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Clinton Plan on Gays in Military Gets Mixed Reviews from U.S. Jewry

The Jewish community, like much of America, is split over President Clinton’s compromise proposal on gays in the military.

While some Jewish organizational officials sharply criticized the plan for not going far enough in ending discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the armed forces, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, which had wanted the ban to stay in place, gave the plan lukewarm praise.

Many Jewish organizations chose not to take an official position on the controversial issue, which has been a political minefield for the president since he pledged during the campaign to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the U.S. military.

Clinton’s plan, which he announced Monday afternoon, has been dubbed “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue.” It orders the military to stop asking recruits whether they are homosexual, but, on the other hand, does not allow gay men or lesbians serving in the military to engage in homosexual acts or even discuss their sexual orientation publicly.

The plan represents months of compromise brokered by the administration between gay rights groups and their supporters, who argued in favor of a complete lifting of the ban, and the military bureaucracy and its supporters in Congress, including powerful Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who would have preferred to keep the ban in place.

Clinton himself admitted that the compromise plan was not going to please everyone. “It is not a perfect solution. It is not identical with some of my own goals,” the president said.

‘COMPROMISE IS NAME OF THE GAME’

But he added that it was an “honorable compromise” on “an issue that has divided our military and our nation, and diverted our attention from other matters for too long.”

Among the groups expressing disappointment with the plan were the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“The president’s original plan to lift the military ban on gays and lesbians stood as a pillar of hope for all those committed to the values of equality, justice and civil rights in America. Today, six months later, a once-glistening promise shows the wear of a bigoted American political battlefield,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center.

Another group urging Clinton to move eventually toward a complete lifting of the ban was the National Jewish Democratic Council. Lewis Roth, the group’s spokesman, called the plan “a small step in the right direction.”

On the other hand, the Jewish War Veterans, who originally wanted the ban to stay in place, said the plan, while not something they would wholeheartedly embrace, is tolerable.

“Compromise is the name of the game,” said Warren Dolny, JWV national commander. “If I don’t know that you’re homosexual, then you’re not homosexual.”

Howard Metzger, the group’s assistant communications director, said that the situation is one he believed the membership of the JWV would “vote to live with,” but not “wholeheartedly support.” The group is scheduled to meet and formulate a position on the policy next month.

In February, the JWV cast a veto at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council’s annual plenum that effectively blocked the umbrella group from approving a resolution supporting the rights of gay men and lesbians to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

The majority of NJCRAC’s member agencies support lifting the ban on gays in the military. But at least one of them, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, has decided not to take a stand on the issue.

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