Domestic Issues High on the Agenda of Njcrac Policy Blueprint for Year

Jewish community agencies nationwide will be asked to put a high priority in the coming year on Catholic-Jewish relations, Arab-American propaganda and congressional passage of a child-care bill for working mothers.

Those issues are among some 35 areas of concern covered in the 1989-90 Joint Program Plan for Jewish Community Relations, issued this week by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

Other issues in the plan include Soviet Jewish resettlement, South African apartheid, church-state separation and homelessness.

The plan, issued every fall since 1955, is considered an overall policy blueprint for Jewish organizations under the council’s umbrella, expressing a broad American Jewish consensus on the main issues of the day.

“These are the gut issues that will energize the community relations field in the year ahead,” Albert Chernin, executive vice chairman of the advisory council, said at a news chairman of the advisory council, said at a news conference where this year’s plan was released.

The council, commonly known by the acronym NJCRAC, coordinates the policies and activities of 11 national organizations and 117 local councils involved in intergroup relations.

LIBERAL AGENDA INCLUDED

NJCRAC officials said the Joint Program Plan is distilled out of positions adopted at the council’s national plenary meeting in February.

The final 80-page document released here was the result of discussions and refinements adopted over the intervening months by affiliates around the country, they said.

The end product is a document that combines a detailed agenda on specifically Jewish interests with an updated but strikingly clear restatement of the Jewish community’s traditional liberalism on domestic U.S. issues.

The plan includes detailed strategies for community action in such areas as the Middle East peace process, U.S.-Soviet relations and Soviet Jewish rights, arms control, housing and homelessness, anti-Semitism, black-Jewish relations and raising the national minimum wage.

New to the plan this year are a call for the Jewish community to begin working toward universal health care in the United States and unusually blunt calls to defend abortion rights here and religious pluralism in Israel.

In the area of Soviet Jewry, the plan’s lengthy analyses and detailed recommendations reflect what Chernin called “an entirely new ball game” in the field of advocacy for Jews in the Soviet Union.

The plan notes the dramatic improvements in the life of Jews in the Soviet Union, the marked increase in emigration and the problems of absorbing the emigres here and in Israel.

Most significantly, the plan says the “Jewish community relations field should urge the president to carry out his expressed intention to invoke the waiver provision of Jackson-Vanik, based upon the assurances given the secretary of state by the Soviet Union.”

The provision entitles the Soviet Union to U.S. trade privileges for a limited period, in recognition of substantial improvements in its emigration policy.

The Joint Program Plan is structured into 36 separate topic areas, each of which carries a series of individual, concrete recommendations or “strategic goals” — a total of 180 goals in all.

EMPHASIS ON CHILD CARE

Among the plan’s specific recommendations to its members are to:

“Oppose any efforts by the administration or Congress to weaken any standing civil rights protections.”

Support public “programs that will result in adequate supplies of low-income housing.”

Press for “legislation that would raise the minimum wage” and “oppose any attempts to include a subminimum wage.”

“Continue to interpret to the general community the complex challenges faced by Israel in its ongoing efforts to restore order in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

“Convey to the Israeli leadership a concern” over “the consequences of the status quo in the territories.”

“Design and implement programs with the black community on our international agenda, such as the security of Israel, freedom for Soviet Jewry, ending apartheid in South Africa, Ethiopian Jewry and famine in Africa.”

Of all the items on the plan, Chernin said, perhaps the highest priority should be assigned to the congressional Act for Better Child Care, to which a full page is devoted in the document.

A recent study conducted by the Council of Jewish Federations found that “the most sought-after service in the Jewish community is child care,” Chernin said, noting that the increase in working mothers and the rising cost of day care were turning the issue into a crisis for Jewish families nationwide.

DISSENT ON APARTHEID STATEMENT

The most divisive issue confronting the drafters of the program plan was the South African system of racial separation known as apartheid.

The program plan contains a seven-page statement on apartheid as part of its 80-page roundup of major issues facing Jewish community relations agencies for the coming year.

Arden Shenker, NJCRAC’s national chairman, called it “the most fully fleshed position on apartheid” to be issued by a broadly representative body of the U.S. Jewish community.

Five member groups dissented from the statement, which included a call to “support divestment by corporations currently doing business in South Africa.”

Four groups, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Hadassah and Women’s American ORT, declined to back the blanket call for divestment.

A fifth member, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, backed divestment, but called for closer coordination between the U.S. and South African Jewish communities in anti-apartheid action.

This year’s Joint Program Plan was the first ever launched with the fanfare of a public news conference.

NJCRAC officials said it marked a tentative turning away from the council’s tradition of keeping a low profile and leaving the spotlight to its constituent agencies.

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