U.S. Briefs 2-21-12

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Obama seeks to renew UNESCO funding

President Barack Obama has proposed to renew funding for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with $79 million. UNESCO agreed to admit “Palestine” as a member last October, after which the U.S. government cut off funding to the organization.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, current U.S. law prohibits contributions to any UN body granting membership to the PLO or any other “organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.” However, according to the White House’s 2013 Budget Request, which was submitted to Congress earlier this month, “the Department of State intends to work with Congress to seek legislation that would provide authority to waive restrictions on paying the U.S. assessed contributions to UNESCO,” reported Israel Hayom.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Any effort to walk back this funding cutoff will pave the way for the Palestinian leadership’s unilateral statehood scheme to drive on, and sends a disastrous message that the U.S. will fund UN bodies no matter what irresponsible decisions they make.”

—JointMedia News Service

Police warn U.S. Jews of possible Iranian attacks

American law enforcement agents have warned Jewish groups to be vigilant as tension between Israel and Iran escalates and attacks on Israeli officials internationally are being linked back to Iran.

While there is currently no specific information that Iran might be plotting any attacks in the U.S., “Economic sanctions and the threat of military action against the Iranian nuclear program suggest tensions with Iran are likely to continue, and we remain concerned Iran would consider attacks in the United States, given last year’s foiled plot to allegedly assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States,” explained a memo by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI to state and local law enforcement partners.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, stressed that Jewish groups around the country are “working with local communities and law enforcement at local and federal levels to boost security around Jewish institutions and educate the community.”

—JointMedia News Service

U.S. security official downplays the Iranian threat to Israel

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, during a visit to Israel, told CNN that “It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” adding that “A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their [Israel’s] long-term objectives.”

Dempsey said that launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be a level-headed decision, explaining that Washington was confident the Israelis “understand our concerns,” according to Bloomberg News.

Increasingly tougher sanctions and international pressure meant to forestall Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon were beginning to have an effect, Dempsey said. While estimates vary on when Iran might produce a nuclear weapon, Israel and other Western countries have accused Iran of using its nuclear program to produce an atomic bomb, a charge Tehran denies.

“We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor,” Dempsey told CNN. “We also know, or we believe we know, that the Iranian regime has not decided to make a nuclear weapon.”

—Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JointMedia News Service

Israel to U.S.: Challenge Iran to end nuclear program at once

Israel on Monday demanded that the U.S. challenge Iran to immediately put an end to its nuclear program while the U.S., for its part, urged Israel to allow sanctions against Iran to do the job and cease planning for a military strike.

The exchange occurred in a meeting between U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, one of several that U.S. government officials have recently held with their Israeli counterparts in ongoing discussions concerning the Iranian issue. On his visit to Israel this week, Donilon also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to travel to Washington next month where he will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on March 5, according to a White House statement.

Israeli officials clarified that as long as Iran does not halt its nuclear program entirely, action must be taken now to stop it from progressing any further. “The conversation covered a broad spectrum of topics that relate to our ties as well as a variety of issues concerning the entire region,” Barak said after his meeting with Donilon. Barak pointed out that Israel’s ties with the U.S. involve those of “sovereign countries that are ultimately responsible for their own decisions and futures.”

—Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JointMedia News Service

New smartphone app provides updates on kosher standards

The Orthodox Union 9OU) has introduced a smartphone app that provides consumers with updates on products that the OU has certified as kosher, Reuters reported.

The app was launched in part to counter the “classic myth” that “the rabbi blesses the food,” said Gary Magder, the OU’s director of digital media.

“But the issue is not about blessing food,” Magder said. “It’s about the actual food that we’re permitted to eat and the combinations of it.”

Released in advance of Passover, which takes place from April 6-14 this year, Magder said the app will be particularly useful during that holiday, when kosher laws are even more complex than usual.

“What’s kosher and what isn’t during Passover becomes so much more complicated because certain kinds of products that are fine during the year are not fine to eat during that eight-day period,” he said.

—JointMedia News Service

Mormons apologize for baptizing parents of Holocaust survivor

The Mormon Church has apologized to the family of Holocaust survivor and Jewish rights advocate Simon Wiesenthal after it had posthumously baptized his parents, Fox News reported. Simon Wiesenthal was a Holocaust survivor famous for devoting his life to hunting down Nazi criminals. He died in 2005.

Last month it was revealed that Mormon Church members in Arizona and Utah baptized Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal. “We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

The Mormon Church later released a statement saying that one person was responsible for the baptism. “We consider this a serious breach of our protocol, and we have suspended indefinitely this person’s ability to access our genealogy records,” the church said.

—JointMedia News Service

J Street says politicians are sounding too ‘tough’ on Iran

Amid the growing Iranian nuclear threat and global terrorist attacks linked to the country, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami sent an email to supporters stating that politicians in Washington “are focused on sounding tough rather than on developing sound strategy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Ben-Ami instead advocated for the efforts of U.S. officials who are “anxious to avoid yet another Middle East war.” Specifically, he encouraged support for a letter from U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Walter Jones (R-NC) to President Obama that backs “both sanctions and pressure on Iran as well as a robust diplomatic initiative.” Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. 

“One letter won’t silence those beating the drums for war,” Ben-Ami wrote. “But it can signal that there is support for pursuing all other options first.”

—JointMedia News Service

Jews reflect on contraception controversy

Amid controversy between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church over the use of contraception, Jewish groups have started voicing their opinions on the issue. Obama has proposed a legislation that would require all religious organizations, regardless of belief, to provide such health services to their employees. Only actual houses of worship would be able to exclude contraception from the health coverage of their employees entirely.

Some Jewish officials said they feel they are also being drawn into the issue. Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director of public policy, said that the organization is not so much against contraception coverage as it is concerned “that some organizations are deserving of protection” from government mandates “and others are not.”

Other Orthodox Jewish organizations expressed concern that this legislation infringes on their constitutional rights to regulate their own health care. However, Jewish women’s groups praised the law. “How can we ensure that women in this country have access to no-cost birth control regardless of where they work,” said Sammie Moshenberg, director of the National Council of Jewish Women Washington office.

—JointMedia News Service

New Jersey editor wins first David Twersky Journalism Award

Click photo to download. Caption: David Twersky.The editor of the New Jersey Jewish News (NJJN) was named the first recipient of an award commemorating the career of his renowned predecessor at the newspaper.

Andrew Silow-Carroll won the inaugural David Twersky Journalism Award for a Sept. 28, 2011 editor’s column in NJJN titled “Bima Vs. Bully Pulpit.” The honor, announced on Twersky’s Feb. 19 birthday, comes with a medal and a $1,000 prize.

The award was established to recognize the work of journalists at NJJN and The Forward, the newspapers where Twersky worked for a combined two decades. Twersky’s time at the Forward “was a scoop-filled period when he established the newspaper as a serious voice for the Jewish community in Washington,” and at NJJN he “transformed a community paper into a strong, state-wide publication through a series of mergers with neighboring Jewish community newspapers,” according to a press release.

Qaddafi’s Hatred of Jews Turned on Him,” by the Forward’s Andrew Engel, was acknowledged as a notable runner up to Silow-Carroll’s column among a pool of 10 entries from the Forward and NJJN.

“The mission of the judges was to find that one piece that David would have considered most remarkable,” said Amir Cohen, Twersky’s former colleague at both publications and the founder of the award, in a statement. “In ‘Bima Vs. Bully Pulpit,’ we didn’t only find that but were privileged to explore holiday sermons, history, politics, and opinion, in the company of the legendary Rabbi Joachim Prinz, all of which were masterfully balanced and nuanced by a journalist at the top of his game.”

—JointMedia News Service

Posted on February 21, 2012 and filed under Briefs, U.S..