firm: Raanan Gissin.
Photo by John Whipple.
UAlbany appearance by Israeli official goes off without incident—and
without changed minds‘
that is good, you can raise the signs,” Dr. Ra’anan Gissin,
senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said
to the protester who held up a sign with the slogan “Free
Palestine” at Gissin’s speech on University at Albany’s uptown
campus Monday night. “Yes, that’s the broken record you’ve
been harping for the last 30 years, and look what it’s brought
Gissin spoke as part of a national movement by Jewish ethnic
and religious groups called Caravan for Democracy, which brings
prominent Israelis to lecture on college campuses across the
United States. Gissin said he brought “a message of peace,”
but a number of student demonstrators faulted UAlbany for
allowing student groups to cosponsor a man who, to them, represented
all respects, [Sharon] is an indicted war criminal,” said
Yunus Fiske, leader of the campus chapter of Stop U.S. Aid
to Israel Now, and one of the protest’s leaders. “People would
think it would be inappropriate for a senior advisor for Milosovich
to come and talk about the occupation of Bosnia.”
A total of roughly 25 to 30 activists protested outside the
event, and a smaller number of pro-Israel students countered
on the other side. A handful of anti-Sharon students later
disrupted Gissin’s lecture.
Gissin’s speech came at a time when tension was already high
between UAlbany’s Jewish community and activists protesting
Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
has been some chalking, some flyers being ripped down, a couple
of anti-Israel slogans that were written onto one of the flyers
at the student Hillel office,” said David Liebschutz, executive
director of SUNY’s chapter of Hillel, a nationwide Jewish
Jenin” was one such phrase, and “Zionism is just another dirty
word” showed up in more than one spot.
is the coward’s way out,” said Shelly Shapiro, director of
community relations for the United Jewish Federation of Northeastern
New York. “Caravan for Democracy is about dialogue.”
All anti-Sharon activists interviewed denied any involvement
with the chalking.
a lot of backlash against us,” Fiske said, “and [the university
is] trying to get rid of us as a group. . . . They’re saying
that we’re anti-Semitic. . . . We have Jewish members, and
I believe that both sides are terrorizing the other.”
The student groups backing the event—Hillel, Hamagshimim,
and Tagar—and Jewish community leaders said they hoped the
event would foster discussion.
For much of the time, the two groups, standing on opposite
sides of the small fountain in front of the Campus Center,
just chanted slogans at each other.
hey, ho ho,” they shouted, with each side respectively finishing
with “Arafat . . .” or “Sharon . . . has got to go.”
Civil dialogue eventually took place among a few individuals,
but both camps also had one or two people who did not seem
interested in talking. Metroland photographer John
Whipple said that as he tried to take a photo of speakers
from opposing sides talking calmly, a protester from the pro-Israel
side blocked his view with a sign and refused to move.
As Gissin began to speak, Fiske remained standing with his
hand raised in a victory sign. Gissin said Israel wants peace
with its neighbors, but added that the rest of the world often
unfairly questions its legitimacy, and he said he has found
he must spend most of his time justifying Israel’s existence
to its detractors.
I can explain the policies of Ariel Sharon or Barak, I have
to explain why I exist,” he said.
Six other protesters joined Fiske in the back of the audience,
numbering roughly 400 people. The protesters shouted slogans
such as “End the occupation,” “End apartheid,” and “The occupation
is terrorism,” and Gissin spent much of his time addressing
the protestors directly, often seeming to identify them as
can try to reason with people,” Gissin began at one point,
referring to his claim that Israel has made every effort to
negotiate with Palestine.
with Sharon,” a protester cut him off.
know, we have been surviving you and other people like you
for 4,000 years before your people walked the face of the
Earth,” Gissin shot back, drawing thunderous applause.
feel like after the guy who held up the banner made his point,
[Gissin] made us the target for the rest of the time,” said
one of the seven speech protesters, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I don’t feel that [Gissin] made any points. He pretty much
made anybody in the opposition out to be a Palestinian.”
Gissin said that while Israel has always worked for peace,
terrorism must be confronted and fought. He compared the fear
many Western nations now have of terrorism to Israel’s fight
with Palestinians and other Arab nations. Gissin said he hoped
more of the world would recognize that fighting back against
terror is necessary. He also defended Israeli occupation of
Palestinian territory as provoked by suicide bombings, and
downplayed the United Nations’ criticism of Israel’s actions
in the occupied territories.
Jenin, we applied the highest military standard that no other
military has applied,” Gissin said.
After violent protests against pro-Israeli speakers in Berkeley,
Calif., last year and in Montreal this year, the event’s organizers
had some safety concerns. In fact, private security accompanied
Gissin, and campus police milled around the protest. But the
event ended peacefully. While anti-Sharon protesters condemned
the suicide bombings that Gissin spoke about, their leaders
were not persuaded by his speech, and while pro-Israel demonstrators
said they understood Palestine’s desire for a homeland, they
took a lot of courage for these people to be out here, but
they’re really missing the point,” said Julien Andrew, who
demonstrated on the pro-Israel side.
got our message across,” said Usman Farooq, vice president
of the Muslim Student Association and a protest leader. “Obviously,
we can’t go to Israel and change what is going on, but this
is the least we could do.”
At around 10 PM, Farooq mentioned that he had been protesting
outside since noon, and could no longer feel his toes in the
you have to stick with what you believe in,” he said.
now, save later: Michael Connors.
Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen.
Your Kids to Work
County has not been spending all of its available grant money
for child care for the poor
the past four years, Albany County’s Department of Social
Services has wasted more than $2 million available from the
state of New York to provide child care for the poor, according
to one county official.
we do does not meet the test of common sense or dollars and
cents,” said Michael Connors, Albany County comptroller. “The
negative opportunities that are presented by not putting poor
mothers to work or to school because we didn’t use the day-care
funds is just plain stupid, wasteful and downright sinful.”
Subsidized child care is offered to families in New York state
who are striving for self-sufficiency and who could use the
services to be able to work or attend school. Families receiving
public assistance are guaranteed these services, but the program
is not exclusive to welfare recipients. Families living at
twice the poverty level and families transitioning from welfare
to independence may also receive child-care support.
According to documents from the New York state Office of Children
and Family Services stating the amount of money given to counties
by the state to provide subsidized child care, Albany County
has been receiving more day-care resources than it uses. In
1999, the county rolled over $1.7 million of unspent state
grant money for child care, and in 2000 the county did not
use more than $750,000 allocated for these services.
Jim Plastiras, DSS communications director, said the money
from 1999 was used the following year when the need was greater,
but Connors said that is an excuse for the fact that DSS has
not developed and encouraged new ways to spend child care
money when it is allocated.
a million dollars isn’t spent and you use $4,000 as the cost
to provide child care, you’re saying that 250 kids aren’t
going to get day care this year that could’ve gotten it,”
Connors said. “That also means there are a number of moms
on welfare that didn’t go back to work.”
Prior to publication, DSS officials did not provide information
stating whether Albany County spent all of its 2001 allocation.
Information for 2002 won’t be available until the end of the
calendar year, but DSS officials said they are on pace to
spend the entire allotment.
Albany County receives the majority of its subsidized child-care
funding from the New York state Child Care Block Grant. The
counties are given an allotment based on past expenditures,
and are then given an additional reserve allotment. The more
than $750,000 that went unspent in Albany County in 2000 was
reserve fund money.
The state further gives counties the opportunity to spend
more on subsidized child care by reallocating unspent reserve
money to municipalities that have used both their initial
and reserve allocations. In 2000, when Albany County did not
use its reserve fund allocation, Schenectady County spent
all it was given and then more. According to Susan Antos,
staff attorney for the Greater Upstate Law Project, an advocacy
group compiling a report on the state of subsidized child
care statewide, Schenectady County was given an additional
$670,000 in the year 2000 on top of its initial and reserve-fund
has always spent all of their money,” Antos said. “They turn
nobody away for child care. In terms of meeting the need of
eligible families, not only does Schenectady County spend
all their money, but they serve every eligible person who
applies, and their eligibility levels are higher than any
other city in the Capital District area.”
Connors described the reserve funds and constant reallocations
as encouragements for counties to spend more on child care,
but Albany County DSS officials disagree.
is more accurate to look at the reserve fund as a cushion
historically,” said Ed Shannon, executive director of planning
and contract management with DSS. “There has been no lack
of services, so I see no need for carrot or a stick. There’s
more of a need for a safety valve.”
is easy for a guy making $75,000 to talk about the poor being
used as part of the cushion for a political budget that fails
the poor and the taxpayers as well,” Connors said. “It takes
shortsightedness into blindness.”
While Shannon said DSS services are not being withheld from
those who need them, Antos said her group’s report will show
that “need” is difficult to define. According to a draft version
of the report to be released on Nov. 22, “the Office of Children
and Family Services maintains no data on the numbers of eligible
children in need of child care subsidies . . . nor does it
require social services districts to do so.”
Welfare reform of the late 1990s resulted in the counties
having to bear more of the burden for providing child care
services to the poor. But the reforms also brought increased
funding to the counties, a jump in funding which DSS said
it was unprepared to handle.
child-care block-grant money was new in 1999-2000, and a lot
of the counties had problems weighing up to that,” said Shannon
“There is a maintenance of effort requirement, which we always
meet and spend more than.”
The spending requirements Shannon said DSS has been meeting
and exceeding are prerequisites to receiving the state funds.
Albany County’s spending requirement, just more than $1 million,
was based on total child-care expenditures in 1998. Spending
from 1998 is less than half of what is spent at present, approximately
$10.5 million. This means that less than 10 percent of the
total currently spent on subsidized child care in Albany County
is paid for by county taxes. Considering the county’s minimal
required contribution, Connors said he disapproves of DSS’s
“prudent” approach to spending money handed out by the state.
major fault is that social services in Albany County looks
at this from an examiner’s point of view rather than a caseworker’s
point of view,” said Connors. “The examiner is happy if they
get to knock a guy off the rolls so we save money. The caseworker’s
point of view is, we’ve got to get this guy back to work so
he is generating income and protecting his family and generating
taxes for society.”
The caseworker’s point of view may be more difficult to find
in Albany County, considering that the number of caseworkers
has declined, according to a union leader working in the department.
David Kircher, president of the Children, Youth and Family
Services unit for Civil Service Employees Association, said
that the total number of caseworkers working in the child-care
unit has dropped, almost by half, since 1996 even though total
spending on subsidized child care in the county has more than
doubled during that period.
always been understaffed,” said Kircher. “We have had vacancies
in the child-care unit that haven’t been filled, and people
have left the child-care unit and been transferred. It is
a constant shuffling of people to meet current crises.”
Connors agrees with Kircher that better staffing could help
the problem, but thinks a general change in philosophy would
be more helpful.
state of New York holds the counties responsible through the
state constitution to provide care for the indigent,” said
Connors. “Sometimes you have to spend more today to avoid
spending more down the line.”
Here to D.C.
of local protesters rallied last Friday in Albany to voice
dissent against a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. The group
of more than 300 demonstrators, including singers, speakers,
sign-holders, drum-bangers and an array of activists, peacefully
converged on the steps of the Capitol and then marched up
Washington Avenue to Townsend Park, where a two-hour protest
took place. Later that night, five busloads of demonstrators
headed down to Washington D.C. to join tens of thousands of
people in what officials are calling the largest antiwar demonstration
since the Vietnam War.
Make a Deal
spokesman for New York’s largest gay-and-lesbian advocacy
group said its gubernatorial endorsement of incumbent Gov.
George Pataki was influenced by last week’s announcement that
the Republican-controlled Senate will vote on New York’s gay-rights
legislation in a December lame-duck session.
vote [in December] was part of the calculation in looking
at the endorsement, but it wasn’t the sole factor,” said Joe
Tarver, spokesman for the Empire State Pride Agenda. “There
was a real record of accomplishments to the gay-and-lesbian
community on Pataki’s behalf. [Former Gov. Mario] Cuomo supported
the bill for 12 years but he never got it through.”
A hail of criticism from Democrats, conservatives and Albany
watchers followed Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s (R-C-Troy)
declaration that the Senate will vote on the legislation for
the first time in the bill’s 31-year history. A Bruno spokeswoman
said the “timing is right on this issue,” but it is timing
of the Republicans’ announcement that is in question.
never try to dwell on the motivation of politicians,” said
Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public
Interest Research Group. “But I’d be surprised if politics
was not a factor in this decision. The governor has publicly
called for the Senate to vote on it, which is Albany politics.”
The Sexual Orientation Non- Discrimination Act, first introduced
in the Legislature in 1971, would grant New York’s gay-and-lesbian
community the same civil rights benefits and protections provided
to people based on age, race, religion, color, national origin,
sex, disability and marital status.
adds just two words to the state human rights law: sexual
orientation,” said Tarver. “[The bill] provides lesbians and
gay men with the same protections that everyone else has,
the right to have a job and not be fired because you’re gay,
to sign a lease and not be denied because you’re a lesbian
or gay. It gives the basic civil rights that everyone else
in the country takes for granted.”
According to Tarver, the changes in state law since Pataki
has been governor have been “very emotional and symbolic”
to the New York’s gay-and- lesbian community.
he was governor, sodomy between consenting adults was still
a crime,” Tarver said. “We had no protections against hate
crimes. He pushed for health benefits for domestic partners
of state workers and state benefits for domestic partners
But considering that the bill has never appeared before the
state Senate in its more than three decades of existence—even
after being passed each of the last 10 years by ever-widening
margins in the Assembly and, for the first time this year,
by a majority of Assembly Republicans—some observers think
this particular quid pro quo could have a happy ending.
dependency on elections sometimes motivates politicians to
change positions,” said Gerald Benjamin, dean of liberal arts
and sciences at SUNY New Paltz. “None of them is free of political
motivations in their behavior, nor should they be. If elections
lead the government to deal with important issues and make
decisions on them, then that is a good thing.”