The organized American Jewish community’s annual statement on a host of public issues calls this year for a “social justice agenda” and increased attention to the domestic front.
Among the top priorities spelled out in the Joint Program Plan, as it is known, are promoting the Middle East peace process, facilitating refugee resettlement, keeping abortion legal, strengthening the public school system and maintaining church-state separation in America.
The plan, released last week, is published each fall by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council to provide policy guidelines for its constituent groups: 13 national Jewish agencies and 117 local community relations councils.
It provides an overview of organized American Jewry’s chief concerns in the public arena and the information it contains will shape the way these issues are addressed by the major organizations charged with acting on behalf of American Jews.
NJCRAC maintains a strong interest in domestic issues, unlike other Jewish umbrella groups, such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“There is an urgent need to reverse the trend of a declining commitment by government to redress the social and economic ills of American society,” the plan states in its introduction.
At the same time, the plan stresses that “focusing either on domestic or international concerns exclusively will not serve the best interests of the United States.”
The plan looks closely at 18 issues. For each, a detailed analysis, focusing on events of the past year, is coupled with a series of “strategic goals.”
Regarding the peace process, for example, the statement urges those active in Jewish community relations to “convey to the American public the need of the parties to the conflict to focus on a step-by-step process and confidence- building measures that would lead to peace treaties with neighboring Arab states, and interim self-governing arrangements for the Palestinians leading to final status negotiations.”
Goals in other areas include urging all Jewish communal agencies to adopt environmental policies; pressing for legislation banning the hiring of permanent replacements for striking workers; calling for a re-examination of the judicial-nominations process; supporting state measures to provide universal health care as a step toward a national plan; and encouraging Jewish communal agencies to examine their employment policies for gender discrimination and sensitivity to family needs.
With few exceptions, the goals represent the unanimous consensus of NJCRAC member agencies. The exceptions include disagreements by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress on college scholarships directed to minorities, and a dissent by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America from the document’s support for “reproductive choice.”
The Orthodox Union also dissented from a lengthy policy paper, approved by NJCRAC at its plenum this past February in Portland, Ore., discussing the issue of educational choice plans which enable parents to select from among a number of schools.
NJCRAC’s position was that choice plans must be limited exclusively to public schools.
The Orthodox Union said in dissent that this reflected a “wooden application” of the principles of church-state separation, saying that “educational choice programs can constitutionally and equitably provide funds for non-public school students and their parents as long as there is no direct government funding of religious instruction.”
Neither view is necessarily binding on other NJCRAC members. The program plan itself states its own mandate as being only an advisory guide for agencies, which are free to accept or reject it.