Forums to help people divest, voters decide

Forums to help people divest, voters decide

As the election season heats up, the Jewish Community Relations Council is providing the community with several opportunities to get involved in national and international advocacy efforts.

On Sept. 23, the JCRC, part of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, will host an Iran Divestment Forum at the federation’s Paramus headquarters. Three panelists will discuss Iran’s place in the world and how to go about divesting from companies that deal with that country.

Divestment has been a major focus for UJA-NNJ, which passed a resolution last year calling for divestment of its own holdings from companies dealing with Iran and Sudan.

“Whereas, companies conducting non-humanitarian business in Iran serve to prop up and allow the government of Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program as well as its policy of sponsoring terrorism …” the resolution began.

The resolution goes on to declare it “morally unacceptable for [UJA-NNJ] to profit from or support the two countries, the regimes in Sudan and Iran, through investment in companies conducting non-humanitarian business….”

The federation’s goal is to encourage other Jewish organizations to adopt similar divestment policies, said Joy Kurland, the JCRC’s director, on Tuesday.

“I don’t think people really know all the intricacies about the companies that are related in different ways to Iran,” Kurland said.

Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers and author of several books on terrorism, will address why Iran has been playing such a big role on the world stage. Craig Snider, vice president of Conflict Securities Advisory Group, will speak on “Terror-free Investing: Winning the Economic War on Terror.” Kirstin Vorwig, senior relationship manager at SEI, an international investment firm, will round out the panel with a how-to discussion on divestment. When UJA-NNJ decided last year to divest its Iran- and Sudan-connected assets, Vorwig spearheaded the process.

“People should come away from the forum feeling they know more about the issue, they know more about terror-free investing, and could certainly apply that knowledge to their portfolios,” Kurland said.

Coincidentally, the forum will take place one day after a rally at the United Nations in New York to protest the attendance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the U.N.’s General Assembly. UJA-NNJ plans to send a bus to the rally, as it did to a similar one when Ahmadinejad came to New York last year.

“His message and everything he stands for and his vitriolic hatred of Israel and his rhetoric really need to be addressed,” Kurland said. “We want to raise our voices and make our concerted voices heard together about how Iran has to be stopped in everything that’s hurtful to the Jewish community, Israel, the United States, and the world.”

On Tuesday, the JCRC and the YJCC of Washington Township, in partnership with the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, will co-sponsor a political candidates’ forum. The forum, which will be held at the YJCC, will pit a surrogate for Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) against Garrett’s Democratic challenger, Rabbi Dennis Shulman of Demarest. Both will make short presentations and then the floor will open up to questions.

Topics will include domestic issues – elder care, poverty, the environment, and energy – and international issues – the Iranian nuclear threat, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Darfur, and Iraq.

“It’s a service we provide to the community,” Kurland said. The forum allows the candidates to share their perspectives, she added.
On Oct. 28, the JCRC is organizing a rabbis’ political forum at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne at which seven rabbis from different religious streams will discuss how the presidential candidates’ positions will affect the Jewish community and Israel. New Jersey Network correspondent Sara Lee Kessler of Englewood will be the moderator.

“We have two brand-new candidates,” Kurland said. “It’s been eight years with our current president and now there’s a whole new dynamic put forth. People will be interested in hearing [the views of] both candidates on all the various issues.”

Another forum is planned for late October to give Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and his Republican challenger Dick Zimmer an opportunity to explain their positions to the Jewish community.

For more information on these events, call the JCRC at (201) 488-6800.

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