Like any parent, Esther Kandel is crazy about her kids. For years, she has led the typical Jewish parenting life: PTA meetings, carpooling, after-school activities, nightly homework and dinner with the kids, preparing for Shabbat and holidays, and so on.
But behind this normal life, she has led another, more mysterious life that few people know about — one that includes, among other things, going undercover as a spy to expose radical Islamic elements.
Back in 2002, when the Second Intifada was raging, she would regularly put on a hijab and attend Islamic conferences all over Southern California. She was there to document the hateful venom that often permeated these events, reporting her findings to private investigators of radical Islam in America.
Her obsession with fighting the evil of terrorism, she says, started on a Tuesday morning at the Cleveland airport. The date was Sept. 11, 2001. As she headed for her gate, she remembers seeing a security guard running at full speed toward her and screaming: “Everybody evacuate, the airplane’s coming this way!”
It was a false alarm for Cleveland, of course, but not for New York or Washington, and the events of that day left a mark on Kandel that still fires her warrior instincts.
One of her first battles was in the winter of 2002, when she saw a report on honestreporting.com about a fake Palestinian funeral filmed by the IDF, which showed a “dead” Palestinian body that kept falling off the stretcher and getting back on — an obvious hoax.
Outraged, she got a copy of the videotape and spent hours on the phone with news producers trying to convince them to air it. Eventually, she got it on MSNBC, where Alan Keyes used the footage to illustrate, in his words, “the issue of Palestinian credibility in the wake of increasing indications that the claims of hundreds of dead and Nazi-style atrocities were greatly exaggerated, abused for propaganda purposes to achieve a political result.”
Kandel was just getting warmed up.
Since then, in between PTA meetings and carpooling, she has continued her Batman-like escapades into the murky world of radical Islam and made a nuisance of herself any time she saw fit, even with members of her own tribe.
At a November 2007 conference in New York titled: “Hijacking Human Rights: The Demonization of Israel at the United Nations,” sponsored by the Hudson Institute and two Jewish organizations, she stood up and publicly took to task Ambassador Daniel Carmon, Israel’s deputy permanent envoy to the United Nations, who had lauded the work of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) in sustaining Palestinian refugees.
Kandel, who had lobbied Capitol Hill to cut off U.S. funding for UNRWA, which she accused of massive corruption and publishing anti-Semitic textbooks, was subsequently quoted in the Jewish Week: “It doesn’t help when we are trying to educate members of Congress about the fraud and evil-doing in UNRWA to have a representative of Israel say that UNRWA is a good thing. I feel undercut and undermined by the government of Israel on this issue.”
No cause, however, has grabbed Kandel’s passion like that of 55-year-old Mithal al Alusi, who has been called the “bravest man in Iraq.”
Alusi is the secular and liberal Sunni politician who has incurred the wrath of Iraqi leaders for doing things like visiting Israel, protesting too loudly about human rights abuses and warning against the corrupting influence of Iran. After he first visited Israel in 2004 — and made a star turn at a counterterrorism conference — he was stripped of his bodyguards and his position in the transition government.
Kandel quickly heard about his situation and got in touch with Alusi, who sent her an e-mail saying he feared he would be thrown in jail or killed by terrorists. She tried to help, but all the doors were closed. Shortly thereafter, Alusi’s two boys were brutally murdered. Undeterred, he told the Los Angeles Times: “They were stupid to think that by killing my sons they would make me soft.”
Fired up by the boys’ murders, Kandel spent several months flying back and forth to Israel and Washington, lobbying members of Congress to move Alusi to the safer Green Zone in Baghdad. She and Alusi, who flew to Washington, met with a motley crew of sympathizers — including people like David Frum, Christopher Hitchens, New York Sun journalist Eli Lake and Iraqi blogger Nibras Kazimi — and eventually hit pay dirt when the late Congressman Tom Lantos, himself a fervent Zionist and Holocaust survivor, took up the cause.
In May 2005, Alusi and his wife were moved into the safety of the Green Zone, along with his 70 bodyguards.
But now he is in danger again, because earlier this year he had the chutzpah to attend another conference in Israel. He was immediately stripped of his parliamentary immunity and, Kandel says, is at risk of being tried for treason.
When I spoke to Alusi a few weeks ago by phone from Baghdad, he seemed to feel he had more important things on his plate than his own survival. He desperately wants the world to know the extent to which Iran has infiltrated the Iraqi government.
“Almost everyone’s corrupt,” he told me. “Half of the Parliament is working for the Iranians or the terrorists, and the other half is distracted by money.”
So while Alusi fights to get his important message out, Kandel and her allies are fighting to get him justice and protection so he can continue his fight.
It’s not clear where this Pico-Robertson mother gets her unrelenting passion to defend a Mesopotamian man most of us have never heard of, or, for that matter, where she gets the energy to make 100 calls in one afternoon in support of one cause or another.
This, however, is clear: With two daughters in college and a son already in high school, this carpool mom will soon have a lot more time to play warrior mom — a pleasant thought for victims everywhere.
David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.