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Illinois tax credit program for private schools set to end, upsetting Jewish advocates

(JTA) – For the last five years, thousands of Jewish children in Illinois and their families have taken advantage of a state program that lets them defray the cost of private Jewish schools.

Now, those families could see their payments rise after state lawmakers allowed the tuition tax credit program to expire, with little clarity about whether it could resume in the future.

The demise of Illinois’ “Invest in Kids” program points to deep and lasting political divides over the propriety of redirecting public funding for education toward private and religious institutions. The lapse of the program is drawing criticism from Jewish leaders in the state, including some who initially did not go to bat for it.

“There are a wide variety of opinions on the use of these kinds of programs and public funding for private schools, which was the reason we stayed out,” said Dan Goldwin, executive director of public affairs at the Jewish United Fund, Chicago’s Jewish federation. But he said now that he’s seen the benefits, he’s feeling “profound disappointment on behalf of a whole bunch of families and students” about the program’s end.

Invest in Kids, launched in 2018, has given private donors hefty tax breaks if they contribute to a private school scholarship fund for children from low-income families. The program’s proponents said it would give families education options they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford; its critics argued that it would inappropriately deplete the state’s tax revenue. 

The program lapsed on Nov. 10 after state lawmakers ended their legislative activity for the year without calling it to a vote, allowing it to expire at the end of December. 

The step away from public funding for religious schools in Illinois, which is led by Democrats, comes as other states are moving in the opposite direction. Earlier this year, Orthodox Jewish groups celebrated a new Florida state law that allowed private and religious school students in the state to access up to about $8,000 per year in state education funds. 

The Illinois program, too, was beloved by Orthodox Jews, who almost universally send their children to Jewish schools and frequently bear a significant tuition burden, especially if they have larger families. But Jewish advocates for the program say non-Orthodox day schools benefitted, too.

Based on self-reported data from some of the scholarship-granting agencies, at least 1,400 Jewish day school students of all backgrounds and denominations used the program in the 2022-23 school year. Under the program, since 2018, between $40 to 60 million has flowed to Jewish day schools from scholarship funds.

The state’s chapter of Agudath Israel, an Orthodox advocacy group that has been active in pushing for tuition tax credits in multiple states, joined Catholic groups in advocating for the program at the statehouse in Springfield. Now, the group says it is “deeply disappointed” in the legislature for failing to advance the bill.

“The program has been transformative for tens of thousands but I don’t know if everyone initially appreciated how impactful it would be for the Jewish community,” Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, director of government affairs for Agudath Israel of Illinois, told JTA. “It has been a lifeline for thousands of Jewish families.”

In general, research shows that tax-credit programs typically benefit families that are already using private schools, rather than opening doors that would otherwise be closed to low-income students.

JUF did not take a position on the program when it was first enacted six years ago, although it did alert Jewish families to the program’s existence. Godwin said the federation did not typically sound off on “tax-related issues,” and that he was worried that the tax revenue lost as a result of the program could hurt state funding for other social services. But the organization began backing Invest in Kids in 2021 as more Jewish students and day schools benefited from it. 

When the legislature reconvenes in January, Goldwin hopes there might be an opportunity to renew calls for a program extension, or, failing that, a “soft landing” that would prevent disruption to students benefitting from the program midway through the academic year. 

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who is Jewish, has indicated his willingness to sign such a compromise. But a spokesperson for the state’s House speaker, Emanuel Chris Welch, told reporters that he never called a vote for the bill because there was simply not enough support from either side of the aisle.

Public school advocates celebrated the program’s end, with the head of the state’s teachers union saying, “Illinois lawmakers chose to put our public schools first.”

Some of the program’s proponents told JTA that it was especially important to maintain in light of increased antisemitism and anti-Israel activity in public education spaces since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. A handful of teachers unions across the country, including in Oakland and Minneapolis, have put out statements about the conflict that Jewish groups have considered antisemitic. Chicago’s teachers union has not. 

Still, some local Jews said the current moment has shown how important it is for Jewish students to attend Jewish schools.

“Even secular Jewish kids have a better shot at identifying as proudly Jewish and pro-Israel if they attend a Jewish day school,” said Rabbi Menachem Levine, head of the Orthodox Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov-Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi in Chicago, the largest Jewish day school in the Midwest. “But that’s not an option for Jews who aren’t well-off.” 

The Jewish leaders said they were galled that none of the Jewish lawmakers in the Springfield statehouse supported the bill. “We are especially disappointed in those state lawmakers that represent portions of our Jewish community who refused to support our efforts, or were even obstructive,” Agudath Israel said in a statement bemoaning the end of the program. 

The Illinois Legislative Jewish Caucus has 15 members across both chambers of the state assembly. An informal leader for the group, Rep. Bob Morgan, who represents the northern suburbs of Chicago, declined to comment to JTA.

While Goldwin wants to see the program resurrected, he said he wouldn’t cite antisemitism in public schools as a factor. 

“The impact of antisemitism in schools and elsewhere is profound regardless of the scholarship situation,” he said. “I’m not frankly aware of a mass exodus out of the public schools because of antisemitism.”

The post Illinois tax credit program for private schools set to end, upsetting Jewish advocates appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Russia Seeks to Unify Palestinian Factions, Including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, at Forthcoming Moscow Parley

Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov with Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk (r) and Bassem Naim (l) in Moscow. Photo: Reuters/Handout

Russia will seek to unify the various Palestinian factions at a special meeting in Moscow next week, one of Moscow’s top diplomats confirmed on Monday.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, told pro-regime media outlets that “all Palestinian representatives who are located in different countries, in particular in Syria and Lebanon, other countries in the region,” had received invitations to the meeting in Moscow, which convenes on Feb 26. At the same time, Bogdanov stressed that President Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to regard the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) — the main power in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) — as “the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people.”

The invitation has been extended to up to 14 Palestinian factions, according to Russian media sources, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of whom are sworn to Israel’s violent elimination.

Bogdanov’s statement came as the PA’s Prime Minister, Muhammad Shtayyeh, urged Hamas to attend the talks in Moscow.

“We are ready to engage. If Hamas is not then that’s a different story. We need Palestinian unity,” Syhtayyeh declared in remarks at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend. Asked about the desirability of unifying with an organization designated as a terrorist group by the US, EU and other democracies, which is responsible for the atrocities carried out in southern Israel on Oct, 7, Shytayyeh dismissively responded, “One should not continue focusing on October 7.”

Since the Hamas pogrom, Russia has attempted to bolster its influence among the various Palestinian groups. On Oct. 26, it hosted a Hamas delegation led by Musa Abu Marzouk, a member of its politburo who received the status of “Specially Designated Terrorist” from the US Treasury Department in 1995.

More recently, Russia has criticized the decision of a slew of western governments to suspend aid to UNRWA, the UN refugee agency exclusively dedicated to the Palestinians, on the grounds that several of its employees had colluded with Hamas.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the decision as “collective punishment” while Putin himself spoke of the world’s “sacred duty” to aid Palestinians in Gaza at a recent press conference.

Russia’s latest intervention in the conflict between Hamas and Israel has been overshadowed by western fury over the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Saturday while in custody at a penal colony in Kharp, a remote region close to the Arctic circle.

On Monday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, expressly accused Putin of orchestrating her husband’s assassination, promising to release further details soon. Separately, the US is considering additional sanctions against Russia over Navalny, whose body has not yet been released, while the EU declared that it would “spare no efforts to hold Russia’s political leadership and authorities to account, in close coordination with our partners; and impose further costs for their actions, including through sanctions.”


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UNC Keeps Breaking Legal Obligations with Anti-Israel Events; Will the Legislature or Officials Act?

Students sit on the steps of Wilson Library on the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US, Sept. 20, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has repeatedly abandoned its legal obligation to be institutionally neutral “on the political controversies of the day.”

On Feb. 16, I attended a campus panel titled, “News Media Frameworks for Israel/Palestine” that five UNC departments and institutes sponsored. Only about 25 people attended this overtly anti-Israel event.

All five panelists were well known anti-Israel activists. As I previously reported, four panelists signed a 2021 statement pledging to promote the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel “in the classroom and on campus.” The fifth panelist signed a statement saying, “We acknowledge our complicity in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.” Five UNC administrators from the event’s sponsoring organizations also signed the 2021 statement condemning Israel’s “oppression” of the Palestinian people.

The event began with UNC professor Nadia Yaqub requesting that the audience not record. This was reminiscent of when UNC hosted the notorious 2019 “Conflict Over Gaza” conference, which made international news for featuring an antisemitic rap performance. As I reported at the time, the 2019 UNC audience was also instructed not to record. It was wise that some in attendance ignored this directive, because it was the publication of a recording of the antisemitic performance that forced UNC into a Resolution Agreement with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Why is UNC — a taxpayer-funded public university — so afraid of having their anti-Israel events recorded?

About 55 seconds into her opening remarks, Yaqub told the audience that Israel is fighting “Palestinian resistance groups.” Not a single panelist spoke up to disagree, and to let the audience know that the United States and many other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.

During the Feb. 16 UNC event, Israel was accused of targeting Palestinian journalists and the families of journalists. Israel was repeatedly accused of genocide, and accused of having a history of starving Palestinians. This went unchallenged. Hamas’ use of rape as an instrument of war, Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, and Hamas’ practice of building terror tunnels under and near hospitals and other Palestinian civilian sites were not mentioned a single time.

Students and the community were provided a one-sided demonization of Israel that ignored the legal requirement of institutional neutrality without including a single pro-Israel or even neutral voice to challenge the biased panel and the two hours of Israel-bashing speeches.

The so-called Gaza Ministry of Health was discussed as if it were a well respected institution that can be trusted to provide accurate information to the public. If a single pro-Israel or even neutral speaker had been included on the panel, the audience may have heard that Hamas runs the Gaza Ministry of Health, which could more accurately be described as the voice of an internationally-recognized terrorist organization.

Sitting near me were students taking notes throughout the event, which made me wonder, were they actually receiving university credit for attending this biased, anti-Israel event?

While Yaqub was not listed on the flyer as a panelist, she was clearly in charge of this event. Yaqub’s Zoom account was used to project the three panelists who participated remotely, and Yaqub introduced the speakers and moved around the small room as host. She also signed the 2021 statement pledging to promote BDS “in the classroom and on campus.”

In January, Yaqub spoke at a UNC Faculty Council meeting to oppose a resolution, titled “Condemning Antisemitism on Campus.” The resolution sought to condemn remarks made by Rania Masri, a recent speaker on UNC’s campus, who described the Oct. 7 massacre as a “beautiful day.”

Yaqub told Inside Higher Ed that she did not believe Masri’s comments were “objectively antisemitic,” and that “what actually happened on that day [Oct. 7], and who actually committed what, is still very unclear.”

Why would UNC and the five sponsoring departments and institutes ever think that Yaqub is equipped to lead what should have been an institutionally neutral event on Israel and the Palestinians?

The panelists suggested three media sources to the audience, which Yaqub wrote on the blackboard. They are +972, Jadaliyya, and Mondoweiss. All three of these publications are stridently anti-Israel. For example, UNC doctoral student Kylie Broderick is Managing Editor of Jadaliyya, which has a long history of promoting BDS. Broderick is a well known anti-Israel activist who has recently tweeted “F—k Israel.” Mondoweiss’ current social media banner says in bold text, “STOP THE GENOCIDE.”

Does UNC actually believe that presenting a panel which consists entirely of like-minded anti-Israel activists, and recommends only anti-Israel publications to its students and community, is going to be institutionally neutral on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians? It is time for the Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees, and the legislature to make changes at UNC, so that the law on institutional neutrality is followed.

Peter Reitzes writes about issues related to antisemitism and Israel.

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Media Ignore Anti-Israel Rocket Attack, Focus on Israel’s Military Response

Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a screen during a rally commemorating the annual Hezbollah Martyrs’ Day, in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher

On the morning of February 14, northern Israel was subjected to a barrage of indiscriminate rocket fire from Lebanon. Rockets reportedly landed in the city of Safed and an Israeli military base, killing a female soldier and wounding eight others.

In response to this attack, the Israeli air force undertook a “widespread” bombing campaign against Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, killing several terror operatives as well as a number of Lebanese civilians.

This rocket barrage was the latest escalation in Hezbollah’s campaign against Israel, which it undertook in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 massacre in southern Israel. Due to the threat posed by the Iran-backed terror group, tens of thousands of Israeli civilians from the north have evacuated to other parts of the country.

No Quiet on Israel’s Northern Front

With all eyes on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has been increasingly raising tensions along Israel’s northern border. We teamed up with @Eve_Barlow to take a closer look at what’s going on at Israel’s northern front.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 7, 2024

Despite this latest violence stemming from the rocket barrage directed at Israel, several news outlets chose to frame the story in such a way as to portray Israel as the aggressor.

While some news outlets (like the BBC and Fox News) did properly convey the necessary information in their headlines, explaining that Israel’s airstrikes came in response to the rocket barrage earlier that day, several media organizations failed in this regard, with their headlines leaving out the vital context and turning Israel’s defensive campaign into one of aggression.

For example, The Washington Post‘s headline only mentioned Israel’s strikes in Lebanon, informing its readers that Israel was responding to a rocket barrage only in the report’s third paragraph.



As did CBS News‘ headline, which only mentioned Israel’s strikes in Lebanon. Further, their report indicated that Israel’s strikes were “raising fears of a war” between Israel and Lebanon. It would appear that only Israel’s response raises fears of war, not attacks from Hezbollah against Israel.

Reuters headline only mentioned Hezbollah’s vow that Israel will “pay price” for the “deadly day.”

It took 12 paragraphs for Reuters to even mention at all that Israel’s strikes in Lebanon were in response to a rocket attack.

For its part, two Sky News headlines failed to inform its readers that Israel was bombing Lebanon in response to an earlier rocket attack.

The first read: “Israel launches wave of deadly attacks on Lebanon — as Hezbollah vows revenge” while the second headline read: “Children among 11 people killed in Israeli strikes on Lebanon, say security sources.”

While the sub-header for the second article did mention that Israel was responding to an earlier attack, it also used different language for each country’s casualties, claiming that Lebanese were “killed” by Israel’s strikes while an Israeli had passively “died.”

Earlier today, Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets at the northern Israeli city of Safed, killing one & wounding 8 more.

But as far as @SkyNews is concerned, Israel is the aggressor & Lebanon the victim.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 14, 2024

Several video reports also left out vital information, portraying Israel as the aggressor in the region.

For example, France 24 titled its report “Fears of escalation as Israel strikes hit southern Lebanon.”

Similarly, 9 News Australia’s video report was titled “Israel launches wave of air strikes in Lebanon as tensions escalate.”

The title for AFP’s clip of a State Department briefing on the clashes over Israel’s northern border not only failed to mention the initial anti-Israel rocket attack, but the barrage was also entirely missing from the video’s accompanying text.

For some news outlets, it was not the headline that was the issue as much as the content of the report itself.

For example, The Guardian‘s coverage (under the headline “Seven civilians killed in Israeli strikes on south Lebanon”) mentioned both the rocket attack from Lebanon and Israel’s strikes in Lebanon. However, it failed to inform its readers as to which occurred first, leaving them with the impression that both Israel and Hezbollah are equally to blame for tensions and violence along the border.

In its report, news agency UPI described Israel’s targeted air strikes as a “barrage of rockets,” while the indiscriminate fire directed against Israel from Lebanon was described as an “attack” and a “strike.”

Perhaps the most egregious report was filed by The Times of London, which reported two paragraphs on Israel’s strikes in Lebanon, but not a single word about the earlier barrage against Israel or the fact that an Israeli soldier had been killed in that attack.

Hey, @thetimes, how can you possibly include these paragraphs without referencing the Hezbollah rocket barrage that killed an Israeli & wounded 8 more that preceded the Israeli response?

Stop falsely portraying Israel as the initiator of the violence.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 15, 2024

By leaving out vital information and context from their headlines and reports, these news outlets are not only failing to inform their respective audiences properly, but they are also helping to contribute to a false narrative that leaves Hezbollah’s belligerency out of the picture and portrays Israel as the primary aggressor along its northern border.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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