Win-Win Situation

Marc Shapiro’s Jan. 2 article on the issue of wages for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“Opinions Divided on Subminimum Wage”) did an excellent job in conveying why there is a need to continue expansion of job opportunities that pay at or above minimum wage while cautioning what would occur if we completely disallow sub-minimum wages that may be paid to
people with significant disabilities. While these individuals’ disabilities may greatly diminish their productivity, they do not inhibit their desire to work nor their pride in earning.

Of the nearly 1,000 people supported in our day and employment programs at The Arc Baltimore, 53 percent are employed in jobs paying at or above minimum wage. Less than half of those we support are based at area centers and are involved in other activities in the community. Of these, 45 to 50 people get the opportunity to work for a limited number of hours each week earning 50 percent to 90 percent of the minimum wage.

Shapiro also put the right focus on the interest of The Arc, Chimes and other agencies in finding more companies that would hire people with disabilities, whether for office filing and administrative support, janitorial or landscaping jobs or customer service jobs. We have a lot of capable people who just need a chance to show what they can do, and our team is ready to back them up and make it a win-win situation.

Danish Hypocrisy

It’s always good to know when someone has left no doubt about their anti-Semitism and hypocrisy. Jesper Vahr, Denmark’s ambassador to Israel was clearly revealed in this regard in “European Hypocrisy” (Jan. 2).

Remarks of the sort he made at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference would get many diplomats declared persona non grata and sent home. This individual has lost any credibility he may have had as a representative of his country. He’s a hypocrite because if a Palestinian with a knife approached him on a Jerusalem street and attempted to inflict bodily harm, would he really say, “Give it to me in the gut because my proud Danish standards call for me to accept your antipathy toward Europeans and non-Muslims?”

Show of Support

As a staunch practicing Christian, I believe that the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center (“Israeli NGO Blows Whistle,” Jan. 9) is correct legally and morally in its allegations against  the Presbyterian alliance, and I hope the Church reverses its positions regarding Israel and its peoples.

What Next for France?

The Islamist radicals who murdered 17 people in two attacks in Paris last week targeted, on the one hand, an irreverent magazine and, on the other, the Jews. Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher might not seem to us to belong in the same category, but to the killers they were both the source and symbol of humiliations to be avenged by blood.

Not unlike the 9/11 attacks on our shores, last week’s killings hit a nerve that earlier murders of Jews by French Muslims did not. The French government this week deployed 10,000 troops to protect Jewish communal and other sensitive religious sites, an unprecedented militarization of security in the country. Perhaps it is a down payment on remarks French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg before the attacks: “The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France, but they need reassurance that they are welcome here, that they are secure here,” Valls said.

We take the word of Valls and other French leaders that the world’s third-largest Jewish community has a secure home in France and that they believe “France will no longer be France” if Jews emigrate. In that light, some have wondered about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for French Jews to move to Israel. While the offer was based on the need to protect lives, there are those in France and elsewhere, including some young Jews, who feel that a mass emigration to Israel would amount to the abandonment of one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe as well as a capitulation in the face of terror.

A satisfactory long-term response to the threat of Islamist terror requires a balancing act that neither Europe nor the United States has perfected: between free speech and security against those who would commit violence; between freedom of religion (and nonreligion) and protection from those who would use religion to coerce and even kill others. If Franxce and Europe are able to do something to begin to strike that balance they will have taken a large step against extremism — left, right and Islamist — that is shaking the continent’s foundations.

What Would President Paul Do?

Sen. Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul

With his bill calling for the United States to block funding to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the
International Criminal Court, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appears to be sending a message to three voting blocks that could aid a future run for president.

To Tea Party members, the legislation burnishes Paul’s libertarian credentials by defunding foreign assistance. And to Republican and Jewish hawks, Paul’s bill to cutoff $400 million in aid for the P.A. could be used to argue that he is as pro-Israel as anyone. Of course, anything goes in the run-up to an election. Last week, we called similar legislation “empty gestures” because they exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems caused by the lack of negotiations between the P.A. and Israel. And it’s important to remember that most bills introduced by well-intentioned legislators end up going nowhere, much less those that try to address complex foreign policy issues.

Still, the question must be asked, especially since Paul is a rising star in the GOP establishment: Would a President Rand Paul,
responsible for U.S. foreign policy, advocate such a bill? And if he would, would it be good for Israel?

If Paul advocates punishing the Palestinians because he has a visceral identification with the ideals that Israel stands for, that’s all well and good. But if he seeks to use American largesse as a stick as well as a carrot in the conduct of foreign policy, would he be just as likely to wield it against Israel for doing something a Paul administration opposes, such as building settlements? Those now rallying to Paul’s camp might want to explore that point.

There are 21 months before the next U.S. president is elected. Until then, voters should be suspicious of candidates bearing gifts.

Time to Reconsider Iran Sanctions

A light snow blankets the east front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, as  Congress convenes its first session in eight years with republicans controlling both the House and Senate. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/Newscom)

A light snow blankets the east front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, as
Congress convenes its first session in eight years with republicans controlling both the House and Senate.

The new Congress, which convened this week, is expected to begin the year by reviving a push for additional sanctions on Iran and demanding an up or down vote on any nuclear deal reached with the Islamic republic. The increased hawkishness of the Republican-led Congress will put more pressure on the Obama administration to reach a “good deal or no deal” that both branches of government say they want. The parties to the nuclear talks have already extended the negotiations twice. The next deadline for a settlement is July 1.

Proponents of the various sanctions bills from both parties say the pressure of promised additional penalties will send a message of what will follow if Iran is just stalling for time. And critics of Iran, including Israel, say that’s exactly what Teheran is doing — delaying substantive discussions in order to buy more time for Iran to develop its weapons program. While the U.S. acknowledges that possibility, the administration has discouraged enhanced sanctions bills, arguing that they are counterproductive and could drive Iran from the negotiating table.

While we normally defer to the president on matters of foreign policy, we support the proposed bills in principle. Legislation drafted by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would impose new sanctions on Iran if it violates the interim nuclear agreement or walks away from talks. In addition, falling oil prices continue to drain the Iranian economy. That’s further incentive for the Iranian government to reach a deal and get the sanctions lifted before it loses legitimacy with its own people.

Few in the U.S. government from either party want to see the Iranians walk out of the negotiations. Keeping the Iranians at the table, getting them to engage on the issues and knowing how to apply pressure so they don’t walk is key to reaching that “good deal” to which we all aspire.

Which begs the question: Do congressional hawks know best how to do that? We’ll know soon enough.

Empty Gestures

In 2012, when the Palestinians won “nonmember observer state status” in the United Nations, Israel responded by withholding the tax revenues it regularly collects for and passes on to the Palestinian Authority. Later, Israel quietly reinstated the transfers. Last Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will again withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority in direct response to the P.A. signing 20 international conventions, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — an effort to leverage the ability to bring Israel and its leadership before the tribunal. That P.A. action followed by a day the U.N. Security Council’s defeat of a resolution calling for the creation ofa Palestinian state by 2017 no matter what.

Israel’s most vocal supporters in Congress are calling for the United States to cut off funds to the P.A. and, as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said last week, a cutoff of funds to “any U.N. entity that recognizes a nonexistent State of Palestine.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be considering a resubmission of the failed U.N. resolution, which the United States and Israel condemn as a unilateral act inconsistent with the need for a negotiated resolution between Israel and the Palestinians. With a U.S. veto of any such resubmitted statehood resolution almost certain, the threat by Abbas is generally viewed as simply more noise.

We are left with a situation in which Israel and the Palestinians continue to make accusatory statements against one another and alternately take steps that each knows hurts the other but are not likely to last. About the best that can be said about all this is that as long as the two sides are talking — even if not with each other — they are less likely to be fighting with one another on the battlefield. And considering that neither Israel nor the Palestinians seem to have leadership capable of working out a peace deal, this might be the next best thing.

Still, that’s small comfort.

Unilateral acts to isolate Israel in the international arena are unquestionably harmful. In addition to whatever direct consequences those actions have, they fuel the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and help legitimize violence against Jews worldwide. So, we understand the urge to strike back. But the cutoff of aid to the P.A. also weakens the one Palestinian institution that works constructively with Israel. Granted, the P.A. is weak and isn’t much of an “authority.” But if the P.A. were to collapse, so would its security forces, which work closely with Israel.

This is why many in the pro-Israel community, including AIPAC, have in the past opposed the U.S. restriction of funds to the P.A. We share that concern. We hope that instead of ratcheting up the levels of confrontation, both sides will stop their grandstanding and return to efforts to cooperate with one another, even if those efforts are not directly related to peace negotiations.

Big, empty gestures do neither side any good.

The Interdating Challenge

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently found itself embroiled in controversy when it reported on the annual international convention of the Conservative movement’s youth arm in Atlanta. In a Dec. 23 story titled, “USY drops ban on interdating,” JTA characterized an amendment adopted by United Synagogue Youth voters as relaxing longstanding rules precluding the group’s teenage board members from dating non-Jews.

Barely had the report been disseminated across the wire service’s subscribers than the denunciations and clarifications streamed in from Conservative leaders. The movement had not decided to allow interdating, Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, explained. It had instead swapped out a negative injunction for a positive statement encouraging teenage USY leaders to “strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices.”

Such choices “include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community,” according to the new standard.

While we appreciate the subtle distinction made by Conservative leaders in response to what they feel was inaccurate reporting, we can’t help but feel that the movement is splitting hairs. The fact is that the previous standard expected USY leadership to “refrain from relationships which can be construed as interdating.” It wasn’t an outright ban, of course, but it led some Jewish teens dating non-Jews to refrain from seeking board positions.

But who are we to judge? Fundamentally, what every Jewish group is grappling with today is how to be relevant to young people. What the Conservative and Orthodox streams are also struggling to contain is an explosion of intermarriage, which they view as a precursor to the bigger problem of assimilation and loss of Jewish identity.

In the case of USY, it appears that the Conservative movement is acknowledging that youth engagement is either more worrisome or more manageable than intermarriage. And while the new policy doesn’t encourage interdating, it doesn’t outlaw it either. So when it comes to its youth, the Conservative movement is opting to keep kids engaged by broadening the tent, which is an admirable goal.

The challenge the movement faces, however, is how to achieve a broader embrace and greater engagement while still staying true to its core principles. That is a very difficult line to walk.

European Hypocrisy

Dutch Ambassador Jesper Vahr (BJARNE LUETHCKE/EPA/Newscom)

Dutch Ambassador Jesper Vahr

The past month has been difficult for Israel. With its government in turmoil as the nation girds for the next election, the country has seen a disturbing flare-up of Palestinian violence — including a brief exchange of rockets from Gaza and the firebombing of Israelis in the West Bank during the past week. But as much as Israelis have accustomed themselves to internal turmoil, they have yet to adjust to the vitriol directed at them from European capitals and from European diplomats. A little more than a week ago, a top European Union court ruled that the terrorist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, should be stricken from the E.U.’s list of terror organizations. On the same day, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.

Those moves followed an announcement by Dutch Ambassador Jesper Vahr at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference that Europe holds the Jewish state to a different standard than the Palestinians. According to Vesper, Palestinian violence, while regrettable, is justifiable, while Israeli reprisals and policies designed to protect its citizens are not. From Vesper’s perspective, since Israel is part of the Western world, it is held to a different standard of behavior than the non-Western Arab world.

In a penetrating reaction that has gone viral in pro-Israel circles on the Internet, syndicated columnist Caroline Glick, who was a co-panelist with Vesper, went ballistic, declaring that “this patronizing attitude toward us, that we should be happy that you have a separate standard for Israel is … a statement of contempt for our intelligence.” She also accused European powers of basing their policies on a nascent anti-Semitism dating back to early Christianity.

Glick’s emotion-charged response was a bit over the top. But she correctly identified the hypocrisy of the leaders of what is supposed to be the most “enlightened” of continents, who assert that the only proper Jewish response to Palestinian terror is to turn the other cheek. Such a ridiculous posture would be understandable if the Europeans set that kind of example themselves. But they don’t, and they can’t. Indeed, no nation would dare shirk its responsibility to protect its citizens.

What went unnoticed as this argument unfolded is that Israel’s Supreme Court recently ruled that the government must dismantle the illegally built settlement of Amona, in a case brought by Palestinian owners of the land on which the settlement was built. Although the case took several years to reach resolution, it demonstrated, once again, that Israel, like other Western democracies, is a nation of laws. Palestinians who felt their rights were violated brought suit and were vindicated.

The fault for Palestinian violence lies with the Palestinians themselves. No settlement activity or other perceived wrongs of government can justify the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. We urge all Palestinians, like their brethren in the Amona case, to embrace the rule of law. Were that to happen, a state of their own would not be too far away.

North Korea’s Lump of Coal

Reactions have been mixed to the unfolding story regarding the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the reported threats that were made by the hackers and the company’s cancellation of the planned Christmas Day release of” The Interview,” a comedy centered on the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Did Sony react properly? Was the movie worthy of the hackers’ efforts? And is Seth Rogan really worth paying $40 million for a lead role in a slapstick comedy?

But the hacking was so massive and the threats from the hackers intimidating enough that the film began to be treated like a ticking time bomb. The hacking and its ramifications became a significant international issue. Those developments warrant a serious response, since the Sony breach points to the potential threat of cyber-warfare and to possible threats to power grids and other vital installations.

Last Friday, in a remarkably detailed and publicly circulated statement, the FBI accused North Korea of carrying out the cyber-attack. President Obama followed up by promising a “proportionate” response. And he also chided Sony for caving in to fear and for canceling the movie, calling it a “mistake.”

Sony acted to protect its bottom line. We understand that. As a for-profit enterprise, Sony’s responsibility to its shareholders overrides any political statement it might want to make. But in a world where one cartoon about the Prophet Muhammad or one comedy about assassinating the North Korean dictator can have international implications, the potential fallout from these kinds of events affects us all. So what is the answer?

In these times of rapidly advancing technological developments, the laws of cyber-warfare have not yet been written. But even if they were in place, there is no assurance that North Korea or Islamic militants would abide by them. The United States is pressing China to curtail Pyongyang’s cyber-reach. That sort of diplomatic effort, plus America’s ongoing cyber-development, may diminish such threats. But the only way the next Sony-type cyber-attack can be discouraged is if our “corporate citizens” refuse to buckle to these kinds of threats. Kudos to the president for encouraging corporate America to develop a backbone.