Newsbreak June 2013

On my mind this month...

Janna Berk, JAC President

June is a month of new beginnings. Spring blossoms into summer, and the verdant season brings to mind thoughts of potential and possibility. In this context, I ask you this month to consider your ideas and thoughts about ways in which you can have a more active role in contributing to JAC’s potential. I see us as a nationwide network of women and men who have far-reaching influence and well-established credibility; but who could do more if awareness about our organization were spread to friends and acquaintances who don’t yet know us. I see us as a valued resource for a growing membership that relies on our depth of knowledge on issues and our access to and reputation on the Hill. But how much more collective power might we have if we were to increase local awareness in our communities and speak with an even louder voice?

Here in Chicago, our 3rd annual Power of Women Luncheon held last Thursday brought more than 400 guests to hear about JAC and to reflect upon this question of potential. While the event helped introduce a number of new attendees to our organization, it also served as a “call to action” for our existing membership, challenging everyone present to think about ways their involvement could further JAC’s reach.  

How often do you devote time to JAC? Do you read this Newsbreak each month, or the EZ Read online? Do you ever go to our Facebook page or when a news article or issue moves you? Did you know we have a blog? Our best hope for reaching our potential is for our membership, old and new, to connect and engage. Send us your ideas, give us your thoughts, and let this June be a time for turning over a new leaf.


The Arab League has reintroduced the Arab Peace Initiative that was originally launched in 2002 by Saudi Arabia. This document is designed to serve as a guiding framework for a final status agreement. The Arab League has recently signaled that it would support land swaps as a substitute for full Israeli withdrawal from 1967 and 1973 acquisitions. PM Netanyahu and President Peres have both been open to this plan as has Secretary of State Kerry. Interestingly, 69% of Israelis would approve of Netanyahu adopting the Arab Peace Initiative framework and using it to come to final terms with the Palestinians. (Think Progress 6/3/13)

In other news, through an executive order the Obama administration escalated sanctions pressure against Iran in a move to further weaken their currency and in response to Iran’s “continued failure to meet its international obligations.” (New York Times 6/3/13) Congress has explicitly gone on record, for the first time, supporting Israeli military action. Sens. Graham (R-SC) and Menendez (D-NJ) wrote a bipartisan resolution declaring U.S. support for Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, asserting that such preemptive action is within Israel’s right to defend itself. This resolution passed the Senate 99-0. (The Jerusalem Post 6/3/13)

The Obama administration strongly warned Russia not to undermine peace efforts for Syria by supplying the Syrian regime with advanced antiaircraft weaponry. “Sending the S-300 missile to Syrian President al-Assad would prolong the civil war and perhaps widen it by imperiling Israel,” said Secretary of State Kerry. (Washington Post 5/31/13)

On a lighter note, R & B singer Alicia Keys announced that she is going forward with a July 4 performance in Tel Aviv despite calls from artists including Alice Walker and Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, asking her to cancel these plans to protest Israel’s policies. Keys told the New York Times that she looks forward to her first visit to Israel. She said that music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences. We commend Keys for not succumbing to the hatred of the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel. 

Secretary of State John Kerry has been working tirelessly on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. He has been to the region four times in the last two months, and is returning in June. Diplomatic observers say he is surprisingly close to getting the parties back to the table.

He is seeking agreement on basic parameters — the borders for a Palestinian state and an understanding about Israel’s security requirements — which would allow negotiations to begin in earnest. (Washington Post 5/27/13)  “During this time, to their credit, the Israelis have restrained from making inflammatory announcements about new settlements, and the Palestinians have held back from taking their cause to the United Nations,” says David Ignatius in the Washington Post.


Reproductive Rights

In another attempt to restrict women’s reproductive rights, the GOP and anti-choice crusader Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) reintroduced the DC Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act, which would outlaw abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks, and which he says, “will now be amended to broaden its coverage so that its provisions will apply nationwide.” ( 6/2013)

Under current federal law, this bill would be considered unconstitutional due to the Roe v. Wade ruling which bars states from banning abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb – generally believed to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy. (Huffington Post 5/22/13)

Anti-choice laws are being introduced on the state level at an alarming rate. Many of these state measures are in dramatic violation of Roe v. Wade.  Opponents clearly want Roe v. Wade re-heard by the Court. Full articles are posted on our website. They are worth the time to read.

News  is being made in recent court decisions. The Department of Justice has decided to drop an appeal to the decision of a U.S. District judge to make Plan B contraceptive pills readily available over-the-counter without restrictions.  The FDA has requested the pill’s manufacturer to submit a new application with proposed labeling that would permit it to be sold “without a prescription and without age or point-of-sale prescriptions.” The FDA said that once it receives the application it “intends to approve it promptly.”   In a statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards called the government’s decision to drop the appeal “a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity.” (Huffington Post 6/10/13) 

On May 28, the Supreme Court decided not to consider an attempted appeal of a lower court decision in Indiana that would have barred any Medicaid funding to be used for healthcare providers that also perform abortions. (Christian Science Monitor 5/28/13)

On May 24, Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright temporarily blocked a recently passed anti-abortion law in Arkansas  — which many have called the strictest in the nation. (NBC News 5/17/13)

In Texas, State Representative Jodie Laubenberg (R) has introduced a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks which is also supported by Republican Governor Rick Perry. Although the bill was introduced during the regular session, it has not made it to the House floor for debate. (Dallas Morning News 5/28/13)

Women in the Military

A bill has been introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in an attempt to reduce the number of sexual assault cases in the military. According to MSNBC, “The bill would alter articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that allows officers who may have little to no training in law or sexual assault to make decisions about the validity of highly sensitive allegations. It would also remove all crimes that would carry a sentence of more than one year in prison — crimes equivalent to civilian felonies — from the military chain of command.”

The bill is gaining support from both sides of the aisle. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) claims that out of an estimated 26,000 sexual abuse incidents in 2012, only around 3,300 were reported. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) also supports the bill and is a co-sponsor. When commenting on the bill, Collins said, “What does it say about us as a people, as a nation, as the foremost military in the world, when some of our servicemembers, both men and women, have more to fear from their fellow soldiers than from the enemy?” ( 5/15/13)

JAC will continue to fight these battles and others as they arise. Our elected leaders must be reminded of the need for safe and legal avenues for women and their reproductive rights.

Separation of Religion and State

On March 22, supporters of separation of church and state scored a rare bipartisan victory. During the day’s legislative agenda Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced an amendment to the 2014 budget proposal that would have granted 11 million low-income students up to $1,300 per year to go towards private schooling. The amendment failed 39-60 with 52 Democrats, two Independents and six Republicans voting against it. 

Superficially this seems like a positive step towards supporting our nations most vulnerable children: to give those who require extra help the resources needed to be successful. However, the amendment would have provided funding through taxes levied on the American public and would have siphoned federal dollars away from our nation’s already struggling public schools. Furthermore, these types of voucher programs have a history of failure. “We have tried this before,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). “The District of Columbia has a voucher program that we passed in Congress in 2003. And guess what they have found since 2003? It made no impact whatsoever on student achievement, and now the program is being phased out.” Moreover, these voucher programs are notorious for primarily funding private religious education which is a detriment towards the priorities of JACPAC. 

Regardless of the educational support this amendment may or may not have provided, the voucher program is a major threat to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. (

Gun Violence Prevention

In a recent study conducted by the Violence Policy Center in Washington D.C., gun deaths were more prevalent than motor vehicle deaths in 12 states. In 2010, (the most recent year data sets for both gun deaths and motor vehicle deaths were available), gun deaths — including homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings — exceeded motor accidents in Washington D.C., and the following states:  Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. 

June 14 marks the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Since then, more than 4,500 Americans have been killed by gun violence, exceeding the total number of Americans killed during the Iraq war. A majority of Americans from all backgrounds have been pleading with their elected officials to take action and change our gun laws as a means to make our nation safer. In March, JAC’s  2013 Fly-In on the Hill focused on gun violence prevention. Congress may finally be on the path to do just that.

Last month Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced bipartisan legislation (HR1565) nearly identical to the bipartisan Senate bill which was defeated earlier this year. In a joint statement King and Thompson said “Background checks are the first line of defense against criminals and the dangerously mentally ill getting guns. This bill is comprehensive, it is enforceable, it will save lives, and it will protect the rights of law abiding Americans to own guns.” Many law enforcement groups have joined the broad-based coalition (JAC is a member) working to change the laws. (Politico 4/12/13)

Call your Representative today to support this bill.
The Capital Switchboard number is 202-224-3121.

As a response to the public’s growing dissatisfaction in the lack of Congressional action, California recently passed a group of gun laws aimed at reducing sales of semi-automatic weapons as well as regulating ammunition sales. 

New Jersey also passed a collection of 10 gun-related measures aimed at reducing gun violence. (The Star-Ledger 5/30/13)  Going in the other direction is Illinois, which passed a concealed carry law, mandated by court order, making Illinois the 50th state to approve such measures. (Chicago Tribune 5/31/13)

Research & Races

Longtime JAC-supported Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) passed away on June 2, 2013. Lautenberg was a strong advocate for all of JAC’s issues, as his votes always supported the U.S.-Israel relationship and women’s reproductive rights.

He was best known for his legislation that established a national drinking age of 21, a ban on smoking on commercial airline flights and a law that denied gun ownership to those convicted of domestic violence.

Most important to the Jewish community has been the Lautenberg Amendment. This measure gave refugee status to people from historically persecuted groups. Some estimate that 350,000- 400,000 Jews entered the United States under this 1990 law. Today, refugees in countries such as Argentina and Iran count on the Lautenberg Amendment for their own resettlement in America (New York Times 6/4/13). Lautenberg will be missed by the Jewish community for all of his work with Holocaust education, Hillel, and the United Jewish Appeal, (now referred to as the Jewish Federations of North America). 

JAC offers its condolences to the Lautenberg family including longtime JAC member, Mrs. Bonnie Englebart Lautenberg.

In New Jersey, Gov. Christie appointed state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa (R) to fill the seat on an interim basis. Chiesa said he will not run in the August primary or the October special election. Christie said that, despite criticism from both sides of the aisle, he would hold a special election in October. Mayor Corey Booker, longtime Rep. Frank Pallone, Rep. Rush Holt, and State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver have announced their candidacies. They will face each other in a Democratic primary. Republicans Steve Lonegan and Alieta Eck have also announced plans to run.

In Massachusetts, Rep. Ed Markey (D) will face Gabriel Gomez (R). Markey is in his 20th term in the U.S. Congress. He has been a consistent positive vote on JAC’s issues and is a strong leader on the environment as  ranking member on the Natural Resource Committee. This special election will take place on June 25th. Senator John Kerry resigned to take the position of U.S. Secretary of State. This seat is currently held by Mo Cowan who was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick until an election could be held.

In Hawaii, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) has announced that she will challenge appointed Senator Brian Schatz (D) for the November 2014 Senate race. Schatz is the first Jewish Senator from Hawaii. They are both good on JAC’s issues.

Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
The Republican House, led by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), is working on legislation to ban all abortions after 20 weeks - NATIONWIDE - except in cases of "documented" rape or incest, or in cases of irreversible physical danger or imminent death of the woman. The woman's mental health is not an exception. Call your Representative and demand they vote NO on H.R. 1797 "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" and NO to dangerous anti-women legislation.  

CALL your Representative and say thank you for not supporting the bill OR ask why he or she voted for it.

Capitol Switchboard 202.224.3121

JAC Newsbreak for JAC Leadership Circle is a monthly publication of JACPAC.
Writers: Joy Malkus, Dana Gordon, Alex Hirsch
President: Janna Berk
Executive Director: Marcia Balonick
(847) 433-5999
Your support is vital to our goals in 2013 - there is still so much to do.