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Focus on Issues American Jews in Quandry over Administration’s Economic Program

May 18, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

— The American Jewish community is in a quandary over the Reagan Administration’s deep cuts in federal spending for social and economic programs. Many Jews, along with apparently the majority of the American public, support the Administration’s economic program, including increased spending for defense yet the Jewish community remains committed to aiding the poor and disadvantaged.

This dilemma was apparent at the five-day 75th anniversary meeting of the American Jewish Committee at the Washington Hilton here which ended today. There were speakers and some of the 1000 delegates to the meeting from across the country who argued that inflation was the main threat to the United States and particularly to Jews.

A few persons pointed to the Weimar regime in Germany where inflation wiped out the economy and led to the Nazi takeover. But others argued that the AJ Committee and other Jewish organizations cannot abandon the positions on social programs which they have long advocated.

“It is clear that this country is embarked on a new economic course and that for the present, at least, most Americans support the Administration’s programs. Bertram Gold, the AJ Committee’s executive vice president, said in a keynote speech to the meeting last Friday. “It is equally clear that as a group, we Jews, who have generally favored the welfare state concept, and the creation of social programs on the national level are not at all certain how we feel about it.”

The Jewish tradition as it relates to the issue was emphasized by both sides during a workshop session Friday on “The Reagan Revolution: AJC’c Domestic Priorities.” The importance that many in the Jewish community give to this issue was demonstrated in that it drew the largest number of delegates of six concurrent sessions held on various problems facing Jews in the 1980’s.


Michael Horowitz, special counsel to David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), stressed that he had worked as a civil rights lawyer in Mississippi in the 1960’s and had supported most of the liberal programs that the Jewish community had backed until he saw the “bankruptcy” of these programs as demonstrated by New York City’s fiscal crisis.

Horowitz argued that the Reagan Administration is dedicated to social justice but not in terms of symbols that do not examine whether the programs aimed at helping the disadvantaged actually work. He said the Administration is keeping programs that give cash directly to the poor and eliminating those where “it is not the poor who benefit but public service benefactors.”

Horowitz claimed that the heart of the cuts, in proportional terms, are out of the middle class and the business community, from where, he said, came the major support that elected President Reagan. The OMB official maintained that Black income rose dramatically in the U.S. from 1959-69 when productivity was high and fell during the next decade when productivity declined. He stressed that the “poor suffered the most from inflation.”

Horowitz stressed that the heart of the Reagan proposals is to return control of government programs from the federal government to the states and local municipalities and to improve the private sector. He said that the private sector, including voluntary agencies, will have to take more of the social burden.


But, Mark Talisman, director of the Washington office of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) said voluntary agencies are already hard pressed to meet the needs of the people they serve. But he stressed that the Jewish federations throughout the country will continue to meet the needs of individuals who come to them for help because that is a requirement of the Jewish tradition.

He noted that the CJF is made up of many businessmen who volunteer their time, not because they are trying to make a profit but because they want to help people. However, Talisman said the Reagan budget means that the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in New York City will lose $43 million in federal aid for its program; the Federations in Philadelphia, $12 million; and Chicago Federations $16 million.

In addition, Talisman argued that by cutting the $5 billion for the CETA program the government will end up paying $10 billion for welfare for the persons who have lost their jobs with CETA. He also stressed that the “safety net” the Administration has promised for the poor and disadvantaged will not help the working poor who are being cut off from the aid they need to survive. Many Jews, particularly the elderly, fall into this category.

Both Talisman and Hyman Bookbinder, the AJ Committee’s representative in Washington, agreed that cuts have to be made. Talisman argued for an across-the-board cut rather than eliminating specific programs, but Bookbinder said the Administration was trying to undo the social revolution that has existed in the U.S. since the Administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Bookbinder stressed that the Jewish community does not reject the basic goals of the Reagan Administration to end inflation and make the economy highly productive. But he said Jewish security and tradition lies in continued support, although “never uncritical,” for social programs.

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