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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Chaskel Bennett’

It’s About The Children, Mr. Barron

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

A watershed moment took place in Brooklyn last month on primary night. Those who care about private school education should sit up and take notice.

Democratic Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who rode a tidal wave of support from all corners of the district in his smackdown of Charles Barron, gave a resounding victory speech, speaking to the “beautiful mosaic” of diverse communities he hopes to represent in Congress. In his first public comments, Jeffries spoke passionately about education, his signature issue, and singled out among other things the “crushing burden” of yeshiva education and the need for government to find creative solutions to assist yeshiva parents.

Yeshiva administrators and school choice advocates, who have long sounded the “private schools are collapsing” alarm to any and every elected official who will listen, took encouragement from his words. Public school advocates, teachers-union types and, yes, Charlie Barron, were not pleased at all.

Regrettably, their entrenchment and opposition are to be expected. Public school lobbyists and their supporters demonstrate a gross sense of entitlement when they declare war against government relief to parochial schools.

Harder to understand is their unjustified attacks on politicians like Jeffries – a longtime supporter of public education – who seek to breathe energy and enthusiasm into additional school funding for all schools, public and private alike.

Let’s be clear. Every child, whether in a public or a parochial school, is entitled to a quality education, period. Somehow, though, private school-paying parents and school choice advocates have found themselves under relentless attack from the teachers union and a vocal public school lobby that views education funding as an all or nothing proposition – all for them and nothing for anybody else. Though supporters of public education always make their case by championing “the children,” we in the private school community know all too well they mean only “their” children.

Vociferous public school advocates and politicians like Charles Barron refuse to acknowledge the painful inequity of a system that takes money from taxpayers to use for education – and yet refuses to allocate any meaningful portion of those dollars to provide funding, or at least desperately needed tax relief, for those very same taxpayers who send children to private schools.

In fact, Barron, in his post-election criticism of Jeffries, took particular aim at Jeffries’s desire to help yeshiva students, saying Jeffries wants “us taxpayers [to] pay for private religious schools.” The truth, of course, is that in addition to thousands of dollars in tuition, private religious-school parents pay taxes and those taxes help fund public education.

Orthodox Jewish children, as well as Catholic and other religious schoolchildren, require a dual educational curriculum. Besides an arduous religious studies curriculum, students are also bound by state curricular requirements, with many taking state aptitude tests to verify retention of their secular studies. Test scores confirm that many of these children do very well in private school settings.

There are constitutionally acceptable ways for government to support yeshivas and other nonpublic schools. Certainly no law prevents the state from honoring its commitment to educate and fund the secular studies of these students. To say that any child – Jew, Muslim or Christian – is not entitled to some form of tuition assistance for secular studies simply because he or she attends a private school is wrong and unjust.

Supporting parochial schools via tax credits, school vouchers (there, I said it) or through tuition tax deductibility in no way diminishes the hardship and sacrifices private and public school parents and teachers make for their families and students.

In fact, government-sponsored tuition relief will only help to prop up an overall teetering educational system. Ultimately, should nothing change and private schools continue to close as is now happening, the consequences for the public school system would be disastrous.

Consider the numbers in Brooklyn alone. Approximately 90,000 children are currently enrolled in Jewish religious schools (and the number is growing). An average public school class has 25-30 students. If the New York City Department of Education were forced to absorb these students, at a cost of $20,000-$22,000 per child annually, it would be looking at an additional annual cost of nearly $2 billion, aside from the massive capital expenditures necessary to add and maintain, approximately, an additional 3,600 classrooms.

Thanking The NYPD Is The Least We Can Do

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The recent shooting of four police officers in the normally tranquil Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn (bringing the total to eight cops shot so far this year) has confirmed a dangerous double standard that threatens the safety of police officers and all New Yorkers throughout New York. It must be confronted.

City police officers are being shot in frightening numbers, with heroes like Peter Figoski paying the ultimate price, killed in the line of duty just for doing his job. Yet the larger public is noticeably, even if unintentionally, absent from championing those officers who put everything on the line every day.

Worse yet, the ACLU-types who never miss an opportunity to vilify and malign Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD for any and every mistake (real or perceived) a police officer makes are conspicuously absent when cops are being used for target practice all across the city.

Instead of recognizing the inherent risks and difficulties of keeping millions of New Yorkers safe and applauding the grace and restraint police officers have repeatedly shown under fire, the armchair critics incessantly continue to heap on criticism and refuse to acknowledge the realities of keeping our city safe (while failing to offer an iota of constructive criticism).

Perennial publicity hounds like the Reverend Al Sharpton, who have made careers out of putting personal ambition and political theater ahead of public safety, exacerbate tensions instead of calming them.

Dedicated crime fighters deserve our staunch support and require the true and tried tools available, under the law, to go about their all-important task of keeping all New Yorkers safe. Second-guessing by clueless libertarians and partisan politicians is counterproductive and insulting to those of us who live and work here. We know the NYPD has made the quality of life for all New Yorkers significantly better. It is time we all said so publicly.

For the silent majority – the law abiding citizens – the NYPD has been doing a masterful job navigating the balancing act of keeping New York City safe while faithfully upholding the civil liberties U.S. law guarantees all citizens.

Are the police perfect? Is anybody? There are bad apples in every profession and the NYPD is not immune. Police officers who engage in wrongful acts should be held to the highest standards, but bad behavior by a handful of police officers should not instigate a broad indictment of the entire department and its practices.

Recently, ten Congressional Democrats, including a member of the party’s leadership and lawmakers involved in the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, inserted themselves into the NYPD spying program debate by criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his “underhanded and unprofessional” response to criticism of the spying program and calling for an end to the NYPD’s out-of-state spying on Islamic communities.

The mayor has repeatedly defended his department’s actions as lawful and necessary to keep New York safe and he and his administration have brushed off concerns, raised by lawmakers and civil rights groups, that the NYPD’s activities are constitutionally suspect.

And while many New Yorkers may often not agree with the Bloomberg administration on various issues, when it comes to safety and security the mayor has earned extraordinarily high marks.

Pragmatic citizens understand that the strategies employed by the NYPD are appropriate given the grave terrorist threats leveled against New York City and its residents. Moreover, with respect to more mundane day-to-day criminal activity, statistics confirm that the city continues to maintain impressive crime reduction numbers in most major categories.

It is reasonable to sympathize with the law-abiding members of the Muslim community who must endure the endless questions and increased scrutiny that have come their way since 9/11. The results, though, speak for themselves. Fact is, New York continues to be the world’s premier terrorist target and the very police officers who are so often criticized have crafted a perfect record in thwarting numerous terror plots hatched against the city since that terrible September morning more than 10 years ago.

Most of those major accomplishments are the result of an aggressive strategy of prevention, employed by a fair but unrelenting police commissioner, with the support of the mayor’s office.

Though it’s hard to blame anybody for feeling unfairly targeted, New Yorkers of all backgrounds must accept the dreadful reality of living in a large metropolis filled with illegal weapons and plenty of bad guys ready and willing to use them, especially on police officers. If added scrutiny is what it takes to save lives, then the police are welcome to stop and frisk me too. New York has come too far to regress to the pre-Giuliani days of rampant lawlessness and widespread fear.

Ray Kelly has earned the benefit of the doubt. Sensible people of all faiths and cultures, especially those of us in the Jewish community, should be thankful and deeply appreciative to the police commissioner and the thousands of heroic officers of the NYPD who daily risk their lives to protect us.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Misplaced Concerns

Secretary of State Clinton’s sudden concern for Israel’s future as a democratic state in the shadow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victory in Egypt and Iran’s irrational march to nuclear martyrdom is perplexing (“Clinton and Panetta Put Israel in the Cross Hairs,” editorial, Dec. 9).

With the Mideast beset by growing violence and unprecedented instability, it is incomprehensible that America’s top diplomat would focus on the voluntary busing preferences of religious Jews (men and women) who reside in the only legitimate democracy in that region.

Israel deserves to be applauded and held up as a model for its steadfast commitment to religious freedoms, afforded to all its citizens – Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Clinton’s misplaced concerns might be better focused on the Jewish state’s many Islamic neighbors who strictly forbid members of non-Islamic faiths from practicing their religion in their countries.

Chaskel Bennett

(Via E-Mail)

 

Obama’s Fundraiser

Barack Obama professes a strong commitment to Israel’s safety and an inviolable tie between our two nations. That’s wonderful, except for the fact that he has a rather strange way of showing it. Is this what is meant by “tough love”? If so, I I’d prefer honest and open disdain, which leaves no questions about truth and sincerity.

The 1967 borders speech was bad enough as betrayals go, but more significant has been the ongoing sense of hostility to Israel, while Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are treated as equals. The rudeness to Prime Minister Netanyahu was something that would never have been displayed to an Arab leader. The Obama administration has made it clear that it views Israel as a thorn in its side. Building homes for Jews in Jerusalem has been decried far more vociferously than the random murders of Jews by Muslim terrorists.

And now Obama comes to New York for a fundraiser and is pledged $2 million by a Jewish gathering. What does this tell us? Does it make sense to anyone reading this?

Myron Hecker

New City, NY

 

Sotheby’s Lockout

I read with interest Richard McBee’s Dec. 9 Arts column, “Jewish Women and Chanukah at Sotheby’s,” on the upcoming auction of Judaica at Sotheby’s. There is something else your readers should be aware of.

On August 1, the 43 professional art handlers at Sotheby’s in New York City were locked out of their workplace and prevented from entering the facility, even though both management and the union that represents them, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 814, agreed to continue contract negotiations. These workers, loyal employees of Sotheby’s, some of whom had worked there for decades, have not been allowed to return to work since; they have been out of work for more than four months now, creating situations of extreme hardship for themselves and their families.

Two days after the workers were locked out, Sotheby’s reported the most profitable quarter in its 267-year history. Second quarter revenues were up 31 percent from the same quarter last year and profits were up 48 percent. We have read that Sotheby’s wants the locked-out art handlers, who are responsible for the transportation, preparation and display of the pieces, to give up their 401(k) plan, work a reduced 36-hour week (which means effectively a ten-percent reduction in their wages) and limit their overtime, among other demands.

Our Jewish tradition teaches us to treat all who labor with respect and dignity, not just when it is convenient but even when tough labor-management negotiations are taking place. Sotheby’s may be putting Jewish tradition on display in the form of art pieces, but its behavior is certainly no reflection of the values represented by our tradition.

Martin M. Schwartz

Executive Director

Jewish Labor Committee

 

            Tribute To Rabbi Schonfeld

As one who was brought out of Austria on the first kindertransport by Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld, I would like to appeal to any Jewish Press readers who were also brought out by him. In February, we will mark a century since his birth and I hope to arrange a memorial tribute in Jerusalem on February 27.

I would ask any of those kinder or their children who would like to attend to please contact me at fischerjlm@hotmail.com or at PO Box 18279, Jerusalem 91182.

Emanuel Fischer

Jerusalem

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More On Torah And Science

The Chazon Ish And Reb Moshe

Reader Avi Goldstein writes that the Sages of Israel were frequently wrong regarding matters of science (Letters, Dec. 9). He cites several examples where he feels the Sages erred.

In one example he says the calendar devised by the Talmudic Sage Shmuel errs in its calculation of the solar year. I would like to cite the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 138:4) and Reb Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 4:17) on this issue.

Reb Moshe begins with very harsh words for the individual who asked the question. He says it seems the person regards himself as greater than all the Rishonim and Achronim and Gaonim in that they erred and he has caught their mistake. Forgive me, but it is extremely arrogant to even think this way, let alone to speak and write in such a manner. You should know that it is incumbent on a person to follow something that all of Klal Yisrael is accustomed to doing even if he believes they are mistaken – because something done by all of Klal Yisrael is correct.

A World Gone Mad

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Another horrific terrorist attack is perpetrated in Israel and we knew what to expect. A statement of outrage and condemnation from the White House, regrets from the Palestinian Authority, and from the UN a call for all sides to exercise restraint and remain committed to the (non-existent) “peace process.”

In short, yet another exercise in futility if ever there was one.

Last Thursday, while the Dow was losing another 419 points and world financial markets continued their volatile gyrations, the Obama administration, through Secretary of State Clinton, finally issued its long overdue call for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to step aside for massacring his own people. Lost in the news cycle was the brazen series of attacks that led to the death of eight innocent Israelis, with dozens injured, near Eilat.

Further obscured were the half-hearted condemnations and perfunctory condolences from distracted world capitals.

In fact, the international community, by its continuous failure to distinguish right from wrong and its unwillingness to side with good over evil, bears culpability for this renewed cycle of violence.

When the Fogels (two parents and three of their children) were slaughtered by bloodthirsty terrorists earlier this year, their “capital crime” was peacefully living in the settlement of Itamar. But as was clear to any levelheaded person – and as should have become even clearer following last week’s attack in Eilat – the fact that the Fogels lived in a settlement outside an imaginary colored line was merely a pretext for their brutal slaughter.

It would have made no difference had they resided in Jerusalem, Paris or on the Brooklyn Bridge. Jewish blood has always been cheap. The Fogels were murdered for being Jewish. Geography and generation were minor factors.

The terrorist attack last week against innocent civilians in an indisputably Jewish area was fueled, as these attacks always are, by the hatred of Jews that permeates Arab and Muslim media. The heinous rhetoric broadcast throughout the Arab and Muslim world – which due to lack of any protest appears to be condoned even by moderate Arab and Muslim leaders – inevitably cheapens Jewish life and leads to the murder of innocent victims. No peace talks, bilateral accords, or unilateral disengagements can alter this unfortunate and undeniable truth.

Some things in the world are black and white with no shades of gray. The wanton murder and maiming of innocent bus-riding civilians is pure and unadulterated evil. Those who issue shallow and feeble condemnations, qualified by equivocations and rationalizations, are guilty of facilitating this evil.

Equally guilty of enabling this evil are intellectuals who subtly equate the murder of innocent civilians with the accidental deaths of innocent children intentionally used by cowards as human shields.

Instead of feckless and empty statements of outrage, condemnation, and regret, it would behoove the powers that be – who readily condemn Israel for every perceived building violation – to apply their indignation to the root causes of Arab and Islamic fanaticism.

Our leaders might better focus their efforts and leverage on Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, where state-sanctioned madrasas teach young and impressionable children to hate Jews, Israel, non-Muslims, and the “West” in general and where terrorist training camps assist the graduates of these madrasas in taking their hatred to the next level.

While the Arab and Muslim street continues its march to self-implosion, be it in Tripoli, Islamabad or Cairo, it is Israel that continues to light the way with ingenuity, hope, and kindness. While the extremists murder, burn, and riot, Israel is an acknowledged world leader in setting up field hospitals, surgeons and search teams around the world whenever and wherever calamity strikes.

Is there any doubt as to what the Palestinian Authority has in store for Israelis come September as its push for Palestinian statehood commences at the UN? If history is any guide, the Arab Spring will be a walk in the park compared to the planned “non-violent” inferno headed Israel’s way.

So as Jews once again bury their dead and fathers and mothers pace the halls of Israeli trauma centers and hospitals worried over severely injured loved ones, leaders of civilized nations must know that all of humanity, not just Jews, have been betrayed by the false message of moral equivalence, as well as by moral ambivalence.

Time For Obama To Change Course

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally left the U.S. after a week of exhausting, and surprising, diplomatic highs and lows, a number of unsettling questions were left in his wake.

But perhaps the paramount question, the answer to which may well resolve many of the other mysteries in the seemingly increasingly troubled U.S.-Israel relationship is this: Who has been advising the Obama administration so poorly on the Israeli-Palestinian issue?

Many fiercely proud and patriotic Americans support Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself and to prosper in the same manner as any other country. These Americans, many of them Obama loyalists, watch with great dismay and puzzlement as U.S. Mideast policy takes erratic, disjointed and troubling directions – in particular with respect to Israel.

When Speaker of the House John Boehner first invited Netanyahu several weeks ago to address a joint meeting of Congress, the Republican leader could never have imagined the chain of events that would ultimately result from his gesture.

It appears the president’s decision to attempt to trump the prime minister’s address to Congress by delivering a sweeping foreign policy speech at the State Department – even before Netanyahu’s plane left Israel – came as a real surprise to the Israeli delegation. In that address, the president, among other things, called on Israel to essentially withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, a position never publicly espoused by previous administrations.

More disturbing, Obama advocated this new public position without asking much if anything of the PA or other Arab states in the region. (Saying the Arabs need to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist is just not enough.)

Yet again the Obama administration’s Mideast policy placed unrealistic pressures and demands on Israel while simultaneously giving little weight to the continued incitement, violence and corruption endemic among the other Middle East players, including the Palestinian Authority.

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The reportedly long-simmering tension between Obama and Netanyahu came to an immediate boil as Netanyahu strongly challenged Obama’s unilateral border demarcation of a future Palestinian entity – which of course would deprive Israel of a key future negotiating chip. Reportedly, when informed in advance of the substance of the president’s speech, Netanyahu “furiously” lobbied Secretary of State Clinton to remove the phrase “1967 lines.”

Those same sources say Clinton coldly rebuffed the prime minister’s request, refusing even to pass along the objections to the president.

What seems most difficult to comprehend, however, is why – knowing the reaction the speech would trigger – the president went ahead and ignited the controversy in the first place.

With little time for pundits and body language experts to interpret the consequences of the State Department speech and the following day’s contentious Oval Office press conference with Netanyahu, the president appeared at the annual AIPAC conference Sunday morning seeking to calm the storm and to explain or clarify the position he had expressed 72 hours earlier.

That exercise continued the high-stakes public relations drama between two of the world’s most complex and stubborn leaders, each searching for the right words to pacify his critics and electrify his base.

Having had the opportunity to personally witness Netanyahu’s speech to Congress – it felt like a State of the Union address, with the prime minister garnering twenty-nine standing ovations and continuous bipartisan applause – I must again ask, who advised President Obama to pick this particular fight at this particular time with Israel? And, more important, why?

The answers remain painfully unresolved. But given the obvious and widespread bipartisan opposition to the administration’s Israel policies, the president might wish to reevaluate the status of those in his inner circle who again guided his administration down this harmful, damaging and unnecessary path.

Unfortunately, it seems the J Street, Peace Now and Haaretz influence is all-pervasive when it comes to Obama’s Israel policy. Repeated contretemps with America’s most loyal and dependable Mideast ally are vivid indicators that those voices have not served the president well at all.

To avoid the backtracks, clarifications, snafus and misunderstandings that have generally plagued the administration’s approach to foreign policy in general and Mideast policy in particular – an approach that has done little to advance peace – the president would be well advised to seek the seasoned counsel and informed input of leaders like Lee Rosenberg of AIPAC and Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Perhaps, at least on matters pertaining to Israel, Obama might also consider consulting with (and listening to) trusted and experienced political allies such as his own vice president, Joe Biden (who appears shut out on this issue), Senator Charles Schumer, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and others who clearly understand the vital necessity of a democratic, strong and secure Jewish state.

The outcome of such an overdue and necessary overhaul in strategy and strategists may greatly improve the elusive prospects for genuine peace in the Middle East, assuage frayed nerves in the pro-Israel community and, ultimately, determine the president’s success or failure in winning four more years in the White House.

Chaskel Bennett is a writer and community activist. He serves on the boards of several communal organizations.

Uncomfortable Truths In The Fight Against Domestic Terror

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

High praise and gratitude are due Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the NYPD’s intelligence Division for their extraordinary work in again uncovering and preventing a plot by Muslim fanatics to unleash terror against religious targets.

In just the latest such episode against New York City, two Muslim extremists were caught on wiretap surveillance planning to massacre Jewish worshipers at a city synagogue.

Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, it is obvious that Islamic extremism is alive and well and continues to pose a clear and present danger to Christians, Jews and, especially, Muslims. Denying this truth, for purposes of political correctness or otherwise, is naïve, shortsighted and, ultimately, negligent.

Time and again, Islamic extremism has been the motivating factor behind actual and attempted murders and maiming of Americans as well as Europeans, Russians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghanis.

Despite heated and intense opposition, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) courageously held hearings several weeks ago on this sensitive issue. It was only as a result of base partisanship and political theatrics that Congressman King’s hearings were prevented from exposing American’s to the harsh realities of Islamist ideology.

At the time, certain misguided Jewish clergy publicly chastised King’s hearings as “un-American” or “McCarthy-like.” Unfortunately, last week’s arrests proved King’s point – and, it must be asked, where are the critics who challenged the necessity of the hearings? Where are the clergy whose synagogues may well have been targeted? Where are the tears of Rep. Keith Ellison and others who still inexplicably refuse to acknowledge and act upon the immediate threats facing all Americans?

It is becoming ever clearer that New York City continues to be a top terrorist target and that New York’s Jewish community and religious institutions are in the cross hairs of Islamic extremists.

Our community is an identifiable target and more vulnerable to attack than ever. While city public schools are assigned hundreds of full time police and security officers, not one school safety officer is posted to any of the hundreds of private schools in New York City. With thousands of Jewish children attending New York City yeshivas and day schools, don’t our kids deserve equal protection from the obvious threats against us?

While remaining vigilant we also must press our elected officials to increase, not slash, sorely needed security grants and police protection for our schools, synagogues and communal institutions. Government’s most fundamental responsibility is to keep its citizens safe, and that requires an acceptance and an acknowledgment that this country is under attack by a radicalized enemy.

Reducing the deficit cannot come at the risk of letting our guard down. Congress must resist the temptation to politicize Homeland Security funding and direct more, not less, funding to those facing the highest risk.

Additionally, as parts of the Patriot Act come up for reauthorization again, both Congress and the president must put the American people first and give police and Federal agencies every possible weapon to protect us – and that includes profiling, if necessary.

As threats of retribution increase in the wake of bin Laden’s death, the importance of rooting out and preventing terrorism – before tragedy strikes – must be our nation’s highest priority. If we cave to political correctness in the face of such overwhelming and undeniable evidence, the terrorists win.

Chaskel Bennett is a writer, education advocate and community activist.

And Then There Were 44

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Last week’s historic “shellacking” suffered by the Democrats was a stark and humbling reminder to all elected officials of whatever party that they serve at the will of their constituents.

While this fundamental fact is still fresh on their minds, it is imperative that our community make clear to its representatives that in exchange for our support – in votes as well as contributions – we expect reciprocal support for causes dear to our hearts. Vocal and public support for the safety and security of Israel is clearly at the top of our list.

Just fifteen months ago, on July 14, 2009, President Obama met with 15 American Jewish leaders at the White House. The purpose of that meeting was to “clear the air” regarding mounting concerns in the Jewish community that the administration was adopting an increasingly counterproductive and inappropriately harsh position with respect to Israeli settlement activity.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, suggested to Obama that diplomatic progress in the Middle East has traditionally occurred – and indeed can only occur – when there is “no daylight” between the United States and Israel. Obama reportedly responded, “I disagree; for eight years [during the George W. Bush administration] there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished.”

Obama’s response jibed perfectly with the ideology of the self-described “pro-peace” organization J Street – whose founder and executive director, Jeremy Ben Ami, crowed in a message to supporters, “I left the room feeling we are at a truly historic moment of opportunity. There may never be another American President who so clearly gets the issues strategically and has the political capital to try to pull off an agreement. To succeed, I really believe J Street is going to be critical in demonstrating political support for the President and to those in Congress who support his efforts.”

Unfortunately, and in part as a result of J Street’s inclusion in the July 14 meeting, a number of politicians viewed J Street as actually representing a sizeable chunk of the Jewish community and voiced support for the organization and its initiatives. Specifically, on January 28 of this year, 54 Democratic representatives – the instantly infamous “Gaza 54″ – sent a letter to Obama indicting Israel for imposing strict restrictions on the Gaza border and inflicting “suffering” on the Palestinians. The letter, initiated by J Street, alleged that Israel was collectively punishing the people of Gaza by creating a “lack of access to: clean water, construction materials, [and] fuel” and called on the president to pressure Israel to open up its border with Gaza.

Even more damaging than the negative image of Israel portrayed in the letter was the fact that the letter represented the first official congressional attempt to paint Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians in Gaza as the innocent, wronged party. Never mind that Israel’s actions consisted of taking minimal defensive steps to secure its borders from terrorist activities stemming from the Gaza Strip.

This inaccurate and spurious attack on Israel’s right to defend itself may have been non-binding, but it set in motion a chain of far reaching and damaging events. Six weeks after the Gaza 54 letter was made public, a visit by Vice President Biden to Israel coincided with a mid-level Israeli bureaucrat’s formal authorization of the launch of a previously approved housing project in an existing – and exclusively Jewish – Jerusalem neighborhood. The poorly timed Ramat Shlomo announcement created one of the worst diplomatic rows between the United States and Israel in decades. The atmosphere surrounding U.S.-Israel relations rapidly deteriorated. By all accounts President Obama virtually snubbed Prime Minister Netanyahu during the latter’s White House visit two weeks later.

With only muted criticism against the administration coming from Congressional Democrats, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel took out full-page ads in major American newspapers to express his support for an undivided Jerusalem. With unprecedented disrespect, J Street, through the Haaretz newspaper and former Knesset member Yossi Sarid, circulated an open letter to Wiesel taking him to task for, among other things, having been “deceived” by “zealous Jews” who insist on “inserting themselves in Arab neighborhoods, purifying and Judaizing them with the help of rich American benefactors.”

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