September 20, 2011: Release Alan Gross

JCPA to Cosponsor Vigils in New York and DC Calling on Cuba to Release Alan Gross

Together with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, The Jewish Federations of North America, the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, the New York Board of Rabbis, and the Jewish Community Relations Councils of New York and Greater Washington, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is cosponsoring joint interfaith vigils in New York City and Washington, DC calling on Cuba to release Alan Gross, who was detained two years ago during a humanitarian mission to bring internet access to the Jewish community there.

“Since his arrest, Alan Gross’s health has deteriorated and he has been unable to be with his wife, daughter, and mother who have suffered health problems of their own,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Pleas for Alan’s release from the President, administration officials, members of Congress, and many other influential figures have been rejected. Now, having exhausted all of his legal options, Alan will be forced to serve the remainder of his 15 year sentence in a Cuban prison cell. We are gathering with Alan Gross’s family and interfaith leaders this Friday to let Cuban officials know that this is not acceptable.”

“Alan should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds. That is the message we will bring directly to Cuban officials,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “We appreciate the leadership, in particular, of the JCRC of Greater Washington and Executive Director Ron Halber whose tireless work has kept Alan’s cause alive with US officials as well as the tens of thousands of individuals across the country who signed their petition demanding his immediate release.”

In New York, the vigil will take place outside the Mission of Cuba to the UN, and in Washington at the Cuban Interests Section. Members of Alan Gross’s family will attend both vigils.

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.

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September 13, 2011: Presbyterian Divestment Plan is Dangerous

Presbyterian Committee’s Anti-Israel Divestment Proposal is Harmful to Peace and Intergroup Relations

The recommendation by a Presbyterian Church (USA) committee to divest from three large companies who do business with Israel is a disappointing and dangerous proposal for Middle East peace and intergroup relations, said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“We have noted positively that there are groups from across the Presbyterian spectrum that are seeking paths of reconciliation. The recommendation from the PCUSA’s committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) is, however, an invitation to more conflict and more division, without the prospect for fostering peace in a region that so desperately needs it,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This kind of proposed action promotes the delegitimization of Israel. The JCPA is proudly partnered with The Jewish Federations of North America to foster Israeli-Palestinian peace and combat delegitimization through the Israel Action Network.”

“Divestment should be saved for the most intractable and odious regimes, when all other means have failed; not for liberal democracies committed to an ongoing peace process,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “Implicating companies like Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola is merely holding American companies responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than promote peace, it threatens to deepen resentment and build a false impression that Israel is solely to blame.”

“The committee’s recommendation will not be voted upon until next year.  We are heartened to know that we do not stand alone and that many prominent Presbyterian leaders oppose anti-Israel divestment,” added JCPA Vice President Ethan Felson, pointing to the statement by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) which said it will work “long and hard” to make sure that the Church’s 2012 General Assembly will continue to “play a positive rather than inflammatory” role.  “We hope and pray that the assurances made at the last PCUSA gathering were not illusory.  The repercussions on interfaith relations from this unfortunate committee decision could be horrific.” 

Felson was in attendance at the past three PCUSA General Assemblies and is available for comment.

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September 08, 2011: Congress Must Act on Jobs and Investment Proposals

JCPA: No Recovery without Broad Investment and Support for the Unemployed

After President Obama’s Thursday night jobs speech, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs urged Congress to swiftly act to make the necessary investments needed to get our economy growing again.

“The jobs crisis exists throughout the entire country. No community, rural or urban, big or small, has been untouched. With such widespread need for new job opportunities and assistance, Congress should begin work on the President’s recommendations for improvements to our homes, schools, and roads without delay,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “These projects will both revitalize our communities and put Americans back to work. Long term recovery will require investments across varied industries and sectors. We appreciate the President’s endorsement of support to our teachers and health care providers. We urge Congress to consider as well the police and firefighters we depend on. Additionally, nonprofits, which provide vital services during recessions, are themselves suffering, and will continue to do so without Federal support.”

“The President was right to identify continued unemployment insurance as an essential part of any recovery,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “As of August, 6 million people, almost 43% of the unemployed, have been looking for work for over 27 weeks. Even with immediate investments in jobs and job training, many of these individuals will still require assistance in order to stay in their homes and provide for their families. States, which are suffering from years of cutbacks and ongoing budget deficits, are unable to meet these needs, leaving the unemployed without aid. Now is the time for a broad, national effort to build a pathway of prosperity for all Americans. We will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to grow our economy and ensure opportunities for those left in the Great Recession’s wake.”

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August 31, 2011: Leading Jewish Figures Release Resources on Civility for High Holidays

Concerned about the impact of incivility and divisive debates on the Jewish community, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs has worked with a group of leading rabbis and scholars to prepare sermons, sacred texts, and study materials to promote civility during the High Holy Days and throughout the year.

“Increasingly, conversations are giving way to diatribe. We can do better,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.  “We hope that these materials will be used as a resource by synagogues, rabbis, schools, and throughout the Jewish community to help build understanding about the Jewish value of civil discourse.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times for self reflection, a time when confessional prayers and study help us to focus on issues of listening and speech. It is a perfect opportunity to evaluate just how we have used our power of speech and how we might choose our words in ways that engender greater cohesiveness and mutual respect.”

The civility materials were prepared by a working group composed of rabbis and scholars from across the Jewish religious spectrum. “We were honored to have in our working group outstanding experts including Dr. Erica Brown, Prof. Amy-Jill Levine, Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, Rabbi Vivie Mayer, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Rabbi David Teutsch, and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.  These esteemed leaders are, among many, calling for a renewed focus on civility as essential for the well-being of the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Amy Eilberg, who chairs the Working Group on Sacred Texts, part of the JCPA’s Campaign for Civility.

“JCPA’s Campaign for Civility was launched in 2010 and works with communities across the country to promote modes of communication that combine Judaism’s love of debate and truth with a respect for human dignity, community, and democracy” said JCPA Vice President Ethan Felson.

Sample sermons on civility have been provided by San Francisco Bay Area rabbis who participated in the Year of Civil Discourse Initiative organized by the San Francisco JCRC, Jewish Community Federation, Board of Rabbis, and East Bay Federation. Felson added that, “the JCPA Campaign for Civility hopes to see these and other text materials used in communities throughout the country.”  

Sample sermons and materials from the Year of Civil Discourse Initiative can be found here.

Jewish sacred texts on civility can be found here.

The study sheets can be found here

For more information on the civility campaign, visit www.jewishpublicaffairs/

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August 18, 2011: JCPA Condemns Terrorist Attacks in Southern Israel

JCPA Deplores “Barbaric” Attacks in Southern Israel, Supports Israel's Right of Self-Defense and Calls on Egypt for Action 

Today’s terrorist attacks in southern Israel, which killed at least seven and wounded over 20, was barbaric, said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“The blind hatred and contempt for life that lie behind such barbaric acts are shocking,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “We grieve along with the families of those whose loved ones were senselessly murdered, and pray for a speedy recovery for the injured.”

“Rampant lawlessness in the Sinai, well documented in recent reports, provided a more conducive environment for these terrorists, who, apparently, came from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.  Hopefully, the perpetrators quickly will be brought to justice,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “We call on the Egyptian government to immediately and effectively address problems in the Sinai, as we support Israel in its ongoing efforts to protect its citizens in an increasingly complex security situation.”

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August 18, 2011: JCPA Supports Call for Syria's Assad to Step Aside

JCPA Supports President Obama’s Call for Assad to Step Aside

The Administration’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure from power addresses the immediate needs of the beleaguered Syrian people, and also makes an important statement about the importance of human rights as a U.S. national interest, said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).

“Clearly, any hopes we might have harbored of President Assad as a political reformer were misplaced. Unless he steps down, we believe he will continue to abuse his authority and heartlessly murder his own people,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This violence is unacceptable. Recently, we applauded the Obama administration’s new policy making prevention of mass atrocities a core interest and responsibility of the United States.  We are encouraged to see that position manifested in the President’s insistence that mass murderers like Assad cannot be allowed to remain in power.”

“The call for Assad to step down, coupled with stronger economic sanctions is a step in the right direction. It sends a clear message that violent repression in response to legitimate demands for freedom will not be tolerated,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “Assad’s brutal behavior is not just jarring to the conscience, but also is destabilizing to the region. Inaction in the face of such cruelty simply is not an option. We call on the international community to support the U.S. position.”

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August 14, 2011: JCPA Prepares Community Response to Palestinian Statehood

JCPA Prepares Community and National Response to Unilateral Palestinian Statehood
Regrets Palestinian Decision to Stay Away From Peace Talks

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) expressed regret today at the Palestinian leadership's decision to pursue United Nations recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, commonly referred to as unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).

"We support the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, Israel, as the homeland of the Jewish people, and Palestine for the Palestinians," said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.  "We firmly believe, as does President Obama and important segments of the international community, that this vision can only be realized when the parties sit down together, face-to-face, to resolve their differences. A lasting and just resolution of the conflict should not and cannot be imposed from the outside.  Therefore, this Palestinian ‘end run’ around negotiations, not only contradicts previously signed agreements, it also presents a serious obstacle to advancing the peace process."

"Approximately one year ago, when resumption of direct talks was announced, we called on both sides to demonstrate resolve. We regret that the Palestinians instead chose to walk away shortly thereafter,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles.   "Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call for direct negotiations without pre-conditions, and we hope, with the ongoing assistance of the United States, this can be achieved soon. UDI is not the solution, and we call on the international community to reject it."

The JCPA is partnering with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) under the aegis of the Israel Action Network (IAN) to build community and national support for a return to peace talks. Efforts are underway to reach out to foreign diplomats based in North America, as well as to mobilize organizations and individuals to sign a petition initiated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York supporting a negotiated two state solution and opposing UDI.

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August 04, 2011: JCPA Applauds New U.S. Genocide Policy

New U.S. Genocide Policy a Welcome and Needed Shift; JCPA Will Work with Administration to Ensure Enforcement

Today’s Presidential Directive that preventing mass atrocities is “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the Unite States,” is a powerful policy shift that recognizes the US’s tools and imperative to act before another genocide can occur.

“We will not stand idly by while entire populations are murdered. With this announcement, we know that neither will our government,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This directive recognizes the need to identify and stop atrocities before they occur. If the range of tools laid out today were used in the 1930s, entire Jewish communities may not have been erased from Europe.”

“This policy also recognizes the security, in addition to human, cost of genocide,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “Thousands of refugees forced to flee their homes, as we’re seeing in Sudan today, is destabilizing, dangerous, and often leads to more conflict. The ideal, as President Obama has recognized, is to bring the weight, influence, and, if necessary, force of the United States to bear on those who would try to recreate another Holocaust.” 

In March 2011, the JCPA’s member agencies representing the organized Jewish community adopted a policy that “calls upon the government of the United States to view as a fundamental national and global interest the development of policies and global partnerships geared toward the prevention and ending of mass atrocities, and more particularly, prevention and punishment of genocide.”

“That the United States has now adopted such a policy is an important and encouraging step,” said Gutow. “But as violence continues in Darfur and a new genocide is unfolding on the border with South Sudan, our work is to ensure that America keeps its promise and implements the policies that will save lives.”

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August 02, 2011: After Debt Deal, Recovery and Human Needs Programs

Recovery and Deficit Reduction Must Include Strong Human Needs Programs

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs welcomed congressional passage of today’s compromise legislation to raise the debt ceiling without provoking a serious economic crisis. However, this was only one component in a long term discussion to lower the deficit and preserve critical human needs programs.

“The President and Congressional leaders have come together to reach a compromise that avoided significant damage to our economy,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “As Congress now begins to consider a bipartisan plan for deficit reduction, the JCPA will continue to work with lawmakers to protect programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, LIHEAP, and Pell Grants that not only save lives, but enable millions to climb out of poverty. Shielding these programs from automatic cuts is recognition of their value. We expect that whatever plan is produced by the new bipartisan commission will preserve these programs, especially as we continue our economic recovery.”

“The best way to reduce the deficit is to get our economy growing again,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Instead of focusing on how much we can cut funding for proven programs, we should find ways to enhance economic growth and expand opportunity. We urge our lawmakers to put in place policies that catalyze job creation and spur recovery. Despite today’s compromise, millions of families and individuals still face economic turmoil. Strengthening human needs programs like unemployment insurance can help families stay in their homes and on their feet while looking for jobs. Support for school loans will yield a more qualified and educated workforce that will contribute to our economy.  Targeted investments in job training will help workers better adapt to employment in emerging sectors. We urge Congress to make growth, not contraction, a priority in these coming months. This is the surest way to economic recovery and deficit reduction.”

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July 29, 2011: President Announces New Fuel Efficiency Standards

JCPA Praises National Security, Environmental Benefits of New Auto Efficiency Standards

The President’s announcement today of a higher fuel efficiency standard for cars is a significant step forward that will go a long way towards building a cleaner and more secure country, said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“We’re seeing real and concrete action today that will have a significant impact on our dependence on fossil fuels,” said JCPA Dr. Conrad Giles. “These requirements will pay dividends not only in stemming climate change but for our national security. Avoiding environmental degradation and catastrophic climate change will require innovation and progress. The new policy announced today does just that. Requiring more efficient cars does not mean asking for sacrifice or undue burdens. Rather, the President is asking us to make better use of the technology and know-how we have today.”

“Inefficient cars come at a great expense to our nation,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “We are dependent on other nations, many of them unfriendly to the United States, to provide the world’s supply of oil. Thanks to these requirements, the EPA has estimated that by 2025, we will be using 1 billion fewer barrels of oil a year, reducing our dependence on foreign nations and giving our economy and nation more stability and security.”

Sybil Sanchez, Director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), praised the announcement for the far reaching environmental benefits. “Cleaner burning engines use less fuel, and emit less pollution. We have been producing dangerous amounts of greenhouse gasses that experts across the board agree are responsible for global climate change. Allowing this to go unchecked will have consequences ranging from refugee crises and food shortages to resource wars and unpredictable weather changes. Every step in protecting the environment matters and today’s announcement is significant movement forward.”

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