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Jewish World Review July 12, 1999 /28 Tamuz 5759

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Summer Stories: The Devil Is in the Details --
ALONG WITH RISING THERMOMETERS, summertime usually means the news business slows down to a crawl. Like the crime rate, the news cycle trends downward in the heat. Nevertheless, there have been some interesting stories that have made it over the wires this month. With them, as always, the problem isn't the big picture. The devil is in the details.

There are some readers of this column who feel that this writer - like others who were skeptical of the NATO war - needs to make amends for a failure to join the cheering during the recently concluded conflict.

I'll admit that I was surprised to see President Clinton's plan for a war in which no American blood would be shed succeed as it did. I had no problem with a campaign aimed at stopping Serbian oppression in Kosovo, but I had serious questions about our war goals and the hypocrisy of an all-out war in the Balkans while America did little about other human-rights abuses. Clinton did manage to throw the Serbs out of Kosovo and end their spree of war crimes. For that, he deserves credit.

But what did the war achieve? Recent news stories coming out of Kosovo detailing Albanian attacks against Kosovo Serbs, triggering an exodus of Serbs, haven't gained much attention. Even worse - and even less noticed - was the fact that non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo have been singled out for harsh treatment. Which minorities? In a sad echo of previous Balkan history, it was the Jews and the Gypsies.

Indeed, members of the Kosovo Liberation Army threatened the head of the miniscule Jewish community in Kosovo and told him to leave. NATO troops are trying to stop a new wave of counter-atrocities, but reports tell of a new demographic reality taking shape in the province. Instead of ethnically cleansing the Albanians, this time non-Albanians are fleeing.

As for the charge of hypocrisy, it still fits. At the same time that the KLA's leader, Hashim Thaci, was preening for a front-page profile in The New York Times, his Kurdish counterpart in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, was sentenced to death last week.

There is no difference between the situation in Turkey for the Kurds and the predicament of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo prior to the NATO offensive. What makes Thaci a hero and American ally while Ocalan is a despised terrorist on death row? Nor has the triumph of humanism in Kosovo (if that is what is actually going on there) changed the Clinton administration's feelings about "engagement" with the world's largest tyranny in China. Hypocrisy, thy name is Clinton.

While the "New Middle East" crowd at Americans for Peace Now is still celebrating the latest postponement of the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it appears the Palestinians are planning their future embassy in Israel.

In typically chutzpahdik fashion, the Palestinian Authority is planning to buy Beit Ussishkin in Tel Aviv. The site is a landmark, since it was the home of prestate Zionist leader Menachem Ussishkin. Ussishkin was a contemporary of Theodor Herzl and Ahad Ha'am, and led the Jewish National Fund after World War I. In that capacity, he helped buy and open up large areas of Palestine for Jewish settlement. An opponent of partitioning the land of Israel, he was an early advocate of Jewish statehood until his death in 1941.

Fortunately, the JNF is stepping in to prevent the sale to the P.A. Like its equally commendable actions to maintain Jewish ownership of properties in Jerusalem (which earned it Peace Now's ire last year), JNF is fulfilling its mandate by saving Beit Ussishkin.

And, after all, the Palestinians already have an embassy in Israel's capital - the sacrosanct Orient House - which they use as their Jerusalem Foreign Ministry. If it must remain open, let it be their embassy to Israel.

Another story that deserves wider attention is the astonishing appointment by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., of one Salam Al-Marayati, to serve on a federal counterterrorism commission. Marayati heads the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and like some other groups that purport to represent Arab-Americans, has made a habit of justifying Islamic and Palestinian terrorism against Israel.

One can only wonder whether the FBI will give Marayati the security clearance needed to serve on such a group.

But, more importantly, the appointment highlights the increasing prestige and influence of American-Arab anti-Israel groups in Washington. Groups like the MPAC and others like the Council of American-Islamic Relations and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee have been feted at the White House in the past year, while never disavowing or backing away from their consistent defense of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The problem isn't with Gephardt (who is normally a steadfast friend of Israel), but with Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., the House minority whip and - according to Washington insiders - the man behind Marayati's nomination. Bonior is best known for being the Democrat who led the charge against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But he should also be known as the biggest supporter of the anti-Israel Arab lobby in Congress. Friends of Israel need to be on the lookout for trouble from him if, as many expect, the Democrats win back control of the House of Representatives in 2000 and Bonior becomes majority leader.

In the wake of a planned rebellion at the 1997 General Assembly of Jewish Federations in Indianapolis, the federation movement agreed to launch a task force to study how to increase funding for day schools.

Nearly two years later, the report is now out. Issued by the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Education Service of North America, the study is calling on federations to support day schools by stepping up funding for them.

That generality aside, the report also said that "federations cannot be expected to bear the primary responsibility for funding day schools."

That's an understandable conclusion, but it is not the message we needed at a time when a critical mass of support for more day-school funding is being created.

Conditions vary from region to region, but some - like the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia - are clearly doing more than others for day schools. And while some localities may not have the responsibility for dealing with a large population of Jewish poor (especially the elderly), others - like the Philadelphia Federation - cannot avoid that serious burden.

While some obligations, such as caring for the Jewish poor, cannot be short-changed, we must come to grips with the fact that the Jewish community cannot avoid making hard choices indefinitely. Unfortunately, choices are just what our consensus-oriented American Jewish organizational culture is designed to prevent.

Failing such a change, that means the money for a Jewish education safety net is going to have to come from new sources of funding. That's why federation officials have spoken of convening major philanthropists to create such a fund, which will address the fact that day-school tuition is no longer affordable for the Jewish middle class.

One hero of this story who deserves to be singled out is George Hanus, the Chicago businessman who set in motion the events that led to the UJC report. Hanus has been a dauntless crusader for day schools and has overcome fearful odds to help place the issue on the national Jewish agenda. Hanus believes the report is fine as far as it goes. The test will be whether communities start taking the need to support day schools more seriously. If not, the task force was an exercise in futility.

Hanus is special because, rather than play the consensus game, he chose to speak out and lead. Jewish philanthropists and rank-and-file Jews alike can learn a lesson from Hanus' courage and single-minded devotion to pursuing this vital issue.

Given the crying need to open up day-school admissions to everyone regardless of income, we are going to have to find more like him and other innovative thinkers.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


07/02/99: The Elusive Search For Editorial Balance
06/25/99:Who Changed the Rules?: Among American Jews, it's getting harder to tell the difference between mainstream and marginal
06/11/99: Choosing the Jewish Future: The question is: What kind of a Jewish community do we really want?
06/11/99: Small Stories With Important Conclusions
06/04/99: Local Heroes Wanted: Taking Hebrew School Seriously
05/28/99: Kosovo's Chicken Hawks and Cluster Bombs
05/19/99: Not to Bibi: Netanyahu's Downfall Is His Own Doing
05/13/99: The search for Jews in outer space continues
05/10/99: Cheering From the Sidelines: American Jews are more than interested observers of Israel's election
05/05/99: Perilous Diplomacy: Palestinians Want To Go Back To 1947
04/30/99: Politically Conservative and Jewish: Not an Oxymoron After All
04/23/99: Notes From the Home Front
04/16/99: The Sporting Jews: Making America's Game Our Own
04/09/99: From Silence to Cacophony: Holocaust metaphors are the coin of the realm
04/05/99: A Righteous but Confused Cause: Kosovo war shines a light on our principles and our hypocrisy
03/19/99:Jewish Art, Jewish Artists: Making beautiful music is no guarantee of goodness
03/17/99: When Jewish Foes Come Together
03/11/99: The Lingering Romance of the Jewish Left: When naming names was a righteous cause
03/05/99: Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers
02/25/99: Changing Our Minds on School Choice
02/18/99: Morality Play: Mixing Politics and Values Is a Tricky Business
02/11/99:Of Human Rights and Wrongs
02/05/99:The Bibiphobia Conspiracy
01/27/99: Israel and Us: Putting Up or Shutting Up
01/20/99: The High Cost of Jewish Education
01/14/99The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Have American Jews finally arrived?
01/06/99 Israel: The Millennial Theme Park
12/30/98 Memo to Bubba: Israel ain't Monica, keep yer hands off!
12/22/98 Calling Things by Their Right Names
12/12/98 Good news...and bad news
11/05/98 What price free-speech?
10/30/98: Haunted by the past
10/23/98: American Jewry: Ethnicity or faith?
10/15/98: Converts, saints and Jews: Confronting the story of Edith Stein
10/02/98: Bibi: No Messiah, just a politician
9/11/98: Politics ‘98: By their enemies shall ye know them
9/04/98: Pro-terror groups' cry of discrimination rings hollow
8/28/98: Defending the undefendable;Or, the AJCongress should stop wasting Jewish resources
8/21/98: Is 'Jewish journalism' an oxymoron?
8/14/98: Holding on to our heroes
8/07/98: Three strikes, but they continue to play
7/23/98: Zionist vs Zionist
7/17/98: Summer news stories: Large and small
7/13/98: A step closer to school choice
6/26/98: The Holocaust Museum and Mort Klein
6/12/98: What price Jewish education?
6/5/98: Ten books for a long, hot summer: A serious vacation reading list for Jewish history lovers
5/29/98: Double standards here and there: Hypocrisy raises its ugly head in Israel and the U.S.
5/26/98: Hartford Seminary tangle points to bigger issues
5/22/98:The importance of being Bibi
5/14/98: The ‘dream palace' of the anti-Zionists: Hartford Seminary controversy has historic roots
4/26/98: All-rightniks versus the alarmists: Focussing on the Jewish bottom line
4/13/98:Of ends and means and victims
4/5/98: Hang up on Albright
3/29/98: Bigshots or activists?: Clinton's three clerics return from China
3/27/98: Will American Jews help Clinton push Israel into a corner?
3/22/98: Anti-Semitism then and now
3/15/98: Still searching for Jews at the opera
3/11/98: Remembering Eric Breindel
3/8/98: Getting lost in history
3/5/98: Follow the money to Hamas
2/22/98: Re-writing "Anne Frank" - A distorted legacy
2/15/98: Religious persecution is still a Jewish issue
2/6/98: A lost cause remembered (the failure of the Bund)
2/1/98: Economic aid is not in Israel's interest
1/25/98: Jews are news, and a fair shake for Israel is hard to find

©1999, Jonathan Tobin