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Herb Rothschild: The year in review

Since I’m embarking on a second year of columns, I’ve decided to update you on some topics I discussed before.

The salient one is the agreement between the major powers and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. Diplomacy has triumphed over war despite a furious attack by Republicans and forces doing Benjamin Netanyahu’s bidding. Both Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden supported the agreement. Please thank them.

The struggle to keep Congress from scuttling the deal revealed the divisions among American Jews. While the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Jewish Federations continued to do the bidding of the Israeli government, countervailing voices were raised. J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby, brought former members of the Israeli security establishment to D.C. to tell Congress that the agreement is in Israel’s best interest. Jewish Voice for Peace, a chapter-based organization equally committed to justice for the Palestinians as well as a secure Israel, mobilized grassroots lobbying. And 300 rabbis signed an open letter to Congress supporting the agreement.

In sum, it’s no longer possible to speak of “the Jewish community” when it comes to Middle East policy. That’s true here. Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash is closely allied with AIPAC. Rabbi Joshua Boettiger of Temple Emek Shalom is closely allied with J Street. And a Rogue Valley chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace was formed a few months ago.

I wrote four consecutive columns exploring the way a focus on the individual versus a focus on the community played out in several situations, among them “right to work” versus “union shop.” The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear next term the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the plaintiff argues that she shouldn’t be required to pay fees to the union even though she benefits from the contract it negotiates on her behalf as well as teachers who willingly support the union.

The controlling case to date has been Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), in which the court rejected the argument that if a union is bargaining with a governmental agency, its bargaining is political. The point was that previous cases, on First Amendment grounds, prohibited unions from using mandatory contributions for political work, such as supporting candidates, but allowed them for the essential work of the union, such as bargaining.

The Friedrichs case will give a corporate-friendly court the chance to join the Koch brothers and other oligarchs in driving one more nail into the coffin of organized labor.

Another of those columns spoke about the effort to create a “right to rest” so homeless people couldn’t be driven from cities during the night. I opposed creating such a right as a way of redressing a failure to care, but gently chided the city of Ashland for not creating a proper space within the city limits for overnight sleeping.

Now there’s a suit pending against Boise, Idaho. The plaintiffs in Bell v. the city of Boise claim that criminalizing sleeping in public spaces absent a public alternative constitutes criminalizing homelessness itself in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a “statement of interest” in the case. Perhaps Ashland will now be moved to imitate Eugene in finding a workable arrangement.

Lastly, I urged our two daily newspapers to run a regular feature informing us how our state and federal legislators are voting on issues before them. So far the plea has fallen on deaf ears. I renew it now.

Herb Rothschild Jr. is chairman of the board of Peace House.