Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) serves as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community by addressing the principal mandate of the Jewish community relations field: working to repair the world through Jewish activism. JCPA functions as a catalyst to heighten community awareness, inspire civic and social involvement, and encourage deliberation on key issues of importance to the Jewish community. For more than 70 years, JCPA has identified issues, formulated policy, developed strategies and programs, and expressed the organized Jewish community’s perspectives on a wide range of domestic and international issues. JCPA has an unparalleled capacity to mobilize grassroots activism through our network of 16 national and 125 local member agencies. We serve as a policy resource for our member agencies and we help the community relations field express the consensus policy views of the organized Jewish community to national leaders.
The following are JCPA’s current federal policy priorities. This is not meant to be an exhaustive compilation of all of the issues in which we or our members are engaged.
Israel and International Issues
Preventing a Nuclear Iran
JCPA believes that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability is a paramount national security issue. A nuclear armed Iran would present an existential threat to the State of Israel, undermine the stability of the Middle East as a whole, and pose a danger to the safety and security of the world community. Now that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program is in the implementation stage, JCPA hopes that the plan will successfully deny Iran a nuclear weapon. At the same time, JCPA strongly backs continued U.S. and international sanctions in response to Iran’s human rights abuses, support of terrorism and terrorist groups, destabilizing actions in the region, and tests of conventional weapons such as ballistic missiles.
Ensuring a Robust International Affairs Budget Including Foreign Aid to Israel
The JCPA works to ensure the continuation of robust foreign aid to Israel as well as a strong international affairs budget in the yearly appropriations bill. Foreign assistance is an important tool to support our
allies, assist those in developing nations, and protect U.S. interests.
Supporting U.S. Engagement in the Peace Process
JCPA encourages high-level and concentrated diplomatic engagement by the Obama Administration in moving the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab peace process forward. JCPA supports two independent, democratic, and economically viable states: the Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security. This vision can only be achieved through direct negotiations. Attempts to achieve Palestinian statehood unilaterally through action by the United Nations—as well as efforts by the Palestinians to achieve full membership as a state in UN-affiliated bodies—are counterproductive. JCPA works to promote a strong, vibrant Israel that is committed to peace.
Addressing the Issue of Syrian Refugees and Other International Humanitarian Crises
JCPA supports the vigorous protection of human rights as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy, especially situations involving genocide, mass atrocities, and sweeping population shifts due to displacement by war and violence. Effective American engagement in this area should be on a multilateral basis when possible and only unilateral when necessary
Countering International Terrorism and States that Support Terror
JCPA encourages Congress and the Administration to implement strong U.S. policies to counter international terrorism, including state-sponsored terrorism. The U.S. government must work with our allies to implement comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to terrorism, including freezing the assets of groups and individuals that have been linked to terrorism, strengthening international cooperation on weapons control, and halting nuclear proliferation.
Last year’s terrorist attacks on a kosher grocery store in Paris and a synagogue in Copenhagen are part of a disturbing global trend in the rise in anti-Semitic actions. Reports from the U.S. State Department, Israeli Government, and a number of national Jewish organizations document the growing anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish communities. In January 2015, the United Nations General Assembly held its first-ever informal meeting on the growth of worldwide anti-Semitism after a request from 37 nations. The U.S. must acknowledge, confront, and combat anti-Semitism all across the globe. JCPA supports efforts to monitor this phenomenon and develop appropriate strategies for engagement with the affected communities, foreign governments, and civil society leaders and organizations.
Confronting Poverty in America
JCPA, through its Confronting Poverty Initiative, is committed to building a more just and equitable society, beginning with our children. Focused on lifting the next generation out of poverty, JCPA advocates for a two-track strategy that includes a strong social safety net, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and effective policies aimed at lifting children and families out of poverty and providing economic opportunity. These policies include: reducing childhood hunger through the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, which includes the summer meals program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC); expanding access to high-quality preschool and child care; protecting children’s health; raising the minimum wage; and continuing to expand eligibility for the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits (EITC and CTC). These effective anti-poverty programs should be provided with appropriate funding and should not fall victim to deficit reduction measures and budgetary process changes.
Providing Care for Seniors Living in Poverty
Older Americans who live in poverty often suffer in silence, struggling in the shadows while trying to make ends meet. A number of legislative initiatives could help relieve the challenges many seniors face such as poor health, hunger, social isolation, or inadequate housing. The Older Americans Act should be improved, making sure that important services are properly funded and accessible, including such critical anti-hunger programs as Meals on Wheels and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CFSP). JCPA will advocate for policies that help empower older adults to live healthier, more independent, and more fulfilling lives free from the challenges of poverty.
Fostering Economic Growth
The JCPA believes that Congress and the Administration can help heal our ailing economy by creating pathways to sustainable, long-term employment. Efforts should be made to invest in fields such as infrastructure, state and local governments, schools, hospitals, renewable energy, and clean technology innovation in order to contribute to long-term economic and employment growth. Every effort should be made to direct job creation and training with targeted assistance to geographic regions and particular populations that are still struggling with the aftereffects of the recession, including low-income individuals, women, people of color, people with disabilities, seniors, veterans, youth, and the long-term unemployed.
Promoting Energy Independence and Environmental Protection in the Interests of Security, Health, & the Economy
Climate change is an international security threat and one of the greatest moral issues of our time. Through the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), an initiative of JCPA, we will continue to advocate for legislation that promotes energy independence and reflects our values of protecting Creation. By supporting policies that promote renewable energy and other clean energy innovations, we can reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil while protecting the environment and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Central to this fight in the coming years is state implementation of the Clean Power Plan, which will help reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and ease our transition to greater use of renewable energy.
Strengthening America’s Education System
In many parts of the county—especially in urban centers and rural areas—too many of the nation’s youth, particularly minority and low-income youth and students with disabilities, are not receiving the education they deserve. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act replacing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, JCPA looks forward to seeing reforms implemented that increase opportunity for all students to learn and be college and career-ready upon graduation, as well as greater access to early childhood education programs such as pre-K. Additionally, JCPA hopes to see the reduction of concentrated poverty and racial isolation in school communities, along with the creation of safe and healthy schools that reduce the incidence of bullying and harassment. JCPA is committed to strengthening and sustaining public schools, recognizing that this is the primary route for most children, especially low-income children, to achieve an education. We support reforms that make improvements in early childhood education and will concentrate on programs for schools in high-risk, high-poverty districts. In addition, we will reinforce our commitment to promoting literacy through advocacy on relevant legislation.
Crafting a Fairer Criminal Justice System
Resulting from an explosion in incarceration over several decades, the U.S. presently holds fully one-quarter of the world’s prisoners despite comprising only five percent of the world’s population, We keep people behind bars at great social and financial expense even when the sentences are unfair, disproportionately lengthy, or counterproductive. JCPA supports a bipartisan coalition pushing legislation to reduce mandatory minimums and allow greater judicial discretion in some cases—the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123). JCPA is hopeful that further legislation will address alternatives to incarceration and community-based treatment instead of jail for people with addiction disorders, as well as eliminate barriers to successful reentry into the community after incarceration, including access to public assistance programs.
Working Towards Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Informed by Jewish values and traditions, JCPA supports efforts to enact comprehensive reform of federal immigration policy with an emphasis on family reunification, the protection of civil and human rights, and national security. Through our “Immigration Nation” campaign, we advocate for reform measures that will create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers while prioritizing more effective border security and enforcement. Immigration enforcement measures must be consistent with humanitarian values and protect civil, human, and workers’ rights. Although JCPA appreciates the President’s efforts to provide certainty and security for millions of undocumented immigrants through executive actions, we continue to call on Congress to come together to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Advancing Fair Elections and Protecting the Right to Vote
The lifeblood of our democracy is the ability for every eligible citizen to cast a meaningful ballot for a candidate of his or her own choosing. The JCPA has a long history of supporting policies to ensure fair and representative elections, including strong support for the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and early voting. Of principle concern is the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated key provisions of the VRA. JCPA will continue its “Justice for All” campaign and urge Congress to pass the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act, a modern, common-sense fix that ensures that every American has the opportunity to cast a meaningful ballot. JCPA will also advocate for policies that make the process of voting easier and more accessible. Among our concerns: reduced early voting, difficult registration requirements, restricted absentee voting, and the scheduling of elections and caucuses on religiously sensitive days, including the Jewish Sabbath.
Protecting Civil Rights
JCPA has a long-standing commitment to protecting and advancing civil rights for all Americans. We will continue our focus on expanding protections to individuals discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, JCPA will advocate for new policies to address bullying, which include proactive disciplinary measures to combat future incidents and create an environment of safety, equality, civility, and respect. We will also work closely with executive branch agencies to ensure that civil rights statutes are being effectively and responsibly enforced. This effort will include closely monitoring the implementation of important civil rights statutes, including the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, and updates to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Defending Religious Liberty
Religious liberty and the relationship between religious institutions and the federal government has been a priority for JCPA since its founding. Among our primary concerns are proselytization in the armed services and so-called “charitable choice.” JCPA will continue to call for enforcement of military rules against coercive proselytizing and improper sectarian prayer at mandatory and official ceremonies and events. JCPA will also closely monitor legislation and regulations providing government funding for social services by religiously-affiliated organizations. Where such funding is authorized, it must have appropriate safeguards to prevent First Amendment violations and protect the religious freedom of program beneficiaries and employees. We will continue our work with our national member agencies and coalition partners as well as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and its corollary offices in federal agencies to implement President Obama’s executive order that provides greater oversight and religious liberty safeguards for grant recipients.