Senate Democrats edge closer to endorsing major cuts to Palestinian Authority aid
Top Senate Democrats said they were closer to signing on to a Republican-backed bill that would slash aid to the Palestinian Authority if it did not stop subsidizing Palestinians jailed for attacks on Israel.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader in the Senate, told attendants at the Orthodox Union’s annual Washington action day on June 15 that he would support the Taylor Force Act or legislation similar to it if the Trump administration is unable to get the Palestinian Authority to stop the payments.
“Abbas has to stop making payments to terrorists and their families, and all elected officials should call them out,” Schumer said.
Also edging closer to endorsing the legislation was Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
“We’re going to find a way to pass the Taylor Force Act,” Cardin said, suggesting that he wanted changes to the bill before he could fully endorse it. The measure was named for the American killed in a 2016 stabbing attack in Tel Aviv.
Support by Senate Democrats, who mostly balked at the bill when it was introduced earlier this year, would be critical to preventing a filibuster from killing it. Any version passed by the Senate would likely succeed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which also has a Republican majority.
The United States now gives the Palestinian Authority about $500,000 million in annual aid. The bill, which was introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would only leave the portion for security assistance — about $60 million in 2013. Cruz also attended the Orthodox Union event.
Democrats have been reluctant to cut aid to the Palestinians in part because they have heeded Israeli governments who have argued quietly that support for the Palestinian Authority is critical to keeping the West Bank quiet.
The Trump administration, however, has pushed the issue to the forefront, with President Donald Trump demanding an end to the payments as he attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week said that the Palestinian Authority was ready to cut the payments, only to be contradicted within a day by Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Notably, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which previously did not have a position on the bill, was also edging closer to embracing it.
“We are encouraged by the efforts in Congress to reach a bipartisan agreement that will ensure passage of the Taylor Force legislation,” its spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said in an email. “AIPAC has pressed to end payments to terrorists and their families for many years. Congress and the Administration must increase the pressure on the Palestinian authority to end these abhorrent payments.”
Lobbying for the Taylor Force Act was one of three legislative agendas for the Orthodox Union leaders and activists. The other items were expanding “school choice,” a term conservatives use for diverting some federal funds to private and religious schools, and backing for security funds for nonprofits.
In addition to their congressional meetings, the delegations also met with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; Jason Greenblatt, who is leading Trump’s efforts to create the conditions to restart peace talks; and Sebastian Gorka, a member of Trump’s national security team.
“Coming to Washington is a very visible reminder of our commitment to those we represent and our appreciation for this country’s leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel,” O.U. President Mark Bane said in a statement.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is guest at Israeli Consulate’s Ramadan event
Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons were among the guests at an event at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Consul General Sam Grundwerg hosted the event, organized the June 15 evening event with the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding at the consulate’s new headquarters.
Simmons, who chairs the foundation, led a discussion with Abdul-Jabbar and Muslim community activist Mahomed Akbar Khan about the importance of Muslim-Jewish relations and cross-cultural exchanges, according to a news release.
“In our practice of serving God, there is no more essential service that we can provide than teaching people to connect and see themselves in each other,” said Simmons, according to the release.
Also taking part were Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, as well as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities.
“This Iftar reception is a great opportunity to celebrate our common faith and common fate,” Schneier said, noting the meal that follows the daylong fast on each day of the month-long Ramadan observance.
Last month, Schneier met privately in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, during the fourth World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue. Schneier used the occasion to announce a new initiative, led by the foundation, to foster dialogue between American evangelical leaders and Muslim leaders from the United States and Muslim countries.
Schneier also discussed the idea with Azerbaijan’s ministers of foreign affairs and culture and tourism, and followed up with meetings with Azerbaijani officials and evangelical leaders in New York on May 26.
Schneier said that Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority country, “not only protects the religious freedom of its Jewish and Christian communities but also promotes intercultural dialogue at the international level through the Baku process,” an intercultural dialogue launched in 2011.
Otto Warmbier, American student released from North Korea, was active in Hillel
Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student imprisoned by North Korea who died this week, was active at the campus Hillel and cared deeply about the Jewish community, its rabbi recalls.
Warmbier, 22, a Cincinnati native, was traveling on a student tour of North Korea last year when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster.
After international outrage and over a year of imprisonment, North Korea released him last week, saying his health had deteriorated severely. Warmbier’s doctors say he is unresponsive and has suffered extensive brain damage.
Rabbi Jake Rubin, the University of Virginia’s Hillel director, said in an email that it was another overseas trip that sealed Warmbier’s connection to the Jewish community.
A 2014 Birthright mission to Israel, where Warmbier received a Hebrew name during a hike to Masada, left a strong impression on the young man. Following the trip, he became involved with the Jewish community on campus.
Birthright offers free trips to individuals who identify as Jewish, have at least one Jewish birth parent or have completed Jewish conversion. Rubin did not answer a question about Warmbier’s Jewish background.
The rabbi described Warmbier as “a beloved member of our Hillel community.”
“He was a regular at Bagels on Lawn, celebrated Shabbat and holidays at Hillel, and even led a seder for other students that focused on issues of environmentalism and sustainability,” Rubin wrote.
During that seder, Warmbier and another student used the Passover ritual as a way to introduce issues related to climate change.
“What are the ten plagues of climate change? How can washing our hands remind us of the importance of water conservation? Throughout the Seder, we asked participants to reflect on how the story of the Exodus and the Seder traditions relate to environmental challenges,” Lia Cattaneo, who led the seder with Warmbier, wrote in a 2015 blog on the Hillel website.
Rubin recalled the joy that infused Warmbier’s day-to-day life.
“In the simplest interactions Otto always found something of interest and would make you smile,” he wrote. “At every stop on Birthright he would try some kind of new food, strike up a conversation with someone new, or find some unique thing to bargain for. He loved life and it was infectious.”
Beyond Hillel, Warmbier was a leader on the University of Virginia campus, Rubin said. Warmbier served on the student council’s sustainability committee and spoke with a Tel Aviv councilman, Etai Pikas, about environmentalism in Israel.
“The opportunity to hear from the man voted one of Israel’s 100 Most Influential People on his work and passion was truly remarkable,” Warmbier wrote of the meeting in a blog for Hillel published in 2015.
Rubin described Warmbier as a person who “was always full of life, intellectually curious, and cared deeply for his friends and community.”
“He was always interested in learning more about the world and the people around him. He put everyone at ease with his humor and genuine interest for others,” the rabbi added. “Otto was a leader at UVa and we are fortunate that he is a member of our community.”