A seemingly benign U.S. congressional resolution supporting Christmas has become the latest fodder in the debate over whether America is a "Christian nation."
Nearly all the members of the House of Representatives, including a majority of Jewish members, voted for the Dec. 11 resolution acknowledging the celebration of Christmas and the role Christians have played in U.S. history.
But the resolution's author, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), has since lashed out at the nine "liberal Democrats" who voted against the resolution and questioned how they had supported a different resolution supporting Ramadan.
In a Dec. 12 appearance on Fox News, King said: "I would like to know how they can vote yes on Ramadan, yes on the Indian religions and no on Christianity when the foundation of this nation and our American culture is Christian."
The rhetoric over the so-called Christmas wars has been toned down this year, with Christian conservatives less vocal than in the past about the need to "protect" Christmas from those who would downplay its public and religious significance.
At the same time, the congressional dust-up comes as Jews and others express discomfort with the decidedly central role of faith in the race for the Republican nominee for president.
King had voted "present" on the two other recent religious resolutions, one honoring Ramadan, which passed on Oct. 2, and one recognizing the Indian holiday of Diwali, which passed on Oct. 29.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) was the only Jewish representative to vote against the Christmas resolution. In 2005 he had led the charge against another resolution on Christmas -- one to "protect" the holiday.
During that debate, Ackerman publicly wondered whether Santa Claus had been mugged or there had been threats of elf tossings.
"Congress has better things to do than to infringe upon the separation of church and state," Ackerman said this week.
"If the Christmas resolution did what the Ramadan measure did, recognize the importance of the holiday and denounce hatred, with no reference to Mohammed, or what the Dawali resolution did, recognize the festival and the pluralism and diversity in the Indian and American society, and stayed away from all the religiosity and innuendo that a specific religion and not freedom of religion was a founding principle of America, I would not think it pushed on the separation clause."
"Make no mistake: I like Santa Claus. I love the separation clause," he added. "But being that it passed, they owe me eight resolutions for Chanukah."
Most of the 30 Jewish lawmakers voted for the resolution.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.), John Yarmuth(D-Ky.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) had voted recently for a resolution commemorating the importance of Ramadan, yet did not vote on the Christmas resolution.
Ackerman also had voted for the resolution commemorating Ramadan. Two other Jewish lawmakers, Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), were not present for the Christmas resolution vote.
The '05 resolution, which strongly disapproved "of attempts to ban references to Christmas" and expressed "support for the use of these symbols and traditions," had even greater support from Congress than the current Christmas measure.
It was sponsored by Rep. Joanne Davis (R-Va.), who died this year.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) had countered the '05 resolution by drafting a similar bill honoring Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan. Israel's bill died in committee.
Israel voted in favor of this year's Christmas resolution.
"The resolution in 2005 implied that Christmas was under attack," Israel's communications director, Meghan Dubyak, said, adding that Israel believed the current resolution was written in the spirit of the previous two commemorations of Ramadan and Diwali.
Though this year's resolution makes no mention of other religious holidays, language was added to make clear that the United States was built by people who had "Judeo-Christian" beliefs, not just Christian beliefs.
Winograd Conclusions Due Next Month
The Winograd Commission's inquiry into the Lebanon war, which were expected out by year's end, will be published next month, probably after President Bush visits the region, Israel's Army Radio reported Monday. It was the second such delay after sources close to the commission said over the summer that its conclusions would not be made public before the High Holy Days.
The commission's preliminary report censured Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the setbacks of the 2006 war against Hezbollah. This prompted some Israelis to anticipate that the final report would recommend Olmert step down. Olmert has defended his handling of the 34-day campaign in southern Lebanon and vowed to see out his term in office.
OU Moves Confab to Jerusalem
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) will move its 2008 convention to Jerusalem. The OU was scheduled to return to the Israeli capital in 2010, but changed next year's location from New York in large part because it has been at the forefront of the coalition organized to prevent Jerusalem from being divided in Israel's talks with the Palestinians.
"It was clear to us that since New York was chosen as the site of the 2008 Convention, much had happened regarding the possible division of Jerusalem that made it imperative for the OU to be there in great numbers," OU President Stephen Savitsky and Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb announced in a statement.
The convention will take place Nov. 23-30.
Bill Pushes Iran to Pay Victims
A major defense bill includes provisions that would limit the ability of terrorist-backing states to protect U.S. assets from litigants. The Defense Authorization bill approved Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives, would limit the appeal options for states found liable in U.S. courts for backing terrorism.
The legislation is based on an earlier stand-alone bill authored by two Jewish U.S. senators, Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). It is aimed particularly at Iran, which until now has successfully resisted dipping into U.S. assets to pay close to $2.7 billion in damages won in courts by families of the 241 servicemen killed in the 1983 Hezbollah attack on a U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut. Hezbollah is Iran's proxy in Lebanon. The bill must now be approved by the Senate and then goes to President Bush for signing.
P.A. Raises $7.4 Billion
Representatives of some 90 countries who gathered Monday in Paris pledged $7.4 billion to the Palestinian Authority, topping the goal of $5.5 billion by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas. The money is earmarked for Abbas' administration in the West Bank in hope of building up its institutions and affluence, driving Palestinians in Gaza to vote out Hamas rulers. Hamas, languishing in international isolation since it routed Abbas' Fatah in Gaza in June, described the Paris fundraising drive as a "declaration of war."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who pledged $555 million for 2008 on behalf of the Bush administration, described the donor meeting as a sequel to last month's Annapolis peace conference led by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Abbas used the Paris forum to repeat his call on Israel to stop building West Bank settlements and remove military checkpoints so Palestinians can move about more freely. Israel's representative at the meeting, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, repeated Jerusalem's statement that concessions cannot come at the cost of security.
Bush Delays Embassy Move
President Bush extended a delay on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem for another six months.
"I hereby determine that it is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States to suspend for a period of six months" the embassy move mandated in a 1995 law, Bush said Wednesday in a memorandum to Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state. "My administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem."
Bush and his predecessor, President Clinton, have often delayed the move, citing difficulties such an action would impose on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
Claims Conference to Support Survivors in Sderot
The Claims Conference will give $550,000 to help assist Holocaust survivors living in and near Sderot, the organization announced this week. The money will help physically reinforce two day centers that the Claims Conference, the clearinghouse for Holocaust reparation funds, built for the elderly in the area, a frequent target for short-range rudimentary rockets launched by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
Some $250,000 will go to help Nazi victims join supportive communities in nearby Otef Shalom, and $50,000 will help establish a Sderot branch of AMCHA, the National Israeli Center for Psychological Support of Nazi Victims.
Hamas marks 20th Anniversary
As many as 300,000 Palestinians rallied in Gaza City on Saturday, the 20th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in a show of support for the Islamist movement's refusal to soften its stand against Israel. Hamas began during the first Palestinian uprising as a grassroots charity with an armed wing whose members mostly dedicated themselves to killing those suspected of "collaborating" with the Jewish state. After earning international notoriety for suicide bombings launched in the 1990s, Hamas built up its political influence until it crushed the long dominant Palestinian faction, Fatah, in 2006 elections. It now controls the Gaza Strip after ousting Fatah in a June civil war and shows little sign of yielding to a Western aid boycott. Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in the previous Palestinian Authority government, told Saturday's demonstration that anyone who expects the faction to give up on its dream of destroying Israel "can go to hell."
Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.