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The Jewish Public Affairs Agenda4degem.gif

Table of Contents:

1) PREAMBLE

2) DOMESTIC ISSUES

3) INTERNATIONAL CONCERNS

PREAMBLE

The pursuit of justice is a hallmark of the organized Jewish community. Learning the lessons of our religious tradition, Jews are deeply imbued with the conviction that a society has a moral obligation to care for the weakest of its citizens. And learning the lessons of our history, we understand that social conflict and extremism are the inevitable consequence of the denial of basic rights, justice, and opportunity to the citizenry. In a society without justice, sooner or later, Jews will be victims.

Yet how are rights and opportunities assured in a society where consensus is increasingly difficult to achieve? Despite America's obvious wealth, the gap between the richest and poorest of our citizens is growing. In an increasingly technological age, our education system is widely believed incapable of producing individuals able to perform the jobs of tomorrow. Though the United States is the world's sole superpower, some Americans are isolationist, reluctant to pursue an activist American agenda on the world stage. Despite our alleged commitment to pluralism, Americans are increasingly divided by race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and socio-economic status.

The challenge to the organized Jewish community presented by these dilemmas is to maintain a commitment to traditional goals - economic fairness, racial equality, and the protection of civil rights and liberties - even as we explore new approaches to old problems. For America's Jews, as for any minority group, political effectiveness derives from an ability to make common cause with other, like-minded constituencies.

On the domestic front, the organized Jewish community reaffirms its commitment to a broad social justice agenda, one shared by many coalition partners: advocating a generous immigration policy, assuring an effective government role in helping the poor, properly educating our children, promoting welfare reform that leads to self-sufficiency, protecting our natural environment, etc. And we will continue to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism, against efforts to erode the principle of separation between church and state, and against attempts to strip our nation of the tools to act effectively as a force for democracy and human rights around the world.

Traditionally, the organized Jewish community has advocated an activist American role in the effort to build a just, lasting, and secure peace in the Middle East. The strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship - the partnership to bring peace and stability to a vital region of the world - appears unshakable and deserves the support of all Americans. Further, we believe that the vast majority of Americans, concerned about acts of genocide and flagrant human rights abuses around the world, want the U.S. to continue to demonstrate international leadership. Similarly, "globalization" no longer refers solely to economic and environmental interdependence but, tragically, also encompasses the international threat of terrorism. Consistent with human rights principles, the United States must urge our allies around the world to join us in a concerted effort to protect innocent civilians from the ravages of terrorist attacks and these other dangers.

The 1996 campaigns and elections in the U.S. will provide an important signal regarding the direction our country will take as we approach the 21st century. This fundamental democratic activity is the firmest answer to the demagogues and extremists who would divide us along racial, religious, or class lines. Whatever the outcome of these elections, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council pledges to play its part in helping the diverse tapestry of America's citizens to come together in pursuit of the common good.

DOMESTIC ISSUES

Poverty and Economic Justice

The organized Jewish community is concerned that current legislative efforts to reduce dramatically the size and scope of the federal government, and to transfer to the state level responsibility for the care of poor people, will push greater numbers of Americans deeper into poverty. The NJCRAC and its member agencies urge support for measures designed to alleviate poverty which: address job creation and training; provide access to adequate child care and health care; ensure a sound earned income tax credit; and increase the minimum wage. Though greatly supportive of efforts to reduce the federal deficit, the NJCRAC calls on the U.S. Congress to maintain an adequate federally- guaranteed safety net, and to oppose measures - including block grants - that would reduce essential health and human services.

The pattern for social service delivery in this country has evolved over the years as a partnership between the government and private philanthropic agencies.The Jewish community participates in this partnership through its federation-funded network of human service agencies, serving a population that includes low-income and disadvantaged people in both the Jewish and general community.The NJCRAC calls upon the Jewish community to plan now to address the challenge of continuing effective service delivery in the face of the withdrawal of government support, and urges the synagogue, federation and community relations councils to coordinate closely on such efforts.

Immigration and Refugees

In 1995, the organized Jewish community joined its partners among the pro-immigration forces to overcome mounting anti-immigrant sentiment and legislative efforts to drastically reduce the number of immigrants, refugees and asylees allowed into the country. After much debate the 104th Congress reaffirmed the principle of family reunification, clarified U.S. admissions priorities, and enacted measures to control illegal immigration.

Proposals to severely restrict legal immigration reflect a persistent level of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment. In recent years, the NJCRAC and its member agencies have worked actively with coalition partners to counter such sentiments.Congres-sional proposals to cut refugee admissions caused particular concern within the Jewish community, which understands from experience the perils faced by those fleeing religious and political persecution.

In light of ongoing efforts by anti-immigrant forces, the organized Jewish community will continue to protest strongly the basic injustice of denying benefits to those who enter the country legally, work hard and pay taxes. Cognizant of the problems of abuse within the system, the NJCRAC nevertheless believes that if legal immigrants fall on hard times, they should receive the benefits which their tax dollars help to support. In addition, the NJCRAC continues to support the provision of essential health and human services even to illegal immigrant on humanitarian grounds.

Race and Intergroup Relations

The NJCRAC recognizes that despite the achievements of the civil rights movement, racism and its legacy persist in having a significant role in denying opportunities to African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities.

With the national conversation on affirmative action heating up once again, the NJCRAC reaffirms its support of affirmative action programs, most notably in the areas of compensatory education and job counseling, intensive recruitment of members of disadvantaged groups, and ongoing emphasis on bias-free admissions and employment requirements. While recognizing the need for numerical data and statistical procedures to measure and help assure the effectiveness of affirmative action programs, the NJCRAC opposes quotas, which are inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination as a goal of equal opportunity. Moreover, the NJCRAC holds government responsible for vigorous enforcement of, and the prevention of abuses in, programs such as these.

On the broader question of race and intergroup relations in America, the NJCRAC recommends raising the level of participation by the Jewish and general community in coalitions which aim at combating racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudices. In addition, the NJCRAC urges the organized Jewish community to make long-term commitments to coalitions devoted to strengthening neighborhood infrastructures and revitalizing our nation's cities.

Energy and the Environment

The NJCRAC continues to expand its efforts to advocate effective and comprehensive protection of the natural environment and public health, and opposes efforts in Congress to weaken existing protections in these areas. The NJCRAC will continue to speak out strongly against defunding environmental agencies, allowing "logging without laws" in national forests, the large scale surrender of public lands, and the reduction of public participation in environmental decision- making. The NJCRAC reaffirms its long-standing positions in support of strong environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Superfund.

In addition, the NJCRAC recently adopted policy on the protection of biological diversity, calling on all levels of government to act to protect and restore species, genetic, and ecosystems diversity in the United States and abroad. The NJCRAC supports a strengthened Endangered Species Act that requires the protection of habitat for threatened and endangered species. The NJCRAC also supports efforts - taxes on fossil fuels, raising the CAFE standards, "use mandates" for energy efficiency techniques - designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The NJCRAC plays a leading role in the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), an effort to involve the American Jewish community in environmental education, scholarship, advocacy, and action. Through COEJL, the NJCRAC works with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment which also includes Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Evangelical groups.

The Status of Women

Reflecting the NJCRAC's continuing support of the women's rights agenda, the organization was proud to sponsor the ad hoc committee that facilitated the participation of Jewish women in the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The NJCRAC and its constituent agencies urge the U. S. government to carry out the recommendations articulated in the conference's final action document, including: empowering women and strengthening families; improving women's economic security, including access to credit, and assistance in balancing work and family responsibilities; ensuring the human rights of all women, with particular emphasis on freedom from violence; and enhancing women's healthcare options. In this vein, the NJCRAC maintains its long-standing policy in support of the U.N. Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women.

On the reproductive rights front, the NJCRAC is concerned that recent Congressional passage of legislation banning certain late-term abortions evidences new-found strength of abortion opponents in Congress. Long supportive of a woman's legal right to reproductive choice, the NJCRAC recommends continued community opposition to legislation, citizen initiatives and other measures that seek to weaken the guarantees of a woman's right and access to reproductive services.

Jewish Security in the United States

Certain troubling aspects of American life - the racist rhetoric and activities of the Nation of Islam, the increased visibility of the "militia" movement, acts of terrorism in the United States and abroad, and attacks in Congress on many constitutional protections - have impinged on the sense of security among Jews in America, even as Jewish security remained strong.

The NJCRAC urges all Americans, and particularly the leaders of ethnic and faith groups, to be sensitive to the dangers posed by anti-Semitism - and other forms of racist or extremist rhetoric - to the fabric of society. The NJCRAC is committed to the development and implementation of strategies to combat anti-Semitism in major American institutions, such as higher education, the political arena, and the media. Regarding a different kind of threat to Jewish security, the NJCRAC opposes any efforts on the part of the Congress to restrict the ability of agencies qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code to engage in legitimate lobbying, public affairs advocacy and education.

Religion in America

Religious Equality Amendments
The NJCRAC opposes both versions of so-called "religious equality" amendments introduced into the 104th Congress as sweeping attempts to re-write the First Amendment that would fundamentally compromise religious liberty.

Religion in the Public Schools
In 1995 the NJCRAC welcomed the Clinton Administration's clarification of permissible uses of religion in the public schools: schools may not endorse religious activity; they may not coerce participation in religious activity; and, at the same time, they may not prevent students from exercising their right to private religious expressions. The NJCRAC continues to oppose student-initiated and -sponsored graduation prayer in the public schools.

Public Funding of Religious Education
A majority of the member agencies of The NJCRAC - although supportive of a vibrant system of Jewish education, and mindful of the continued problems that plague the nation's public schools - oppose voucher programs that provide aid to parochial schools as both violative of the First Amendment's "establishment clause" and as undermining public education.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act
The NJCRAC, viewing RFRA as a powerful guarantor of religious liberty and of Jewish security, urges member agencies to support the act in cases before federal courts.

Welfare Legislation and Church-State Protections
The NJCRAC will continue to oppose legislative efforts that would permit - without adequate constitutional safeguards - direct grants, vouchers, and government contracts with religious organizations for the provision of welfare services.

Continuing and Urgent

Community Relations Concerns on the Campus
The NJCRAC welcomes the work of Jewish student groups on college campuses in building coalitions with African-American, Asian, Latino, Arab-American, and other groups. The Jewish community relations field - working with Jewish faculty and staff on campuses - can help create appropriate avenues for student involvement in the Jewish public affairs agenda by establishing and cultivating campus-based CRCs. In addition to providing political outlets for students involved in university Jewish life, such campus-based CRCs also attract others with public policy interests but little formal affiliation.

Crime and Violence
Although the organized Jewish community is pleased with recent reports that show crime in general is declining, we are greatly concerned that the number of violent crimes, especially those committed with guns, has been increasing among younger adolescents. The NJCRAC and its member agencies call for greater attention to youth violence prevention programs, drug courts, and other early intervention programs. The NJCRAC supported the inclusion of many such programs in the Omnibus Crime Bill passed in 1994, and opposes current efforts to convert much of that crime bill into block grants to the states for general crime prevention purposes.

Civil Rights for Gays and Lesbians
The NJCRAC opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodation, and education, and supports legislation to bar discrimination in these areas. The NJCRAC supports the incorporation in sexual-orientation-discrimination legislation of exemptions designed to protect the right of religious institutions to carry out their religious purposes.

Health Care
The NJCRAC welcomed, as a first step toward providing affordable, comprehensive health care for all, recent Congressional action aimed at providing portability of health insurance to our nation's workforce. The NJCRAC reaffirms its call for continued federal responsibility for adequately-funded Medicare and Medicaid programs, as well as its belief that the government's obligation to provide basic health care is one of the most fundamental threads of the federal safety net.

Interreligious Relationships
The relationships between Jews and Catholics and mainstream Protestants remain strong, and cooperation continued on a range of issues on the domestic agenda, including religious liberty, welfare reform, and violence and bigotry. Similarly, increased cooperation between Muslims and Jews on Bosnia as well as on domestic issues is strengthening relations between the two communities.

Public School Education
The organized Jewish community is disturbed by the fact that, for too many children, the public school system is struggling and often failing to deliver a quality education.We are similarly concerned that although Americans say they want public education to work, support for our public schools is fragile and eroding, while privatization movements, vouchers, and charter schools are gaining momentum. The NJCRAC supports efforts, like the Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 and the recently-reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which attempt to encourage and promote new strategies to overcome the impact of poverty on student achievement.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERNS

The Middle East Peace Process

The NJCRAC continues to support the government of Israel in its determination to pursue peace with the Palestinians within the framework established by the Declaration of Principles and the Interim Agreement. The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as the spate of terrorist bombings in the Spring of 1996, demonstrated once again that extremism is the greatest threat to the promise of Middle East peace. The NJCRAC welcomed the action by the Palestine National Council revoking the anti-Israel sections of the Palestinian National Charter, which paved the way to the commencement of permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It remains vitally important that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority undertake vigorous efforts to curb terrorism.

The NJCRAC welcomes Israel's recent initiatives - and U.S. efforts to facilitate these initiatives - to engage Syrian President Assad in serious and sustained negotiations. The organized American Jewish community is dismayed that President Assad has failed thus far to negotiate in good faith with the Israeli government. We further believe it is critical that President Assad demonstrate his commitment to the Middle East peace process by acting to prevent future Hezbollah terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, as he agreed to do in the U.S.-brokered written understanding signed in May 1996.

The organized Jewish community applauds the efforts of the Clinton Administration not only for its exemplary leadership in facilitating the peace process, but also for spearheading a campaign against international terrorism. The NJCRAC also welcomes the United States Congress's broad bipartisan support for the peace process, as well as its continuing commitment to Israel's military and security requirements.

Finally, the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin underscored in a most dramatic fashion the need for Israelis and American Jews to discuss the peace process in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect.The NJCRAC is committed to seeking ways to foster such an atmosphere, while continuing its efforts to build support for the Israeli government in its pursuit of peace with security.

U.S.-Israel Relations

The close and mutually beneficial partnership between Israel and the United States is expected to continue to develop regardless of the outcome of national elections in both countries in 1996. The organized Jewish community is encouraged by the fact that the United States-Israel friendship is not dependent on individual leaders, but rather on shared democratic and moral values.

Israelis and American Jews alike were quite moved not only by the extraordinary makeup of the U.S. delegation to the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem-headed by President Clinton, and which included two former Presidents, many high- ranking Administration officials, and many Congressional leaders-but also by President Clinton's visit to Israel in the wake of the spate of terrorist bombings in February and March of 1996. The overwhelming outpouring of grief and expressions of solidarity with Israel which came from all sectors of the American public in response to Mr. Rabin's assassination was also welcome.

Therefore, despite enormous budgetary pressures, we expect the President and Congress to continue foreign aid to Israel with full understanding of Israel's strategic importance to the U.S. and the calculated risks Israel is taking in the peace process. Nevertheless, the NJCRAC will continue to extol - to our elected leaders and other decision-makers - the importance of foreign aid and other forms of assistance to maintaining Israel as a strong and secure ally.

Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold-War World

As the world moves further away from the Cold-War era and America turns inward to address domestic priorities, there has been a tendency toward isolationism in certain quarters. The organized American Jewish community, recognizing that serious threats to global stability remain, believes that the national interest requires an active U.S. involvement with the world.

Bosnia
The conflict in the former Yugoslavia is of special interest to the organized American Jewish community because of the genocidal activities of the Serbian forces.The NJCRAC, having long urged strong U.S. leadership in the Balkans, will continue to support U.S. involvement there, as well as to call for full cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal. Mindful of the duration and degree of the tragedy in Bosnia,the NJCRAC urges that the United States be more assertive in exerting its leadership in the future in order to avoid a similar tragedy elsewhere.

Foreign Aid
The NJCRAC continues to believe that foreign aid plays a significant role in promoting human rights and democracy, and supports the Clinton Administration's efforts in developing and assisting democratic institutions and free market economies around the world. We also affirm our opposition to recent cuts in the foreign aid budget by the 104th Congress. The Jewish community relations field will continue to assert the moral, political and strategic value of U.S. foreign aid in Sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union and throughout the world.

Human Rights
The NJCRAC, strongly committed to the protection of human rights of all peoples throughout the world, recognizes that the promotion of human rights should be a significant component of United States foreign policy.

International Terrorism and Counter-terrorism Measures

The NJCRAC calls on the international community to take concrete measures to protect innocent civilians from the ravages of terrorism. Efforts begun at the "Summit of the Peacemakers" in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt must be pursued. The Jewish community relations field will continue to encourage the U.S. government to intensify political, economic, and diplomatic sanctions against countries that support terrorism, and to keep the issue of terrorism on the top of the international agenda. Specifically, the NJCRAC urges passage by the Congress of the Iran Foreign Oil Sanctions Act (which would penalize foreign companies that do business with Iran's oil industry).

Counter-terrorism legislation passed by the 104th Congress in April 1996, after considerable delay, incorporated many provisions advocated by the NJCRAC, including: establishing terrorism as a federal crime; a "material support" provision, including a ban on fund-raising for terrorist organizations; and a provision for expedited deportation. Nevertheless, many Jewish groups were distressed that the final bill included draconian provisions for reform of habeas corpus - imposing major new restrictions on death-row appeals in federal court - that are unrelated to the fight against terrorism. The NJCRAC calls upon the 105th Congress to pass legislation in a timely manner that would restore these protections.

On the international front, the NJCRAC continues to be troubled by the slow - and largely ineffective - investigation by the Argentine government of the two recent bombings of Jewish entities in Buenos Aires (a community center and the Israeli Embassy). The NJCRAC calls upon the American government to urge the Argentine government to intensify its investigation of both attacks, and to take measures to prevent future attacks.

Continuing and Urgent

American Jewish-Israel Relations
The Jewish community relations field has special responsibility for providing leadership in helping the organized Jewish community explore and understand the meaning and nature of the evolving Israel-Diaspora relationship. These include the Jewish character of the State of Israel, religious diversity, civil rights, Jewish-Arab co-existence, and joint domestic and international initiatives. In addition, the NJCRAC believes that the growing problem of Jewish extremism presents a serious, immediate, and shared challenge to Israel and the organized American Jewish community.

Arms Control
The NJCRAC is concerned about the increasing numbers of countries - most disturbingly Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea - that have been developing weapons of mass destruction, and urges the U.S. government to pursue efforts to block technology and weapons transfers to these and other rogue states. Further, the NJCRAC urges the United States to ratify both START II and Chemical Weapons Convention treaties - both held up, as of May 1996, in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations - and to actively pursue a world-wide ban on nuclear testing. As for the Middle East, the NJCRAC is encouraged by the continued progress in regional security and arms control talks.

Israel & The International Community
Expansion of political and economic relations between Israel and the international community continues to be a palpable dividend of the peace process. The organized Jewish community in America is pleased to see Israel using its economic vitality in cooperative ventures with the surrounding Arab states, and shares the Israeli hope that the entire region will benefit from peace and normalization. While Israel's participation in the United Nation's system has advanced dramatically, the process of normalization will not be complete until Israel gains its rightful place with membership in one of the geo-political groupings.

Jews in the Former Soviet Union
While no longer an official state policy, anti-Semitism continues at differing levels of intensity across the former Soviet Union, and many Jews remain at risk. The Jewish community relations field must continue to monitor events in the former Soviet Union (FSU), should encourage the U.S. and other governments to provide effective support to democratic institutions and reforms, and should work with Israeli officials and others to encourage aliyah as well as deepened Jewish identity, religion, education, culture and leadership development for those Jews remaining in the FSU.

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