County GOP Passes Pro-Israel Resolution

The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee unanimously passed a resolution in support of Israel’s self-defense on Sept. 8.

“The Central Committee is effectively the face of the Republican party for the county,” said Rudy Stoler, the primary author of the resolution and a county council candidate for District 2. “We wanted a way to connect with our Jewish voters.”

All 25 committee members voted in favor of the resolution. Although there are only three Jewish members, the resolution passed with flying colors after some fine-tuning.

The resolution cites Baltimore’s support of Israel as well as Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon, which has been subject to rocket attacks during fighting in Gaza.

The resolution “calls on all American legislators to uphold Israel’s right of self-defense; condemns the use of Palestinians by terrorists as human shields; calls on the United States ambassador to the United Nations to resist unfair treatment of Israel; calls on the U.S. government to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; states our concern for members and families of our community serving in the Israel Defense Forces; extends our support to the government of Israel and particularly the municipal government of Ashkelon as they seek to re-establish commerce, routine and security; and wishes Jews around the world a sweet new year.”

The resolution was endorsed by Republican candidates for U.S. Congress, statewide offices and state and local legislative seats in Baltimore County and Montgomery County as well as by Diana Waterman, chairman of the Maryland GOP.

 

Polarized Polling

10714006_10152453633743935_923254016792451115_oAgudath Israel of America, a national organization that promotes the ideals of Orthodox Judaism, recently disseminated a notice urging citizens in the town of Ramapo, N.Y. — home to the heavily Jewish hamlet of Monsey — to vote against today’s referendum on political districting. The measure would reshape the town’s voting districts away from a citywide to a ward-based system of membership on the Town Board that would ultimately, stated the notice, “weaken the political influence of Orthodox Jews in the town by permitting them to vote only for candidates from their immediate neighborhood rather than the town as a whole.”

The second part of the referendum calls to increase the Town Board from four to six members. Agudath Israel’s statement also cited “voter minority dilution” as the referendum’s purpose and equated the potential lack of Orthodox representation with that of the local African-American community.

“The reason we felt a particular need to speak up loudly here was to make sure that voters were aware of what is at stake, namely the inhibiting of the voting power of easily disenfranchised minorities,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel, wrote in an email. “Currently, the Orthodox Jewish community in Ramapo is able to play a role in electing public officials, as are other minorities. The referendum at issue seems clearly intended to erode, if not eradicate, that ability.”

Agudath Israel is not the only voice bringing Ramapo’s local politics to a national light.

A recent hour-long report, “A Not So Simple Majority,” aired nationwide on the “This American Life” radio program detailing the declining public school system in Ramapo and the polarization that has occurred between the town’s Chasidic and haredi Orthodox communities and everybody else over property taxes. Approximately 20,000 children attend 120 area Jewish day schools and yeshivas, compared to about 9,000 secular students in 14 public schools. But Orthodox residents have long held control over seven of nine seats on the board of the East Ramapo Central School District despite the fact their children don’t attend public school. Many of Ramapo’s citizens have blamed the board for decimating schools’ funding and outright shuttering others.

Both the Town Board and the school board function independently, but it seems the polarization of the community surrounding the upcoming referendum mirrors the school board fight.

“It’s 100 percent just as polarized between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of citizens,” said Steve White, a member of the Ramapo community since 1969 who identifies as culturally Jewish.

White is also editor of communications for the grass roots organization Power of Ten, which hopes to mobilize voters in the non-Orthodox community to poll sites today.

“Right now they take all five members” of the Town Board, a supervisor and four council members, added White. “You can’t get elected to the board without going to the rabbis and getting their blessing. It’s been [that way] for at least eight elections in a row now … since the 90s.”

In White’s view, the Orthodox community’s public opposition to ward redistricting has less to do with potential discrimination and more to do with land zoning issues.

“That’s the biggest issue in the town of Ramapo,” explained White, a veteran of the Rockland County Health Department for 10 years. “Board members, over and over again, are voting for the issue that the Chasidic community wants — to satisfy their needs regarding land use.”

Haredi Orthodox families, he pointed out, typically have many children and need to be within walking distance of synagogues.

“They want density,” he said, referencing enclaves in Monsey and the fast-growing areas of Kaser and New Square. “Instead of one, two or five unit [dwellings], they want 15 or 20 units.”

Two other villages are Wesley Hills and New Hempstead, which White called “extremely segregated.”

“That’s why I think the [redistricting] referendum would work,” he said. But “this is not a Jewish thing or a non-Jewish thing, it’s about when democracy is not really working well, when people cannot have free communication and free will.”

Ramapo has had its share of political discord, and even the redistricting vote taking place this week took two years to finally happen. According to news reports, the battle began with petitions that were thrown out. The petitioners sued the town and were granted the right to hold the referendum by the New York State Supreme Court.

Social media has played a strong part in mobilizing the vote in Ramapo for announcing meetings, polling sites and volunteer opportunities.

A Facebook post the day before the election on the Preserve Ramapo page appeared to come from a loosely-identified Jewish group that used Hebrew phrases throughout and featured a picture of scales and a shield-shaped emblem whose Hebrew phrase translates to “the great battle to save the Orthodox community of Monsey and the surrounding areas.” Along the edge of the shield is listed the communities of Airmont, Chestnut Ridge, Wesley Hills, Forshay, Spring Valley, Kaser, New Square and New Hampstead.

Several pages of graphics and text then urged citizens to vote yes for the redistricting, stating that “the only way in which the Jewish community can bring back the peace and serenity is by expressing a sincere will to not only live but coexist in harmony with our neighbors.” The post suggested that voting yes would “stop the rise and danger of anti-Semitism [in the area]; gain personal council members for your immediate area; give your neighbors the feeling of equal representation; and enable one to enjoy a life free of fears of bodily and/or monetary harm.”

Michael Castelluccio, a second-generation resident and editor of PreserveRamapo.org, was stunned by the posting.

“I don’t know who made it, but I want to thank him,” said Castelluccio. “I think this was done by more than one person. … This is from the heart of the community and it expresses what I hope people feel.”

White wasn’t as hopeful.

“I think that we’re going to get clobbered,” he said. “They’ll bring out their full force of 12,000 [voters].”

Shafran saw the election in broad terms.

Though he wrote via email that he “wouldn’t go so far as to say that as goes Ramapo so goes the nation,” he added, “It isn’t paranoia to imagine that if a tactic is employed successfully to disenfranchise Jewish voters in one locale that others might see fit to try to follow suit. So anyone concerned with preserving the rights of minorities to play a meaningful role in the election of public officials should be concerned with the current situation in Ramapo.”

Voters in Ramapo will cast their ballots from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sept. 30. An update of the events and results will be posted online at Jewishtimes.com.

Controversy Up North

Photos: Interior and exterior shots of the $351 million Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. (Photos Flickr)

Exterior shot of the $351 million Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. (Photos Flickr)

TORONTO — On the fourth floor of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, visitors will find a gallery called “Examining the Holocaust,” which is devoted entirely to the story and lessons of the Shoah. On the same floor, in a smaller, adjacent space, a gallery called “Breaking the Silence” examines a cluster of five genocides officially recognized by the Canadian government: the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia; the Armenian and Rwandan genocides; the Holodomor, or the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s; and, once again, the Holocaust.

“Examining the Holocaust” is just one of 11 galleries at the $351 million human rights museum that opens in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Saturday. It is also the museum’s thorniest.

The permanent gallery has long been a source of controversy for the institution, which has fought accusations from a handful of Canada’s ethnic communities, ranging from Ukrainians to Armenians, that allowing the Holocaust its own space downplays the significance of the other human rights atrocities confined to a single room.

In interviews, museum officials defended their decision by asserting that the Holocaust is in fact exceptional, both as an act of 20th-century genocide and a pedagogic tool. As the trigger for international human rights legislation in the aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust is deserving of its own gallery, the officials said.

“It’s one of the most studied, most well-documented atrocities,” said June Creelman, the museum’s director of learning and programming. “One of the ways to educate is to start with something familiar and move to something unknown.”

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights grew out of several unsuccessful attempts by Jewish community leaders as far back as the late 1990s to attract government support for a national Holocaust museum, or a Holocaust gallery at the Canadian War Museum, in Ottawa. The efforts failed when the federal government, after staging parliamentary hearings, shied away from committing money to a project that memorialized only a single group’s history. (In August, Canada will unveil its first national Holocaust monument, an $8.5 million project steps from the Parliament in downtown Ottawa. The monument, designed by a team that includes renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, features six concrete triangles that together create points of a Star of David.)

It wasn’t until 2003 that the late Izzy Asper, a Manitoba-born media mogul and Jewish philanthropist, convinced Prime Minister Jean Chretien to sign on to a public-private partnership establishing a national human rights museum similar in scope to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Asper, whose family foundation chipped in $22 million, always had his eye on a stand-alone Holocaust gallery — indeed, early museum blueprints indicated a Holocaust section would occupy more than 20 percent of the available gallery space. In the final design, it takes up less than 10 percent of the space.

Other galleries examine contemporary cases of human rights abuse, the history of civil rights in Canada — including the “head tax” that Chinese immigrants were charged in the late 19th century — and the work of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer whose work on defining the term “genocide” led to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.

From the outset, museum fundraisers and programmers were adamant that the Holocaust serve as the intellectual and emotional starting point for the museum’s approach to human rights education. In 2008, a government advisory review wrote that the Holocaust “provides our paradigm for understanding the causes and processes of all mass, state-sponsored violence, as well as provides the inspiration for human rights protection on a worldwide scale.”

That sort of language, at a museum striving to tell multiple histories, has led to what Dirk Moses, a historian at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, has called a “traumatic memory competition between those who postulated the Holocaust’s uniqueness and those who rejected it.” Moses has written extensively on the new Canada museum.

For his part, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian advocacy group, praised the museum for recognizing “that the pedagogic power of the Holocaust experience is of a fundamentally different scope and nature.”

But critics argue that the amount of attention focused on the Holocaust at the museum is woefully disproportionate, and they take strong exception to what is perceived as unfair precedence granted the Holocaust over other genocides.

The museum’s Holocaust exhibit occupies 4,500 square feet of space — 1,400 square feet more than the “Breaking the Silence” gallery. Maureen Fitzhenry, a museum spokeswoman, described the Holocaust gallery as having five sections, including the story of the Nazis’ rise to power and how
the genocide was implemented, an exploration of how everyday people were complicit in the genocide and a 10-minute documentary about Canada’s unwillingness to absorb Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during World War II.

Content for the exhibits — all designed by Ralph Applebaum Associates, the firm behind the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent exhibit — were developed with the input of independent scholars and public consultations involving thousands of Canadians.

The executive director of the Zoryan Institute, a Toronto-based think tank that researches Armenian diaspora issues, told the National Post last year he worried the Holocaust gallery would be so overwhelming that visitors would not “really absorb anything from the other galleries.”

Ukrainian-Canadian institutions have been especially rancorous, claiming the Holodomor, the Soviet-inflicted famine in 1932-33, is given insufficient consideration at the museum. In one provocative 2011 anti-museum campaign, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, or UCCLA, mailed postcards to Canadians featuring an illustration of a pig whispering to a sheep, “All galleries are equal but some galleries are more equal than others.”

There are an estimated 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians, and many have close ties to the Prairie provinces, including Manitoba, which absorbed waves of Ukrainian immigrants starting in the 1890s. Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College and a member of the UCCLA, called the museum “divisive,” but expressed confidence that its contents would be revised in the future.

“UCCLA’s position is that no genocide, however tragic, should be given pride of place in a publicly funded national Canadian museum, meaning no nation’s tragedy, however well-documented or evocative, should receive preferential treatment with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” Luciuk, a longtime critic of the museum, said.

Some scholars have cast doubt on the museum’s claim, as a justification for the stand-alone gallery, that the Holocaust had a larger impact on human rights legislation than did other acts of genocide.

Adam Muller, a University of Manitoba genocide scholar, pointed to a trend in contemporary scholarship — notably the work of Columbia University historian Samuel Moyn — disputing the impact that Holocaust consciousness had on the international human rights treaties signed after World War II, especially the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and early understandings of the term “genocide.”

Muller, co-editor of a forthcoming book about human rights museums titled “The Idea of a Human Rights Museum,” is supportive of a special Holocaust gallery because of the wealth of scholarship available on the subject. But, he added, if it isn’t clear that the Holocaust precipitated the post-World War II human rights movement, “looking at the connection in the museum has kind of dubious value.”

Nowhere to hide

Daniel Ellsberg was working for the Rand Corporation when he released “The Pentagon Papers” in 1971.

Daniel Ellsberg was working for the Rand Corporation when he released “The Pentagon Papers” in 1971.

The Maryland Institute College of Art celebrated Constitution Day last week with a symposium headlined by 1970s-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and a diverse panel of other guests.

Described in his instruction as “the first person in America to be arrested for leaking top-secret documents,” Ellsberg was responsible for the release of “The Pentagon Papers” and was the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary called “The Most Dangerous Man in America.” Although most of the audience in the Brown Center’s Falvey Hall auditorium were MICA students and therefore too young to remember firsthand Ellsberg’s arrest, they listened attentively to the 83-year-old economist and former military strategist for the Rand Corporation.

Joining Ellsberg on the “One Nation Under Watch: Surveillance, Privacy and National Security in America” panel were art professor Hasan Elahi, whose work looks at issues such as surveillance, citizenship, migration and borders; and Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty project at the ACLU of Massachusetts. WYPR broadcaster Aaron Henkin moderated the Sept. 17 program, which was co-sponsored by the Maryland chapter of the ACLU.

Ellsberg, whose 1971 release of a 7,000-page classified report on U.S. strategy in Vietnam to The New York Times and other outlets began a legal battle over the First Amendment and national security that reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and led to his prosecution on charges of espionage, began his talk by referencing modern-day leaker Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose release of documents stunned the nation and its intelligence apparatus.

He said he expects to learn more from Snowden in the future and referenced a Times op-ed by James Bamford that appeared earlier that day. Describing Bamford as the “chief chronicler of NSA operations,” he noted that the column revealed that on a “routine basis,” the NSA had “turned over tremendous amounts of raw, unedited transcripts of emails and telephone calls made by Arab and Palestinian Americans, which the Israelis were using to blackmail their relatives in Israel, turning them into informants or keeping them silent about information that could implicate the U.S. and Israeli governments for illegal activities.”

Ellsberg, who is of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry but was raised as a Christian Scientist, likened these current events to similar tactics used against him in the 1970s.

“When President Nixon and [Henry] Kissinger sent people into my former psychoanalyst’s office to get information … it’s often described that what they wanted was to smear me,” explained Ellsberg. “Actually that’s incorrect. They were there to get information to threaten me, to vkeep me from revealing information that they knew I had, but they thought I could document Nixon’s nuclear threats to North Vietnam and plans to” escalate the war in Vietnam.

“I have little doubt that information the NSA is collecting is and certainly will be available for such political purpose over time,” he continued. “We are not yet a police state, or I wouldn’t be standing here. … We’re not being called in for questioning routinely on the basis of this monitoring or detained on a mass basis. I think that one more 9/11 and possibly an anti-war movement of sufficient size could change that. We’re what Edward Snowden has called a ‘turn-key away.’ It would take virtually the turning of a switch to turn us into a police state.”

Ellsberg said that once the government begins to use the information they have collected, especially about Palestinian and Arab Americans and people who are regarded as interfering with the president’s plans, mass detention would not be far behind.

He acknowledged that in the past few years, many Americans have downplayed the significance of government surveillance on their lives.

“People say, ‘I have nothing to hide. Why should I care about this?’” said Ellsberg. But “everyone has something to hide.” Besides, he added, “the mission of investigative journalists depends upon their use of anonymous sources. That simply cannot be done without privacy. No journalist can offer that privacy with any confidence now.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

GOP Hopeful Campaigns in Pikesville

Larry Hogan

Larry Hogan

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan made the rounds
of local businesses last week in Pikesville, but he started the day with an appearance at the Baltimore Jewish Council’s board meeting.

 
“He talked about his general campaign themes and his background,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the BJC. “He said the election is a lot closer than people believe, and he thought that his campaign has a lot of shared values with members of the Jewish community.”

 
Hogan, who according to polls has a hill to climb in his battle against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, then toured a few businesses with the help of attorney Jay L. Liner, who agreed to help a friend close to Hogan’s campaign and extend introductions for the candidate.

 
Hogan started out at Gourmet Again and spoke briefly with owner Andy Hoffman, sampled some brisket tips and “introduced himself to customers and did some general schmoozing,” said Liner.
Next, they stopped at the Pikesville Senior Center, and Hogan spoke to an assembled group after a scheduled program. The day’s visits were intentionally low key with no planned speeches, said Liner.

 
A stop at the Trader Joe’s in Festival at Woodholme was next, where Hogan greeted customers at the door and made his way down the mall to the J.S. Edwards men’s clothing store and a stop at Lexington Lady, a women’s apparel store, where Liner introduced him to store owners Bernard and Richard Krieger.

 
“He’s very personable, very straightforward,” said Richard Krieger, who sits on the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and called Hogan “a candidate worth looking at.”
“With candidates, it’s about the verbal statement and what they’re going to do,” he said. “How they’re going to do it is the question. … What’s the reality?”

 
Hogan plans to return in the near future with stops at Goldberg’s Bagels and Seven Mile Market.
“I think Pikesville is critical, he has to win in Baltimore County to have a shot at this race,” asserted Liner. “Pikesville is prime territory for that.”

 

The Day After

Participant Michael Greenbaum displays rocket scraps from the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Participant Michael Greenbaum displays rocket scraps from the Iron Dome missile defense system. (Courtesy of the Associated)

When the 15 Baltimoreans who attended a mission to Israel last week initially signed up for the trip, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Ira Malis, who, along with the rest of his fellow travelers, signed up for The Day After mission coordinated by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore before the current cease-fire. “Signing up was easy.

Malis saw the trip as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the people of Israel. Hesitant to believe much of anything he heard reported on the summer conflict secondhand by news outlets, Malis wanted to experience the situation himself.

“You hear of, yeah, they’ve been bombing, they’ve been bombing, they’ve been bombing. You almost get numb to it. But I think when you actually talk to the people who are on the ground, you see just how disruptive [it is] and what they have to live with day to day, minute to minute,” he said. “You can see why it really has to stop.”

Mark Neumann, who was also on the trip, agreed.

“Here, we discuss it, but then move on and talk about the Ravens,” said Neumann. “There, it’s just front and center in their lives.”

The group left Baltimore at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 15 for Newark Liberty International Airport, where they caught a flight to Tel Aviv. They then traveled from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon, Jewish Baltimore’s sister city, where they spent two days hearing from citizens and experts about the recent conflict and its aftermath.

Participants heard from doctors and staff at Barzilai Hospital about the challenges of operating a hospital while at constant risk of attack. They then heard from teens involved in Ashkelon’s Baltimore-funded AMEN teen program. For the 50 days of the war with Hamas, the teens volunteered their time to care for the young children of parents who had to go to work but had no way to ensure the safety of their children while they were out of the house.

“The thing that keeps going through my head is the resilience of the people and the way they were doing their utmost to bring some normalcy to their lives during a crazy time,” said Neumann.

Making the trip even more important, Neumann said, is the fact that talks have since resumed between the two sides in extending the cease-fire. In the U.S., he said, people view the immediate conflict as over, but for many he met in Israel, peace comes with a hint of tension; citizens of the oft-targeted southern region are waiting for government officials to decide their future, he pointed out.

Rabbi Steven Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom was proud to travel to Israel so soon after the violence. He was impressed by what he described as the “resilience” of the people who choose to live in the settlements surrounding Gaza and the lone soldiers who choose to move to a country away from all friends and family to serve in the Israel Defense Forces

“These people are on the front lines on the war facing all of us,” said Fink. “Every Jew and every American is a combatant in this war against Israel and Western civilization.

“The question is not if it’s going to occur again, the question is only when,” he added. “And we have to do our very best to ensure that the people of Israel are ready to meet the next challenge.”

 

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Experts for Hire

U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk has been hit by critics for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk has been hit by critics for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Many think tanks, those collections of scholars who issue reams of reports and whose members help shape public opinion and government policy, take pride in being independent research organizations whose academics and former officials do rigorous, unbiased work.

But thanks to revelations that some of the most widely known of such groups, including the Brookings Institution, are benefiting from foreign dollars even as they educate policymakers in Washington, their rise-above-the-fray reputation is now in question.

Think tanks are a quintessential American institution. When a committee on Capitol Hill holds a hearing, think tank scholars often provide expert testimony. These scholars occupy a territory between policymakers and academics and often move freely between those professions.

“It’s a long tradition in America to put our trust in outside experts,” said Jim McGann, founder and director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “So the most important policy issues facing the country were entrusted not to civil servants, not to government officials, but to think tanks.

“If you look, for example, at the 9/11 commission, virtually everyone had an affiliation with a think tank.”

A recent New York Times article pointed out the potential for foreign-influence buying at policy shops such as the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development. The Times charged that think tanks are taking tens of millions of dollars from foreign donors while advocating their positions with the U.S. government.

Those donors range from Norway to Japan to Canada. But in what was a bombshell for many Israel supporters, the Times revealed that former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk accepted $14.8 million from Qatar for the Brookings Institution, where he now is director of its Foreign Policy Program. Other Qatari money funds Hamas, against which Israel fought a war this summer and which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

Critics hit Indyk both for his revolving-door role in both Brookings and the U.S. peace team and for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism.

As the storm over the Times article peaked last week, the House of Representatives began to consider a proposed rule that would require think tank scholars who testify on Capitol Hill to disclose any support they receive from foreign governments. The proposal received bipartisan support.

What happens at Brookings, which has a center in Doha, Qatar, sets an example for other think tanks. Brookings — its motto is “Quality. Independence. Impact” — was named the most influential think tank in the world by the “Global Go To Think Tank Index,” an annual survey compiled by McGann of the organization’s global influence.

According to the Times, “12 percent of the annual budget at the Brookings Institution and as much as 20 percent of the funding at the Atlantic Council come from foreign governments.”

Many other think tanks receive corporate funding. One is the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which lists as donors Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Nestle and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others. Peterson was rated two stars (out of five) for transparency by Transparify, an international initiative advocating greater think tank transparency.

The Peterson Institute is to economic and trade expertise what Brookings is to foreign policy.

Writing in Inside Philanthropy, editor David Callahan asked, “Just how much intellectual integrity can the institute have, considering its dependence on donors with a strong financial stake in the issues that it works on?”

Callahan went on to describe the chilling effect corporate donors might have on the institute’s work.

McGann isn’t worried. He said that most of the older, more established think tanks have conflict of interest, peer review and donor guideline procedures already in place.

Nevertheless, he said that there have been incidents where individual think tank scholars were caught doubling as lobbyists, but it is rare.

The solution to conflict of interest is transparency, according to Hans Gutbrod, executive director of Transparify.

“Transparency communicates confidence in the integrity of your research,” he said. “If you know that your research can withstand critical scrutiny, there is no reason to hide that your donors may have particular preferences. So it is a key component.”

There are a number of other best practices, according to Gutbrod. They include “informing donors and clients early on what they will publish, independent of what the result is.”

“Some institutions have a strong code of conduct, which can become a point of reference for researchers who insist on their independence,” he said. “As the majority of think tanks are 501(c)3 organizations, practically all of them have a written conflict-of-interest policy. They are being asked to affirm this in their annual IRS 990 tax declaration form … and are asked whether they monitor and enforce that policy ‘regularly and consistently.’”

Mark Rom, director of the master’s in American government program at Georgetown University, said that he has confidence in the independence of think tank researchers.

Yet he admits that unlike in previous decades where think tanks like Brookings usually had a “pot” of funding that would finance all its research equally, he sees a greater push for scholars to fund their own projects.

“More scholars and think tanks have to raise their own funding, and when you’re raising your own funding, there is a least a possibility that you will research things in ways that would please those who fund it,” Rom said.

He also pointed to the proliferation of think tanks that have open political agendas, though not necessarily because of who funds their work.

What doesn’t seem to be changing is government reliance on think tanks and what McGann called the “revolving door” between think tanks and government service.

In the Indyk case, it can raise questions of propriety. In other situations, it helps government run more effectively.

“During the transition [between the Bush and Obama administrations] and the economic crisis, Obama was able to rely on the staff of think tanks, many of whom came into his administration before he took office,” McGann said. Because of that, Obama “was able to hit the ground running and respond to the crisis in a way that would not be possible elsewhere and is unusual in terms of the seamless transition from one administration to the other.”

JNS.org contributed to this article.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com
dholzel@washingtonjewishweek

Caught on Camera

Hillary and Bill Clinton share a laugh during an Iowa event benefiting the campaign of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. (Karen Murphy)

Hillary and Bill Clinton share a laugh during an Iowa event benefiting the campaign of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. (Karen Murphy)

Former President Bill Clinton caused controversy last week when off-the-cuff remarks appearing to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were caught by C-SPAN cameras.

While greeting attendees at a campaign event for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) headlined by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the 42nd president had a small conversation with a man who questioned Netanyahu’s ability to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Netanyahu himself said that he does not want peace,” the unknown man is heard telling Clinton in the video. “If we don’t force him to make peace, we will not have peace.”

“First of all, I agree with that,” Clinton responded before saying that in 2000, he got former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to “agree to something that I’m not sure I could have gotten” former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.”

Pushed again to admit that Netanyahu isn’t the right leader by the attendee, Clinton agreed.

Some observers pointed to the candid comments as indicative of a break from support of Israel by the mainstream left and as a predictor of what his wife — a former secretary of state and a likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate — and President Barack Obama privately think of Netanyahu and Israel.

“In public, Hillary Clinton, like Obama, will recite her pro-Israel credentials, but her words and action in [private] are more revealing,” Jennifer Rubin wrote on her blog for The Washington Post. “Like so many other Democrats she tends to view Israel as an irritant.”

But longtime Clinton supporters such as Steve Rabinowitz, a former Clinton administration official who now runs his own public relations firm in Washington, D.C., say that the exchange shouldn’t be taken as a serious reflection of how U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers work to get things done.

“Bill Clinton and Bibi Netanyahu have a tortured but very mature relationship where they got a lot of business done to their countries’ mutual benefit,” said Rabinowitz. “The people who care about what someone says under his breath are really people who don’t like the guy in the first place. [Clinton and Netanyahu] didn’t get along perfectly personally, but they’re both pros and they figured it out.”

Rabinowitz believes that support for Clinton among Jews is still high. If he ran for president again, he said, Clinton would still get 80 to 90 percent of the Jewish vote.

“Bill Clinton could get elected president of Israel too,” Rabinowitz said.

One staffer with the Ready for Hillary PAC who declined to speak on the record said that too much weight should not be put into one unartful comment by the former president.

“I think no matter what, the peace process is really difficult and there are a lot of emotions and a lot of history involved,” said the staffer. “I think that for anyone it would be very difficult, and I think Netanyahu is someone who could [bring peace], but it will always be hard.”

The former president wasn’t the only Democrat last week whose comments upset the Jewish community.

Speaking at a 40th anniversary conference of the Legal Services Corporation on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden recalled a story his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, told him about unethical banks taking advantage of military personnel when they were fighting abroad.

“That’s one of the things that he finds was most in need when he was over there in Iraq for a year,” Biden said. “That people would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being … I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of, um, these women and men while overseas.”

Shortly after the statement, Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman rebuked Biden for referencing “Shylock,” a character from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” who is based on popular anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Later, the vice president called Foxman to apologize for his remark, admitting that it was a “poor choice of words.”

Foxman then issued a statement thanking Biden for his apology and praising the vice president for “turning the rhetorical gaffe into a teachable moment.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

Seeking Refuge African asylum seekers leaving Israel amid unwelcoming environment, uncertain future

092614_coverstory1Mutasim Ali fled the Darfur region of Sudan in 2009 seeking refuge from a government undergoing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

“I’m ashamed to see that happening in my country, but because of your race, you feel you don’t belong to that place anyway,” he said. “That’s one of the major problems we face there.”

So Ali, 27, like many other non-Arab Sudanese people and Eritreans, journeyed to Israel, the nearest democratic country. Five years later, Ali is, by his description and that of monitoring groups, a “prisoner” at the Holot detention center in the western Negev, about 37 miles from the nearest city, Beersheva. While he and about 2,000 other detainees are free to come and go, they must check in with authorities three times a day and are subject to a 10 p.m. curfew at the facility; failure to follow the rules leads to imprisonment.

The detainees, say activists, remain in a state of sociopolitical limbo in a country largely unreceptive to an approximately 44,000-strong group of African immigrants; Jerusalem takes little action on granting asylum seekers the legal and social protections of refugee status.

On Monday, the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the closing of Holot within 90 days and voided a measure the Knesset passed last December that allowedincarceration without trial for those who illegally entered the country. Asylum seekers and advocates counted it as a small victory in an uphill battle for refugee rights.

“While we are content with the court’s ruling, the Right Now coalition will continue to advocate for greater change and more protections … including a fair Refugee Status Determination process, a cessation of Israel’s deterrence policy of coercing asylum seekers to ‘voluntarily return,’ social residency and the right to work, including work permits, health care and welfare benefits and the condemnation of all racist rhetoric and violent incitement towards the asylum seekers,” said Maya Paley, co-founder of the Right Now coalition, a volunteer-run group working to raise awareness of the issue in the United States.

Mutasim Ali (left) at a news conference in Tel Aviv in January. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Mutasim Ali (left) at a news conference in Tel Aviv in January. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Paley’s comments alluded to life outside of Holot, which is still rife with obstacles for African asylum seekers.

“We didn’t expect this from Israel,” Ali said, explaining that he and other asylum seekers thought Israel’s history and democratic government would make it a welcoming place for those seeking refuge.

That people like Ali have received anything but a welcome embrace from the Jewish state has sparked protests within Israel and spurred activists and rabbis in the wider Jewish community, including in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to take notice. And while Israel determines what to do with the influx of asylum seekers, more than 6,000 have reversed course and headed to their home countries where, according to a new 83-page report by Human Rights Watch, they face possible criminal charges, torture and imprisonment.

Israeli law

Israel’s 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Act, also known as the “Anti-Infiltration Law,” referred to Palestinians trying to cross into Israeli territory from neighboring countries, as well as all sub-Saharan Africans who entered Israel illegally, as infiltrators.

Bill Frelick, refugee program director at HRW and editor of the organization’s recent report, said the language in the law itself may be part of the reason Israel has been so unwelcoming to those seeking asylum.

“These are not people that have any intention of doing any harm to Israel,” he said. “The legal framework in the statute itself frames this as a security and legal issue.”

In January 2012, the Knesset passed an amendment to indefinitely detain anyone entering Israel illegally. This was struck down by Israel’s High Court in September 2013, but other regulations have since allowed for the arrest and detention without trial of anyone entering the country suspected of committing certain crimes.

092614_coverstory3Detainees would end up at Holot. As of mid-June 2014, HRW determined, there were 2,369 of them there.

Israelis and the Jewish community should demand better, said Columbia native Anna Rose Siegel, coordinator of the Right Now coalition’s regional activities in Baltimore and Washington.

“As Jews our commitment is to those who have experienced parallel persecution,” she explained. “Israel was founded as a refugee nation.”

Rabbi Sid Schwarz of Rockville similarly keeps human rights at the forefront of his concerns. He is on the board of T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization, is a senior fellow at Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and serves as director of the Rene Cassin Fellowship Program, a one-year educational program on Judaism and human rights for young professionals. For the last couple of years, the fellows have spent a day of their study tour in Israel exploring the issue of African refugees.

Whether drawing from halachic, rabbinical or historical sources, Schwarz said, they all point to Israel being a place of refuge.

“We are a people who in our history oftentimes needed refuge. The Holocaust is the most recent example, perhaps even more recently that Israel has been a haven for Jews from the Soviet Union, Argentina and France,” he said. “I think just from the perspective of history, a Jewish state should have as compassionate a policy towards refugees as possible.”

He also cites the Passover story, in which Jews were strangers in Egypt, as demonstrating why Jews should be sensitive to other strangers.

Open 24/7

 

Photo provided

Photo provided

It may be old, but the Chabad House at Johns Hopkins University is still going strong.

Now in its 12th year, the Jewish center located on North Charles Street offers Shabbat dinners, High Holiday services and other enrichment activities to university students.

“We are a 24/7 Chabad,” said director Rabbi Zev Gopin. “Many of our students have never had an authentic, Jewish family experience until now. My family actually lives in the house, and we are always available for a warm bowl of chicken soup.”

While students have flocked to the Chabad House in recent years — Gopin describes growth as a constant process with each year’s activities bigger than those before — and a summer gala banquet drew Northrup Grumman president and CEO

Wesley Bush as its guest of honor, a dust-up with a local neighborhood association resulted in the filing of a lawsuit regarding the upkeep and maintenance of the Chabad House’s facility.

The Guilford Association’s lawsuit highlights necessary renovations, including, among others, leaks in the gutter system, old window glazing, peeling paint and rotting wooden railings.

Gopin maintains he is working hard to settle the problems.

“A house of this size and age requires repair,” said the rabbi,

emphasizing that he is committed to keeping the suit from necessitating a trial. “We are currently working to raise the funds in order to make the necessary repairs. It is something we look forward to achieve in the very near future.”

Despite the legal battle, the students are thrilled with the house. Former president of the organization’s board, Debra Schwitzer, loved spending time at the house during her four years of college.

“The house itself is absolutely gorgeous, and the rabbi and his wife, Chana, make you feel so at home. Chana is my second Jewish mother,” said Schwitzer. “It was my home away from home throughout college.”

Schwitzer says the Gopin family and Chabad were responsible for her pursuit of a Jewish studies minor.

“I joined some religious seminars and workshops at Chabad,” said Schwitzer. “It really opened my eyes to what Judaism can do for me. Soon, I started taking Judaic studies classes through Johns Hopkins. Before long, I achieved my minor without even trying.”

Sophomore Sam Sands looks forward to raising even more interest in the Chabad House for the upcoming year. Coming from a Chabad family, Sands entered the Hopkins Chabad House for the first time as a freshman and has never looked back.

“I am so excited to be acting as the board president this year,” he said. “We lost a lot of students due to graduation this year. My biggest focus is outreach to the community to increase overall involvement.

“From lighting a large menorah on Chanukah to apples and honey during Rosh Hashanah,” he added, “we are a strong, Jewish community on campus.”

Reminiscing on her past experiences with Chabad, Schwitzer realizes how influential the center was on her college career.

“There were many Jewish students who would not step into Hillel but kept coming back to Chabad,” said Schwitzer. “It was that kind of community.”

At the end of the day, students agree that it is not how the house looks, but what happens inside that counts.

“We are not your typical Chabad House,” said Gopin. “We do not have hours, and we definitely do not close. For the next four years, we are your neighborhood Jewish family.

“Even after you graduate, you are always welcome back,” he continued. “It is not my home, it is our home.”

 

afreedman@jewishtimes.com