverty Summit. Hosted by Catholic Charities USA, the National Poverty Summit brought together academics, policy makers, and non-profit leaders for a substantive and engaging discussion on innovative solutions to poverty.

Rabbi Gutow spoke on a panel with CEOs of eight of the country’s largest human service and advocacy organizations. The panelists highlighted major initiatives that have the potential to transform the landscape of social services in the U.S. At the end of the panel, Rabbi Gutow suggested a city-by-city interfaith conversation on poverty. He said that by highlighting the imperatives to help the poor shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we can ask people in God’s name to move their hearts and their votes to alleviating poverty.

The summit was part of the 6th annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Mobilization, spearheaded by the JCPA and Catholic Charities. Once again, the mobilization is bringing together nearly 30 national faith organizations for a weeklong initiative that leverages the organizing power of the faith community to take action on behalf of the more than 46 million people in this country struggling to make ends meet. In addition to the poverty summit, activists across the country are invited to participate through hunger seders and asked to commit to taking action and educating the public about the everyday challenges of the most vulnerable in our society.

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Senate Votes to Declassify Torture Report

After years of advocacy to shed light on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation program" and prevent U.S. sponsored torture, the JCPA was pleased by last week’s vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), to release a summary of the Committee's report on the CIA program that included techniques like waterboarding and stress positions.  The full report is 6300 pages long and was years in the making.  Those familiar with the contents say that the report concludes that harsh interrogation practices like waterboarding provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.   The release of the summary will allow us to confront the realities of the program. As JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a 2009 op-ed on the need for a torture commission, “Torture is one of those sins that needs a different lens. Like genocide or mass murder, torture must be confronted with great force and right now.”

The report must still be reviewed by the Administration to prevent the disclosure of national security secrets. Sen. Feinstein has said she hopes for a partial declassification within the month.

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Criminal Justice Reform

Last week, the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee brought together untraditional partners to speak about the ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Specifically, they focused on the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) introduced by Senators Durbin and Lee. The Act would retroactively apply the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to prisoners convicted before it was passed, cut mandatory minimum drug sentences in half, and grant judges more discretion in mandatory sentencing cases. JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow was the only Jewish leader invited to speak at a meeting of the Committee. He spoke about the JCPA’s policies in support of criminal justice reform and the capabilities of the organized Jewish community as a network to help Congress build support for the bill. At the 2009 Plenum, the JCPA approved a resolution on criminal justice reform that said “the operation of a morally and legally sound criminal justice system” is “one of the most profound responsibilities of any government.”

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Jews from Middle East Take Umbrage at PC(USA) Guide

Last month, the Presbyterian Church (USA) started selling a congregational resource that fabricates a narrative about Middle Eastern Jews - and they have taken notice.   The document claims that “Jewish life is alive and well in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  It goes further to state that Middle Eastern Jews had a history of “harmonious integration and acculturation” throughout the Middle East.  An Iranian Jew wrote an op-ed in the Times of Israel that the statement on Iran’s Jews is a “point blank lie!”  One Iraqi Jew took notice and penned an Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church telling the church the statement on Jews living harmoniously “is totally misleading and wrong” sharing his experience of depravation and discrimination.  Another wrote an op-ed  in the Huffington Post about the 1 million Jews who fled their ancestral lands and the fact that the “Presbyterian authors have barely a word -- and no word of sympathy -- for these Jews, sent packing with a single suitcase.” And a Libyan Jew who came to the US as a refugee says, “The publication denies the history of over 800,000 Mizrahi Jews who suffered persecution and expulsion.”

In addition to Jews from the Middle East, many Presbyterian leaders have pushed back against “Zionism Unsettled” as well. In a letter to the Presbyterian church, Rev. Chris Leighton, a Presbyterian Minister and the executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, said the study guide “betrays the Church, the truth, and the spirit of reconciliation to which we are called. Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of New York’s Auburn Theological Seminary said it “expresses demonization, distortion, and imbalance.” And JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow called it “worthy of a hate group” for its distortions and anti-Zionism.

Engaging with Christian friends is the best way to push back against the guide, Rev. Leighton told the JTA. We encourage you to read and share each of these articles to help encourage more truth-telling about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of the Middle East’s Jewish communities.

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Christian and Jewish Leaders Achieve Breakthrough

Last week, the heads of Jewish and Christian organizations and denominations met in an unprecedented summit in New York City to discuss strategies to strengthen and maintain relationships even in the face of significant disagreements. The gathering to discuss relationships and how we treat each other was the first to bring together these groups since a letter was sent on October 5, 2012 by Christian groups calling on Congress to investigate Israel’s use of U.S. military aid.

At last week’s meeting, participants made a commitment to developing an effective and ongoing national dialogue of Christian and Jewish leaders.

“We affirm a strong commitment to continue working together on domestic and international issues of common concern. We will aspire to genuine and ongoing dialogue related to Israeli-Palestinian issues, seeking to identify and discuss, in respect and humility, areas of real or potential disagreement and of real and potential cooperation.”

“As people of faith we enter the holy season of Easter and Passover to celebrate the gift of our renewed relationship and look to the future to enhance our closeness and our commitment to serve the common good.”

The group of top leaders, which included JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow, committed to meeting at least annually and to reconstituting the traditional Jewish-Christian roundtables that were suspended in October of 2012.

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Hunger Seder

Next Wednesday is the 6th annual National Hunger Seder in the US Capitol. Once again, leaders from the JCPA and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger will be joined by Members of Congress, delegates from the White House, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and representatives of faith and anti-hunger groups to tell the story of the Exodus with a special emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. In addition to the National Seder in DC, there will be over 20 other Hunger Seder events taking place in communities around the country.

This Passover, we encourage you to incorporate messages of hunger and food security into your seder as well. You can download our special Haggadah to use in your Seder and help educate others about the prevalence of food insecurity. This year, dozens of cities and thousands of individuals representing a broad spectrum of faith communities will come together at local Hunger Seders to raise awareness about the particular challenges for seniors struggling to put food on the table and advocate to protect nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act.

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Progressive Leaders Tour Israel

This week marked a milestone for the Israel Action Network as its Managing Director, Geri Palast, and Deputy Managing Director, David Dabscheck, departed New York to lead IAN’s first progressive leaders’ study tour to Israel.

The eight-day itinerary will include visits to local communities, meetings with government officials and discussions on key issues regarding economic development, security, high tech start-ups, sustainability, immigrant inclusion, LGBT and women’s rights and much more.

The group will visit cities such as Caesarea, Nazareth, Jaffa and Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as various towns in the north, and meet with speakers from the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, the United Nations, members of Knesset, NGO leaders, social activists and others.

Seeing and learning, while raising questions and seeking answers, are essential in enriching the conversation about Israel, Israelis and her neighbors in a positive and productive manner. This is another step in building an understanding of the democratic, Jewish State of Israel and the importance of advancing the goal of two states for two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, so that they may live side-by-side in peace and security.

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Caring for Creation

President Obama and Pope Francis will meet on March 27th. TAKE ACTION with the JCPA and COEJL by signing the petition to let the White House know we hope that President Obama will raise the importance of caring for Creation with the Pope.  Protecting the environment is an interfaith priority. As the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign declaration states, “enlightened stewardship is not only a religious and moral imperative; it is a strategy for security and survival.”

Both leaders have spoken out on this issue already. “My administration will keep working with the [oil and gas] industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities,” President Obama said in his 2014 State of the Union address. Pope Francis has stated that we should be “protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."

Please join our effort and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same.

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Hunger Seder

Every spring, Jews celebrate the holiday of Passover, declaring at our Seders, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” In our modern world, this invitation is more symbolic than literal, but this strong anti-hunger message makes Passover an ideal time to promote food security for all Americans. This Passover, we encourage you to incorporate messages of hunger and food security into your Seder.

Using a special Haggadah, more than 50 communities across the country have participated in Hunger Seders, educating their neighbors about the prevalence of food insecurity, deepening their engagement in anti-hunger work, and advocating to protect nutrition programs in the national budget. This year, dozens of cities and thousands of individuals representing a broad spectrum of faith communities will again come together at local Hunger Seders to raise awareness about the particular challenges for seniors and to advocate to protect nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act.

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Jews from Middle East Take Umbrage at PC(USA) Guide

Last month, the Presbyterian Church (USA) started selling a congregational resource that fabricates a narrative about Middle Eastern Jews - and they have taken notice.   The document claims that “Jewish life is alive and well in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  It goes further to state that Middle Eastern Jews had a history of “harmonious integration and acculturation” throughout the Middle East.  An Iranian Jew wrote an op-ed in the Times of Israel that the statement on Iran’s Jews is a “point blank lie!”  One Iraqi Jew took notice and penned an Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church telling the church the statement on Jews living harmoniously “is totally misleading and wrong” sharing his experience of depravation and discrimination.    And another wrote an op-ed  in the Huffington Post about the 1 million Jews who fled their ancestral lands and the fact that the “Presbyterian authors have barely a word -- and no word of sympathy -- for these Jews, sent packing with a single suitcase.”

In addition to Jews from the Middle East, many Presbyterian leaders have pushed back against “Zionism Unsettled” as well. In a letter to the Presbyterian church, Rev. Chris Leighton, a Presbyterian Minister and the executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, said the study guide “betrays the Church, the truth, and the spirit of reconciliation to which we are called. Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of New York’s Auburn Theological Seminary said it “expresses demonization, distortion, and imbalance.” And JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow called it “worthy of a hate group” for its distortions and anti-Zionism.

Engaging with Christian friends is the best way to push back against the guide, Rev. Leighton told the JTA. We encourage you to read and share each of these articles to help encourage more truth telling about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of the Middle East’s Jewish communities.

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Senate Update

Last week, the Senate announced a bipartisan deal had been reached on restoring Unemployment Insurance benefits to  America’s long-term uninsured. A group of 10 Senators, led by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), introduced a bill that would restore emergency Unemployment Insurance benefits for 5 months, retroactive to December 28, 2013.  More than 2 million long-term unemployed Americans have lost UI benefits since December, when the previous extension ended. The bill’s sponsors are confident the bill will pass the Senate with the needed 60 votes.  After passage, the bill must still pass the House.  

The Senate last week also voted to reauthorize bipartisan legislation that would update a long-overlooked child care program for low-income families. The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (S. 1086) would reauthorize the primary federal child care program for the first time since 1996. The legislation is aimed at ensuring the health and safety of children in child care, facilitating families’ access to child care assistance, and improving the quality of child care for children, and for infants and toddlers in particular.

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Caring for Creation

President Obama and Pope Francis are meeting on March 27th. Before they meet, TAKE ACTION with the JCPA and COEJL to let the White House know we hope that President Obama raises the importance of caring for Creation with the Pope.  Protecting the environment is an interfaith priority. As the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign declaration states, “enlightened stewardship is not only a religious and moral imperative; it is a strategy for security and survival.”

Both leaders have spoken out on this issue already. “My administration will keep working with the [oil and gas] industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities,” President Obama said in his 2014 State of the Union address. And, “Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment," Pope Francis has said.

Please join our effort and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same.

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#JCPAPlenum is almost here

The JCPA Plenum in Atlanta is just days away! Beginning this Saturday night, Jewish community leaders from around the country will gather to learn, discuss, and debate the issues most important to the American Jewish community and how we can take the lead in ensuring a secure Israel, promoting justice, protecting the poor, being stewards of our environment, and much more.

Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect. In his first public appearance since joining the peace process team, David Makovsky, Senior Advisor, Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, will provide insights into the peace process, what progress has been made, what challenges remain, and what role the American Jewish community can and should play. We will also hear from Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York who will discuss issues affecting the security of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship and provide analysis on the major challenges of the day, particularly the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The international focus will continue with a look at the future of Israel advocacy, a training tailored to help smaller communities to combat the delegitimization of Israel, and a discussion on preventing genocide and humanitarian crises around the world.

In the wake of the recent Pew study of the Jewish community – the most detailed poll of American Jewish attitudes in a decade – we will hear from Jerry Silverman, President of the JFNA, Elana Kahn-Oren, director of the Milwaukee JCRC, and Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College on the challenges for our communities. Many of our challenges are also shared by other faiths, and so JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow will sit with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori for a conversation about shared priorities including social justice, religious liberty, and human rights, the quest for Middle East peace, and the success of small religious groups in an era of declining religious identification.

In addition to shaping the future of Jewish advocacy, the Plenum is also our chance to honor some of our leaders who have helped to get us to where we are. Atlanta leaders Lois Frank, Leon Goldstein, and Melanie Nelkin will receive the JCPA Tikkun Olam in honor of their work which exemplifies the Jewish concept of repairing the world and Abe Foxman, retiring National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, will receive the prestigious Albert D. Chernin award.

As Congress considers a bipartisan update to the important Voting Rights Act, Plenum delegates will take part in a panel discussion on the Jewish community’s history and ongoing involvement in the Civil Rights movement with Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Franita Tolson, Professor of Voting Rights at the Florida State University, and Representative Mandela Barnes, State Representative of the 11th Assembly District in Wisconsin.

The JCPA Plenum is also where the organized American Jewish community comes to debate and vote on consensus policies. Resolutions being debated this year include an increase in the minimum wage, reproductive health, LGBT discrimination, European anti-Semitism, funding for higher education, inclusion for individuals with disabilities, and combating human trafficking.

We will have more updates on these sessions and resolutions as Plenum begins, but you can also follow along with us on twitter using #JCPAplenum.

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Fighting Poverty with Faith

Fighting Poverty with Faith is a nationwide, interfaith movement to cut domestic poverty in half by 2020. The annual Fighting Poverty with Faith mobilization focuses on addressing a root cause of poverty, and this year we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty.  

By coordinating our message with national faith groups such as Catholic Charities, holding joint events, and promoting partnerships, we will accept the challenge President Johnson made half a century ago: “For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.” The mobilization will educate the public about the everyday challenges facing the 46 million people living in poverty in America today; highlight innovative solutions to poverty by connecting local practitioners with national leaders; and pledge to act to reduce poverty in communities across the country using newfound knowledge and techniques.

Local communities can make a difference by planning community-wide, interfaith, events and actions during the week-long mobilization (March 31-April 4). Raise awareness by planning activities such as Hunger Seders and Food Stamp Challenge programs, and urge your elected officials to focus on policies that help the more than 46 million people in this country who are struggling to make ends meet.

If you are interested in planning an event or learning more about Fighting Poverty with Faith contact: Robin Rosenbaum, (202) 212-6037.

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The March Continues

Earlier this month, in response to a recent Supreme Court decision, Congress introduced a bipartisan update to the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA). This year at the JCPA Plenum in Atlanta, we invite you to join us for a unique conversation focused on the history and future of voting rights in America and continuing the Jewish community’s decades of commitment to advancing civil rights in our country.

We laid the groundwork for the landmark VRA back in 1950, when Arnold Aronson  - then Program Director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (now the JCPA) - along with A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP founded the Leadership Conference on Civil (and Human) Rights.  The JCPA, both independently and through the Leadership Conference, then played a pivotal role in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and helped to organize one of the defining events of the 20th century — the 1963 March on Washington.

At the JCPA Plenum in Atlanta, continue to march with us as a bipartisan panel of experts and leaders talk about how we can ensure that every citizen can cast a meaningful ballot. The panel, moderated by Rabbi David Saperstein, will feature insights from Franita Tolson, Professor of Voting Rights at the Florida State University and Representative Mandela Barnes, State Representative of the 11th Assembly District in Wisconsin. 

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Rabbi Gutow Speaks at ONE Summit

This week, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow spoke in Washington, DC for the ONE Campaign Power Summit. The summit brings together 200 volunteer leaders from around the country for advocacy training and a lobbying trip to Capitol Hill around their energy and poverty campaign. The Summit also included an appearance by ONE Campaign co-founder Bono. Laurie Moskowitz, the ONE Campaign’s Director of US Campaigns, said that “Both ONE and the JCPA have a passion for helping the world’s poorest and look forward to the power that can occur when we combine our advocacy efforts.”

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Faith and the Environment

JCPA staff was at the White House today for a special event, Faith Leaders on Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change. The gathering brought together senior administration officials from the White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with faith-based and community leaders to discuss environmental stewardship and values and the President’s Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution; prepare our communities for the impacts of climate change; and take international leadership on this global challenge.

As Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Melissa Rogers said, “We know protecting the vulnerable includes protecting the environment.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke of climate change as a threat to public health, a threat to our environment, and a threat to our economy. As faith leaders united, we discussed the human responsibility to care for one another and our environment.

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Partnership in an Era of Partisanship

You do not want to miss this important interfaith conversation at the 2014 JCPA Plenum in Atlanta. Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori will join JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow in a conversation about how the church and the Jewish community address shared priorities, including social justice, religious liberty, individual rights, civility, and human rights.  They will explore the quest for Middle East peace including a two state solution – and the challenge of those who deny the narratives of Israelis or Palestinians.  And they will discuss how each struggles with its place as a small religious group, successful by any American standards, facing an era of declining religious identification.    

Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in June 2006.  She serves as chief pastor and primate to the Episcopal Church's members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses.  Over the course of her 9-year term, Bishop Jefferts Schori is responsible for initiating and developing policy for the Episcopal Church and speaks on behalf of the church regarding the policies, strategies, and programs authorized by General Convention.  She has been vocal about the Episcopal Church's mission priorities, including the United Nation Millennium Development Goals, issues of domestic poverty, climate change and care for the earth, as well as the ongoing need to contextualize the gospel.

Rabbi Gutow is President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. A lawyer, rabbi, and political organizer, Steve has worked in his present position to protect the security of Israel, to move the Jewish community and the US government to end genocide in Darfur, restore civility in public life, fight poverty, and create a sustainable environment. He has been named to the “Forward 50” and Newsweek/Daily Beast list of most influential rabbis three times since 2008.  Since coming to JCPA in 2006, he has focused on enhancing the JCPA’s interfaith relations. Steve has built important associations with the leadership of the National Council of Churches, Catholic Charities and the Islamic Society of North America. He has participated in interfaith missions to Vietnam, Israel, Jordan and Indonesia. This past May, he served as scholar in residence on a trip led by the Baltimore Jewish Council bringing local rabbis, ministers and imams to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This interfaith dialogue is just one of the many conversations affecting the future of Jewish community advocacy at the JCPA Plenum. Register today and be a part of one of the U.S.’s oldest and largest gathering of Jewish community leaders.

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February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Jewish Disability Awareness Month is an initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.

On Thursday, February 6, JCPA took action by joining other Jewish organizations to sponsor the 4th annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day.  Advocates from around the United States came together at the U.S. Capitol for a morning of briefings from policy experts and an afternoon of lobby visits.

Advocacy efforts in meetings with Members of Congress and Congressional staff focused on two key requests: The first was to secure sponsors for the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which encourages saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities. The second was to ask Senators to support ratification of the Disabilities Treaty, which promotes the rights of people with disabilities across the globe based on the standard set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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JCPA Meets with King of Jordan

Last Thursday, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow and JCPA Senior Vice President Martin Raffel were in Washington, DC along with representatives from other Jewish groups to meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan. During the meeting, they discussed the ongoing peace process in Israel and other regional concerns, including the humanitarian crisis brought about by the civil war in Syria. Jordan, Israel’s neighbor to the east with a significant Palestinian population, has been an important partner in the peace process, hosting multiple talks with Secretary of State John Kerry during his trips to the Middle East. The meeting with King Abdullah followed meetings a week earlier which included Rabbi Gutow, Martin Raffel, and Jared Feldman, JCPA vice-president, with Puneet Talwar, special assistant to the president and senior director for Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States on the White House National Security Staff, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, and Ziad Asali and other professionals from the American Task Force for Palestine. Those earlier discussions covered Iran’s nuclear program as well as the peace process and Syria.

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Support for Israel Action Network Renewed

Three years ago, the JCPA and The Jewish Federations of North America partnered to create the Israel Action Network, a three-year initiative to help communities counter assaults made on Israel’s legitimacy.

We are excited to announce that this week, after a presentation from IAN chair David Sherman of Chicago at the JFNA Board of Trustees meeting discussing IAN’s accomplishments and the continued challenges facing Israel by the BDS community, the JNFA Board overwhelmingly voted to renew IAN for an additional three years.

“Thank you for having had the wisdom to fund IAN,” Sherman said. He mentioned IAN’s recent efforts to combat the well-publicized effort to isolate Israel’s academics at the Modern Language Association meeting, and noted ongoing efforts to generate support for Israel among progressive groups. With renewed funding, Sherman said, IAN would continue building relations with Christian moderates and partnering with campus groups.

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Honor Abe Foxman

After 27 years as the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman – who President Obama called “irreplaceable” - is retiring. But before he does, you can help us honor this lion of the Jewish community at the JCPA Plenum in Atlanta where we will be awarding him the prestigious Albert D. Chernin Award. Named for the JCPA’s Executive Vice Chair Emeritus, the Chernin Award is given to Jewish leaders whose life work best exemplifies the social justice imperatives of Judaism, Jewish history, and the protection of the Bill of Rights. There are few who have embodied those traits as passionately and successfully as Abe Foxman. Register for Plenum today to take part in one of the oldest Jewish community gatherings in the country where you can plan for the future of Jewish advocacy and help us honor Abe Foxman’s decades of service. In addition to the award ceremony, the JCPA Plenum is your place to meet and learn with national experts, interfaith leaders, and Jewish community advocates from across the country. The JCPA Plenum is also where the organized Jewish community meets to debate and vote on policies. Learn more and join us in Atlanta.

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JCPA Testifies at EPA

Last week, JCPA Policy Manager Jill Borak spoke on behalf of COEJL and JCPA at the EPA’s public hearing on the proposed Carbon Pollution Standards to reduce carbon emissions from new power plants. These regulations would substantially alleviate our nation’s contribution to climate change and air pollution by limiting 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide from new coal fired power plants per megawatt-hour generated and 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from natural gas fired power plants. Climate change is not only one of the greatest moral challenges of our time, but it is also a national security threat.

Borak testified: “The standards reflect our Jewish laws and traditions that call on us to serve as good stewards of the Earth and pursue tzedek, or justice, for all. Ecclesiastes Rabbah (1:4) informs us that ‘One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever.’ These regulations reflect our Jewish values to protect Creation and will help us leave a cleaner, healthier, and safer world for our future generations.” This Carbon Pollution Standard signifies progress and hope that there will be continued regulations to reduce our nation’s carbon emissions.

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Key Senate Votes this Week

The long awaited compromise Farm Bill which provides crucial funding for the nutrition program SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called Food Stamps), was approved by the Senate this afternoon by a vote of 68-32.  Normally reauthorized every 5 years, the Farm Bill had been held up by disagreements, including how much to cut SNAP. The House version proposed a reduction of $40 billion while the Senate’s was for $4 billion. After months of congressional negotiation, the new Farm Bill proposes a compromise of $8.5 billion. With food insecurity still so high, however, we continue to be concerned about decreases in funding to this vital program. Although no recipients will be removed from the program, 850,000 families will see their SNAP benefits lowered by approximately $90 per month.  And despite growing needs and the demonstrated success of SNAP at lifting millions out of poverty, this will be the fourth time in four years that Congress has restricted SNAP benefits.  The last change took effect on November 1, 2013, when benefits fell for every SNAP recipient with the average now at just $1.40 per meal.  

The Senate is also scheduled to vote on an extension to Federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) this week aimed at helping the long term unemployed, those who have been out of work six months or more.  UI benefits lapsed on December 28 after Congress failed to pass an extension before their recess at the end of the year, costing over 1.7 million jobseekers support they use to pay bills and buy food.  The bill to be voted on this week would extend benefits for the long-term unemployed for three months, retroactive to December 28, and would be fully paid for through revisions to the pension system. We strongly support the passage of this necessary extension to UI as a support for Americans looking to get back to work. 

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Protecting Detroit’s Pensions

On Monday, the JCPA and JCRC of Metropolitan Detroit sponsored “Detroit on the Edge: An Interfaith Response,” the second joint event on the need to protect Detroit pensions. In response to the call from the first event on October 30th at the U.S. Capitol, “A city on the Edge: Repairing and Rebuilding Detroit,” , Monday’s interfaith forum explored ways that the faith community can work together to address the broad array of problems confronting Detroit.

Repeat panelists Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, Bishop Edgar Vann, Jr., and Andy Levin were joined by Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and others to open the discussion. Faith and community leaders came together in coalition to bring a different, powerful voice to the political process.

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Hunger Seder Materials

Over the past six years, Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs), synagogues, and other Jewish organizations across the country have brought local Jewish communities together with interfaith partners and anti-hunger advocates to host Hunger Seders. These special Seder programs, developed and coordinated by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (MAZON) and the JCPA, were developed to provide a meaningful expression of the powerful words of the Pesach Haggadah: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

Hunger Seder participants observe the ancient traditions of Pesach in the context of a stark reality: that too many of our fellow Americans are still going hungry. The Seder serves a vital educational purpose and presents an important call to action for the American Jewish community to join us in our efforts to end hunger in America.  We hope you will be able to join us this year by planning a Hunger Seder in your community. 

Visit www.hungerseder.org for materials and resources

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Our History with Civil Rights

Last week, in response to a recent Supreme Court decision, a bipartisan and bicameral update to the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA) was introduced in Congress. The JCPA issued a statement welcoming the introduction of the bill and said restoring the VRA was critical to the health of our democracy. The JCPA and Jewish Community Relations Councils have advocated for civil rights for decades.  

In 1950, then Program Director Arnold Aronson along with A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP founded the Leadership Conference on Civil (and Human) Rights.  The JCPA (then known as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council), both independently and through Leadership Conference, played a pivotal role in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and also helped to organize one of the defining events of the 20th century — the 1963 March on Washington. In fact, the drafting of some of these landmark bills and development of advocacy strategy happened in the homes and offices of JCPA leaders.

The JCPA and JCRCs have been engaged in the most important civil rights issues in the past 70 years, including the social welfare programs like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), creation of HeadStart, Medicaid and Medicare, (see Telegram from Aronson to Martin Luther King, Jr. on advocacy for passage of anti-poverty legislation) passage and update of Americans with Disabilities Act, VAWA and its reauthorizations, Civil Rights Act of 1991, Title IX, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Mathew Sheppard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, repeal of DADT, reauthorizations of the voting rights act.

The spirit that guided our leaders of past generations guides us today as we advocate for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act so that every citizen can cast a meaningful ballot.

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Scarlett Johansson Rejects BDS

Scarlett Johansson shut down BDS rumors this weekend when she released a statement publicly reaffirming her role as the first-ever brand ambassador for SodaStream, and expressing support for the two-state solution. The A-list actress recently became the subject of intense public scrutiny by proponents of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement over her endorsement of the popular Israeli-based company, which allows buyers to carbonate beverages at home. As part of her deal, she will appear in a widely-watched TV ad to air during this week’s Super Bowl game.
 
Thankfully, Johansson chose to promote reconciliation over divisiveness and released a statement to The Huffington Post to “clear the air” regarding the controversy. In it, she countered BDS allegations by describing SodaStream as “a company that is not only committed to the environment, but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.” Her statement went on to add that she remains “a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

We encourage you to join the Israel Action Network on Facebook and Twitter to support Scarlett’s decision.

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Farm Bill Update

Late Monday night, the Farm Bill conference committee released a long-awaited, compromise Farm Bill.  The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow, January 29, and the Senate is expected to vote later this week or early next week.

The Farm Bill includes an $8.6 billion cut to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps).  Although this amount is far less than the $40 billion cut proposed by the House, it comes just weeks after the November 1, 2013 cut to all SNAP recipients.  While the Farm Bill will not remove current beneficiaries from the program, it will cut benefits for approximately 850,000 households.  

Additionally, the compromise bill includes a provision, championed by Representative Joe Crowley, directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to encourage emergency food programs to purchase kosher and halal for food pantry recipients. These steps include increasing efforts to purchase food in a cost-neutral way from manufacturers with a kosher or halal certification, as well as improving the labeling of the program’s food list.

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Countering Anti-Israel Activity in Academic Associations

On January 11, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association (MLA) met in Chicago and voted 60 to 53 to support a resolution urging the U.S. State Department “to contest Israel’s denial of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”

However, this proposal is still far from becoming policy. To be adopted by MLA, the resolution must first be approved by the MLA’s Executive Council, which is scheduled to meet February 21-22. If they endorse it, it would then require approval from the entire ASA membership, who will have until mid-June to cast their decision.

Following the Delegate Assembly vote, the Israel Action Network (IAN) urged the MLA Executive Council and full membership to reject the resolution that singles out the state of Israel for discriminatory treatment based on admitted misrepresentations of facts, distortions and bias. At the same time, IAN applauded the rejection of an anti-Israel emergency resolution, where the

Delegate Assembly declined to consider condemning what proponents speciously called “attacks” and “intimidation” of the American Studies Association (ASA) in the wake of its 2013 vote to boycott universities in Israel. The emergency resolution, which would have needed a 75% majority of the Delegate Assembly present to be considered, was dismissed by a vote of 59-41. Despite the vote disapproval, there may be an effort to get the Executive Council to issue a statement to this effect.  

The recent vote by the ASA in favor of an academic boycott of Israel continues to garner condemnation from the academic community. Over 213 universities have now joined broad-based academic associations such as the American Council on Education, the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors, turning it into what has now become a cautionary tale. Critics have called the ASA vote a divisive attack on academic freedom, and the MLA now risks following suit should their misguided resolution alleging Israeli denial of entry to academics come to pass. While it is not a boycott resolution, it is a first step in the wrong direction by propagating harmful and discriminatory policies that solely target one country, and violating bedrock academic principles.

“We remain concerned that a second resolution specifically focused on allegations that Israel prevents the freedom of movement of American academics was advanced by the MLA Delegate Assembly. The proposed resolution was based on false information and misrepresented facts refuted by opponents," IAN Managing Director Geri Palast said in a statement.

Michael    Kotzin,    Senior    Counselor to the President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and an Emeritus Member of the MLA, further detailed the troubling implications of this resolution in his JUF News oped. Click here to read it.

IAN is working with member agencies and allies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to support academic freedom of movement, the free exchange of ideas, and rigorous scholarship. Looking forward, IAN will continue to support the efforts of MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights who are calling on the MLA to reject the proposed resolution 2014-1 as currently presented, reaffirm the MLA’s Executive Council statement on the importance of equitable freedom of movement for all academics, and oppose attempts to advance an agenda that violates academic freedom and unfairly singles out one country consistent with its 2003 resolution.

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Distinguishing Anti-Semitism from Criticism of Israel

Have you ever heard someone say that “every time someone criticizes Israel, they are called anti-Semitic”?  We have, sometimes from Christian friends who have trouble understanding what is acceptable and what is not.  To help people navigate this issue, a paper has been drafted to encourage robust and healthy debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that steers clear of bias.  

“Elevating the Discussion to Advance Peace: Distinguishing Between Criticism of and Bias Against Israel” lists six areas where legitimate criticism can drift into problematic territory.  They include assigning all responsibility for Palestinian violence to Israel, failure to consider Israel’s right to defense or risks taken for peace, denial of a right of the Jewish people to sovereignty in any portion of its ancient homeland, and use of certain retrograde theological motifs such as supersessionism.  

“This document is designed to help people who are in regular conversation with Christians and others who are well intentioned and who often turn to the Jewish community with sensitivity to answer the question ‘How do I make sure that a criticism I might have of a given practice or policy of the government of Israel does not harm the Jewish people?’,” said Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Judaic Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago who co-authored the paper with JCPA Vice President Ethan Felson and Rabbi David Sandmel, Crown Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies, Catholic Theological Union and Senior Advisor on Interreligious Affairs, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

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VRA Update

The basic element of our democracy -- a "government of the people, by the people, for the people" -- is that every American citizen can cast a meaningful ballot.   That is why the JCPA is proud to have played a leading role in crafting and advocating for the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965. Since then, the VRA has been one of our most important tools in preventing dangerous laws meant to disenfranchise minorities. However, the Supreme Court last year struck down a key section of the VRA.

Fortunately, Congress responded last week with a  bipartisan, bicameral bill to update the VRA, while maintaining our important civil rights infrastructure. In a statement released following news of the bill, JCPA Chair Larry Gold said, “Today marks the first step in ensuring the VRA remains the bulwark against discrimination and disenfranchisement that it had been for fifty years.  The health of our representative democracy is based on the principle that all citizens can participate in the process.  Our challenge now is to live up to those ideals and aspirations.”

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Israel Action Network Applauds Rejection of Anti-Israel Emergency Resolution by Modern Language Association

The Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Delegate Assembly declined to consider condemning what proponents speciously called “attacks” and “intimidation” of the American Studies Association (ASA) in the wake of its vote in December 2013 to conduct an academic boycott of Israel universities. However, the Delegate Assembly also advanced a resolution for consideration by the MLA Executive Council criticizing Israel for “denials of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics” traveling to Palestinian universities. The resolution was passed after a contentious debate by a remarkably narrow vote of 60-53. In contrast, the emergency resolution that would have needed a 75% majority of the Delegate Assembly present to be considered was dismissed by a vote of 59-¬‐41.

Israel Action Network (IAN) Managing Director Geri Palast applauded the Delegate Assembly’s decision not to consider the emergency resolution, while at the same time urging the MLA’s Executive Council and full membership to reject the resolution that singles out the state of Israel for discriminatory treatment based on admitted misrepresentations of facts and bias. The Israel Action Network (IAN) is a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that was created to counter the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.

“The Israel Action Network (IAN) commends the decision of the MLA’s Delegate Assembly to reject consideration of this clearly anti-¬srael emergency resolution today,” said Palast. “The American Studies Association’s recent vote in favor of an academic boycott of Israel has been roundly criticized from all sides, including by over 187 universities and broad-based academic associations. This emergency resolution would have placed the MLA clearly outside of the mainstream in this discussion. Contrary to assertions by proponents of the resolution, statements made in the public sphere, by design and necessity, attract vibrant debate and that controversy is not equivalent to attacks or intimidation. This is a major victory for the voices of academic freedom.”

“While we applaud this decision, we remain concerned that a second resolution specifically focused on allegations that Israel prevents the freedom of movement of American academics was advanced by the MLA Delegate Assembly. The proposed resolution was based on false information and misrepresented facts refuted by opponents."

For an overview of the problems with the MLA resolution, click here

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Tell the EPA you Support Clean Air

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new, strict limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. As one of our nation’s largest sources of carbon pollution, power plants contribute to the U.S. being among the world’s greatest global contributors to climate change and air pollution.

Reducing carbon emissions will improve the health and welfare of people in the United States and around the world. Climate change is not only one of the greatest moral issues of our time, but it is also a national and international security threat. These rules represent an important shift away from support for coal and other fossil fuels that pose serious national security, environmental and public health risks. Through COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life), we are helping the Jewish community unite in support of sustainable energy policies that reflect our Jewish values. Please join us. The EPA is accepting comments until March 10, 2014. Take action today!

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50th anniversary of Johnson’s War on Poverty

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. In a statement, the JCPA praised the half century of safety net programs that continue to help lift millions out of poverty and pledged to continue to fight to strengthen them. “Today, with 46 million Americans still living in poverty, we reflect on how many more would be suffering without these programs and pledge ourselves to continue our work until we fulfill the biblical promise, ‘there shall be no needy among you,’” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

JCPA Washington staff also attended a special event at the U.S. Capitol in honor of the 50th anniversary. Congresswoman Barbara Lee and additional members of Congress joined special guest Lynda Johnson Robb to reflect on the legacy of her father, President Lyndon Johnson, and the ongoing war on poverty.

The War on Poverty has inspired some of our most important programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), Medicare, and Medicaid. But, “despite the effectiveness of these programs, funding cuts and eligibility restrictions today threaten to weaken them and push America’s most vulnerable deeper into poverty,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold, who also encouraged the Senate to pass legislation retroactively restoring unemployment insurance as part of our ongoing efforts to reduce poverty.
Click here to read the JCPA’s statement

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IAN Organizes Action In Support of Academic Freedom

This week, the New York Times reported that over 80 university presidents have condemned the American Studies Association for their recent vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions, turning the ASA’s vote into a “cautionary tale.” Leading academics criticizing the boycott have called it an “attack on academic freedom” and “a bad idea,” as well as “clumsy and offensive.”

This divisive boycott by ASA was also condemned by the Israel Action Network, which is now working with Modern Language Association (MLA) leaders to defeat a resolution up for consideration at the MLA annual conference in Chicago, January 9-12. There, the MLA Delegate Assembly, its governing body, will consider a resolution urging the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s allegedly arbitrary denial of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics. Further, a one-sided panel will take place during the conference featuring active supporters of the counterproductive Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement. While there is not a boycott resolution, it is a first step in the wrong direction and continues to propagate harmful and discriminatory policies that solely target one country.

The proposed resolution would violate bedrock academic principles and the standards of rigorous scholarship. Academic boycotts of Israeli institutions would also significantly damage academic freedom—a view shared by the American Council on Education, the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors. All of these prestigious academic bodies have condemned the recent boycott of Israeli institutions by the American Studies Association. Similarly, the MLA has spoken out in the past against academic boycotts through prior resolutions.
 
IAN is working with our member agencies and allies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to support academic freedom of movement, the free exchange of ideas, and rigorous scholarship. Earlier today, IAN joined with leaders of MLA Members for Scholars Rights to brief members of the press on the proposed MLA resolution 2014-1. The briefing featured Professor Cary Nelson, immediate past president of the American Association of University Professors and current MLA member, and Professor Russell Berman, past president of the MLA an current MLA member, who discussed why the proposed resolution and panel are both fundamentally flawed and stand to harm the general interests of the association by endorsing a discriminatory and inequitable policy solely targeted at one country.
 
Nelson and Berman will also provide a forum to continue this conversation during the MLA conference. The MLA Members for Scholars Rights will counter the academic boycott panel with an alternative discussion of their own to provide critical analysis of academic boycotts at 3:30 pm, Thursday January 9th, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in the Ohio River Room.
 
Numerous Federations and JCRCs, together with IAN, have taken action against academic boycotts of Israel, leading to a reported 134 universities that have now come forward to publicly denounce the ASA decision. Looking forward, IAN supports the efforts of MLA Members for Scholars Rights who are calling on the MLA to reject the proposed resolution 2014-1 as currently presented, reaffirm the MLA’s Executive Council statement on the importance of equitable freedom of movement for all academics, and oppose attempts to advance an agenda that violates academic freedom and unfairly singles out one country consistent with its 2003 resolution.

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Take Action to Support 1.3 Million Unemployed

On December 28, 2013, unemployment benefits ended for approximately 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans.  In every recession since the mid-1950s, the Federal government has provided extended unemployment benefits to unemployed workers who exhaust their state unemployment benefits.  The most recent recession was no exception.  Congress passed an Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in June 2008 and has renewed the program every year since.  

But Congress ended 2013 without extending unemployment benefits.  This abrupt loss of unemployment benefits comes at a time when the economy is still struggling.  Despite improvements to the overall unemployment rate since the end of the Great Recession, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) is at near-record levels – 4.1 million in November, or more than one-third of all unemployed.  

Allowing these benefits to expire is a double hit to the most vulnerable.  These benefits are a lifeline to workers who lost jobs during the economic downturn and remain unemployed because of a sluggish economy.  In addition, this abrupt loss of benefits harms the economy.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if Congress fails to extend unemployment benefits, the economy will lose up to 300,000 jobs in 2014.  

The Senate is expected to vote this week to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.  Make sure your senators hear from you. 

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COEJL Year of Engagement

COEJL and Jewcology are partnering on a Year of Jewish Policy Engagement on the Environment. To address the critical global challenges of climate change and energy dependence, it is time for the Jewish community to unite in support of sustainable energy policies that reflect our Jewish interests and values, to make a meaningful impact at the state and national levels and beyond.

On Tu Bishvat, many Jewish communities get together for seders and to learn about environmentalism. This year, for our first Year of Engagement campaign, we encourage you to send a letter to your Congressional representative to wish him or her a Happy Tu Bishvat and explain why you support sustainable climate and energy policies.

These resources will help you turn your Tu Bishvat into an environmental advocacy opportunity:

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Universities Turn from ASA After Boycott Vote

On December 15, in a move condemned by numerous prominent academic scholars throughout the country, the American Studies Association (ASA) membership voted to adopt an ill-advised resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions following a recommendation by their National Council.

The vote, however, represented just a narrow fraction of overall ASA members with less than 20 percent of membership taking part.

The Israel Action Network (IAN), a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, expressed disappointment as well. “The Israel Action Network (IAN) is troubled that members of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that directly violates the strongly held principle of academic freedom,” the IAN statement reads. “The resolution, which purports to support academic freedom in which scholars are free to pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline, or institutional censorship, in actuality urges a sweeping boycott of Israeli academic institutions based on tortured logic, factual inaccuracies and distortions of the role of Israel’s universities, public and private, in the implementation of government policy. IAN is disappointed to see the ASA lend its name to such a counterproductive campaign. IAN strongly urges the academic community at large to follow the lead of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an influential body of higher education professionals committed to furthering academic freedom, that came forward to unequivocally oppose academic boycotts.”

This issue has gained national attention, yet much of the coverage has been to cast the spotlight on the clear violation of academic freedom. Numerous organizations, schools and academic groups have come forward to reject it on the grounds that academic boycotts undermine the fundamental principle of academic freedom.

For instance, the 40,000 member American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an influential body of higher education professionals committed to furthering academic freedom, came forward to unequivocally oppose academic boycotts. They issued both a statement and a letter urging ASA and other organizations to seek alternative means to pursue their concerns and called the ASA vote a “setback for the cause of academic freedom.”

In addition, the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an association of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, condemned the move. "Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general," their statement read. "Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts."

So far, Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State Harrisburg have rescinded ASA membership, while upwards of 34 schools, including Ivy Leagues Yale, Stanford and Harvard, have all expressed their public disapproval of the decision.

In light of this growing threat of academic boycotts of Israeli academic institutions, IAN is engaging a broad-based coalition of Jewish, academic and other relevant groups for a campaign to be rolled out in 2014.  To respond to the immediate action by the ASA, we ask you to do the following:

 •    There are currently efforts underway by academics both in and outside of ASA to call on their universities to withdraw their institutional memberships from the ASA using the message of the endangerment of academic freedom and the singling out of one country for discriminatory treatment. This effort is best led by academics. Therefore if you are an academic or closely affiliated with the leadership of a college or university, contact them regarding institutional resignation. However, we are not calling for a counter boycott, and such language should not be used. This is a stand on principles of academic freedom and fairness. Four universities have already dropped their membership and many have publicly condemned the boycott move.

•    Ask your community to write to the presidents and provosts of their alma maters, calling on them to make public statements in opposition to all academic boycotts.

•    Communicate with your networks with articles, emails, and messages that explain why academic boycotts and anti-Israel resolutions, in general, hurt the cause of peace and reconciliation and single out one county for discriminatory treatment. 

IAN will continue to update this situation and provide updates, alerts and campaign tools as they become available.

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Distinguishing Anti-Semitism from Criticism of Israel

Few issues are as complicated – or as polarizing – as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Robust debate about the conflict exists globally, and is nowhere more intense than within Israel itself. Americans of all stripes, too, engage in these debates, but at times, differences devolve into uncivil acrimony and sometimes into bias and even bigotry. When this occurs, dignity is diminished, we stop listening to each other, and reconciliation becomes more difficult. To enhance understanding and inter-group civility, the JCPA has prepared criteria to help distinguish between criticism of and bias against Israel. The intention of the paper is not to stifle debate, but to promote a richer discussion that is not sidetracked by base and baseless assertions.

The paper, “Elevating the Discussion to Advance Peace: Distinguishing Between Criticism of and Bias Against Israel” was written by Ethan Felson, JCPA Vice President and General Counsel, Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Judaic Scholar, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and Rabbi David Sandmel, Crown Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies, Catholic Theological Union and Senior Advisor on Interreligious Affairs, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “This document is designed to help people who are in regular conversation with Christians and others who are well intentioned and who often turn to the Jewish community with sensitivity to answer the question ‘How do I make sure that a criticism I might have of a given practice or policy of the government of Israel does not harm the Jewish people?’,” said Rabbi Poupko.

Click here to download “Elevating the Discussion.”

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New Iran Sanctions Introduced

Last Thursday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and a bipartisan group of 24 co-sponsors introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would strengthen sanctions against Iran if it should violate the terms of the interim agreement reached last month, or fail to reach a final agreement that would dismantle its nuclear program and increase monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The bill allows President Obama to delay the new sanctions for up to a year while the Administration continues negotiations on a final agreement with Iran.  The proposal also includes a nonbinding provision stating that the United States would support Israel diplomatically, economically, and militarily should Israel become engaged in a defensive fight with Iran.  Last month, the P5+1 reached a 6-month interim agreement with Iran that required it to scale-back its stockpile of highly-enriched uranium and slow construction of the plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor at Arak. Arguing that new sanctions would violate the interim agreement and complicate negotiations, President Obama has threatened to veto the Menendez-Kirk legislation.

For a summary and the text of the bill, click here.

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Academic Boycotts Violate Academic Freedom

Yesterday, in a move condemned by numerous prominent academic scholars throughout the country, the American Studies Association (ASA) adopted an ill-advised resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions following a recommendation by their National Council.

The vote, however, represents just a narrow fraction of overall ASA members with less than 20 percent of membership taking part. Further, it was publicly rejected by eight former ASA presidents and more than 70 concerned ASA members, who signed onto a letter in support of academic freedom and in opposition to the resolution. In addition, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an influential body of higher education professionals committed to preserving academic freedom, unequivocally opposes academic boycotts, and issued both a statement and a letter urging ASA and other organizations to seek alternative means to pursue their concerns.

The Israel Action Network (IAN), a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, expressed disappointment as well. “The Israel Action Network (IAN) is troubled that members of the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that directly violates the strongly held principle of academic freedom,” the IAN statement reads. “The resolution, which purports to support academic freedom in which scholars are free to pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline, or institutional censorship, in actuality urges a sweeping boycott of Israeli academic institutions based on tortured logic, factual inaccuracies and distortions of the role of Israel’s universities, public and private, in the implementation of government policy. IAN is disappointed to see the ASA lend its name to such a counterproductive campaign. IAN strongly urges the academic community at large to follow the lead of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an influential body of higher education professionals committed to furthering academic freedom, that came forward to unequivocally oppose academic boycotts.”

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Vigil to End Gun Violence

Saturday, December 14th marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. To commemorate that tragedy, the JCPA joined the Newtown Foundation at the Washington National Cathedral on Thursday for a vigil for all victims of gun violence. The sacred gathering drew over 1,000 people impacted by and concerned about gun violence from across the country. JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow led the opening call to prayer, saying the memory of those who have been killed must be transformed into action to “prevent future Newtowns.”

As part of the ongoing campaign to end gun violence, the JCPA has been engaged in an expansive social media campaign, sharing infographics on the success and importance of new legislation and signs of remembrance for the victims. Last week, we joined the Union for Reform Judaism and other faith groups for a Faiths Calling day during which moral activists from coast to coast urged their Senators to pass laws to prevent gun violence. Thank you to the hundreds of you who joined us by calling your Senators and to the many thousands of you who continue to support our campaign for comprehensive gun violence legislation that will keep guns out of the wrong hands, ban the most dangerous weapons, ensure access to quality mental health care for those who need it, and address the problem of violence in our media.

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Budget Deal Abandons Unemployed

Last week, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced a long-awaited budget deal. While there is much to applaud in the agreement, which provides relief from the sequester, avoids a government shutdown in January, and gives us a glimpse of bipartisanship,  the budget deal fails to extend federal unemployment benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed whose benefits expire on December 28. “This is an unacceptable abandonment of an already vulnerable group looking to return to work. Ending UI for the long-term unemployed will not help them find work, will not create jobs, and will not contribute to our economic recovery,” said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow in a press release.

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Sandy Hook 1 Year Anniversary

The upcoming anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th gives us an opportunity to remember the countless lives lost to gun violence in our country, with special focus on the 26 who died at Newtown. This tragic anniversary also reminds us that, in the year since the horrors at Newtown, Congress has enacted no gun violence prevention legislation, while murders continue to plague our nation every day. We at the JCPA continue to do our part to advocate for sensible gun violence prevention measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands and save lives.

To commemorate the upcoming anniversary, the JCPA is providing sample essays, reflections, and kavvanot to share with congregations, a community-wide commemoration in the form of a yahrtzeit image to share online,  a social media campaign for a #VoteOnGuns, which is already underway, and an interfaith call-in day on December 13.

Will you join us?

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IAN Condemns Academic Boycott

Last week, in a move condemned by numerous prominent academic scholars throughout the country, the governing body of the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) recommended that its membership adopt an ill-advised resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and scholars. The vote is to be completed by December 15, 2013. The Israel Action Network (IAN), a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, condemned the move.

“The Israel Action Network (IAN) is deeply concerned by the ASA National Council’s recommendation to its membership to adopt a measure that undermines principles of academic freedom, punishes and restricts relationships with one nation’s universities and scholars and inhibits important discourse on issues of global concern,” the statement read. “The resolution, put forward by ASA’s Academic and Community Activism Caucus, purports to support academic freedom in which scholars are free to pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline, or institutional censorship, yet urges a sweeping boycott of Israeli institutions based on extreme rhetoric and distorted generalizations. ASA leaders ‘stacked the deck’ with sessions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that had little-to-no balanced opposing view. Thus, it is the academic integrity in which ASA prides itself that will suffer.”

Further, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a respected, broad-based association of university professors, condemned the action and urged opposition in this open letter.

The ASA National Council now seeks endorsement from full ASA membership in an electronic vote to be completed by December 15. If the majority of the membership rejects this approach, the National Council will withdraw the resolution. IAN is calling on ASA members to vote against this counterproductive resolution, and urged the academic community at large to join in rejecting this destructive approach, which violates core principles of academic discourse.

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Fast for Families

Last week, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow joined Members of Congress, and faith, labor, and community leaders at the “Fast for Families” tent on the National Mall for a Chanukah ceremony during his day-long fast to heighten pressure on House leadership for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. The candle lighting followed an earlier Chanukah ceremony led by Jewish community organizations at the White House, which also focused on the need for immigration reform. “When families are forcibly separated by immigration laws that fail to meet our economic and security needs, something is clearly broken. And our morality suffers,” said Gutow. “We have tried political remedies, but with the Senate’s bipartisan solution stalled in the House, we are brought to fasting and prayer. If our voices cannot be heard, then perhaps our actions will be.”

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Fast for Families

Earlier this year the Senate took the landmark step of passing comprehensive immigration reform with bipartisan support. The House of Representatives, however, has failed to take similar action. And so, since early November, labor, community and religious leaders have been engaged in the “Fast for Families” – a water-only fast in a tent on the National Mall that highlights the moral urgency of immigration reform. Their sacrifice is designed, as prominent faster Eliseo Medina said, to “create a moral force that will convince Congress that the time to act is now.”  

The activists have gained national and international attention and inspired thousands across the country to fast for immigration reform. Recently President and First Lady Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, chief of staff Denis McDonough, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz and Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett have visited the tent to show their support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Among those fasting for immigration reform is JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. On Wednesday, Rabbi Gutow and representatives of other Jewish organizations will join at the Fast for Families tent on the National mall to light the Chanukah candles and speak about the need for immigration reform. If you are in DC on Wednesday, please join us at 5:30pm. And if you cannot make it to the National Mall, you can still support immigration reform with our new immigration toolkit. The toolkit includes legislative updates, messaging, sample op-eds, and more.

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Sandy Hook 1 Year Anniversary

As the one year anniversary of the December 14 tragedy in Newtown, CT approaches, and as we reflect on another year of horrendous gun violence in this country, the JCPA is continuing its call to Congress for a #VoteOnGuns. In the year since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, there has been no new federal legislation to prevent gun violence and keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Join us on December 13th for the Interfaith Call-in Day to Support Gun Violence Prevention. Our lawmakers must hear our moral drumbeat. This easy to use call-in number will connect you to your Member of Congress so you can tell them that in memory of the children of Sandy Hook and the thousands of Americans killed every year by gun violence, we cannot afford inaction any longer.  Text “faithscalling” to 877-877 to receive a text message reminder or visit www.faithscalling.org for more information.  

Along with this call-in day, help spread the message that smart gun legislation can and does save lives. We have prepared a set of new infographics on our Facebook page for you to share with friends to let them know why you support a #VoteOnGuns.

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Bring Alan Home

Four years after Alan Gross was imprisoned in Cuba while supporting the Jewish community there, supporters gathered in front of the White House today to call on the Obama administration to secure his immediate release. Local elected officials and community leaders joined with Alan’s wife Judy for a vigil sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, the JCPA and others to urge the US and Cuban governments to negotiate for Alan’s immediate release and return home. After serving four years of his prison sentence, Alan Gross’s health - and even his life - are in danger. He has lost over 100 pounds, he suffers from chronic pain, and his mental health is deteriorating. 

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