NEWSbreak August 2013
ON MY MIND THIS MONTH
By Janna Berk
I had the privilege this month of participating in a roundtable discussion about the U.S.-Israel relationship at the Israeli Consulate in Chicago. Along with Marcia Balonick, JAC’s Executive Director, as well as global affairs community leaders, I took part in a discussion led by Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) about the complexity of the challenges that face us in the Middle East.
The issues there are incredibly difficult and we commend Secretary of State John Kerry for his successful efforts in restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As we watch the conflicts in Syria and Egypt rage on, it has become clear that the pursuit of peace in the region is more important now than ever before.
JAC has always supported the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and we “endorse U.S. leadership in facilitating peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.” By building and retaining relationships with like-minded members of Congress, we are able to advance this important mission.
As we welcome the High Holy Days, we reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future. JAC will continue to work with the legislative bodies to fight for the continued strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship, reproductive rights for all women, and the separation of relgion and state. We will continue to work to reduce violence in our country and we hope for a clean environment.
Your membership dollars are appreciated. Help us continue our work. Tell your friends about JAC and let us greet the new year united in our committment to these important issues. Together, let’s work to advance our Jewish causes.
ISRAEL AND THE MIDDLE EAST
To say that Israel is in a dangerous neighborhood is an understatement. Egypt is engaged in a violent crackdown after the military ousted Egyptian President and leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi. Israel is anxious as the Egyptian-Israeli Sinai border has had many skirmishes and the fate of future American military aid is being questioned by United States legislators. Israel is increasingly concerned about the future of the Camp David Peace Accords, a critical treaty that has been in place between Israel and Egypt since 1978.
Syria is engaged in a civil war that has killed thousands of its citizens. News reports and administration officials have reported on the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad against his own people. As the West contemplates actions against Syria, Iran and Syria have made threats of future violence in retribution against Israel. Iran threatened that action against Syria would escalate into a war that would “engulf the whole region,” pointedly warning of “perilous consequences” for Israel. (The Israel Project 9/27/2013)
The Lebanese border has heated up as katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon on August 22 into Israel. Warning sirens were heard throughout the north of Israel and the airspace over northern Israel was closed for a time. Just as the peace talks were about to resume between Israel and the Palestinians, there were clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Jenin. (ABC News 8/21/2013)
Another violent episode occurred in the West Bank Kalandiy Refugee Camp on August 25 as Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians following an arrest raid. This violence was the deadliest
incident in many years and was prompted by civilians throwing bricks, metal bars and other items as the IDF was attempting to arrest a Palestinian wanted for questioning. (Jerusalem Post 8/26/2013) This military operation highlights the fragile setting of the peace talks being led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
In order to gain a better understanding of the region and the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, 37 Democratic Representatives, including 31 freshmen, and 26 Republican Representatives went on 2 separate trips to Israel during their August Break. While in Israel, the members were briefed by Middle East experts, traveled throughout Israel to see the dangers on the borders and met with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Many of these Congressmen were in Israel for the first time and were astounded by its small size, the imminent threats on all borders and the vital importance of the defense systems such as the Iron Dome. The Congressional Black Caucus will be going to Israel in October. These trips and relationships are important, as members of Congress are crucial to the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship. By learning about the facts on the ground, they can come home and educate their constituents and take votes with a better understanding of the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Continue to go to the JAC website and Facebook page for the most up-to-date news on Israel and the region.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, state legislatures have introduced 273 anti-abortion provisions in 2013. As the U.S. House of Representatives considers its own abortion ban in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade, states are busy challenging the law in new and innovative ways.
Ohio recently introduced HR 248, which would generally prohibit an abortion as early as 6 weeks or when a fetal heart beat is first detected. North Dakota’s state legislature has passed a 6-week abortion ban. Oklahoma passed a law that would have made it harder for women to obtain the morning after pill even after the federal government approved unrestricted over the counter sales for the emergency contraceptive. (Washington Post 8/19/13)
Of the above-mentioned 273 anti-choice bills introduced, 235 lacked exceptions for rape survivors. In Mississippi, the ban states that the “state shall not punish the crime of sexual assault with the death penalty, and neither shall persons conceived through a sexual assault be punished with the loss of his or her life.” Many abortion restrictions would be especially hurtful to rape victims and include invasive ultrasounds, forced fetal heartbeat monitoring, and medically inaccurate lectures. States are also passing laws requiring women to report and verify their rapes within 48 hours, in order to use rape exceptions for abortion. (Salon 8/22/13)
So far, the court system has blocked many of these efforts. Arizona, North Dakota, Arkansas and Idaho all had their laws struck down by courts that ruled “trying to ban abortions before a fetus can live outside the mother’s womb flies in the face of U.S. Supreme Court rulings.” U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland, in striking down a North Dakota law banning abortions at 6 weeks said, “The state has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded all women.” (Bloomberg Businessweek 8/20/13)
Although the courts are blocking some of the most egregious affronts to reproductive rights, states are still able to target abortion clinics with rules and regulations that are costly and cumbersome. From Texas to Wisconsin, clinics are closing and women are left without reproductive freedom and vital healthcare services.
Unfortunately, abortion is not the only right being restricted. The same right-wing legislators are also regulating or banning contraception, curtailing the funding for reproductive health care for low income women, vetoing equal pay laws, denying subsidized health care and severely limiting food assistance programs. Violence against women and family planning legislation have recently become partisan issues. Elections matter, on state and national levels, to the wellbeing of our families. Women can and must be able to make their own decisions on motherhood, the workforce and family planning.
When the Senate reconvenes, a major topic of conversation will be addressing the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have a plan that keeps the current commanders in charge of investigations, while Senator Kirsten Gillabrand (D-NY) has a competing proposal to keep the complaints out of the military chain of command. Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, is working on a compromise that will encourage people who have been abused to come forward without fear of reprisals or inaction.
SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
A court case originating in New York concerning the opening prayer at town hall meetings is making its way to the Supreme Court as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. An amicus brief has been filed by 34 Senators and 85 Congressmen questioning whether a prohibition to prayer would apply to all legislative bodies, including both chambers of Congress.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, struck down the legality of the town hall prayers saying that the prayers constituted an endorsement of Christianity over other religions. The United States Senate and House both begin their sessions with a daily prayer offered by clergy, usually touching on an issue of the day. When confronted with the issue of chaplains, founding father James Madison felt that the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress was not consistent with the Constitution or the principles of religious freedom. (Roll Call, 8/5/2013)
The birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act is heading to the Supreme Court as companies are suing the government based on their “free exercise” right to refuse to provide insurance benefits that cover the cost of abortions. These companies are bringing suit based on the personal religious beliefs of the owners, and will determine whose religious beliefs are protected under the First Amendment – employees or corporate owners. (SCOTUSBlog 8/24/2013)
A commission convened by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) of 14 evangelical Christian leaders has recommended that churches and other houses of worship be allowed to endorse political candidates and maintain their tax-exempt status. A ban on these endorsements has been in place since 1954, although religious groups can endorse political causes and legislation. A minority report by another 66 religious leaders supports maintaining the prohibition. (New York Times, 8/14/2013)
New Wave of Voter Suppression:
Will You Have a Vote in the Next Election?
In an interview with the New York Times, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she was wrong to join a 2009 opinion that laid the groundwork for the court’s decision in June that effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent decision, she said, was “stunning in terms of activism.”
The Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder to invalidate the pre-clearance formula of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is considered to be one of the greatest strike-downs of pillar civil rights legislation since its enactment in 1965. A key provision of the VRA – Section 4 – included a decades-old formula dictating which states must be subject to federal oversight. The Court ruled this formula was outdated and, therefore, unconstitutional. (Brookings Institution, 8/9/2013)
When the Section 4 coverage formula was struck down, it effectively negated the authority of the federal government under Section 5 to monitor elections in jurisdictions with proven records of racial discrimination. States like Texas and North Carolina seized on this opportunity immediately, moving to pass and implement new voter ID laws and other restrictions. The Texas law requires showing government-issued photo identification before voting. A concealed handgun license is considered permissible, while other forms of ID, such as student IDs, are not allowed.
In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory signed what many have called “the nation’s worst voter suppression law.” The new bill requires photo ID at polls and cuts down on early voting. In the town of Boone in Watauga County, the Republican-controlled county board of elections announced plans to eliminate two of the three Boone precincts, including on-campus voting. (Huffington Post, 8/12/2013)
About 20 states have photo-ID laws on the books or are in the process of implementing them. In response, the Obama administration is suing Texas to block the state’s voter ID law from taking effect, a clear signal to other states to think twice before they pass any more restrictions on voting rights. The Justice Department complaint represents the latest step in a legal as well as legislative battle between Republican state lawmakers seeking to tighten up voting laws, and Democratic officials in Washington who favor more lenient access to the polls. (USA Today, 8/22/2013).
In the next few weeks, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to use Sections 2 and 3 of the Voting Rights Act to prevent states from implementing further restrictions, and is also expected to try to force certain states to get approval, or “pre-clearance,” before they can change their election laws.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as House Democratic leaders are spearheading the push to write legislation that would replace the system overturned by the high court in June. JAC continues to highlight this issue and to work with lawmakers and elected officials to support the rights of every citizen to vote.
RESEARCH AND RACES
Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ-2) faces a tough reelection for the Congressional seat once held by his former boss and friend Gabby Giffords. After being shot on that fateful day in Tuscon, Barber decided to run for the seat that Giffords vacated because of her devastating injuries. Rep. Barber has been a good friend to JAC and our issues while in office and is strongly supported for another term. Barber just returned from his first trip to Israel, joining the Democratic Congressional group, and said that the trip “was a life changing experience.” As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Barber met with Israeli and Palestinian officials about the restarted peace talks, Israeli President Peres, and Israeli hi-tech business leaders. He was especially interested in security concerns and equipment saying, “I want to make sure Israel’s security is protected in whatever agreement comes out.” (KGUN9-TV 8/9/13) Barber credits a combat wound bandage that was developed in Israel with saving his life when he was shot in the Tuscon rampage.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL -10) faces one of the toughest reelection battles in the house in his rematch against very well-funded Bob Dold (R). Schneider, who is Jewish, recently returned from two trips to Israel where his background and leadership were appreciated by the Chicago Jewish Federation and the Freshman Democratic Congressional members that accompanied him. As a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Schneider co-authored the Israel Qualitative Military Edge Enhancement Act with Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA-9). As a progressive Democrat, Schneider is a reliable vote for a woman’s right to choose and a clean environment. He supports common sense gun regulations, a path to citizenship for immigrants, and the rights for gays to marry. Schneider and his wife Julie are JAC members and are supportive of our issues and programming.
Following the announcement of JAC friend Senator Carl Levin’s retirement at the end of his term, Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14) declared his candidacy for this seat. A longtime friend of JAC, Rep. Peters would take his leadership on women’s reproductive rights and support of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship to the Senate. He has co-sponsored legislation implementing strong sanctions on Iran and called for an end to the attrocities perpetrated by Syrian President al-Assad. Peters has taken an active role in protecting women’s reproductive rights, helping to open a Planned Parenthood clinic in his district, voted for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and earning a 100 percent rating from NARAL. While currently favored to win this seat, a strong Republican challenger could make this a difficult race. With overwhelming support from the Michigan JAC members in his district, JAC feels Peters is an excellent fit for this key Senate seat.
In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is in for a vicious fight against one of three extreme-right Republican candidates. Tea-Party candidate Ken Buck recently joined state senators Randy Baumgardner and Owen Hill in the race. Buck is against a woman’s right to choose — even in cases of incest and rape. He also believes homosexuality is a choice and has compared it to alcoholism. Baumgardner is just as bad, supporting “personhood” for fetuses, and has no regard for our environment (he attempted to add coal mine methane gas as an eligible energy resource under Colorado’s renewable energy portfolio). As a freshman State Senator, Owen Hill voted against prohibiting domestic violence offenders from owning firearms, against limiting firearm magazine capacities, and against expanding sex education in school curriculum.
By contrast, Sen. Udall has long supported JAC issues, and it would be devastating for Udall to lose this seat. We will be closely watching this race.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the Democratic candidate for the 2013 New Jersey Senate election, succeeding longtime JAC friend, Sen. Frank Lautenberg z”l. Booker is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford. Cory Booker is a well-known mayor, often seen on the speaker’s circuit, and is a vocal spokesperson for the needs of the less fortunate in society. Booker has studied Torah and speaks Yiddish comfortably. He is an avid user of social media and uses Facebook and Twitter to advocate for his ideas and visions. Booker has had many interesting experiences including living on food stamps, moving into public housing, saving a woman from a house fire and inviting Newarkers affected by Hurricane Sandy to live in his home. Booker is a staunch supporter of President Obama, and the issues that JAC supports.