Major Villaraigosa going to Israel, AJ Committee Asian Pacific outreach

Mayor Villaraigosa Plans Trip to Israel

Antonio Villaraigosa, who twice visited Israel as a member of the California Assembly, will lead his first trip to the Jewish state next month as mayor of Los Angeles.

“This is something he wanted to do,” spokesman Jonathan Powell said. “Especially surrounding Israel’s 60th anniversary and everything that is happening in Sderot, this is just the right time to go.”

Villaraigosa has worked hard to establish a relationship with L.A. Jewry and has extended those efforts to Israel, rallying in front of 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the home of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and occasionally speaking by phone with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and raising money for after-school programs at the Consulate General’s “Live for Sderot” concert. The mayor is expected to dedicate a new computer room in that city, which continues to be shelled daily by Qassams from Gaza, though for security reasons Powell would not confirm this plan.

Villaraigosa’s delegation, which is scheduled to visit Israel June 11-18, will include City Councilmen Jack Weiss and Dennis Zine; Department of Water and Power CEO and general manager David Nahai; and Alan Rothenberg, president of the Los Angeles World Airports Commission. The group is scheduled to meet with the most prominent Israeli politicians — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, to name a few.

The focus of the trip is counterterrorism and green technology, and the Angelenos hope to bring back strategies to improve Los Angeles’ homeland security and environmental sustainability, particularly water conservation. In March, the mayor’s office participated in a “green exchange” that, through The Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, brought about a dozen Israeli environmental leaders here. With similar climates and lack of available water, Los Angeles and Israel have a lot in common environmentally.

They also both have seriously toxic rivers, and Villaraigosa is scheduled to participate in the signing of a “sister river agreement” to restore both the Los Angeles River and the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

American Jewish Committee Reaches Out to Asian Pacific Leaders

When Chinese officials tell James Busis that Jews are shrewd businessmen and control the American economy and government, it’s not anti-Semitism but a heartfelt compliment.

But this naive view can backfire, as when the Chinese blame “Jewish control” of the Federal Reserve Board for U.S. pressure to raise the value of the yuan against the dollar to narrow the trade imbalance between the two countries.

The same belief in Jewish power, with its mixture of awe and resentment, prevails in Japan, Korea and much of Asia, says Busis, who last year became director of the Washington-based Asian Pacific Institute of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

A native of Pittsburgh and long active in its Jewish community, Busis, 52, came to the job with an extensive background as an American business executive in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore.

He believes that this kind of experience is vital to an understanding of his “territory,” which encompasses most of eastern Asia, India, the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand.

“We’re approaching the Asian century, when the region’s dominant economic power will be followed by political and military influence,” he said during a visit to Los Angeles. “These developments will impact all other countries, including Israel.”

In contrast to dealing with Europe and the Middle East, eastern Asia comes without the baggage of traditional anti-Semitism, despite a larger concentration of Muslims in the region than in the Middle East.

There was a rash of anti-Semitic publications and comic books in the 1980s and ’90s, particularly in Japan, but this “fad,” fed by complete ignorance of Judaism, has largely disappeared, said Neil Sandberg, the AJC’s veteran Asia expert and a consultant to the institute.

Sandberg also encountered the delusional Asian estimate of Jewish clout, and a concomitant conviction that he, as representative of an influential Jewish organization, could dictate American policy.

When Sandberg demurred that American Jews weren’t all that powerful, his listeners smiled politely while remaining unconvinced.

Busis points to three segments of Asian society with their different views of the West.

  • The large Muslim population, which listens to Al Jazeera and is influenced by the attitudes of its Middle Eastern co-religionists, tends to be anti-Israel and suspicious of the United States.
  • A modern business-oriented class, which is generally pro-Western and eager to trade with America. Its members admire President Bush for his free trade policy and access to American markets.
  • A conservative segment that identifies with the Third World, especially in India, still bears resentment toward its former colonial masters, and is suspicious of the United States and Israel.

Although AJC’s main overseas activity is still oriented toward Europe, with several offices there, it has one Asian office in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). The organization is increasingly cultivating Asian opinion leaders.

Under AJC’s long-running Project Interchange program, the Asia Pacific Institute took two groups to Israel last year.

One was for Indian Muslim leaders, who participated in a weeklong educational seminar, the second for a delegation of Indonesian journalists.

AJC’s outreach to the Orient has been funded mainly by Pacific-oriented Jewish businessmen in Los Angeles, but New Yorker Marvin Kimmel recently signed a check for $2.5 million in support of the Asia Pacific Institute.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor