Community Briefs

Wiesenthal Delegation Asks Pope to CondemnTerror

In a 40-minute private audience Monday, Dec. 1 with Pope John Paul II, a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation appealed to the pontiff to condemn suicide bombings and international terrorism as “crimes against God and crimes against humanity.”

The pope did not respond immediately, but Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said he was encouraged by the pope’s attitude and by a prior conversation with the pope’s aide, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford.

Despite his infirmities, the pope was alert and responsive throughout the meeting.

“His mind was crystal clear, and when I mentioned his youthful days in Poland when he played goalie on a Jewish soccer team, the pope added some of his own reminiscences,” Hier said in a phone call from the Vatican.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, attended the meeting and said, “We hope to leverage the moral voice of the pope to reach other countries, who have found time to repeatedly denounce Israel, but not the perpetrators and sponsors who commit mass murders of innocent civilians.”

Hier also expressed his grave concern about “the proliferation of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world,” citing specific examples.

“Your words are needed now more than ever,” Hier appealed to the pope.

When the delegation showed the pope architect Frank Gehry’s rendering of the Wiesenthal Center’s future Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, the pope took off his ring and placed it on the drawing. The gesture, the pope’s aides told Hier, represented a papal blessing of the project.

At the end of the audience, Hier presented the pope with the Wiesenthal Center Humanitarian Award, in the form of a tall menorah, in recognition of the pontiff’s “lifelong friendship to the Jewish people,” commitment to world peace, and fostering of tolerance among all people.

The Wiesenthal Center is launching a “major international campaign,” said Cooper, to have suicide bombings defined as crimes against humanity.

Participating in the audience, held in the same room in which the pope received President and Mrs. Bush, were Wiesenthal Center trustees Ira Lipman and Roland Arnell, accompanied by wife, Dann, and Dr. Shimon Samuels, the center’s international liaison. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

The Morality of a Suicide Bomber

Going after suicide bombers is like “chasing the bullet” rather than “stopping the gun,” said Dr. Anat Berko, about her thesis on the moral judgment of bomb dispatchers. Berko, a research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya was brought to Los Angeles last month by the American Jewish Committee, and presented her findings around the country.

Berko, a member of Israel’s governmental team dealing with counterterrorism in the Israel Defense Forces as well as in the Israeli Council for National Security, visited Israeli prisons and interviewed Palestinian dispatchers — those in charge of sending out the actual suicide bombers — because she believes that dispatchers are the ones who control the bombings.

“Without them nothing can be done,” she said. “A suicide bomber cannot do it without the dispatcher.”

Berko performed a unique study comparing dispatchers to regular criminals, such as murderers and burglars, in which she first interviewed both groups and asked them about the moral implications of their actions, and then she discussed their personal lives with them, reviewing their families, their motivations, etc.

After speaking with individuals in both groups about their own lives, she then revisited their crimes — dispatching suicide bombs/murder/shoplifting — and found that the dispatchers changed and exhibited more sympathy toward their victims.

The dispatchers’ modular morality — soft when it came to their own families yet harsher when it came to Israelis — convinced Berko that it is possible to influence terrorists by shattering the divide between “them” and “us.”

“We can speak to their mothers, to the women, to the families, via radio and TV,” Burko said, in order to influence the dispatchers and bombers to view Israelis as human.

Another interesting fact she found is that, “Dispatchers don’t send their own children as suicide bombers.” — Amy Klein, Managing Editor

Israel Terror Victims VisitWashington

For the second time, the Southern California Jewish Center (SCJC) has bought Israeli victims of terror to the United States.

The SCJC-sponsored visit by 23 victims includes the Shabo family, who suffered the loss of their mother and three sons after a terrorist broke into their house and started shooting, and the Anter family, who took a vacation in Kenya with three children and came back only with one after terrorists bombed their hotel.

The terror victims visited Washington, D.C., where they visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, met with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and White House and Pentagon officials, who gave them a tour of the Sept. 11 crash site.

The group then traveled to New York where they toured Ground Zero, and then they traveled back to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, the terror victims visited the CBS sets of “The King of Queens,” as guests of actress Leah Remini, and “The Young and the Restless,” as guests of actor Eric Braden. They also traveled to Ojai to visit the Equine Sanctuary of Ojai, where they fed horses suffering from injuries.

Rabbi Shimon Kashani, director of the SCJC, who organized the visit with his wife, Vered, said that the purpose of the visit was to put a human face on terror. — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer