Jewish World Review August 7, 1998 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5758

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin Three strikes, but they
continue to play

THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT! That's the rule of America's national pastime. If it applied to the men and women who run our government in Washington, D.C., more than a few would be looking for work after November. In the past month, they've missed the boat on three important issues. Largely ignored amid the deluge of news about Mr. Clinton's scandals, Congress' failure deserves comment.

Clinton's veto of education savings

The first strike came with President Clinton's veto of the Coverdell- Torricelli Education Savings Bill. The bill would have allowed family members, charitable groups or private donors to contribute $2,000 a year for each elementary or secondary student into special savings accounts that can be used for education-related expenses including tutoring, computers and private or religious school education. It was little different from existing legislation that allows parents to save for their children's college education.

Unfortunately, the president, thinking more of the demands of some of his union support than of the needs of America's children, vetoed the bill, and Congress has failed to muster the two-thirds majority necessary for override.

That's a shame. The Education Savings act would have helped parents choose the best possible education for their children. But this bill, as with others which encourage any sort of alternative to the public schools, ran afoul of the liberal establishment's prejudice against school choice.

Sadly, the veto was applauded by the American Jewish Congress which put forth the usual scare-mongering rhetoric which claimed the bill threatened the separation of church and state. Nonsense. It merely allowed parents to spend more of their own money on schools they support. This bill had the potential to help Jewish parents who want to give their children a day school education.

Too bad much of the organized Jewish community didn't speak up on behalf of this vital Jewish interest.

Religious Persecution and MFN for China

Strike two was the demise last week of the Wolf-Specter Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. Passed by the House, it would have provided for mild sanctions against countries which discriminated against religious believers. Modeled after the Jackson-Vanik bill which levied sanctions against the former Soviet Union for its oppression of Jews, in the 1970's, Wolf-Specter was a move towards a moral foreign policy.

But after success in the House, Wolf-Specter ran aground in the Senate, where it was killed. It was done in by the opposition of a president who has lost his moral compass on foreign policy and a business community which is opposed to any measure which interferes with commerce between the U.S. and China — the leading practitioner of religious persecution. Though it might be replaced by a weaker bill, the defeat of Wolf-Specter was a tragedy which gave aid and comfort to persecutors everywhere.

A big part of the problem was the failure of the Jewish community — which used to be the backbone of American human rights activism — to mobilize fully behind the bill. There were some honorable exceptions such as the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, as well as the Anti-Defamation League. But the silence of the rest of the Jewish world was deafening.

Also, as if to solidify the retreat on human rights in the aftermath of President Clinton's trip to China, the House voted last month to continue Most Favored Nation trading status for Beijing. Let's hope those 264 members who decided to give the world's largest tyranny a free pass, hear about it on the campaign trail this fall.

Campaign finance and immigration

The third strike was the passage this week in the House of the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day, we don't think this brainchild of Fairfield County's Rep. Chris Shays is a good idea. For all of the justified concern about illegal contributions and the influence of big contributors, the bill runs afoul of the First Amendment's protection of free speech. Unlike the herd which is applauding this "reform," I happen to think that political advocacy in the form of advertisements ought to get at least the same free speech protection that is afforded to flag burners.

Even worse, the final version passed by the House contained an odious amendment which banned any political contributions by legal aliens. We think this measure is yet another version of the contemptible campaign to delegitimize legal immigrants and immigration itself. Much like the wrong- headed provisions in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act aimed at legal aliens, as presently constituted the Shays-Meehan bill is a blow against American values.

I think the Jewish community, which mobilized against the Welfare Reform bill because it was rightly seen as a threat to Jewish interests, ought to speak out against Shays-Meehan for the same reason.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association highest award: First Place in The Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing. The Rapoport award is named for the longtime editor of the Jerusalem Post and was given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 1997 Simon Rockower Awards dinner in Cleveland on June 18, 1998.


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

©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin