Arthur Bushel’s Illustrious Public Health Career

During his long and illustrious career, Dr. Arthur Bushel played a major role in bringing water fluoridation to New York City. (Marc Shapiro)

During his long and illustrious career, Dr. Arthur Bushel played a major role in bringing water fluoridation to New York City.
(Marc Shapiro)

Dr. Arthur Bushel’s career includes a long list of accolades — leadership positions with both the New York City and state health departments, work in getting fluoride in the city’s water, leading the effort to get African-Americans accepted in the American Dental Association and a chair position at a Johns Hopkins University department — but the 93-year-old chalks it up mostly to good luck.

“Part of my whole career has been marked by good fortune,” he said, speaking from a lounge chair in his apartment at North Oaks Retirement Community.

Bushel and his wife, Marian, didn’t land in Baltimore until 1969, when he was already retired, but Bushel took a position as professor and chairman at what would become Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in the public health administration department. That would later become Health Policy and Management.

While an exceptional career in public health preceded his time in Baltimore, the Bushels’ North Oaks apartment is not full of plaques and other relics from his career, but photos of their three children — Glenn, Faith and Betsy — and their families. To dig into Bushel’s career, one would need to rifle through Marian’s files, or hear it from the man himself.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bushel followed in his father Harry’s footsteps and became a dentist. He attended Columbia University’s dental school, spending his last year there in the Army Specialized Training Program.

He spent two-and-a-half years at Camp Gordon (now Fort Gordon) in Augusta, Ga., during World War II, taking care of the dental needs of new recruits.

“That’s one of things that really had an effect on me, and I decided to go into public health,” he said. “They were a bunch of young kids. I wasn’t much older than any one of them, I was on the younger side, and they were in terrible shape. And I was seeing them from all over the country.”

Because of the conditions he saw in the new troops, Bushel spearheaded an effort to train dental hygienists and ran two dental clinics at Camp Gordon.

After serving in the Army, he went back to Columbia, this time to study public health. His knack for being in the right place at the right time began after he completed the one-year program. He got a call from the dean of the public health school, who said the New York State Department of Health needed someone to temporarily oversee the Bureau of Dental Health.

“When [the head] came back, there was no job for me, but at the time, just to mark my remarkable career — remarkable in the sense of chance — Herman Hilleboe became commissioner, and he was a ball of fire. He wasn’t waiting for anybody to get back from any place,” Bushel said. “So he got me the job [and] created the job of assistant director of dentistry of the state.”

It was there that he worked with Dr. David Ast on a pioneering fluoride study. In 1944, Ast compared the health and dental records of residents of Newburgh and Kingston, two New York towns. Newburgh’s water was fluoridated and the study found much lower rates of cavities among its children; the town became an example of the safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation.

In his time at the state health department, he also oversaw a mobile dental clinic, a trailer that went all over the state.

“These were places that had no dentists,” Bushel said. “What we did was these various counties paid to have the trailer come for a month or however long the population seemed to warrant it.”

In working on the fluoride studies, Bushel found himself in the middle of debates, and the comments from the opposition ran the gamut.

“You had people [saying] ‘rat poison’ and stuff and ‘you shouldn’t force people to do it,’” he said, noting that some thought water fluoridation was part of a communist takeover. “I was threatened as a matter of fact; my children [also] when they were pretty young.”

Marian Bushel recalled various phone calls harassing the family.

Those early debates prepared him for New York City, where he would serve as director of the bureau of dentistry for its health department under Leona Baumgartner, the city’s first female commissioner of health.

“Leona gave me the assignment of selling fluoridation to the city, so I had a big political career,” Bushel said, jokingly. He was also in charge of the city’s 115 free pediatric dental clinics. “We didn’t do fancy stuff, but we filled a lot of teeth.”

Ultimately, New York City’s water supply was fluoridated in 1964, which Bushel attributed to having data “you didn’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner to appreciate.”

After his time at the city health department, part of which included time as acting commissioner, Bushel came to Hopkins. His name is now listed on the School of Public Health’s website under “Heroes of Public Health.”

But Bushel is not one to brag. His humble nature is precisely why North Oaks executive director Mark Pressman only heard of Bushel’s achievements through the grapevine.

“For quite some time I had understood he was a dentist. [I thought] that’s pretty cool, that’s an accomplishment. That’s a worthy profession,” Pressman said. “Sometimes we find out about these rather remarkable things because they get to know other residents and share information, and then it’s like, ‘Holy cow! How would I have known?’”

Technion Brings Students to Baltimore

030615_technionA trio of representatives from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology traveled to Baltimore last week to tout the successes of their school.

“I grew up hearing about the Technion,” said Eitan Lukin, a junior electrical engineering student at the university. “It’s very prestigious around the world.”

Lukin, Neta Sagi, a second-year medical student, and Yehuda Leviatan, an electrical engineering professor, spent more than a week last week touring the Northeast United States in a trip that finished in Baltimore, with a stop at the Pikesville office of the American Technion Society, a major supporter of the school.

The event featured wine and sushi and allowed supporters the chance to mingle with the professor and students.

“There is great support” for the Technion from around the world, said Leviatan. This was his second trip to the U.S. through ATS. A large part of the institution’s good reputation, he noted, stems from the country of Israel’s reputation as a leader in technological fields. In addition to producing four Nobel Prize winners, the school also asserts that two-thirds of Israeli companies listed on NASDAQ either were founded by Technion graduates or have a Technion grad at the helm.

“The Israelis are known as hard workers,” Leviatan said. “They are innovators.”

IDF Soldiers School Students Visiting pair humanize life in Israeli army

Yehuda (left) and Gal, both former IDF soldiers, take questions from Park School students after giving presentations about their lives in Israel at an  assembly.

Yehuda (left) and Gal, both former IDF soldiers, take questions from Park School students after giving presentations about their lives in Israel at an assembly.

On a recent snowy Monday morning, a crowd of Park School’s upper school students gathered in the auditorium to hear stories from two former Israel Defense Forces soldiers — Gal and Yehuda — that covered everything from arresting a knife-wielding man to helping asylum seekers who spent three years walking from Eritrea in northeast Africa to Israel.

The pair weren’t selling anything or raising money for any program and asked nothing of the students but to listen to their stories and question the mainstream narratives of what’s going on in Israel.

“If you watch one channel, watch three more. If you read one newspaper, read three other newspapers in order to understand the complete story,” Gal, a 25-year-old law student who served as a basic training commander in the IDF, told the students. For security reasons, neither of the soldiers gave last names. “There are two sides to every story, and I feel that our side is not properly conveyed in a fair way in the media.”

She and Yehuda, a native of Ethiopia who served in the IDF border patrol, shared their stories about life in the military and beyond. The presentation was organized through StandWithUs, a nonprofit organization that works to educate the public about Israel and its policies. The Park School presentation was part of a tour that included stops in Florida, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and also at Johns Hopkins University.

Gal and Yehuda spoke to students for about 40 minutes, then addressed a smaller group of about 10 students in a classroom for additional questions.

In her presentation, Gal spoke about why she joined the IDF and what her time as a commander was like.

“I decided that I wanted to do something meaningful in the IDF, because since I was a little girl, I heard a lot about joining the army and giving back to the county,” she said. Her late grandfather established the IDF’s paratrooper school as well as a paratrooper battalion, which her little brother joined during his service. “I decided to become a basic training commander. … That means I have a month-and-a-half to take seniors who just graduated from high school and turn them into soldiers.”

She spoke about going with three of her troops to the Israeli-Egyptian border, where they saw three men wearing all black and confronted them. They turned out to be asylum seekers from Eritrea who spent three years walking to Israel. Her troops got them to a safe place and later brought them blankets, food and clothes. Now a cupcake shop employee, one of her best friends and co-workers came from Eritrea.

“I know it’s really ironic, because I used to be a really tough commander and that’s how everyone knows me — I [taught] machine guns and M-16s — and now I’m a cupcake baker,” she joked.

Yehuda, 26, also spoke about his time in the IDF, which he didn’t join until he was 21 after he moved to Israel from Ethiopia. He is a political science and communications major at Hadassah College in Jerusalem. He spoke about the harsh realities of working border patrol in the West Bank.

“Imagine to be a solider in the Middle East, [where there are] people who have extremist [ideologies], that people are willing to die or to kill people in order to become martyrs,” he said. “It’s not an easy job to stand over there.”

He spoke about a time he and his fellow soldiers arrested a man wielding a knife at a holy site they were protecting; the man planned to attack worshippers.

“I personally want my future son to go to college when he is 18, not to go like me to the army,” Yehuda said. “But as a people, as a nation, what we need is constant peace, stable peace that cannot be threatened by any extremist groups that are coming to destroy us as a nation, as a people.”

The soldiers took questions on what it’s like in combat missions, how the world view of young soldiers changes and how American students can support friends in the IDF. In the smaller group, Gal and Yehuda spoke about the roles of race and age in the army, discussed lone soldiers — Israeli immigrants who enter the army without the benefit of having parents living in Israel — and what it’s like applying for jobs after service.

Max Rotenberg, a junior who interns with StandWithUs, helped set up the day’s program. He lived in Israel when he was in kindergarten and has been back many times since.

“Israel’s always been a really important part of my life,” he said. “It’s the home of the Jewish people. The least I can do is stand up for it in the court of public opinion.”

Micah Saltzberg, co-leader of Park’s Israel club, said the experience humanized IDF soldiers for him.

“It’s very easy to imagine when you join the army, you kind of lose who you are as a person, you become a small piece, you become a number in a larger goal or mission,” he said. “But hearing what it’s like from a personal side, it gives me a new appreciation for what it means to be in the Israeli army and why it’s important.”

‘Startup Nation Meets Startup State’ Israel, Maryland strengthen tech, investment ties

Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, an Israeli company that finances startups, has announced his company is partnering with the Maryland/Israel  Development Center. (Photo by Suzanne Pollak)

Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, an Israeli company that finances startups, has announced his company is partnering with the Maryland/Israel Development Center.
(Photo by Suzanne Pollak)

Dror Sharon placed a finger-sized meter on a pear, opened an app on his smartphone and within seconds knew that each 100 grams of that green pear contained 72 calories and was 16 percent sugar.

Sharon, co-founder of the Israeli company SCIO, envisions a day in the near future when everyone will use his spectrometer to learn the chemical makeup of whatever they want — medicine they just purchased, food they are about to digest, chemicals they use, a flower growing in the yard, even the amount of THC in a bag of marijuana.

Sharon, along with other Israeli scientists and researchers, gathered Feb. 27 at the law offices of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. They have great ideas but not enough money to bring them to fruition. That could all change following the recent announcement of a new partnership between the Maryland/ Israel Development Center and OurCrowd.

The goal is to strengthen technology and investment ties between Maryland and Israel, explained Barry Bogage, executive director of MIDC.

OurCrowd is an Israeli venture capital crowd-funding company that allows investors to sit on company boards and share in possible earnings. Started by Jon Medved in 2013, it has raised more than $100 million and invested in more than 100 Israeli startup companies. So far, 12 of them have reached valuations greater than $100 million.

“It’s really a great natural partnership,” said MIDC chair Rob Frier. Both Maryland and Israel “are really hotbeds” in the field of startup companies.

“Startup nation meets startup state,” Medved added.

He encouraged anyone thinking about investing in an Israeli company to disregard “the People magazine” drama between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is driving the news these days.

“The reality is: Never before has the relationship between the two countries been closer,” Medved said. “This is a spat of personalities. What we are doing today puts the lie to the fear [that the alliance between America and Israel is fading].”

Everyone thinks of Israel as a leader in defense products, but it has a large number of startup companies involved in technology, and that number continued to grow even during last summer’s war with Gaza. For the last five years, Israel’s growth rate has risen 3.5 percent on the average, Medved said.

In the past two years, OurCrowd has invested in ReWalk, which manufactures an exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk and climb; Varigate, an irrigation management software that can save large farms up to 20 percent of their water usage; and Nextpeer, which adapts any mobile game to be multiplayer.

OurCrowd has invested $3.75 million in SCIO, whose spectro-meter will cost $250 when it goes on the market but someday may be so inexpensive that it will be a regular feature in refrigerators, blenders and other appliances, Sharon said.

JWRP Conference Comes to Pearlstone

The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project is hosting a leadership conference at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown from March 9 to 11.

The JWRP was founded in 2008 with a mission of empowering women to change the world through Jewish values. Its flagship program, the Momentum Trip, takes women to Israel for eight days and to date has more than 5,000 participants from 17 counties and 111 partner organizations.

The conference will bring Momentum Trip participants together to continue to hone their skills in leadership, strategic planning, Israel engagement and advocacy and fundraising.

“Our goal is to build on the experience Jewish women gain through our trips and to help them grow in their communities as leaders through dialogue, shared learning and networking,” JWRP Executive Director Ben Pery said in a news release.

The conference is expected to bring more than 180 attendees from eight countries.

“We took to this leadership conference to propel our efforts forward with the Israeli government,” said JWRP co-founder Jeanie Milbauer. “In a short period of time these women will be instrumental in creating real change in Jewish communities across the world.”

The trips are done through a partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.

“We were extremely impressed with JWRP’s concept, results and the high caliber and passion of its staff, board members and supporters,” said Margarita Spichko, the diaspora coordinator at the ministry. “The opportunity to bring more women to the homeland and then take what they learned and the sights they saw back to their countries is critical to ensuring our future.”

Center of Attention In Lithuania, Yiddish teacher becomes unlikely bulwark against far right

Dovid Katz has become a target of scorn for speaking out against  ultranationalist groups in Lithuania. (Photos by Cnaan Liphshiz)

Dovid Katz has become a target of scorn for speaking out against ultranationalist groups in Lithuania.
(Photos by Cnaan Liphshiz)

KAUNAS, Lithuania — Dovid Katz isn’t typically a hard man to miss. With his bushy charcoal beard, heavy physique and trademark all-black outfits, Katz, a New York-born scholar of Yiddish, resembles a character from a Harry Potter film.

But at one of Europe’s more unusual neo-Nazi marches, complete with ultranationalists clad in medieval armor and smoke blowing in the colors of the Lithuanian flag, even he could blend in temporarily with the crowd.

But halfway through the Feb. 16 procession traversing Lithuania’s second-largest city, Katz was spotted. One marcher walked up to him and blew a horn in his direction as others began chanting “Out with Katz.” Undeterred, he continued to flank the procession.

For Katz, 58, who moved to Lithuania in 1999 to take a professorship at Vilnius University, the incident was just the latest expression of hate he has endured since 2008, when he began to speak out against the country’s creeping legitimization of fascism.

“I came here in the euphoric post-independence years, when world peace was around the corner,” Katz said. “My own euphoria diminished with every neo-Nazi march after 2008 and attempt to justify and explain away the Holocaust, events that are becoming even more common and acceptable responses to Russian aggression.”

Lithuania has a long history of conflict with its Russian neighbor. The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, which until 2011 did not even mention the more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust, was established in 1992 to memorialize Lithuanians killed by the Nazi, but mostly Soviet, occupiers.

Lithuania is also one of the few countries where neo-Nazis are free to brandish swastikas on the street. Its northern neighbor, Latvia, is the only European country where veterans of the Waffen SS are allowed each year to march on main streets and commemorate their comrades, who are venerated as freedom fighters against Russia.

Since 2008, Latvia and Lithuania have played host to three neo-Nazi marches annually. A fourth event began last year in the third Baltic nation, Estonia.

The Baltic nations, which have clashed frequently with Slavic peoples, share bitter memories from Soviet domination that have made them natural allies of Germany, according to Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office. The historic conflict led thousands of Lithuanians and Latvians to volunteer for armed Nazi groups.

“Now, Russian expansionism under Vladimir Putin is serving as the perfect pretext to push forward a false historical account that accuses the Russians of genocide, and at the same time conveniently portrays the local Baltic populations as victims instead of perpetrators,” said Zuroff, who shadowed the Kaunas march with Katz.

Those tendencies were in plain sight at the Kaunas march, where dozens carried banners of Ukrainian nationalists alongside Nazi symbols. Tomas Skorupskis, a march organizer from the Lithuanian Nationalist Youth Union, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has helped swell the ranks of Lithuanian nationalists.

“Many Lithuanians find it hard to forgive Jews who, during communism, killed nationalist freedom fighters,” Skorupsis said. “But I think we should leave it in the past and look ahead.”

Lithuanian ultranationalists march in Kaunas last month.

Lithuanian ultranationalists march in Kaunas last month.

Since he began denouncing these phenomena, Katz, the author of numerous books in the field of Yiddish, lost his position at the Yiddish institute he founded at Vilnius University. He says it was political retribution, but his former bosses deny the claim.

Far-right activists often denounce Katz as a Russian agent. Some have published insulting caricatures of him and posted photographs of Katz at a cafe with a woman to the Facebook page of a far-right activist. Katz understands the latter move to be a reminder that he is being watched.

“I found out that anyone who will speak out against the legitimization of Nazism will be marginalized or threatened, or both,” said Katz, who now makes a living by lecturing internationally and from seminars in Vilnius for visiting groups from around the world. “Especially if they are single, a bit eccentric and of a certain weight and appearance.”

Katz is not the only anti-fascist activist complaining about persecution in the Baltics. In Latvia, authorities last year refused to renew the residency permit of Valery Engel, a Russian Jew with dual Israeli citizenship who lives in Riga with his Latvian wife and child. Earlier this month, Latvian officials considering his appeal to remain in the country demanded Engel prove that he informed Russian authorities of his Israeli citizenship.

“Since when does Latvia enforce Russia’s laws on nationality?” asked Joseph Koren, a Latvia-born Jew who with Engel runs the Latvian branch of the World Without Nazism group. “It’s an attempt to harass and to silence our opposition to the far right and the government’s support of it.”

Both Koren and Engel are mentioned several times in a 2013 report by the Latvia Security Police as having “played a great role in the discrediting campaign against Latvia” through actions “carried out in accordance with Russian foreign policy.”

To Koren, a businessmen who says he is routinely detained at Riga’s airport and lives under constant surveillance, this shows that Baltic nations “may have ended Soviet rule, but the Soviet techniques and mindset remain.” Katz’s case, Koren says, “is classic silencing in academia, just like in Soviet times.”

Many Lithuanians find it hard to forgive Jews who, during communism, killed nationalist freedom fighters. But I think we should leave it in the past and look ahead.

The Latvian Foreign Ministry did not respond to questions about Engel and Koren.

For his first nine years in Lithuania, Katz largely avoided speaking out about politics. That changed in 2008, when Lithuanian prosecutors began probing three Jews who were declared suspects of war crimes allegedly committed during World War II. The investigation was abandoned amid an international outcry that Katz helped generate by lobbying Western embassies and founding his website But it came at a price.

“I was thrust into the spotlight of political activism at the expense of my reputation as a scholar,” Katz said in an interview in his Vilnius apartment, which he shares with thousands of 19th-century Yiddish books that he rescued from across Eastern Europe. “I could no longer remain silent.”

Katz says he was warned by his bosses at the Yiddish institute to cease lobbying in defense of the three Jews — Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis — who had fought as partisans against the Nazis.

But the institute’s director, Sarunas Liekis, a member of the state’s commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, denies Katz’s politics factored into the decision not to renew his contract.

“Mr. Katz is prone to conspiracy theories,” Liekis said. “The truth is he hardly showed up for work from 2007 to 2010.”

Katz says he never missed a class during his time at the institute.

Raise Hell Instead of Money Mikulski announces her last term in Senate

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Senate, has announced she will not be running for a sixth term. (Melissa Gerr)

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Senate, has announced she will not be running for a sixth term.
(Melissa Gerr)

Throwing Maryland politics into a tizzy and spurring jockeying for position for a rare open Senate seat, Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced Monday that she will not seek a sixth term in the chamber she’s served since 1987.

There was “nothing gloomy about the announcement,” she said at the Inn at Henderson’s Wharf in Fells Point. “There’s no health problem” and “I’m not frustrated with the Senate; the Senate will always be what the Senate is.”

But, she said, “I had to ask myself who am I campaigning for? Am I campaigning for me, or am I campaigning for my constituents? Fighting for my job or fighting for their job? Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell?”

By the end of her current term, on Dec. 31, 2016, she will have served longer than any woman in the U.S. Congress.

In an emotional announcement, Mikulski thanked the people of Maryland for “the trust that they have given me” and thanked Sen. Ben Cardin and former Sen. Paul Sarbanes for their support and partnership over the years.

“First and foremost I look at this as an opportunity to celebrate an incredible record of a remarkable person who has made a permanent positive mark on our political system,” said Cardin, who was at the announcement. But “this is bittersweet for me. It will leave an incredible void because she’s been a real powerful force for our state.”

When asked what was her proudest moment serving the people of Maryland, Mikulski said there was “no job too big or too small,” whether it was removing stigmatized language in reference to special-needs children or listening to the financial needs of firefighters and ultimately engaging Republicans to create a national funding program.

“My best ideas have come from the people — listening to the people, knowing what their needs are, responding to that need and trying to turn it into national policy,” she said.

Sarbanes’ son, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-District 3), called Mikulski a political force in Maryland and on Capitol Hill.

“Breaking glass ceilings and fighting for working families, her career is nothing short of historic,” he said in a statement. “I am among the many Marylanders who feel privileged to have benefited from her outstanding service. We wish her all the best in her well-deserved retirement.”

The big question is who will fill Mikulski’s seat. Many eyes turned to former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considering a run for president in 2016. He quickly removed his name from consideration on Tuesday.

“I am hopeful and confident that very capable public servants with a desire to serve in the Senate will step up as candidates for this important office,” he said in a statement provided to The Baltimore Sun. “I will not be one of them.”

Reached at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a member of the National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive committee, speculated on a possible Senate run by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, whose 8th Congressional District stretches from Washington’s Northwest suburbs through Howard County and into Frederick and Carroll counties.

Van Hollen is “one of the finest legislators in Maryland and the country,” she said. Still, “he would have to give up his seniority and acquired authority” in the House of Representatives to become a freshman senator.

Mikulski had no opinion of who her successor might be, but she plans to finish the rest of her term, working hard on behalf of Marylanders.

“Though I’m turning a new page,” said Mikulski, “make no mistake, we’re not writing the last chapter.”

Geoffrey Melada contributed to this article.

Seeking Credit Day school advocates testify on private school tax break

Despite an onslaught of opposition in the state Senate charging private and parochial schools with discriminating against gays and lesbians and a six-hour wait to testify in the House of Delegates, advocates for a tax credit that would reward companies that make contributions to Maryland schools, including private and parochial schools, came ready to do battle for their cause last week in hearings on the proposal.

The bill has passed in the Senate in the past, and Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, said he and other proponents have learned to save most of their effort for the House, where past efforts have failed to ever get the legislation out of committee. But after loading their roster with a wide array of people who would testify on behalf of the credit, including delegates and even a public school parent, six hours of waiting through the hearing on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s pet charter school bill took some of the wind out of advocates’ sails.

At the Feb. 25 hearing in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for Bill 405, the Maryland Education Credit proposal, the opposition came out swinging, said Sadwin. In addition to the teachers’ union and other groups, which argued that the bill would hurt public school students, the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland made the case to legislators that the credit would effectively endorse private schools’ refusals to employ gay or lesbian instructors.

“They’ve really crafted the opposition around that argument,” said Sadwin, adding that he believes it takes focus away from what the bill does for schools.

In the House Ways and Means Committee, where Sadwin and others were expecting more of an uphill fight, the opposition included fewer people, but the long wait resulted in many people leaving before they could testify; their testimony was submitted to the committee in paper form.

Despite the setback, advocates remain optimistic about the tax credit’s fate. With the Senate sponsor sitting on the committee to which the bill is assigned and the Hogan administration bringing the House version, the chances the bill will finally be passed this year remain better than ever, said Sadwin.

Additionally, he said, the governor’s charter school bill has opened the door to a new kind of conversation about improving Maryland’s schools, one that focuses on providing students with more options. “If your public school is not serving your needs, you have an option to seek out a public charter school, which may be more defined and, therefore, could provide you with a better option. If that doesn’t work, you can go ahead and find a private or religious school, which may be a better option for you. … It is trying to create better options for the kids.”

Radioactive Affairs Netanyahu and AIPAC make full-court press on Capitol Hill

The signs at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference were emblazoned with the words “This is Israel,” but the overarching message to the record-setting crowd in Washington, D.C., was clear: Stop Iran now.

On the first night of the three-day conference, which ended Tuesday, March 3, Brad Gordon, director of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, told the 16,000 attendees that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon was their one and only goal in lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill.

“When we go to the Hill on Tuesday, we will stress the urgency of the Iranian nuclear issue. And we will ask Congress first to support diplomacy by increasing economic pressure on Iran [and] second to insist on a good agreement, one that truly prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.”

Gordon, a former U.S. ambassador who worked on nuclear nonproliferation issues in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, said that a third emphasis would be for Congress “to play a key role in reviewing any agreement” reached between U.S. and Iranian negotiators at talks in Geneva.

Before AIPAC sent teams to lobby representatives and senators on Capitol Hill, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told a joint meeting of Congress that the contours of a deal being drafted with Iran prior to a summer deadline portend doom to not only the Jewish state, but to the United States as well.

It is a “very bad deal,” said Netanyahu. “We’re better off without it.”

Typically, AIPAC lobbies for three issues. In recent history those items have been securing foreign aid for Israel, lobbying for a negotiated peace on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

But with the Iranian negotiations looming large, longtime AIPAC member Ellen Lightman of Baltimore, who served as a lobbying group leader, called Iran “the issue of the conference.”

“In Maryland, we are very fortunate that our members of Congress are understanding of the issues,” said Lightman. “Nobody loves Israel more than [Sens.] Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski,” who on Monday announced her decision not to seek a sixth term in 2016.

Lightman continued by touting the organization’s good relationships with Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes but cautioned that such relationships should not be taken for granted; continuous advocacy on U.S.-Israel relations are key, she said.

Iran dominated the speeches of nearly every guest invited to the main stage of the morning and evening plenary sessions.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke for nearly 30 minutes Monday about the importance of the U.S.-Israel bond and reiterated a commitment to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

“Talks, no talks; agreement, no agreement — the United States will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our national security and that of our closest allies,” she said.

Power won over the audience by addressing how the United States supports Israel at the U.N.

“Before the United States joined the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009, more than half of the country-specific resolutions adopted there were focused on Israel,” she said. “Today, we’ve helped lower that proportion to less than a third.”

Power also touted America’s lone dissenting vote against a resolution to create a commission to investigate alleged human rights violations during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas last summer.

But the speech by Power, who urged attendees to hear the Obama administration out before pronouncing judgment on the Iran negotiations, addresses from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and well-received remarks from foreign dignitaries including former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman were merely a prelude to the man everyone had gathered to see: Netanyahu.

As Bob Cohen, president of AIPAC, began his introductory remarks, the audience got to its feet before the prime minister even stepped foot on the stage.

Clearly in his element, Netanyahu, whose presence in Washington and push to derail a nuclear deal between the West and Iran earned rebukes from the White House as well as from Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, his challenger in the country’s March 17 parliamentary elections, showed off the English he polished growing up in Philadelphia and as a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

He teased the crowd by calling out to competing whoops and cheers, “Anyone here from California? Florida? New York?”

“You’re here from coast to coast, from every part of this great land. And you’re here at a critical time,” he exhorted the crowd. “You’re here to tell the world that reports of the demise of Israeli-U.S. relations are not only premature, they’re just wrong.”

After thanking a litany of guests, including Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prossor and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister attempted to downplay the political furor of his congressional address.

“My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both,” Netanyahu said. (He echoed that point a day later in Congress.)

Getting to the heart of his approximately 20-minute AIPAC address, Netanyahu said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the purpose of my address to Congress tomorrow is to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.” He further emphasized his contention with a projection of a world map detailing areas where Iran has been accused of sponsoring terrorism.

“Now disagreements among allies are only natural from time to time, even among the closest of allies. Because there are important differences between America and Israel,” he said. “American leaders worry about the security of their country. Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country.”

In Congress, Netanyahu contrasted the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to Iran’s charter, which he said guarantees “death, tyranny and a pursuit of jihad.”

“The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons,” he added.

He called on the world to demand of Iran three things: “First, stop aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country Israel, the one and only Jewish state.” Each statement was met with thunderous applause.

He cautioned that a bad deal would spark a nuclear arms race.

“A region where small skirmishes can start big wars would turn into a nuclear tinder box,” he said before refuting the notion that the failure to achieve a deal would result in Israeli military intervention. “The alternative to a bad deal is a much better deal,” he said, “a better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live.”

After referencing the horrors of the Holocaust and addressing Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in the gallery directly overhead, Netanyahu promised, “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel, I know that you stand with Israel.”

Dr. Gary Applebaum of Pasadena, Md., attended both of Netanyahu’s speeches. He agreed with Netanyahu’s assessment that any current disagreement would not cause lasting damage, particularly when the U.S. and Israel have common “values, mission and purpose.”

“For better or worse, the world was listening. … I think he made his case,” said Applebaum. “Who else but the prime minister of Israel can stand there and say ‘never again’ and really mean it?”

A Turn to the Right Boteach hosts shadow conference during AIPAC

Panel host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (second from left) stands between  featured guests Sen. Ted Cruz (left) and Elie Wiesel.

Panel host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (second from left) stands between
featured guests Sen. Ted Cruz (left) and Elie Wiesel.

WASHINGTON — While thousands of attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference milled around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, D.C., awaiting a speech by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, a who’s who of right-leaning pro-Israel leaders, donors and supporters filled the large main-floor committee hearing room of the Dirksen Senate office building to listen to a panel featuring Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Guests at the Monday event, “The Meaning of Never Again: Preventing a Nuclear Iran,” numbered in the hundreds, watching the two panelists — with host Boteach acting as sometimes moderator, sometimes panelist — holding court in the cavernous room. Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat who announced her retirement earlier that day, often presided over that room in her role chairing the Senate Committee on Appropriations, discussing federal funding legislation that includes foreign aid to Israel.

But on this night, the show belonged to the other side of the aisle, in the person of audience member and billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson and Boteach, who, in 2012, won a New Jersey GOP primary for a House of Representatives seat but came up short in the general election. Illuminated by bright television lighting and recorded by several cameras, the panel discussed the danger of a nuclear Iran and expressed support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress.

As the elder statesman, Wiesel provided the philosophical backbone for the event, which sought to equate Iran with Nazi Germany and illustrate the danger it poses for Jews and the State of Israel.

“We have America today. In my time, we didn’t have America,” said Wiesel, highlighting the need for the United States to take an active role against Iran rather than merely participate in negotiations.

Cruz’s remarks drew the biggest applause, as he reflected on the issue with his usual red-meat conservative rhetoric and rhythm of speech more reminiscent of an actor performing a monologue than a politician trying to work a crowd.

Iran’s leaders “have not been subtle in any regard about what their objectives are in the nuclear program. This is not about powering the lights,” said Cruz. “The father of the Iranian nuclear program, who thankfully has now met his maker, involuntarily, I might add, in his last will and testament he explicitly provided what he wanted on his tombstone. He specified that his tombstone would read, ‘Here lies a man who has sought to annihilate the nation of Israel.’

“What matters is what we do right now to address the single greatest national security threat facing both the nation of Israel and the United States, what we do right now to ensure that in no circumstances will the nation of Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons capability,” he continued. “The gravity of this threat cannot be overstated.”

Most of the audience had come from the AIPAC Conference but were not the normal collection of bipartisan AIPAC attendees. This was a crowd that wouldn’t mind if they missed Rice’s speech back on the main stage of the convention center. The room on Capitol Hill was full of leaders from a number of right-wing pro-Israel organizations — a detail not lost on members of the leftist anti-war organization Code Pink.

Demonstrators wearing their trademark color set the tone of the meeting early when they unfurled large anti-Israel, anti-AIPAC posters in front of the room and began chanting, shocking some audience members. The audience responded with shouts of its own, first in unison with “Get out, get out” and followed by “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.

Code Pink, a familiar sight in this committee room, typically shows up to hearings to heckle witnesses for a few minutes until they are led out by police. But due to the event’s last-minute location change, Capitol Police were not in the room. The police were notified through Cruz’s aides, and the long response time led to a brief period of confusion.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who sat in the front row, ended up in an altercation with the protestors, being pushed and threatened with a lawsuit, he said, after he tried to take one of the group’s signs.

Part of the reason for the crowd and the event may have been the result of a recent controversy embroiling Boteach. The previous weekend, Boteach and the organization he leads, This World: The Values Network, took out an advertisement in The New York Times that featured images of skulls and bones of victims from the Rwandan genocide next to a picture of Rice and comparing the United States’ decision not to interfere in the Rwandan genocide to the Holocaust.

“What matters is what we do right now to address the single greatest national security threat facing both the nation of Israel and the United States, what we do right now to ensure that in no circumstances will the nation of Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons capability.”

Boteach’s ad was roundly criticized by Jewish communal organizations of all denominations.

The panel was originally intended to be a bipartisan discussion, with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) representing the pro-Israel left, but he quickly withdrew after the controversial ad was published.

“Since 1998, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to urge the toughest sanctions on Iran, including nearly 20 presentations at AIPAC policy conferences,” Sherman said in a statement to explain his decision to withdraw from the event. “I cannot appear at a forum that was advertised using an unwarranted incendiary personal attack. I will be working with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and others to create appropriate forums to focus on the danger posed by Iran.

“Nothing has done as much to unify the Jewish community, and nothing has done so much to bring the Jewish community in agreement with the Obama administration, as this ad,” Sherman added. “J Street and AIPAC, the Obama administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the leading organizations in the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish communities, all agree — this ad is a harmful distraction from efforts to combat Iran’s nuclear program.”

Boteach mentioned the ad briefly during the event but later clarified his position in an interview. He said that he did not go after Rice the person, but a high-level national security official and her role in underestimating the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s.

“What we wanted to demonstrate was, given that human rights has this record … she should be extra sensitive to Israel’s defense,” said Boteach. “Now, was that communicated effectively? A lot of people thought that it wasn’t. … We weren’t communicating in any way that this was personal; we were speaking of her as the national security advisor of the United States.

“But to the extent that we communicated it and it was personal, that’s what I apologize for,” he added. “I have nothing against Susan Rice. I don’t know Susan Rice. Why would I dislike Susan Rice?”