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Plan gains to recognize campus harassment of Jewish students as a Civil Rights violation

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)—The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praises U.S. Reps. Michael E. McMahon (D-NY) and Gary C. Peters (D-MI) for urging the Department of Education to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation. 

In a letter sent Monday, August 9,  to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Reps. McMahon and Peters joined three dozen other Members of Congress in supporting the ZOA’s long-held position that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be enforced to protect Jewish students, consistent with policy statements issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights in 2004.  Title VI requires recipients of federal funding to ensure that their programs and activities are free from racial and ethnic discrimination. 

In July 2010, 36 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Duncan, urging that Jewish students be protected from harassment and intimidation under Title VI. 

The two congressional letters to Secretary Duncan followed from a well-attended June 2010 congressional briefing convened by U.S Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), co-chair of the Congressional Taskforce on Anti-Semitism.  Susan Tuchman, Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, and representatives from three other organizations, briefed congressional staffers on anti-Semitic harassment on U.S. college campuses and the federal government’s role in addressing these incidents. 

In addition to Rep. Klein, the July letter to Secretary Duncan was signed by the other co-chairs of the Congressional Taskforce on Anti-Semitism — Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ ) – and by Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Shelley Berkley (D-NV); Gary Ackerman (D-NY); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL); Ted Deutch (D-FL): Keith Ellison (D-MN); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL); Brad Sherman (D-CA); Kendrick Meek (D-FL); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Allyson Schwartz (D-PA); Henry Waxman (D-CA); John Adler (D-NJ); Alan Grayson (D-FL); Kathy Castor (D-FL); Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Rush Holt (D-NJ); Jackie Speier (D-CA); Steve Israel (D-NY); Steve Kagen (D-WI); Doug Lamborn (R-CO); Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Jared Polis (D-CO); Michele Bachmann (R-MN); Anthony Weiner (D-NY); Sander Levin (D-MI); Steve Rothman (D-NJ); Buck McKeon (R-CA); John Yarmuth (D-KY); Adam Schiff (D-CA); and Howard L. Berman (D-CA).

Their letter stated:  “We believe that enforcing Title VI to protect Jewish students who, in rare but highly significant situations, face harassment, intimidation or discrimination based on their ancestral or ethnic characteristics – including when it is manifested as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist sentiment that crosses the line into anti-Semitism – would help ensure that we’re preserving the integrity of our higher education system by affording the same protection to all ethnic and racial groups on our college campuses.” 

Endorsing this congressional letter “in its entirety,” Reps. McMahon and Peters said in their letter to Secretary Duncan, “It is critical that our civil rights laws be enforced as broadly as possible to make sure that all students can obtain their education in an environment that is tolerant, respectful, physically and emotionally safe, and conducive to learning.”

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein praised Reps. McMahon and Peters for calling on the Department of Education to provide Jewish students with the same legal protections that other ethnic and racial groups are already afforded: 

“We know from our work on college campuses that Jewish students have been threatened and physically assaulted.  Some students are even afraid for their physical safety because of the hateful speakers and programs that demonize Jews and Israel.  The ZOA thanks Congressmen McMahon and Peters for joining their colleagues in the House in supporting these students and affirming their legal right to a campus environment free from anti-Semitic hostility and Israel-bashing.”

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Preceding provided by Zionist Organization of America

Class and crass in saga of Sgt. Gilad Shalit

June 9, 2010 6 comments

 

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA–What a touch of crass. The Free Gaza Movement lacked the sense to even pretend that they recognize Jewish humanity when it smacks them in the face.

Before the violent Memorial Day clash with Israeli commandos, their Freedom Flotilla was supposedly packed with food, clothing and construction materials for the people of Gaza, but they had no room for a letter and package that Noam Shalit and his family wanted to send to his son, Gilad Shalit, held hostage by Hamas since June 25, 2006, according to media reports.

In Washington, D.C., two congressmen – a Jew and a Christian, a Democrat and a Republican, a New “Yawker” and a “heartlander” – jointly introduced House Resolution 1359 urging the immediate release of Shalit, the Israel Defense Forces sergeant seized by Hamas terrorists in a cross-border raid. They hope the measure passes before the fourth anniversary of Shalit’s kidnapping.

Rep. Gary Ackerman, whose district covers Jewish communities in Queens and Nassau County, chairs the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and represents portions of Queens and Nassau County. Rep. Dan Burton, of Indiana, co-sponsored the resolution in his capacity as senior Republican member of the subcommittee; about 10,000 Jews are estimated to live in or near Burton’s district.

The timing of 1359, announced in a news release from Ackerman, affords supporters of Israel an ideal opportunity to reassess efforts to seek Shalit’s release. No sustained drive to press for his freedom has ever been evident in the United States, though loosely organized efforts crop up every so often. Strong street protests in Israel may even be counter-productive, writes Haifa University Professor Steven Plaut.

Their common cause reflects the elementary injustice of Shalit’s plight. What Hamas persists in doing to the sergeant is intolerable. It is a compelling issue that ranks in priority close to Iran’s nuclear threat and the arms build-up in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Shalit’s kidnapping is a blatant act of war that justifies use of force by Israel. How can anyone dispute this?

Our protests in both America and Israel must be persistent, coordinated and full-throated, but we cannot be optimistic that it will spur Shalit’s release. That would be the best result, but at minimum we need to call the world’s attention to Shalit’s struggle. When critics pressure Israel, we should remind them of Ackerman’s words when he announced his legislation: “This outrageous and deeply immoral conduct is absolutely contrary to both international law and the most basic standards of human conduct.”

It is refreshing that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism – the umbrella organization for the Conservative movement – announced its launch of a drive to raise awareness of Shalit’s plight.

USCJ stated in an e-news article on its Web site that participants can join a Yellow Balloon campaign to mark the fourth anniversary by e-mailing virtual yellow balloons along with a message to friends, who can e-mail messages to others. The campaign, run by USCJ’s youth and young adult services department, urges the display of real yellow balloons in front of synagogues, affiliated organizations and private residences during the week of June 21.

“If this campaign keeps international pressure on the world community, we will have accomplished something,” says Richard Moline, USCJ’s youth and young adult services director, in the e-news article.

USCJ also calls upon people to lobby their elected officials and write his parents to express support.

In this vein, we can all write to our representatives in Congress asking them to sign onto Resolution 1359, especially those members of Congress perceived as harshly critical of Israel. Interestingly, some members of Congress called on Israel to expand access of supplies to Gaza without mentioning Shalit’s situation. That group includes Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania.

This is also an opportune time for Jewish organizations to demand that leaders of the Free Gaza Movement explain why they refused to deliver the Shalit family’s letter to Gilad.

Congress already passed a resolution on Shalit’s behalf during the preceding congressional session, said Ackerman, also co-sponsor of the first resolution. If you are learning this only now, you are not alone. Coverage of Shalit’s situation has been sporadic in the mainstream daily newspapers, and reporting in American Jewish newspapers has not been much better.

The media share the blame with Jews and other supporters of Israel who exerted limited effort to make news about Shalit. They were too busy pursuing less substantial matters such as disparaging Jimmy Carter, objecting to a potential Israel-bashing conference, demonstrating against a mosque near Ground Zero and hunting down Mel Gibson with the zeal of Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive.”

These other concerns are important and should be addressed, but we are talking proportions here. We need to focus on what is most significant, and I think a soldier’s kidnapping qualifies.

Israelis have been active holding demonstrations, but Haifa’s Steve Plaut reports in a commentary that they may be hurting Shalit’s cause. He writes, “These protests issue demands to and put pressure on the Israeli government rather than on Hamas. Hamas is indifferent to the desires and passions of the demonstrators. By demanding that ‘everything’ be done to obtain Shalit’s release, the only real effect of the protests is to raise the price it will take to obtain Shalit’s freedom. The protests also make such a release more remote and unlikely.

“The terrorists understand perfectly well that all this only serves to increase the pressure on the Israeli government to offer ever-greater capitulations,” he adds.

Many people are appalled that Israel would even consider Hamas’ demand that it release 1,000 or more Arab prisoners including – perhaps especially – mass murderers in exchange for Shalit. Israelis correctly fear that releasing prisoners will only encourage Hamas and other terrorist organizations to abduct more Israelis.

Maybe there are other ways for Israel to retrieve Shalit. One suggestion: Perhaps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can refer to the attack on Gaza last year by telling Hamas, “If you return Sgt. Shalit, we will not finish the job.”

Hamas may never give up Shalit no matter what we do. Yet if Jews do not show that we care, why should the rest of the world care?

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Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia freelance journalist. He blogs at www.Jewishconcerns.blogspot.com. He can be reached at bticker@comcast.net.

J Street applauds congressional resolution calling for immediate release of Gilad Shalit

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement Tuesday, May 18, in response to the introduction of House Resolution 1359:

“J Street applauds the introduction of House Resolution 1359, calling for the immediate release of captured Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit.  Introduced by the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Gary Ackerman and senior Republican on the subcommittee Rep. Dan Burton, the resolution is an important demonstration of bipartisan support not just for Gilad Shalit’s immediate release, but for achieving a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for a Jewish and democratic Israel within recognized and secure borders.

“J Street shares the strong belief of this resolution’s sponsors that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit should be released immediately. We also endorse the Israeli government’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure Shalit’s release and to bring him home to his family.

“On a recent J Street Education Fund Congressional Delegation trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to join members of Congress in meeting with Gilad Shalit’s father, who spoke in deeply moving terms about his son’s ongoing captivity, urging us all to do what we could to bring him home.

“We urge members of Congress to add their names to this important demonstration of support for Gilad Shalit, and of ‘strong support and deep interest’ in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution.

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Preceding provided by J Street

Jewish overreactions to accidental or intended slurs detract from more important issues

May 1, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA–New York City lost a talented, generous citizen when Ronan Tynan moved to Boston where he can patronize their businesses and pay their taxes instead. Adding the ultimate insult to injury, the Irish tenor donned a Red Sox jersey when he sang at a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in his new hometown.

Tynan emigrated from Ireland to America in 1998, and since 2000 sang “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch of important Yankee games. His 10-year stint with the Yankees ended abruptly last Oct. 16 after being accused of uttering an anti-Semitic remark, and this was followed by death threats, nasty e-mail messages and a threat from a surgeon that he would let him die on the operating table.

New Yorkers – a slight minority, we trust – called down the thunder upon Tynan because he made a vague joke about “two Jewish ladies”; the quip was perceived as anti-Semitic. Unlike others who made this kind of mistake, Tynan apologized and agreed to spend time on Anti-Defamation League endeavors. He even sang at the ADL’s annual dinner in Manhattan.

Tynan claimed in a New York Times piece that he was moving to Boston for a change and to be near friends and relatives. One must wonder if the Bronx Cheer he endured drove him out of town. An overreaction can produce that kind of reaction.

Perceived ethnic slurs can produce overreactions among all groups, and the pattern persisted in recent episodes involving the Jewish people. As Tynan adjusted to Boston life, South African Justice Richard Goldstone considered canceling his attendance at his grandson’s bar mitzvah because of an impending protest, and a Catholic bishop was fined by a German court for denying the occurrence of the Holocaust.

Goldstone in short order became an unwelcome household name among Jews for leading the United Nations commission that accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during last year’s cross-border war in Gaza. Some Jews – members of the South African Zionist Federation – planned to demonstrate in front of a Johannesburg synagogue if Goldstone attended his grandson’s bar mitzvah there.

Even harsh critics of Goldstone were offended by the protest plans. U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat who represents portions of Queens and Long Island, stated in a letter to federation chairman Avrom Krengel that he was “appalled and utterly disgusted” by reports that Goldstone would not attend because of the protest threat, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

The backlash to the federation’s backlash worked. Krengel’s organization canceled the demonstration and will meet with Goldstone.

In Germany, Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson was found guilty on April 16 of Holocaust denial in a district court in Regensburg that upheld a $22,473 fine imposed in 2009. Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany.

The year before, the London bishop was initially fined in connection with an interview with the Swedish SVT broadcaster in which he decried as “lies, lies, lies” the murder of Jews in gas chambers during World War II, JTA reported. He also allegedly claimed that no Jews were killed in the gas chambers during World War II and said the number of murdered European Jews did not exceed 300,000.

Anyone with this attitude must be a reprehensible lunatic, but Williamson hurt nobody except our sensibilities. The First Amendment here allows Williamson to talk this way. We can appreciate Germany’s sensitivity to the Jewish people, but punishing a person for exercising his free speech is not necessary.

By all means, anyone against bigotry must call attention to Holocaust denial, a judge who might have unfairly criticized Israel or a celebrity who makes a questionable joke about a minority group, but the backlash in all these cases is an overreaction, excessively so. We are talking proportions here. Far more compelling concerns menace the Jewish community that are downplayed or ignored altogether.

Did critics of Williamson, Goldstone and Tynan express their fury for the sake of Pamela Waechter or Gilad Shalit? Sorry, most people may not readily recognize their names. Waechter was murdered in 2006 inside the Jewish Federation building in Seattle when she and other colleagues were shot by a man after he entered the building; Naveed Haq was found guilty for the shootings last December. Shalit is an Israeli soldier held in captivity by Hamas, presumably in Gaza, since June 25, 2006.

The murder of a Jew and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier are compelling issues while less significant matters dominate our attention.

For those not familiar with Tynan’s situation, he told the Times that it began when a real estate agent innocuously referred to two women as “two Jewish ladies” as they were being shown a vacant apartment adjacent to his on the East Side of Manhattan. He spoke with them and determined that the “two Jewish ladies” might not like residing next to a loud tenor.

On Oct. 16, an associate of that agent told Tynan that the apartment was sold, adding, “Don’t worry, they’re not Red Sox fans.” He said his response – “As long as they are not the Jewish ladies” – was misinterpreted by a Jewish woman who was with the agent, and who subsequently complained to the Yankees and the media. Tynan explained that the term “Jewish ladies” was intended as a shorthand identification of the women he thought would not enjoy the apartment, not to malign their religion.

He was told by the Yankees not to appear that same night at Game 1 of the team’s playoff series against the Angels, and that was the end of his time with the Yankees.

He claimed that the Yankees would not meet with him to hear his side of the story, but he met with Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. That led to Tynan‘s involvement with the ADL. “He publicly apologized, and he wants to be a soldier in the struggle against bigotry. What else can you asked for?” Foxman said.

Foxman is right. Some of those offended by the incident needlessly got their Irish up.

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Ticker is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia