Spending bill includes big boost for Jewish groups seeking security money
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Spending bill includes big boost for Jewish groups seeking security money

A view of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., March 13, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An omnibus spending bill approved by Congress more than doubles spending for security grants that have been overwhelmingly tapped by Jewish institutions.

The $1.3 trillion bill approved Thursday includes $60 million for the security grants, up from $25 million last year. More than 90 percent of the grants have been used to harden security at Jewish institutions since the nonprofit security grant program was launched in 2005.

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, one of the lead advocates for the grants, said a spike in threats on Jewish institutions over the last year drove the increase. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2017 increased by 43 percent over 2016, not including a spate of bomb threats carried out against Jewish institutions by a Jewish man in Israel.

“We didn’t have to educate members of Congress that the past year has seen an increased set of threats and activity,” Diament said in an interview.

Of the $60 million, $10 million for the first time will go to areas outside major metropolitan areas. Diament said that will allow Jewish institutions outside such designated areas to apply for the funds. He named Monsey, in upstate New York, as an example of an area with a high Jewish concentration that until now has not been able to access the existing program.

Also advocating for the security grants over the years were the Jewish Federations of North America and Agudath Israel of North America.

The bill also includes $175 million over the next 10 years to improve security at schools, a provision that was accelerated after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month. The bill will fund training in violence prevention, police-school coordination and crisis intervention, and will be extended to private and parochial schools as well as public schools.

JFNA praised the inclusion in the omnibus bill of $5 million for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program, double the amount of previous years. The program partners with Jewish institutions to deliver assistance to elderly Holocaust survivors.

“There are approximately 100,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today, with an estimated 30,000 living in poverty,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of JFNA, in a statement. “By doubling funding levels to $5 million, the program now will be able to provide immediate support to ensure that Holocaust survivors are able to live in dignity and comfort for the remainder of their lives.”

Also wrapped into the omnibus is the Taylor Force Act, which slashes funding to the Palestinians until the Palestinian Authority stops payments to Palestinians killed or arrested during attacks on Israelis.

Taylor Force was an American who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv in 2016.

Palestinian officials say that only a small portion of the targeted money goes to violent attackers, and that much of the money serves as a welfare program for Palestinians who are imprisoned by Israel, many without charges.

U.S. funding for the Palestinians currently stands at about $260 million a year. None of the money targeted goes directly to the Palestinian Authority, instead funding programs run by NGOs that assist Palestinians.

Aso included:

* The bill funds U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs to the tune of $700 million, a boost of $100 million. Starting next year, missile defense will be rolled into the overall defense assistance package for Israel, part of a $38 billion to be delivered to Israel over ten years. “This massive investment is vital to the safety and security of Israel and will help save countless lives in the future,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, said of the missile defense spending.

* One million dollars to combat anti-Semitism abroad, in addition to existing funding for the office of the anti-Semitism monitor at the State Department. Jewish groups have expressed their concern that the Trump administration has yet to name an anti-Semitism monitor.