It’s a tragically familiar scenario: A gunman kills multiple innocent civilians in a shooting spree, reigniting a national debate about gun violence legislation. The policy debate invariably ends in stasis, as political forces on both sides of the aisle fail to reach a compromise.
The twin tragedies of Dayton and El Paso, however, have given rise to the possibility of a breakthrough. A bipartisan proposal that would encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws to take guns away from people believed to be dangers to themselves is gaining momentum in the Senate. Offered by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the plan has received support from President Trump, who said in a White House speech that those judged to pose a grave risk to society should be denied access to firearms. Red flag laws authorize courts to issue protection orders that allow police to confiscate firearms from such people, as well as prohibiting them from buying new guns.
Gains on State Level
In the wake of last year’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the number of states with red flag laws has jumped from just five to 17. One of those states is California, whose law was enacted following a massacre at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014. California permits family members to petition courts directly for confiscation orders. A law recently passed in New York would allow teachers to petition the courts, as well.
The Graham-Blumenthal proposal would incentivize state red flag laws by offering states grants for passing them. Significantly, though, the bill would not limit gun access at the federal level, which could be the key to its bipartisan appeal. Republican senators normally predisposed against gun legislation are more likely to view favorably a measure that yields gun policy making to individual states.
Senate Democrats are largely united behind red flag laws, but a growing number of Republicans are joining them. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (S.D.) has spoken optimistically about reaching bipartisan consensus on the issue, but eyes remained focused on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kent.), who has not publicly taken a position on red flag laws.
The National Rifle Association has voiced support for the goal of keeping guns away from dangerous people but has largely opposed state red flags until recently. Citing threats to due process, the organization has objected to the confiscation of guns from people who have not committed crimes and may lose their guns without having a chance to be heard. But the Parkland shooting has led to a change in the NRA’s tone, as they have begun to signal more openness toward such laws.
The success of red flag laws depends not just on their passage, but on their implementation and on key details, such as who is allowed to file petitions. Also, the matter of how law enforcement officials educate the public about pursuing such emergency legal options can tremendously impact their effectiveness.
But even as other gun measures, like expanded background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and an assault weapons ban once again come into focus, the red flag proposal stands the greatest chance of gaining political currency. With bipartisan support growing in Congress and President Trump appearing to back the idea, the moment for forward progress toward reasonable gun legislation may soon be arriving.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
“Is it the memory of times long gone, or a presentiment of times to come? Does this old animal perhaps know more than the three generations that foregather in the synagogue each time?”
With so many brief but sublime sentences packed into the short passage comprising Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel “In Our Synagogue,” it is indeed difficult to choose just one excerpt to quote. The reader learns about the stealthy rodent living for years in the narrator’s house of worship, whose coat of fur has acquired the blue-green color of the building’s ancient walls. Well-known to the congregants, especially its women, the animal is not concealed by its faulty camouflage.
Completed in 2016, “In the Synagogue,” named Best Short Film at this year’s Odessa Film Festival, is inspired by the existing content of Kafka’s story. Director Ivan Orlenko shot portions of his 30-minute black and white movie with Yiddish dialogue in Kiev and inside the mid-19th century Khust synagogue—in use throughout World War II—in southwestern Ukraine. Conveying an elegiac sense of loss, as well as tragedy, the visual impact of these places amplifies the original tale, now experienced through the hindsight of the Holocaust. As the director notes of this region: “…now only a few preserved synagogues and neglected cemeteries are left…This picture of devastation, the forgotten world, made me film in Yiddish. It is this sense of a long-lost time that predetermined that maximum attention would be drawn to the signs of that time, language and everyday life. Time running indifferently and inexorably, only sometimes allowing the story to finish, is probably what my film is about…”
The impact of Jewish life on European culture was felt centuries before the dawn of the modern era. The Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park is presenting “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy,” an exhibition which shines a light on some of the rare and important medieval Judaica on loan from Paris’ Cluny Museum, almost all of which has never been seen in the United States.
Discovered in 1863 in the wall of a confectionary located in the Alsatian town of Colmar, The Colmar Treasure dates from the mid-14th century and includes an inscribed dome-shaped Jewish wedding ring, rings and other jewelry embellished with gems and semi-precious stones, and buttons and coins rendered in silver and gold, as well as accessories like belt fragments and headpieces. Among the household items is a tiny, meticulously designed silver key, presumably kept by the lady of the house.
It is assumed that these valuable items were owned by at least one family and were hidden for safekeeping during the time before the town’s Jewish community, who were believed to have poisoned the wells to spread plague, was immolated en masse. Thereafter, Jews did not return to Colmar for a quarter century. The installation of The Colmar Treasure is supplemented by the Cloisters’ illuminated books, manuscripts and decorative arts, and includes objects borrowed from the Jewish Theological Seminary and private collections. The show is on view through January 12th, 2020.
The legacy of Europe’s Jewish culture has become key to combatting the rise in anti-Semitism that has occurred worldwide. Noting this on its website, the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (www.jewishheritage.org) sponsored by B’nai B’rith Europe and other Jewish organizations in cooperation with the National Library of Israel has announced that its European Days of Jewish Culture (EDJC) will be designated as a celebration honoring its 20th anniversary. Held each September, wide-ranging programs organized under a unifying theme are produced by local communities in more than 400 cities in 28 countries.
Yale University Press will release another entry in its excellent “Jewish Lives” series of books intended for the general reader on November 19th. A biography which underscores the continued relevance and vivacity of his songs and musicals, “Irving Berlin: New York Genius” by James Kaplan examines the life of the composer (1888-1989) and his musical output through the history of the frenetic, ever-changing kaleidoscope of the city where he spent most of his life.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
The Argentine government recently decided to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and ordered the freezing of the Lebanese Islamist group’s assets in the country. This historic decision coincided with the 25th anniversary of the 1994 terrorist attack at the site of the Jewish community center, known as AMIA, in Buenos Aires, that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.
The evidence that Iran and Hezbollah were behind this attack (and a previous one against the Israeli Embassy in 1992) is extensive. And yet, Argentina continued to have diplomatic relations with Iran, and Hezbollah’s activities in the region did not receive enough scrutiny.
The decision of the current Argentine government to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist group is of critical importance, not only to prevent future Iranian-sponsored attacks in the region but also to curtail Hezbollah’s ability to raise funds, particularly through drug trafficking and other illegal activities.
The loosely regulated tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay has for a long time been used by Hezbollah to raise money and plan possible attacks. In fact, it is widely believed that part of the planning for the AMIA bombing took place there.
Last year, Argentina’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF-AR) ordered the freezing of the assets and money of members of the so-called “Barakat Clan,” a criminal organization engaged in extorsion, counterfeiting, drug and arms trafficking and money laudering. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Barakat has long served as a “treasurer” for Hezbollah.
Argentina is the first country in the region to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and the decision was probably prompted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Buenos Aires just a day after the AMIA anniversary commemoration. Pompeo expressed the hope that other countries would follow Argentina’s example.
The secretary of state met with President Macri, visited the AMIA premises to honor the victims of the bombing and participated in a hemispheric counter-terrorism summit hosted by the Argentine foreign ministry. At this summit, the formation of a new counter-terrorism alliance between the U.S., Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (named “three plus one”) was announced.
Pompeo also stated that Washington would offer a $7 million reward for information leading to the capture of Salman Rauf Salman, who had been accused by the late AMIA case prosecutor Alberto Nisman of being the on-the-ground coordinator of the AMIA bombing.
Nisman, whom I had the honor to meet several years ago, once said to me with clear frustration that Argentina should have become a regional leader in the fight against terrorism. Perhaps now, 25 years after the AMIA attack, this is finally becoming reality.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
Recently, the White House has considered changing how the federal government calculates the poverty line by altering how inflation is measured. As a result, this change would potentially result in fewer people falling below the poverty line. While the idea of having fewer people in poverty sounds great, this proposal would actually cause a smaller number of people to qualify for badly needed government assistance.
The poverty line is critical because it’s used to determine if people are candidates for specific benefits associated with programs like Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Presently, individuals who make less than $12,490 a year are under the poverty line, which includes 4.7 million seniors.
Let’s take Medicare as an example. The administration’s change to the poverty line’s calculation would increase the costs of prescription drugs and premiums for low-income seniors. This would impact approximately 250,000 seniors who use prescription drugs and could force 150,000 elderly people to pay more than $1,000 for continued coverage for doctors’ visits.
Sadly, changing the poverty line calculation would also decrease the benefits for older Americans associated with Medicaid. At the moment, millions of adults have qualified for Medicaid expansion through the ACA, including older adults between 50 and 65. Under the administration’s proposal, changing how inflation is measured for the poverty line would cause 250,000 people to lose their Medicaid expansion coverage over a 10-year period.
Unfortunately, the negative impact of changing the poverty line calculation does not stop with healthcare. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps people in this country with their energy bills, like those for heat and air conditioning. According to a 2018 survey by the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, seniors are in 46 percent of households that receive LIHEAP. Are we really suggesting cutting benefits from low-income seniors who need help with their energy bills, especially in states with extreme weather like Florida and Minnesota?
When Congress passed tax cut legislation in 2017, B’nai B’rith argued that ballooning deficits could cause lawmakers to campaign for cuts to important social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Our press release from December 2017 stated, “Perhaps the biggest danger this Congressional tax plan includes is the likelihood of future cuts to critical federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to help pay down what most economists say will be a massive increase in the deficit that will result from these tax cuts. Experts predict that the ensuing revenue short-fall would have to be made up by drastic cuts to programs fundamental to seniors in need.”
So here we are! The U.S. budget deficit ballooned to $738.6 billion during the first eight months of the 2019 fiscal year, and, as we predicted, proposals have been rolled out that cut benefits from older Americans.
Seniors living below the poverty line are not likely to gain full-time employment to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Consequently, I hope the administration rethinks this policy so our country can help meet the challenges faced every day by older Americans.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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