NEWSbreak October 2013

 By Janna Berk

As we issue our October Newsbreak, JAC is excited to introduce a new format for this long-standing monthly publication.  Newsbreak has served as a means of communicating significant information about JAC’s issues to our national membership, and has been an important way of keeping members connected. As before, our core issues are researched and analyzed in an effort to provide current and relevant perspective on Israel, Women’s Reproductive Rights and Separation of Religion and State. We also continue to discuss issues “beyond the core”; those compelling issues of the day which JAC feels a responsibility to address.

 In the course of reviewing the newsletter redesign, it struck me that the new tag-line “Elections Matter” is one that really resonated.  This past week we experienced a government shutdown led by tea-party republicans from “safe” districts who were willing to jeopardize vital government services to prove a point. We realize the real influence our elected members wield over issues of profound importance and that every elected official in every district should matter to our members.

Elections matter, and no one knows this better than women. In the three years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, it has survived more than 40 votes in Congress to defund or repeal it. In September, the House voted to delay the 2010 health care overhaul by a year, so that employers or insurers could opt out of providing religiously objectionable services. It was the Senate’s vote against the measure that saved the protections for women. This time.

 As we close in on November 2013, let us not lose sight of the important special elections taking place in the Senate (New Jersey) and the House (Massachusetts). 

Please use JAC as a guide and as a resource, and remember that our efforts only succeed when the right people are elected. 

The telephone call between President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on September 27th, was the first direct conversation between American and Iranian presidents in more than 30 years. After years of crippling sanctions initiated by the United States, and followed through by most countries around the world, many hope that Iran will come to the negotiating table leading to the end of their pursuit of  nuclear weapons for military use. President Obama followed the phone call with a call to Secretary John Kerry encouraging him to negotiate a deal with the Iranians. During his speech at the UN, President Obama reiterated that despite negotiations, no options would be taken off the table, including military options, to ensure that Iran will not have nuclear weapons for anything but peaceful purposes. Jay Carney, the White House spokesman reassured Israel and the pro Israel community when he said that the President would not give sanctions relief absent action by the Iranians. (The Hill, 10/2/13) During his own UN speech, Pres. Rouhani said that Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon and declared his readiness for new negotiations with the West. (Politico 9/29/13)

In a White House meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Obama, Netanyahu said he appreciated “the statement you made that Iran’s conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions -- transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions.” He asked that sanctions should be strengthened during any negotiations, and warned against Rouhani’s “sweet talk” during his United Nations speech. He stated that Israel was ready to go it alone against Iran should it come close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. (JTA 10/1/13) 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement, “While we welcome Iran’s diplomatic engagement, it cannot be used to buy time, avoid sanctions, and continue the march toward nuclear weapons capability.”(JTA 10/1/13)

JAC will continue to watch these developments and encourage our representatives to work to ensure the safety of Israel and the continuation of crippling sanctions against Iran, while hoping for the dismantling of Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapon program.

Senators Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are both working to end or curb the number of sexual assaults that occur within the military, but they vastly differ on how to deal with the issue. Gillibrand advocates removing the investigation and prosecution of assaults and other serious crimes from the chain of command, while McCaskill wants a civilian group to consider only those cases commanders refuse to pursue.

This is a huge issue in the military. Of a suspected 26,000 annual sexual assaults, only 3,300 on average are reported. Of those, just 302 were prosecuted. Gillibrand’s proposal will encourage more people to report their assaults, advocates say. McCaskill, a former prosecutor, says that prosecution of the cases will be less likely under Gillibrand’s proposal. (, 9/19/13)

If you ever needed a reason against complacency regarding an issue, Reproductive Rights is a glaring example. Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land these last 40 years, but in the last year alone, anti-choice groups have introduced more than 300 laws that dramatically limit access to abortion services for women all over the U.S. 

But, the erosion of rights do not end with abortion services. During last-minute budget negotiations in September, the House voted 231-192 on a bill that would delay much of the 2010 health care overhaul for a year. The measure would allow employers and insurers to opt out of providing health care services that they find morally or religiously objectionable, including contraception, abortion, screenings for cervical cancer, and sexually transmitted infections. The Senate voted against the measure. (Huffington Post, 9/30/13)

In Texas, more than a dozen abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s anti-abortion law, which limits access to surgical and medication abortions, claiming the law imposes an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. The law effectively eliminates access to services for many women, which is unconstitutional, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit does not challenge one part of the law banning abortions after 20 weeks, however. (The Washington Post, 9/29/13) 

In Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review a ruling that Arizona’s law banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy is unconstitutional. In May, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law clearly conflicts with Roe v. Wade.

At least nine other states have enacted similar bans starting at 20 weeks or earlier. Several of those bans had previously been placed on hold or struck down by other courts. (KTAR News, 9/27/13)

The Texas science textbook issue is heating up again. As the largest purchaser of textbooks in America, Texas has an outsized influence over the content of textbooks used by students throughout the country. The State Board of Education selects the biology textbooks that will be used by high school students over the next decade, and the evolution vs. creationism controversy is being raised again. As JAC strives to protect the separation of religion and state, our students are being put at the mercy of those appointed school board members who believe in religious teachings in the classroom. Six panelists believe in creationism and want biblical traditions taught alongside science as equal arguments. These members do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth and want creationism taught with evolution. Many in Texas, and around the country, believe that these members are eroding science education in the classrooms. Sadly, these officials are not scientists, they are appointees chosen for their religious views. The Texas State Board represents 17,000 school districts, and many parents worry their children will not be able to compete for jobs that require scientific backgrounds. (New York Times 9/28/13) 

People all over the country share in this concern, as the separation of religion and state is being fought in our classrooms and in our textbooks. 

The contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act is headed to the Supreme Court because of the religious views of owners of for-profit businesses. The ACA has numerous exceptions for religious institutions regarding birth control coverage, including houses of worship and other non-profits, but the question will go to the issue of who has religious rights – employers or employees. (Associated Press 9/30/13) 

In a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, justices rejected the argument that providing contraception coverage in insurance plans violates employers’ rights through the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. This law has been decided differently across the country in different courts of appeal. 

The government has argued that allowing employees to make independent decisions to obtain methods of contraception does not violate anyone’s religious freedom, just the opposite. (New York Times 9/29/13) 

It is important to stay vigilant when religious groups try to impose their beliefs on the rest of society.

Government Shutdown. The Government Shutdown 2013, initiated by Tea Party Republican Ted Cruz (R-TX), occurred because of  the desire of Republicans to end “Obamacare.” But, despite the threats from Congress to defund the Affordable Health Care Act, the exchanges opened on October 1 to all Americans. The ACA benefits the 47 million women in America by providing: maternity coverage in all plans, contraception coverage, expanded coverage for screenings including mammograms, pap smears, and well women checkups. Preexisting conditions no longer apply and women can no longer be charged more their for insurance policies, solely because they are female. These benefits are important for all women in all socio-economic classes. (The Nation 10/2/13)

Gun Violence Prevention. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Many gun violence prevention groups are studying the intersection of guns and domestic violence. They are working to expand the federal gun prohibitions to include all domestic abusers and stalkers and require background checks on all gun sales. We know that women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, and they are in more danger when there is a gun in the home. There are three pieces of legislation we are watching. We should take every opportunity to support and promote the following bills. In the Senate: “Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2013” (S.1290, Klobuchar) (domestic violence and stalking). In the House: “Preventing Victims of Stalking Act of 2013” (HR.1914, Hahn) (stalking); and “Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act” (HR.1177, Capps) (domestic violence).


Elections matter. As seen during the budget and debt ceiling crisis, holding the Senate is vital to maintain many of the issues that JAC holds dear. Women’s reproductive rights were at stake in the House version of the Continuing Resolution, but the pro-choice majority in the Senate quickly defeated the measure. On issues as far ranging as the nuclear aspirations of Iran to the separation of religion and state in the ACA, to women’s rights to abortion and contraception, we will continue to fight and support candidates who represent JAC  issues. JAC is looking North, South, East and West to bring you bios of important races.

Up north, Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) is in a vulnerable position as a Democrat in a predominantly red state. In 2008, he beat incumbent Ted Stevens (R) by only a few thousand votes, in spite of the dark cloud of federal indictment hovering over Stevens at election time. In the years since taking his Senate seat, and as Mayor of Anchorage before that, Begich has strongly supported women and women’s reproductive rights. He has supported more funding to aid victims of domestic violence and increasing the number of children eligible for free school lunches. Like JAC members, Begich also supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Republicans very much want to win the seat back and someone (perhaps within the party) has even stooped to creating a fake fundraising invitation that led to a Republican attack. Clearly, he has a tough battle ahead to keep his seat in 2014, but it’s a battle JAC knows is worth fighting.

Out East, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is proactively working to secure her re-election next year, as Republicans are circling to see who will run against the freshman Senator. Several names have been bandied about, including former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and former Representative Charlie Bass (R-NH) and former State Senator Jim Rubens (R-NH). As the competition has already begun lining up, Shaheen has begun her campaign in advance of the 2014 election. Sen. Shaheen is very strong on JAC issues: She has been outspoken in her support for reproductive rights and other women’s issues, including domestic violence and ending rape within the military. She has voted for common-sense gun laws like banning high-capacity magazines. Finally, she is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Please join JAC in supporting Shaheen for another term in the U.S. Senate. 

Looking West, we support Senator Brian Schatz, who was sworn into office on December 27, 2012. This 40 year-old Jewish Senator from Hawaii, has already been a perfect vote on all of JAC’s issues. As a pro-choice Senator, he has taken an active role in protecting women’s rights. He co-sponsored the MARCH for Military Women Act of 2013 that lifted bans that prevented US servicewomen from using private funds to pay for abortion services at US military hospitals. He states that he is a strong believer that every woman has the right to make decisions about her own body. He has given good votes on common sense gun legislation, and is a champion on clean energy initiatives. On Israel he was quoted, “My commitment to Israeli security is firmly grounded in public policy and the interests of Israel and the interests of the United States, but it is also a personal one.”

Down South, JAC is excited for the Kentucky Senate race that will pit Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) against 34 year-old Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Known as a political rising star, Democrats are hoping that Grimes can pull an upset over the 5-term conservative, anti-choice and well-funded McConnell. McConnell has election concerns as he faces a primary opponent and has very weak poll numbers, but Grimes is running in a very red state that overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney in the last election. In 2010, McConnell was quoted as saying that his main legislative goal was to make President Obama a one term President. Grimes, coming from a politically active family, would be an asset on JAC’s issues in the Senate. Grimes has voiced strong support for Israel and the special US-Israel relationship. She says, “you will be able to count on me to champion Israel’s right to live in a secure society free from terrorist threats and attacks.” We are watching this race closely.



Above, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden welcoming the Jewish Community reception. The Bidens are seen here with Betsy Sheerr, Linda Sher, Dana Goldsmith Gordon and Janna Berk. 


 Above, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) was JAC’s first Talking Points speaker for the 2013-2014 year. JAC member, Kathy Emanuel, graciously offered her home for the event. 


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