State of the Union: Jewish groups’ priorities

January 28, 2014
BY Dmitriy Shapiro

We all have a fair idea of what he might be saying on the domestic issues.

The only thing I truly will be listening for is to what he says with regard to the security of the state of Israel and the relationship with Iran. I’m anxious to hear his comments. I’ve been less than satisfied with the approach that they’ve taken to date.

I’m obviously not happy with the Iran deal and I would like to hear him say that if Iran doesn’t meet all of the expectations, not only will the U.S. pull out, but they will at the same time ratchet up sanctions that they’ll impose in the Menendez-Kirk bill.

And with regard to Israel, I don’t know exactly where we are in this peace process, but it certainly doesn’t sound like Secretary Kerry’s approach to date has been what’s necessarily in the best interest of Israel. I’d like to hear him further clarify what he’s going to do to secure Israel, especially as you look at what was going on this past week in the West Bank with terrorist attacks being planned.

— Fred Zeidman, businessman, national chairman of Israel Bonds, vice chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition


I hope to hear President Obama reaffirm that the United States stands firmly with the people of Israel in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat and in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

– Steve Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington


I would like to hear the president say that comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority for his administration. This issue is in the national interest and the smart thing to do. Fixing our broken immigration system has to contemplate a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, effective enforcement, increased visas for high and low-skilled immigrant workers to satisfy the labor needs of American businesses to remain competitive in a global economy, and support for family reunification.

He should also say that he will spare no effort or resource and will invest whatever political capital necessary to make this a reality, hopefully with the concurrence of those in Congress and the majority of the American people, who are convinced, as I am, that this anomalous situation runs counter both to our values and our interests.

– Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C.


The president should address the deep concern about Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons at a time when the Middle East is teetering between order and chaos. He should address the growing gaps between our society’s political extremes and call for a renewed American dialogue based on the values of civility, patriotism and the divine call to build a better world. And, finally, he should speak passionately about the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger – a value that leads us to embrace the immigrant and refugee and help them find their place in our country.

– Alan Ronkin, Washington, D.C., regional director for the American Jewish Committee


One of the things I would love to hear in the State of the Union, though I don’t think it’s going to come up although we would love to see it, is the commitment to senior citizens housing, in particular, but more nationally, the issues relating to refocusing our nation’s housing policy to persons who might need affordable rental housing.

We’ve had a lot of discussion and rhetoric over the last number of years about home ownership and I’d love to see us have a little more of an emphasis back to affordable rental housing – in particular where older persons can receive community services at a place where they live, which is significantly cheaper and much easier and cost effective than having to go to institutional settings when they don’t really need it.

In years past we’ve had a strong affordable housing policy, but that has changed over the years as the pie has gotten significantly smaller. So I’d love to see much more emphasis back on affordable housing for older persons, especially since the population is getting that much older.

The nature of domestic spending has gotten significantly less over the years and with all the discussion that we heard on the Hill over the last couple of years, it is getting more and more difficult with the sequestration; all of that is less and less money for senior housing. So the affordable housing pot has just begun to get smaller and that has been difficult for those of us who are particularly interested in this issue.

One of the other things would be with regard to health reform, which I’m sure he will mention in his speech. We’d like to see references in particular to the importance of continued outreach to the younger, more-healthy older population – those in their 50s and 60s who could not get insurance coverage before the health reform and affordable care was enacted, but now obviously can, and we strongly endorse and support that.

Lastly, we want to reinforce our strong commitment in support of the state of Israel.

– Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

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