Wrist Slapping On Cluster Bombs
Washington correspondent
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Six months after the shooting stopped, Israel’s less than fully successful war in Lebanon continues to have diplomatic repercussions. This week the State Department sent Congress a report saying that Israel “may have” violated restrictions placed on the use of cluster bombs during the war. While the wrist slapping was conspicuously mild, it could result in action against Israel such as cutting off the supply of the U.S.-made bombs, something Washington did in 1982 after a similar congressional investigation ruled that Israel misused the weapons during that Lebanon war. But Israel now manufactures its own cluster bombs. And since U.S. forces are using similar munitions in the war against the Iraqi insurgency, officials in Washington are not in a position to complain too loudly. “There may be some technical issues involved, but in the end I don’t think many people on the Hill are going to question Israel’s motives in using them,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League. “So it seems like more of a pro forma thing, going through the procedures laid down by the agreement. People understand the context.” Wage Bill Not ‘Clean’ Jewish groups were lobbying hard this week for the first increase in the minimum wage in 10 years — but may come away with only a partial victory. On Tuesday Senate Republicans agreed to allow a vote on the measure after Democrats gave in to demands to include small-business tax breaks as part of the package. Jewish groups had pressed for a “clean” bill, without any amendments. The House passed a clean bill several weeks ago, but in the Senate, with rules that make it easier for the minority to block legislation, the Democrats were forced to give in. A minimum wage bill last year was killed after GOP lawmakers attached amendments offering tax breaks that critics said would favor the rich. “We are disappointed because we were hoping for a clean bill,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). “Adding a lot of tax provisions takes away from the fact that for 10 years, people have gone without any minimum wage increase.” Moshenberg declined to say whether her group would support a final measure that includes tax cut provisions. “We’ll have to take a close look at it. We will continue to push for a clean bill until the last possible gasp.” Barbara Weinstein, legislative director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that if the measure clears the Senate, the focus will shift to a House-Senate conference committee, where her group and others will continue to press for a measure that addresses only the wage question. At a news conference with religious leaders on Tuesday, the RAC director, Rabbi David Saperstein, said an increase in the minimum wage is a matter of fairness consistent with Jewish tradition and teaching. “We stand here in the spirit of Maimonides who taught that the highest level of charitable giving was to enable someone to provide for themselves and their loved ones,” he said. “We stand here to call on members of Congress to declare a new season and ensure that our laborers who build our nation have the resources they need and the dignity they deserve.” Religion In ’08 Race The 2008 presidential elections are barely underway, but already there are indications religion will again be a source of controversy. This week it was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who trod on territory that risks a head-on collision with the ADL and other church-state groups. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, announced his candidacy on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Like all GOP candidates, he promised to cut government spending. He also defended his no-exceptions opposition to abortion. Then, host Tim Russert asked Huckabee about his 1998 call to a Baptist gathering to “answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” Huckabee said, “I’d probably phrase it a little differently today. I don’t want to make people think that I’m going to replace the Capitol dome with a steeple or change the legislative sessions for prayer meetings.” But the candidate, who spoke at a “reclaiming America for Christ” conference last year, did not retract the comments. Asked if he would press for the United States to become a more “Christian nation,” he said, “We are a nation of faith. It doesn’t necessarily have to be mine.” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Huckabee to do more. “If he does not distance himself from his previous statements, he is letting them stand,” Foxman said. Foxman said that Huckabee’s comments point to another round of religion-in-politics controversy as the presidential candidates appeal to their core voters. “Every election brings the religious issue to the surface a little more than the last one, with candidates basically asking people to vote for them because of their faith,” he said. And it’s not just a GOP trend. Foxman said that across the political spectrum, candidates are framing political appeals in the context of religion. “Look at Barack’s speeches, at Hillary’s,” he said, referring to the two Democratic presidential frontrunners — Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). “Both have gone further than they’ve ever gone before in bringing religion into their speeches.” He said that the ADL will be “reaching out to the candidates, sensitizing them to where the important lines are” when it comes to talking about religion on the campaign trail. Jewish Democrats were less restrained, indicating they will use comments like Huckabee’s to keep Jewish voters solidly Democratic. Huckabee’s answers on “Meet the Press” were “basically a sly wink and a nod,” said David Goldenberg, assistant director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “It’s a signal to the religious right that ‘I’m one of you.” McCain-Lieberman Ticket? Also on the presidential front: Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat-turned-independent, apparently plans to stay that way. Over the weekend Lieberman, who ran as Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000 and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, indicated that he might be willing to support a Republican in 2008. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, he said “I’m going to do what most independents and a lot of Democrats and Republicans in America do, which is to take a look at all the candidates and then in the end, regardless of party, decide who I think will be best for the future of our country. So I’m open to supporting a Democrat, Republican or even an independent, if there’s a strong one. Stay tuned.” That fueled speculation that Lieberman still longs for higher office — perhaps as vice presidential nominee on a ticket with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “They’re on the same page on Iraq,” said a leading Jewish politico. “Both are seen as political mavericks; both are strong on bipartisanship. And I think Joe still has the itch.” But University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato offered a different explanation. Lieberman, he said, is “playing mind games with the Democrats. He’s sticking it to them after their treatment of him in 2006.” Lieberman reportedly remains angry that national party leaders supported Democratic challenger Ned Lamont after he beat Lieberman in the August Democratic Senate primary — although Lieberman, running as an independent, prevailed on Nov. 7. Sabato said a bipartisan ticket that includes Lieberman “is always a possibility, and it would shake up the conventional wisdom. I’ll bet it doesn’t happen, though. It means too many problems for a GOP nominee — especially a maverick like McCain — with his own party.” Church-State Litigation Rules Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who officially threw his hat in the 2008 presidential ring last week, is pitching himself as the default candidate of conservative Christians, and this week he proved it by introducing controversial legislation backed by groups such as the Christian Coalition — and opposed by a broad coalition of Jewish groups. Brownback reintroduced the Public Expressions of Religion Act (PERA), which would bar the awarding of attorneys’ fees to successful plaintiffs in Establishment Clause cases. The measure passed the Republican-led House last year but was ignored by the Senate. Evangelical groups say the measure is necessary because church-state lawyers and groups are enriching themselves through First Amendment litigation, and Brownback agrees. “It’s not fair for taxpayers to pay the legal bills for groups like the [American Civil Liberties Union],’ he said in a statement. “Currently many small towns comply with the demands of the ACLU rather than risk going to trial and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to the ACLU if they lose.” But Jewish groups say the measure is a transparent attempt to skew church-state litigation by making it costlier to use the courts to fight things like public displays of overtly religious symbols and public school prayer, since few groups or individuals have the resources to hire lawyers and pursue cases through the court system. “Access to the federal courts is fundamental to the ability of Americans to vindicate their constitutional rights,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee. “Legal fees often total as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even blatant instances of coerced prayer in a public school or other religious discrimination will seldom be challenged in court if a single citizen must face the legal resources of a city without even the prospect of recovering attorney’s fees.” And Foltin said that limiting claims under the First Amendment could put the entire Bill of Rights “at risk.” The AJC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Reform movement and the American Jewish Congress have argued that PERA is just one more front in the effort by conservative Christian groups to limit the role of the courts — which have mostly sided with separationists — in church-state cases. The Orthodox Union, which has sided with the Christian right on many church-state issues, has not taken a position on PERA. With the Democrats now in control of both Houses, the measure has little likelihood of passing — but it is almost certain to become fodder in the intensifying 2008 political campaigns. Remembering Father Drinan In a capital seething with partisan fury, the Rev. Robert Drinan (D-Mass.) was an oddity. The Catholic priest and social activist who spent 10 years in the House of Representatives until he was ordered by the Vatican to quit brought a rare civility and an overarching concern for human rights to politics. Drinan, who taught at the Georgetown University law school after his time in Congress, died this week at the age of 86, and a number of Jewish leaders were quick to remember him with appreciation. “He was a special person at a unique time who contributed quite a bit to our movement,” said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ, a Soviet Jewry group. “He was involved from the earliest time; he became an early leader in Congress on behalf of Natan Sharansky and other Prisoners of Zion, as well as lesser-known refuseniks.” Levin said that while the Jesuit priest focused heavily on human rights, “he worked with the Jewish community on a wide range of issues.” He was a “relentless foe of all forms of anti-Semitism and a lifelong supporter of Israel, deeply committed to the Jewish state’s survival and security,” said Rabbi James Rudin, a senior adviser on interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “Drinan passionately believed in the promise of the Second Vatican Council and its call for positive Catholic-Jewish relations.” He was also a vigorous advocate for reparations for Holocaust survivors. And Drinan, veteran pro-Israel lobbyists said this week, served as a strong moral voice for Israel at a time when congressional support for the Jewish state was far from assured. He first visited the Jewish state in 1963. “His book ‘Honor the Promise: America’s Commitment to Israel’ is a testament to Catholic understanding of and support for the Jewish state,” Rudin said. Drinan was elected to the House in 1970, propelled by his opposition to the Vietnam War. He introduced the first impeachment resolution targeting former President Richard Nixon — because of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, not the Watergate scandal.

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03/06/2012 - 21:08

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