Judge won’t drop charges against Baltimore brothers

A Baltimore judge will not drop the charges against two Jewish brothers accused of beating a black teenager.

Judge Pamela White on Tuesday denied the motion to drop the charges against Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim, according to The Associated Press.

The brothers have pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon in the alleged beating of Corey Ausby in November 2010. They face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all three counts.

At the time of the incident, Eliyahu, now 24, was a member of the Jewish neighborhood watch group Shomrim. Avi is now 21.

On April 26, White also denied a separate motion filed on behalf of Ausby to drop the charges.

“It was not your decision whether to bring charges against the defendants, it’s the state’s decision,” she told the teen, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The Sun reported that Ausby said on the stand, “I been wanting to drop the charges all the time, I didn’t even want to go through [this].”

Israel in Wonderland

These days, I feel a little like Alice falling down a deep dark hole and landing in a world turned so upside down that right is wrong and wrong is everywhere.

Just when you think it
can’t be any more topsy-turvy in Israel than it already is, the president addresses the nation with nonsensical shrieks and accusations in a parody of leadership so bizarre that you wonder whether the Jewish state has turned into Wonderland.

Even in a country accustomed to shocking news, a culture permeated with ad hominem attacks, even for us Israelis, this was beyond belief. The man ostensibly safeguarding Israel’s moral authority is defending himself against charges of rape and sexual harassment, and trying to bring down the whole house of cards — the legal, security, political and media establishment — with him.

Transformed before our very eyes from mediocre president to raving megalomaniac, from small town mayor to Mad Hatter, Moshe Katsav tried to thrust the entire nation into an alternate reality.

The first casualty of the Katsav rampage was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose address to the Herzliya Conference was unexpectedly and completely upstaged by the nearly hour-long tirade. Scheduled to conclude a four-day gathering devoted to exploring Israel’s national strength, security and diplomatic horizons, Olmert, himself under investigation for unlawful influence in the sale of Bank Leumi, chose to speak about Iran and thus avoid mention of the more problematic areas related to his performance, namely the war in Lebanon or the peace process.

Olmert’s focus fit in well with the overall tone of the conference — the clanging of alarm bells for our national and Jewish future. From raging anti-Semitism in Europe to the threat of genocide from Iran, speaker after speaker warned that today we Jews are living in a watershed period, one of the most dangerous times in our history. With his declaration, “Anyone who threatens us, who threatens our existence, must know that we have the determination and capability to defend ourselves, to respond with force, with discretion and with all the means at our disposal as necessary,” the prime minister made clear that this time our muscles are flexed.

“I do not suggest anyone err and conclude that the restraint and responsibility that we are displaying will affect our determination and our ability to act when this is required,” he cautioned.

But for the man or woman in the street, Iran is a long-term problem, a strategic horizon, a geopolitical issue. Of greater immediate concern are the scandals at home. Temporarily titillated though they may have been by the president’s surreal performance on live TV, Israelis came away with a new dose of demoralization.

A modest list of some of the other figures currently under investigation includes not only Olmert, but Finance Minister Hirschson, Justice Minister Ramon, head of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi, and top officials of the Israel Tax Authority. And then there’s the hard-working Winograd Committee, which will eventually tell the public which leaders are to blame for last summer’s botched war in Lebanon.

Small wonder, then, that a new survey on patriotism presented to the Herzliya conference by professor Ephraim Yaar of Tel Aviv University indicated a significant erosion of public confidence. While patriotism is an abstract category, Yaar’s reasonable assumption was that “the strength of the state cannot be assessed without addressing the patriotic component of its citizens.”

The good news in his report was that despite the difficult events of the past year and a half, including both the war in Lebanon and disengagement, “not only did the degree of patriotism of the Jewish public not weaken, the emotional affinity to the state even strengthened.”

But, he continued, “the bad message is that an unprecedented decline was measured in regard to the public’s confidence in the government and the Knesset. Moreover, there is a steep decline in the confidence in the defense forces, which have always enjoyed a high level of support.”

Noting that there is a contradiction between the high assessment of the steadfastness of the civilian population and the low estimation of the leadership, Yaar explained: “The public draws a line between the society and the state, especially the leadership. The public says — we are patriotic, we love our country, don’t get us involved in your failures, and we need to rectify the situation.”

Indeed, more than 80 percent of the Jewish public is proud to be Israeli and more than 90 percent of Israelis are ready to fight for their country. The IDF, traditionally a chief source of pride, is now in third place in the public’s estimation, following Israel’s scientific and technological accomplishments, and artistic and cultural achievements. In 2005, 88 percent of the population was proud of the IDF; in 2006 it dropped to 64 percent. In last place, in the public’s view, are government institutions and the Knesset.

There are practical consequences to these shifts in opinion. Following the resignations of Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch and Major Gen. Udi Adam, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz resigned two weeks ago, and Major Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, former head of the Northern Command and deputy chief of staff, was confirmed this week as his replacement. President Katsav was temporarily relieved of his duties and the race to succeed him is well underway. Tax Authority officials were placed under house arrest, banned from re-entering their offices. And, finally, there is a petition to the Supreme Court to publicize the Winograd hearings so that this entire sorry mess can be made public, play-by-play.

Meanwhile, the country is at a standstill. With everybody fighting indictments and facing commissions of inquiry, we have a right to ask who is worrying about the vital matters of state. The suicide bomber that killed three people in an Eilat bakery this week reminds us that even when quiet abounds for nine months, we cannot begin to pretend that the conflict has been resolved. Peace requires courageous leadership and vision, focus and dedication. In this time of deep national crisis, when the external threats are indeed enormous and when terror has once again burst into our reality, we are suffering what Yaar calls a critical “breach in confidence.”

It may well be that the corruption from within is more terrifying than the enemy from without. The time has certainly come for the country to regain its balance, rehabilitate moral and legal boundaries, and set a new political table, tea cups and all.

Roberta Fahn Schoffman heads Mindset Media and Strategic Consulting. This essay originally appeared at Whitefire Theatre

Jewish Groups Stay Silent on Union Vote

A showdown between Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and hundreds of its registered nurses over unionizaton will come to head after three days of balloting ending Friday, Dec. 13.

The hospital has strongly opposed the registered nurses push to be represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA) which represents 45,000 nurses at 150 hospitals in the state. According to observers, upwards of half of the 1,500 registered nurses eligible to take part in the vote may side with the hospital. Both sides have assailed each other in the days leading up to the vote.

The nurses have accused the medical center of illegal activities, while the hospital has said the nurses’ actions have disrupted patient care.

The medical center, which marked its 100th anniversary this year, was founded by the Los Angeles Jewish community to treat Jewish tuberculosis patients. It is now the largest nonprofit hospital in the West. It receives much of its funding from Jewish foundations, individuals and organizations.

But one contingent that hasn’t weighed in on the labor dispute is liberal Jewish groups and rabbis. Their traditionally pro-labor voices have been far less than strident on behalf of the nurses.

One exception has been State Assemblyman Paul Koretz, who chairs the Assembly’s Labor Committee. Describing himself as a "longime labor supporter, and also a longtime supporter of Cedars Sinai," Koretz told The Journal that based on his information, "It appears [Cedars Sinai] may be engaging in behavior beyond the pale of accepted labor practices."

But Koretz’s voice has been almost a solitary one.

"Open almost any [Jewish] text, you will find references to the dignity of labor," said Michael Nye, president of the Jewish Labor Committee.

But, like the rest of the organized community, the JLC is not involved in the Cedars-Sinai debate. The lack of involvement is a source of some wonder to the pro-union nurses, but completely understandable to others. The fact that many nurses oppose unionization has dampened support for those in favor of it. In addition, Cedars Sinai’s positive reputation among Jews makes painting it as a villain a tough sell.

"The fact is at any other hospital the kinds of allegations we’re hearing would be frustrating," said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. "I believe Cedars Sinai has benefitted from the fact that people in the community think of it as our community hospital. But I understand [Cedars] might be frustrated to be held to account for that reason. "

Skokatch sent a letter to Cedars Sinai officials inquiring about the nurses’ complaints. He did not hear back, and said he has not followed up.

The unionization campaign began in September, when Cedars-Sinai nurses voted to schedule the election, which will be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. CNA community organizer Joe Newlin said 65 percent of the nurses voted in favor of the election.

Linda Burnes Bolton, Cedars-Sinai vice president for nursing, told The Journal, "The most important thing is to have an organization that upholds the professional practice of nursing. Having someone come in the middle of that interferes with the quality of our nursing practice."

The hospital has hired independent consultants to conduct an informational campaign to persuade nurses to vote against the union. As part of the consultants’ campaign, nurses have been required to attend two one-hour informational sessions, one on wages and benefits and the other on the National Labor Relations Act.

The CNA views the informational meetings as pressure tactics. Carin Morin, a former Cedars-Sinai nurse who is helping CNA organize the medical center, told The Journal, "So many of the nurses are afraid to speak out. I’m a nurse, I’m a Jew, and there are a lot of disturbing aspects of this for me."

Jeanne Flores, Cedars-Sinai senior vice president for human resources and organizational development, denied the charges, saying, "We conducted voluntary meetings. In the course of conducting those, it became clear that a lot of the nurses did not understand the wages and benefits available, and there was some confusion about the National Labor Relations Act." The mandatory meetings were then held to address those issues, Flores said.

This week’s vote will not be the first time nurses at Cedars-Sinai have attempted to unionize. In 1983, Service Employees International Union led an effort to organize all of the hospital’s nurses, rather than just the more highly trained RNs. The effort failed.

Rabbi Allen Freehling, who was then senior rabbi at University Synagogue, recalled that during the 1983 union campaign, "a number of us [rabbis] who are community activists went to the hospital to learn from both sides….The administrators at that time told us that Cedars-Sinai was not a Jewish medical center and asked us to back away from the issue."

Freehling, who now serves as executive director of the city Human Relations Commission, attended a meeting of the nurses organizing with CNA in November and heard their grievances, but had not yet spoken with hospital administrators.

Flores, the hospital’s senior vice president for human resources and organizational development, said Cedars-Sinai had not heard or sought comments from Jewish community representatives on the issue.

A ‘Barbaric’ Act

Was Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl killed because he was Jewish?.

Several veteran foreign correspondents say all American journalists, regardless of religion, face the same danger in overseas trouble spots — although they agree that religion is an issue, both for their editors and their subjects.

An American who also had Israeli citizenship through his parents, Pearl was abducted in Karachi, Pakistan, on Jan. 23 by Pakistani militants. They accused him first of working for the CIA and then of being a Mossad agent.

Videotapes of Pearl’s execution, obtained by government officials Feb. 21, reportedly show him declaring his Jewish heritage in his last words.

According to a CNN report, Pearl appears on the videotape and says, "My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American. My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am a Jew." He then spoke of many family visits to Israel and said that a street in a town in Israel was named after his great-grandfather, who was one of the founders of the town.

The video then shows Pearl being brutally murdered.

On Feb. 21, one of Pearl’s alleged captors said through his lawyer that Pearl was abducted and killed for being "anti-Islam and a Jew."

Leaders from around the world expressed their revulsion and condolences.

"His murder is an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything Danny’s kidnappers claimed to believe in," said Paul Steiger, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. "They claimed to be Pakistani nationalists, but their actions must surely bring shame to all true Pakistani patriots."

Pearl was the paper’s South Asian bureau chief, based in Bombay, India.

Pearl’s mother and father, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, came to the United States from Israel in the 1950s. They both have dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

In addition to his parents, Pearl is survived by a wife, who is pregnant with their first child.

Pearl’s death raises questions about the safety of all journalists in violent parts of the world, but the fact that he may have been targeted because of his religion is of particular note.

Tim Weiner, a New York Times reporter based in Mexico City, has made many trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan as a journalist. He said he believes Pearl’s Jewishness was secondary for his captors.

"I think this is primarily an act of hatred against the United States and the West, rather than Muslim against Jew," said Weiner, who knew Pearl personally.

Weiner said that when the subject of religion came up during his interviews in the region, the reaction generally was positive. He cited an incident in 1994, when he was interviewing a provincial governor and Islamic militant, Abdullah Jan, who asked if Weiner was Muslim.

"He was the typical old-fashioned warlord type, with a 2-foot-long turban and a beard down to his short ribs," Weiner recalled.

When he responded that he was not Muslim, Jan asked whether Weiner was Christian. Again, Weiner said no.

"You must be Jewish," Jan then said.

"He raised up his right hand with his palm toward me, as if he was taking an oath in court," Weiner said. "And he said, ‘All men are brothers, all children of Ibrahim. As long as you are a brother of the book, you’re OK with me.’ "

Weiner says he does not believe that Pearl was targeted because he was Jewish.

"I think that this little group of demonstrative and crazy people found it useful for their own twisted propaganda purposes to make an issue or try and make headlines out of his religion," he said.

Glen Frankel, editor of The Washington Post Magazine, said assigning a Jewish journalist to an area like Pakistan is a Catch-22. Before sending someone to the region, editors would discuss the factor of religion — yet they also would be wary of preventing a reporter from working in a certain region just because of his faith.

"I would think about it, but I would also feel a responsibility to cover events," said Frankel, who has been stationed in the Middle East, southern Africa and Europe. "I would go to Pakistan, but I would also be as careful as possible" — as, he added, Pearl probably was.

American Jewish groups reacted harshly to Pearl’s murder, calling it an example of extreme Muslim fundamentalism.

"He was a reporter, merely doing his job, who fell victim to the insanity of Islamic fundamentalism that targeted him merely because he was an American and a Jew," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "It was the same hate and fanaticism that brought down the World Trade Center."

Ironically, friends and colleagues describe Pearl as someone curious about Islam and eager to tell the stories of extremists.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he did not believe that Jewish journalists are more at risk than other American journalists.

"I don’t see any patterns that Jewish journalists are being targeted," Foxman said. Pearl "was targeted first and foremost because he was an American."

But, Foxman added, the level of hate is increasing in that region, and anti-Semitic dimensions are being seen in conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia.

President Bush, who was traveling in China when he learned of Pearl’s death, said: "Those who would threaten Americans, those who would engage in criminal, barbaric acts, need to know that these crimes only hurt their cause and only deepen the resolve of the United States of America to rid the world of these agents of terror.

"May God bless Daniel Pearl," he added.

Writer Accused of Mossad Ties

Israeli officials are angrily dismissing claims that the Wall Street Journal reporter abducted in Pakistan works for the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service.

The presumed Pakistani kidnappers of Daniel Pearl said Wednesday they would kill him within 24 hours because they believe he is affiliated with the Mossad.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, called the claims “ridiculous,” “rubbish” and “totally unfounded.”

“There are some people who will say that Israel and the Jews are behind every calamity,” he said.

E-mails sent from men claiming to be holding Pearl since last week previously accused the journalist of working for the CIA.

“We have interrogated Mr. D. Pearl and have come to the conclusion that contrary to what we thought earlier, he is not working for the CIA,” the kidnappers wrote in an e-mail sent Wednesday to Western and Pakistani news organizations. “In fact, he is working for Mossad, therefore we will execute him within 24 hours unless America fulfills our demands.”

Included in the message was a warning for other American journalists to leave Pakistan within three days or become a target.

They are threatening to kill Pearl unless their demands, including the freeing of all Pakistani detainees held by the United States in connection with the war against terrorism, are met.

The e-mails have been sent along with pictures of Pearl, and the threats are being taken seriously. The group calls itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.

State Department officials said they have been working with Pakistani authorities to try to obtain Pearl’s release.

On Wednesday, Pakistan officials said they had arrested Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani, the leader of a small Muslim fundamentalist group whom Pearl was apparently attempting to interview.

The White House on Wednesday said it had no new information on Pearl.

American Jewish officials are reluctant to comment on Pearl, worried that any statements might further endanger him.

“It’s easy to scapegoat and rally people behind that charge,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Once you accuse him of being a CIA agent, the American government knows he is or he isn’t,” said Hoenlein, who knows Pearl.

“Once you accuse him of being a Mossad agent, it’s their word against Israel’s denial.”

Jewish officials originally believed that Pearl’s capture was unrelated to the fact that he is Jewish, until his captors tried to link him to Mossad.

“It’s part of the same sick conspiratorial lunacy that blames Mossad and Israel for the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“We hope and pray that rational minds will prevail and see the wrong of their assumptions, and that he will walk out of there in safety.”

Gilani reportedly had ties to Richard Reid, the man accused of attempting to ignite an explosive device in his shoe aboard an American airplane last month.

Pearl, 38, is the paper’s South Asian correspondent and lives in Karachi with his wife, Mariane, a French freelance journalist who is six months pregnant.

In a prepared statement released this week, the Wall Street Journal said Pearl was a U.S. citizen born in the United States, has been a working journalist all of his adult life and is not an agent of any government or agency.

“His writing has always been respectful of Islam and the people of Pakistan,” the paper’s statement said.

The Wall Street Journal’s managing editor has sent an e-mail to the same address the kidnappers are using, pleading for his safe return.

Pearl, who was born in Princeton, N.J., has been working for the Wall Street Journal since November 1990, where he started covering transportation and telecommunications in the Atlanta and Washington bureaus.

He moved to the Wall Street Journal’s London bureau in 1996 to write about the Middle East. Three years later he moved to Paris, where he continued to write about the Middle East, and then moved to the paper’s Bombay bureau in December 2000.

Two days before he was abducted, Pearl co-wrote a piece with another Wall Street Journal reporter about Pakistan removing Islamic groups from the disputed region of Kashmir, the area claimed by both India and Pakistan.

In a Jan. 28 article, the Wall Street Journal said Pearl is “experienced working in dangerous places and is known among his colleagues for his cautious approach to reporting and concern for safety.”

Pearl drew up safety guidelines for the paper’s overseas staff and encouraged other reporters to check in repeatedly with editors.

JTA correspondent Sharon Samber in Washington and JTA staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.

Demonstrating Support

After an appeal by Iran’s chief rabbi, the Iranian judiciary has announced it will allow 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel and America to hire their own lawyers, said an American Jewish leader.

The 13 will also get a few extra days to prepare their case, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Previously, the “Iran 13” — who could be sentenced to death — had been represented by lawyers appointed by the Islamic fundamentalist-controlled judiciary. The trial had been scheduled for April 13, but now will likely be held April 18, Hoenlein said Wednesday.

Yet despite the Iranian concessions, Hoenlein said, American Jewish organizations will go ahead with a flurry of high-profile activities aimed at both highlighting the plight of the prisoners and pressuring Tehran to end the entire yearlong ordeal.

“Our goal is their freedom, not just a solution to the lawyer question,” Hoenlein said.

Iranian officials have indicated that the trial will be a one-day affair. If that’s the case, the Jewish advocates will press Iran to release the prisoners on bail, regardless of the verdict, so they can return to their homes for Passover, which begins the evening of April 19.

It’s unclear what prompted Tehran’s change of mind.

Aside from the international outcry the arrests have provoked, some in the United States suspect that Iran did not want the trial to coincide with the beginning of the Islamic month of Moharram. The month commemorates the martyrdom of the prophets Hossein and Hassan.

Some Shi’ites, to express their grief, take to the streets with chains, knives and machetes, publicly inflicting harm on themselves. Out of respect, Iranian Jews and Christians generally stay indoors. Observers suggest the government may have found it in its best interests not to inflame passions on the streets with the trial of alleged “Zionist spies.”

Both Israel and the United States vehemently deny the charges against the Iranian Jews, most of them communal or religious leaders from the southern cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.

Now, even with their own lawyers, the prospects for a fair trial seem more remote than ever. The hard-line clerics who control Iran’s courts appear likely to renege on earlier promises to permit media and foreign observers to monitor the court proceedings.

Until now, U.S. advocates have pursued quiet diplomacy, marshaling support from many governments and human rights groups to release the detainees — or at least to ensure a fair trial.

But having seen little progress, the advocates are now taking a more high-profile approach.

On the diplomatic front, Hoenlein said he expects the U.S. Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution that will denounce Iran for its detention of the Jews.

Governments around the world are being asked to pass similar resolutions, he added, while various leaders — including some from Arab and Muslim countries — have indicated they will step up efforts to pressure Tehran.

At the grass-roots level, vigils, but not street demonstrations, are being planned at various locations in the United States, said Hoenlein,.

Nationwide, rabbis across the religious spectrum have agreed to recite special prayers this weekend. In Los Angeles, the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations will hold a special commemoration on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrests of 10 of the Iran 13.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, chastised the Iranian government. “None of the aspects of this case are being handled in accordance with Iranian law, let alone international standards,” he said. “This is not an issue we can compromise on.” On Wednesday, Kermanian joined officials at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in urging Jews around the world to offer a misheberakh, or blessing of healing, for the imprisoned Jews as they go to trial.

The Jews were reportedly arrested along with eight Muslim men. But none of the 21 has been formally charged, which also violates Iranian law, says Pooya Dayanim, the council’s spokesman and himself a lawyer.

“Basically, these Jews are hostages,” said Dayanim. “Iran may feel the longer it delays the trial, the less it will be internationalized and hurt them. Our job is to remind them that the world community still cares about these people.”

The Jews are all community or religious leaders — except for a 16-year- old boy who is one of three now out on bail.

Their arrest was believed to be part of a political battle between Iran’s hard-line revolutionaries and reformists behind Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

American observers had hoped that the resounding victory of Iran’s reformists in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections would bode well for the Jewish prisoners.

If anything, however, their situation has worsened, said Hoenlein.

“All the things we’d been promised and thought would come true, just the opposite has happened,” he said.

“The mythology of Khatami being a reformer is just that — mythology. So far, he has not shown himself to be any different from the others. If he’s in control, the buck stops with him and he’s responsible for this situation. If he’s not in control, why are we dealing with him and making concessions?”