WASHINGTON (JTA) – Following President Obama’s State of the Union address and the start of the new congressional year, JTA asked Jewish organizations operating in Washington the following questions: "What do you hope the administration and Congress will achieve this year, and what advice would you offer them to make it happen?"
Here’s how they responded, in alphabetical order:
Agudath Israel of America
Congress must recommit to an overarching Mideast dynamic – that only strong, unequivocal U.S. support of Israel will bring the Palestinians to the peace table. When wavering is perceived, extremists are emboldened, resorting to bloodshed and making demands that imperil Israel’s security.
Tyrannical regimes like Iran must not be appeased, as that only leads to further destabilization. Congress must be ready to extend sanctions should Iranian leaders continue to provoke the international community.
The scourge of terrorism is ongoing and Congress must provide a full measure of resources to fight it. Congressional funding of the PA must be monitored or reassessed, as monies have been shown to have reached Palestinian leaders and groups that commit or condone terror.
On the domestic front, we face a critical year for education funding – including for Jewish schools, the key to our community’s future. Congress’ expected overhaul must maintain and enhance the services our students require. Faith-based funding must also be increased, as religious charities are needed to step up at a time when government budgets are being slashed.
Enhancing religious liberty remains a priority. It’s time to pass a strong Workplace Religious Freedom Act, and incorporate appropriate religious/conscience safeguards in health care, gay rights, housing, faith-based and other legislative initiatives.
The homeland needs greater protection. This should include both authorizing and increasing funds for securing high risk targets. Congress recently heard testimony that an attempted al Qaida attack in the U.S. is certain within the next half year. And bin Laden has told us that his targets are “Americans and Jews.” We cannot afford to slumber.
American Israel Public Affairs Committee
We are at a critical juncture in efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. As the U.S. works with our allies to pass additional U.N. Security Council sanctions, it’s critical that the administration take immediate steps to ratchet up pressure on the regime. The House, in December, and the Senate this year, have overwhelmingly passed bipartisan sanctions legislation expanding the President’s authority to impose sanctions on Iran if it continues to reject U.S. overtures and to enrich uranium in defiance of the international community. The bills need to be reconciled by House and Senate negotiators before being sent to Congress for final passage and then to the president for his signature. We are urging Congress to move quickly on finalizing the legislation.
Amid these efforts, it is critical for Congress to continue supporting Israel’s quest for peace, calling on the Palestinians and Arab states to enter constructive negotiations with the Jewish State without preconditions, as Israel continues to take bold, concrete steps on the ground that have been paving the way for serious peace talks and making meaningful, positive impact in the West Bank, including double-digit economic growth.
In the face of the urgent threat from Iran and other growing challenges to Israel and American national security interests in the region, the U.S. and Israel signed a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which calls for a boost in U.S. security assistance to Israel over a decade. Fiscal year 2011 represents the third year of this agreement. We will be urging Congress to support the administration request of $3 billion in vital security assistance for Israel — an investment not only in the security of our steadfast ally in the region and America’s own national security, but a direct investment in our own economy, with 75 percent of those funds being spent here at home, creating jobs and buying American.
The effort to isolate and delegitimize Israel and undermine the Jewish State’s right to self defense continues at the United Nations, in other international fora and even in the civil courts of some western allies. Congress has spoken out forcefully and with bipartisan unity to denounce the fundamentally flawed Goldstone Report, and AIPAC will continue to support strong Congressional and U.S. leadership in combating these fundamental, anti-Israel, anti-democratic distortions of right and wrong.
We urge the President to continue to work closely and privately with our ally Israel to meet the challenges outlined above, none greater than stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
American Jewish Committee
AJC hopes the U.S. Congress, long before it disbands for the November elections, will confront at least four critical issues that impinge on our national security interests. First, Congress must focus on stimulating the necessary private and government investments in alternative energy products that can diminish significantly U.S. dependence on oil imported from hostile nations. Second, Congress must continue to play a role in working with the administration on additional economic and political measures to stop Iran’s dangerous march to cross the nuclear threshold. Third, Congress must continue to support the special U.S.-Israel relationship and the elusive effort to advance peace in the Middle East. Fourth, Congress, through hearings and legislation, must step up the coordination and impact of our disparate intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to build a stronger system that adequately protects Americans from terrorism.
As for President Obama, 2010 could be the make-or-break year for the Iranian nuclear program. It will be a time of extraordinary testing of the Obama Administration. A laudable effort to reach out to Tehran was spurned, and a reasonable proposal on nuclear fuel was rejected by Iran. Now it’s time to get tough, summon all the diplomatic clout of the U.S. to mobilize allies and convince Iran that Washington means business. This may well be the supreme foreign policy test facing the president. He must succeed.
American Jewish Congress
No issue ought to be higher on the Jewish agenda than stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have approved separate versions of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act; they need to be reconciled.
The administration urgently needs to assemble international support for effective sanctions.
With regard to the peace process, not withstanding dashed early hopes for a quick solution, the administration must continue to press forward. Based on our recent trip to the region, we are convinced that a deal is possible, if only because all sides want to thwart an Iranian push for regional dominance.
On the domestic front, the issues of most urgent concern to the Jewish community parallel those confronting the entire American community. Sometimes interests high on the Jewish agenda are distinct from those high on the general political agenda. Not now. Those issues are reducing unemployment; deciding whether and how to regulate financial institutions to prevent a recurrence of recent excesses; health care reform; and dealing with the budget deficit.
Probably the most important issue of particular interest to the Jewish community is the possible restructuring of the Bush administration’s charitable choice initiative. The Jewish community’s interest lies in neither of the extreme publicly enunciated positions treating government-funded charities as if they were the government, or as if funding imposed no special limitations. We must await the recommendation of the President’s advisory committee before deciding how to proceed.
Americans for Peace Now
Congress should support peace for Israel by backing assertive presidential leadership — even if that means confronting Israelis and Palestinians — because the status quo is dangerous for Israel and for American national security interests. In 2010 APN will build broad congressional support for assertive presidential leadership toward Middle East peace. Peace for Israel requires tough, sustained U.S. diplomatic efforts. It needs Washington to confront Israelis and Palestinians when they fail to take steps towards peace. We will educate Congress about the costs of the conflict and demonstrate — with voices from Israel and the American Jewish community — that there is a strong constituency for peace.
APN will press Congress to give the president the financial and diplomatic tools he needs to pursue peace. We will work to foil any efforts to use Congress to block progress toward peace and we will aggressively fight demagogical initiatives that seek to use Israel-related issues such as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees for petty political point-scoring.
We will continue to be the leading voice in the Jewish community urging Congress to pursue smart, responsible legislation on Iran.
APN will continue to advocate for military aid to Israel and for maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, both of which are important to give Israel the confidence to advance toward peace. We will likewise continue to support economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, humanitarian aid for the West Bank and Gaza, and improved freedom of access and movement for people and goods into and out of Gaza.
Congress should put America’s commitment to halt Iran’s nuclear quest into action by enacting crippling sanctions legislation to complement multilateral efforts. Congress also plays a vital role in sustaining U.S. support for Israel’s right to live in peace and with security.
On the issue of terrorism, Congress should provide oversight for executive branch initiatives to ensure an appropriate balance between national security concerns and individual rights, and should also move expeditiously to enact workplace religious accommodation protection.
At home, Congress must work hard to fix our immigration system while upholding America’s tradition of welcoming immigrants, and should also move expeditiously to enact workplace religious accommodation protection.
Following the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Congress should fund the required training, education and data collection — and promote initiatives that reduce the underlying prejudice that leads to hate crime. Anti-bias and hate crime prevention should be an integral part of the upcoming Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
Finally, as midterm elections draw near, Congress should heed the President’s call to end the coarse and destructive tone of America’s political debate. All leaders and candidates must reject the kind of sloganeering, especially the offensive and inappropriate uses of Holocaust imagery and comparisons, that seek to play on voters’ fears, frustrations and prejudices.
B’nai B’rith International
2010 needs to be the year of decision on Iran — perhaps the final chance to stop Tehran’s march to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran’s quest for nuclear arms is a major cause of instability in the world today. Lawmakers must use this session to advance strong U.S. leadership on unified, international sanctions against the Iranian regime.
Congressional action transmits a message of magnitude to other world bodies. Iran should be a priority item and Congress must implement harsh sanctions against a regime that repeatedly defies international protocols.
The world cannot wait indefinitely for Iran to quell its nuclear ambitions. It won’t. Harsh sanctions, backed by real penalties and isolation, are clearly in order. We cannot allow a Holocaust-denying leader who wants to destroy Israel, who captured his office in a rigged election and who suppresses his own people with human rights violations the tools to carry out his threats.
Also this session, Congress needs to pass comprehensive health care reform. Though seemingly at a political impasse, Congress can and should move forward — there is already some agreement on a large part of the various reform packages agreed to last year.
Far too many Americans are just one illness away from medical-induced bankruptcy. The country cannot afford to wait any longer for much-needed changes to a very broken system that takes a huge toll on too many, especially America’s growing senior population.
Our advice for President Obama: Clearly define what consequences Iran will face as it ignores the international community, and make those consequences stick.
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
This weekend Jews are celebrating Tu B’Shevat, a holiday that reminds us that honoring and preserving our natural resources is about justice. In the coming months, Congress must enact comprehensive climate and energy reform legislation that develops renewable and sustainable sources of clean energy, invests in green jobs and radically reduces our national greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. House of Representatives has already approved such legislation and key U.S. Senators are committed to a similar bill. The final legislation must invest in energy innovation and carbon emission reduction to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, restore our economy and make a significant reduction in the causes of climate change. While we fear for those most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental devastation, we are all vulnerable because of our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s a critical matter of national security as well because of our current dependence on foreign sources of oil.
The United States has already exhibited strong leadership in shaping the international debate regarding climate change, but now we must lead by example. President Obama and Congress: Heed the moral and practical urgency of combating climate change and work together for a comprehensive bill this year.
Hadassah’s signature issue is health care, and we urge the Obama administration and Congress to work together to insure the broadest possible medical coverage at the most cost effective price.
Clearly there needs to be vigorous debate on which reform provisions have the highest priority, but there is one thing that all involved in the legislative process need to commit to: cooperation.
Using the nation’s health as a political instrument to score points is a prescription for failure. Just as we have seen with health care diplomacy in Haiti, America knows how to tackle health issues without grandstanding over who cares the most. Just as we can use medical outreach as a bridge to peace, our leaders should be able to use health care as a bond between themselves and the people they represent.
The 300,000 women of Hadassah and Hadassah Associates stand ready to assist in any way we can on this central issue of our time.
The coming year will prove critical as the United States attempts to lay the groundwork for a two-state solution and comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East.
President Obama and his team should continue to treat the Mideast peace process with the urgency it demands, working to bridge the gaps between the parties and resolve the core issues. But he can’t do it alone.
Congress must speak with a clear voice about the threats to American and Israeli interests in the region — not only a nuclear Iran, but also the imminent threat to Israel’s Jewish, democratic character should the parties not achieve a two-state solution in the near term.
As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman said just last week, Israel is faced with an increasingly urgent “democracy-demography problem.” Simply put, the failure to achieve a true resolution to the conflict — through two states for two peoples — means nothing short of the end of Israel as a Jewish, democratic homeland.
J Street urges Congress to make clear the immense challenges Israel will face should the parties not immediately and resolutely work toward peace — and achieve the two-state solution and comprehensive regional agreement needed to bring true security to Israel, the Palestinians and the entire Middle East.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
The JCPA has numerous domestic and international concerns, including preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and protecting the most vulnerable in our society from hunger and homelessness. However, the most pressing domestic need in the United States today is the need to help the unemployed return to work and continue our nation’s economic recovery. This includes investing in green jobs, improving public education and work training programs, and targeting new investment to populations and regions that have been disproportionately affected by the recession. Congress and the administration must look for ways to encourage job growth in every sector of the economy, and no proposal to reduce unemployment should be discounted or ignored. Returning Americans to work is not a Republican Party or Democratic Party mantra, but vital for the continued economic recovery of this country.
Jewish Federations of North America
The Jewish Federations of North America believe President Obama and Congress are right to focus their efforts this year on helping Americans return to work. However, they must also take steps to help ensure non-profit charities have the resources they need to support those most affected by the economic downturn. We applaud the Administration for recognizing the important role the nation’s non-profit charities play in creating new jobs as well as supporting the unemployed. As more Americans search for new employment, the social safety-net system put in place to protect the nation’s most vulnerable is being strained by the increased demand for services. We believe the best way to ensure the programs and vital assistance that the unemployed rely upon is to increase funding for the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), and provide access to federal recovery funds for non-profit charities and new tax incentives for charitable giving. We cannot allow the services that non-profit charities provide to help the unemployed dry up when those services are needed the most. Congress and the Administration must step in and give non-profit charities the resources they need to weather the storm.
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
President Obama announced impending revisions in U.S. export control laws hoping to increase American exports to help improve our economy. Congress should continue to carefully regulate “dual-use” products and technology — those with both civilian and military application. Relaxing or abandoning controls on purchasers and/or end-users could result in adversaries and potential adversaries of the United States and Israel improving their military capabilities. Coordination with our allies is essential. For example, European companies sell products and technologies abroad that American companies currently cannot. Congress must continue to insist that sales to friendly countries not result in a pass-through to Iran, Syria or other hostile states. Direct sales to China and Russia are crucial because of their potential as adversaries. Pakistan, a well-known proliferator of weapons technology to unsavory states, should be restricted in purchases of military and certain civilian technologies. And so on. The president can propose, but Congress controls.
President Obama should clarify, emphasize and appreciate the difference in America’s approach to our friends and our adversaries. Israel and the Palestinians should not be held equidistant from the President of the United States and should not be held equally responsible for the absence of stable security in the region.
National Council of Jewish Women
The United States still needs health reform that ensures quality, comprehensive, confidential and nondiscriminatory health care coverage and services that are affordable and accessible for all. It must not erect new barriers to access to a full range of reproductive health care services.
Congress must double down on efforts to end joblessness and home foreclosures and to provide adequate funding for social needs programs. Our safety net, never adequate, is badly in need of reinforcement through an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits, additional food assistance and expansion of COBRA health care benefits.
We must also address a number of fundamental challenges that have faced our society for years. Chief among these is enacting immigration reform that results in comprehensive, humane, and equitable immigration and naturalization laws and policies.
Further, full legal equality for gays, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is essential to strengthening American communities and families. Congress must reverse the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which by excluding qualified persons from our military has utterly failed to provide either individual justice or national security. We must also repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and make the Employment Non-Discrimination Act the law of the land.
Not least, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sex by strengthening the 1963 Equal Pay Act, still languishes in the Senate after being introduced years ago.
It must be passed and go to the President to move us one step closer to equality and economic justice.
As far as the Orthodox Jewish community is concerned, Congress ought to do the following things in 2010:
a. Include in any economic recovery legislation initiatives that aid America’s non-profit charitable institutions, including so many in the Jewish community, which have seen donations dramatically drop while demand for their services increase;
b. Pass legislation that will reduce American dependence on imported oil, increase energy efficiency and accelerate America’s transition to a “green economy.” Again, this effort ought to be fully inclusive of the non-profit, including faith-based, sector — particularly assisting non-profits with retrofitting their buildings to be more energy efficient;
c. Pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act so that no American who has a job is forced to choose between career and conscience;
d. Continue the Non-Profit Security Grant program that assists Jewish and other non-profit institutions to upgrade their security in the face of terrorism;
e. Assure that any legislation that seeks to expand the legal rights of gays and lesbians is fully protective of the First Amendment rights of religious individuals and institutions;
f. Support Israel, including the full and proper recognition of Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel as previously legislated by Congress;
g. End the threat of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
One sentence to the president: In Pirkei Avot (1:15), Shammai said (loosely translated): Make set times for study and reflection, say little and do much, and receive each person with a positive attitude.
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Key legislative priorities from President Obama’s State of the Union address match ours; others are more problematic. The Senate must pass the House’s toughened Iran sanctions, but we also support efforts to curtail sharply nuclear proliferation more broadly. If we do not act swiftly, enemies of the U.S. and Israel — including terrorists — may soon obtain nuclear weapons. This must become a greater priority for Congress, the administration and our community.
The Reform movement has long called for structural investments aimed at the Rambam’s highest form of charity: helping people help themselves. We support the President’s call to Congress to expand community development banks, strengthen small businesses and expand educational opportunities.
The Senate should pass climate change legislation with strengthened assistance for poor countries and pass new clean energy efforts, but we urge caution on expanding nuclear plants and offshore drilling until pollution concerns are resolved.
Congress must halt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and ban sexual orientation-based employment discrimination, affirming America’s vision of equal rights that has so benefited the Jewish community.
Finally, we strongly support enactment of health care reform with universal, affordable coverage — and full access to reproductive health care.
And a piece of advice to Congress: For the sake of our nation, we must restore bipartisan cooperation and civility.
The Israel Project
The Israel Project (TIP) is an international non-profit organization devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel while promoting security, freedom and peace. The Israel Project provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel. The Israel Project is not related to any government or government agency.
As a non-profit educational organization, TIP does limited lobbying. However, given the imminent and existential threat of a nuclear Iran, we feel that now is a critical time to support sanctions legislation in order to help prevent war with Iran. The Israel Project is also working to convince Arab governments to open up their media for factual information about Israel so Israel’s neighbors can be prepared for lasting peace.
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Jewish history offers numerous examples of how leaders who disagree on critical issues can work together for the benefit of the community. Our history also shows the sometimes disastrous consequences when they do not. We would like to see a return to civility and collaboration in political discourse and Congressional deliberations. From a new spirit of collaboration, progress can be made on the critical issues of our moment: immigration reform, economic stability, fixing our health care system, environmental action and enhancing opportunity for all. As he focuses on the critical issues of jobs and economic recovery, we ask President Obama to continue the process of enhancing America’s position in the world so that our country can help bring a secure peace to Israel and contain the threat from Iran.
Zionist Organization of America
If it becomes clear sanctions against Iran aren’t working, Congress may give support to Israel and the United States to take military action. Congress will reassess supporting a Palestinian state while Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah the West Bank — meaning there is no single Palestinian entity in control — a veritable two-headed monster. Congress will also realize that Palestinian Authority President Abbas’ refusal to arrest terrorists, outlaw terrorist groups and end anti-Israel incitement makes it likely that a future state will be a terrorist state. This realization of Palestinian intransigence will lead Congress to rethink the unconditional U.S. aid of $900M per year to the Palestinians and make the Palestinians’ promotion of hatred and violence against Jews in its schools, media and speeches a major issue; realizing that if Palestinian incitement doesn’t end, peace is impossible. This has already begun with Sen. Arlen Specter condemning Palestinian "vitriol against Israel and inciting violence, further impeding the peace process … senior Fatah officials glorifying perpetrators of terrorism … and maintaining the right to commit violence against Israel," and asking Secretary of State Clinton to "predicate" the U.S. aid "on some level of assurance that the beneficiaries are committed to peace." Even President Obama has condemned "Palestinian incitement."