Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), accompanied by children with preexisting conditions covered under the Affordable Care Act, speaks at a press conference about the Senate health care bill. July 12, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/REUTERS.

Disability advocates helped save ACA

During the recent health care insurance fight in Congress, public attention was tightly focused on the early morning cliffhanger on the Senate floor with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) dramatically voting against the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, but many people didn’t realize that disability advocates also played a key role in rolling back the efforts to repeal the ACA.

One of the more searing images from the monthslong “repeal and replace” efforts in the House and Senate was a video of protestors from the disability rights group ADAPT, many in wheelchairs, outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office chanting “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberties” as they were physically lifted and removed by the Capitol police. ADAPT is a grass-roots disability rights organization that started in 1974 in Denver to get wheelchair accessible lifts on buses. Since then, the group has created 30 chapters across the country and broadened its mission to advocate for community support for people who have disabilities so they can live outside of assisted-care facilities and other institutional centers.

Joined by Disability Action for America, a political action committee, along with many other disability and patient organizations, hundreds of advocates descended on Washington, D.C., over the past few months at their own expense, many with severe physical and medical challenges. They engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and held vigils, waiting for marathon meetings to end and staying up for middle-of-the-night votes even if it meant sleeping in their wheelchairs.

Parents from across the political spectrum who have children with chronic diseases and disabilities also jumped into the fray, speaking out against the proposed changes to the ACA on social media and in phone calls, meetings and town halls with their congressional representatives. Of utmost concern were the proposed cuts to Medicaid — a crucial lifeline for the poor, elderly and people with disabilities — not only for medical treatments and prescription drugs, but also for a long list of other ancillary services such as in-home care, special education-related programs in public schools and durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs. Mental health advocates worried that therapy and treatments now covered by Medicaid would be curtailed, reduced or even eliminated in sparsely populated regions if Medicaid became a “block grant,” as proposed in the House-approved version of the health care bill.

Families who rely on the ACA were also spurred into action. A June 28 Time magazine article featured Ali Chandra, a former pediatric nurse in New Jersey who has a son, now 2, born with a rare health condition that included nine heart defects, two left lungs and five spleens. Before the 2016 campaign she wasn’t even registered to vote, but after the health care debate started in the House, she became an outspoken advocate to save one of the key elements of the ACA — a ban on lifetime limits for insurance payouts.

Before the ACA became law, many plans set limits on what they would spend for covered benefits during the entire time a person was enrolled in that plan, such as a $1 million maximum. Patients were required to pay the cost of all care exceeding those limits, which often forced them into bankruptcy. And to make her point that lifetime limits could be reached all too soon, Chandra tweeted a photo of her son’s medical bill from his most recent heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital with a total cost of close to $250,000. Her insurance carrier paid for all but $500 of that operation and recovery.

“We’re the ones who make sure they get their meds on time, we hold them down for painful procedures and comfort them afterward: The only thing we know how to do is fight,” Chandra told Time magazine. “We’ve been fighting since the moment we heard our kid’s diagnosis, since the moment they were born. This is just a regular day for us.”

Even rock star Rod Stewart, 72, got into the act, donating $30,000 to Trach Mommas of Louisiana, a Baton Rouge group supporting children with severe disabilities, to travel to Washington, D.C., in July to protest potential cuts to Medicaid. Stewart said that, as a father of eight, he felt compelled to help after seeing a CNN news story on the group’s need for funds to make the trip.

As a parent and advocate, I was glued to the ongoing media coverage and the daily, sometimes hourly, breaking news. Would the ban on pre-existing conditions stay? How deep would the Medicaid cuts go? Would the GOP-controlled Congress take away health insurance from the poorest and sickest among us to give the wealthy a tax break?

And even with McCain’s decisive vote, who knows what will happen next week or next month?

Disability advocates and their allies would be wise to remember what our tradition teaches us from Pirkei Avot 2:21 (Ethics of the Fathers): “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

MICHELLE K. WOLF is a special needs parent activist and nonprofit professional. She is the founding executive director of the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust. Visit her Jews and Special Needs blog at

Progressive Jews convene in Latin America to debate democracy as a Jewish value

Hundreds of Jewish activists from several countries are meeting in Brazil for the biennial congress of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, one of the world’s largest Jewish organizations.

Rabbis, spiritual leaders, cantors, scholars, teachers, volunteers and other activists from across Latin America, Israel, United States, Canada and England will attend the event’s fifth edition, titled “The Continuity of Democracy as a Jewish Value,” which will take place in Sao Paulo on June 23-25.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, who serves as Argentina’s minister of environment and sustainability, is scheduled to attend.

“The WUPJ dedicates significant resources and efforts to maintaining and growing Progressive Judaism across Latin America,” Chairman Carole Sterling told JTA. “Our last event in Rio, Connections, intended to raise awareness of and involvement in the great work taking place across congregations, in communities and by dedicated leaders across the region in general, and in Brazil in particular.”

Lectures, presentations, debates, panels, round-tables and prayers will be held at Congregacao Israelita Paulista, Brazil’s largest synagogue, with 2,000 affiliated families, and at the Hebraica club and other Jewish institutions in South America’s largest city, which is home to half of Brazil’s 120,000 Jews.

The region needs to respond to the scarcity of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Progressive rabbis able to lead and found congregations, Sterling also told JTA. The WUPJ’s local key goals also include support for Jewish liturgy translations into Portuguese, boost social action to improve the lives of the less fortunate, promote seminars, and grant Torah scrolls to new congregations and bridge communities across the world.

Raul Gottlieb, WUPJ president for Latin America, said he believes the Reform movement has an “irreplaceable role” in Judaism alongside other liberal streams.

“The congress’s theme is the continuity of democracy as a Jewish value, which is particularly important. The prosperity and even the survival of minorities depend on the guarantee that only democratic regimes can provide,” he told JTA. “As Jews, a minority in Latin America, we depend fundamentally on the enhancement of our democracies and we need to engage in this debate and task.”

With an estimated 1.8 million members in 50 countries, the WUPJ is the international umbrella organization for the various branches of Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist Judaism.

Latin America is home to some 500,000 Jews, most concentrated in Argentina and Brazil.

Malala, Satyarthi receive their Nobel Prizes for child campaigns

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban for refusing to quit school, and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi received their Nobel Peace Prizes on Wednesday after two days of celebration honoring their work for children's rights.

Malala became by far the youngest laureate, widely praised for her global campaigning since she was shot in the head on her school bus in 2012. Some groups in Pakistan, however, have accused her of being a puppet of the West and violating the tenets of conservative Islam.

“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not,” said Malala, 17, better known by her first name, which is also the title of her book and the name of her foundation.

“It is the story of many girls,” she said in Oslo's ornate city hall on the anniversary of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel's death.

Although the focus was undoubtedly on Oslo on Wednesday, Nobel Prize winners in literature, chemistry, physics, medicine and economics were gathering in Stockholm, due to receive their prizes from the King of Sweden later in the day.

Satyarthi, who is credited with saving around 80,000 children from slave labor sometimes in violent confrontations, kept a modest profile in Oslo and even conceded to being overshadowed by Malala surrounded by admirers.

“I've lost two of my colleagues,” Satyarthi said about his work. “Carrying the dead body of a colleague who is fighting for the protection of children is something I'll never forget, even as I sit here to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Arriving in Norway with friends and young activists from PakistanSyria and Nigeria, Malala met thousands of children, walked the streets to greet supporters and will open an exhibit where her blood stained dress, worn when her school bus was attacked, was put on display.

“She's very brave and tough, fighting even after the Taliban shot her in the head,” said Andrea, 12, who was among thousands of children hoping to greet Malala in downtown Oslo.

The award could also help the Norwegian Nobel Committee repair its reputation, damaged by controversial awards in recent years to the European Union and U.S. President Barack Obama.

“I am pretty certain that I am also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers,” Malala said. “I want there to be peace everywhere, but my brothers and I are still working on that.”

Activists attack contractors at Ulpana site

Activists threw rocks at contractors inspecting the Ulpana neighborhood in preparation for the evacuation of five apartment buildings there.

The inspection came as caravillas, or portable homes, were being delivered Wednesday to a military base adjacent to the community where the evacuees will be housed until their apartments are relocated. The caravillas reportedly were disguised to avoid being damaged by activists who support the neighborhood on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement.

Hours before the attack on the contractors, the rabbi of Beit El, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, called for a “decisive struggle” against the evacuation of the five apartment buildings housing 30 families. In a public letter issued Wednesday, Melamud called for “dedication and sacrifice,” and said the struggle should consist of dialogue as well as protest.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in September that the neighborhood should be razed, siding with a lawsuit filed by Palestinians who said they owned the land. A deadline of July 1 is set for the evacuation.

Israel ready to stop boats heading for Gaza

The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only “we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers.”

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a “provocation,” she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast.

Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.

The military spokesman’s office said the navy was “prepared to contact” the vessels and had “completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, after routing Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel permits humanitarian aid and supplies to reach the territory through a land crossing, and Gaza also shares a border with Egypt.

An Israeli government official told Reuters earlier that Israel “will take whatever measures will be necessary” to maintain its blockade.

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on one ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year when the activists fought them with clubs and knives as the commandos tried to seize control of the ship to enforce the blockade.

The incident badly damaged ties between Israel and Turkey, which reached a crisis point two months ago when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel rejected Turkey’s request for an apology for the flotilla deaths.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tim Pearce

Letters to the Editor: Metro, Jewish Activists, Hollywood, Bill Link

Mass Transit Conundrums

John Mirisch’s critique of L.A.’s current transit plans (“Just What Is Jewish Mass Transit?” Feb. 25) is contradictory and uninformed. On the one hand, he faults Metro’s failure to provide sufficient park-and-ride lots for the Westside subway extension. On the other hand, he decries “big brother’s stick of eminent domain.” Mirisch can’t have it both ways: If you want more parking you may have to encroach on somebody’s property, which of course is perfectly permissible under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment if the taking is compensated. As a city councilman, he should be aware of the takings clause, a long tradition in American constitutional law and urban planning. Mirisch seems to be looking for any excuse to put the brakes on transportation reform in a region that badly needs it.

Peter L. Reich
Professor of Law
Whittier Law School

Joel Epstein’s article (“All Aboard: The case for an all-pervasive Metro,” Feb. 25) misstates critical information, while attempting to slander Beverly Hills residents as NIMBYs.

He ignores, as John Mirisch points out, that Beverly Hills supported the subway from the beginning and will have two stations within its borders. But when Metro — after years promoting one alignment — switched to go beneath Beverly Hills High School, Metro awakened an entire city including every single member of the City Council and Board of Education (not just “a handful of Beverly Hills opponents,” as Epstein would have his readers believe). Is there a real risk to a school with 2,500 students and teachers that Epstein chooses to ignore? There have been four subway construction accidents in various countries using up-to-date technology during the past few years, each one of them causing buildings to collapse and people to die. When there is a completely viable alternative at Santa Monica Boulevard, which would not require tunneling under a city’s only high school and only disaster center, why not take it, especially when it would save $60 million in cost (Metro’s numbers, not mine)? And all to move the station one block from Santa Monica Boulevard to Constellation Avenue!

Ken Goldman
via e-mail

Arab Countries, Not Israel, Victimize Muslims

Rachel Roberts in her article (“Muslim Criminals, Jewish Activists?,” Feb. 18) decries that she has been called “naïve, self-hating and a traitor” — perhaps so because it is true.

Brigitte Gabriel, the Lebanese American activist who promotes understanding of the Islamist threat to the world, who, as a youth, had witnessed the horrors of Islamist radicals in her homeland, cautions parents, especially Jewish parents, to educate their children about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict before sending them off to college. If they fail to do so, they may be surprised when they return home, after a thorough indoctrination by their leftist Palestinian sympathizing professors, condemning Israel, supporting boycotts of its products, and worse. If Ms. Roberts’ parents were not negligent in this responsibility, their daughter certainly ignored their counsel.

Charles Lefkowitz
via e-mail

Let’s Hear About Jewish Accomplishments Beyond Hollywood

As a longtime reader of The Jewish Journal, I feel that you give far too much coverage to Jews in the entertainment industry. Where are the stories about Jewish artists, writers, academics, scientists, doctors and musicians, just to name a few areas, in Los Angeles? The Los Angeles Philharmonic has dozens of Jewish principal players, but your readers would never know this.

Why cannot your publication give similar coverage to, for example, Jewish doctors and scientists at UCLA, USC, Caltech or the City of Hope who are working on cures and treatments for diseases such as cancer or Alzeimer’s?

We really deserve a more balanced coverage of the interests and accomplishments of members of the Jewish community in Southern California.

Michael B. Farber
via e-mail

Bill Link Story Fascinates

Thank you so very much for the fascinating article about Bill Link — we enjoyed every word (“‘Colombo’ Creator Solves His Own Family Mystery,” Feb. 25).

Bill is a true American entertainment treasure.

We have been fortunate to know Bill and Margery for years and it was such a pleasant surprise to see Bill’s picture in The Jewish Journal.

Thanks for covering something cheerful and upbeat.

Fran Morris Rosman
via e-mail

Kaplan Rocks

Great piece (“ ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,’ ” Feb. 25)! I will take a look at your Journal for more gems.

Evelynn Culver
via e-mail

Report: U.S. citizen among dead flotilla activists

A dual American-Turkish citizen is reportedly among the activists killed by Israeli soldiers when a Gaza-bound flotilla was intercepted by Israel’s Navy.

Turkish investigators told the state-run Anatolia news agency that Furkan Dogan, 19, who has both Turkish and U.S. passports, took four bullets to the head and one to the chest in Monday’s incident.

A funeral was held for Dogan, as well as seven of the other victims, in the Faith Mosque in Istanbul, the Hurriyet News Agency reported. Hundreds of people attended the funeral, shouting anti-Israel slogans, according to the news agency.

Activists plan to disrupt Israeli embassy’s opening

Pro-Palestinian activists are mounting a campaign to disrupt the opening of the Israeli Embassy in New Zealand.

The organization No Israeli Embassy in Wellington was launched last week to oppose the opening this month of an Israeli mission in the capital for the first time since 2002.

Alastair Reith, a spokesperson for the organization, told local Australian media: “Wherever the embassy goes it’ll be a noisy neighborhood. We intend to have a frequent presence and make our objections known. We can’t make it as bad as Israel makes it for the people under military siege in Gaza, but everyone will know we will be laying protest siege to wherever they finally locate the embassy.”

“How come we are inviting Israeli diplomats here at exactly the same time the British government is expelling them?”

The Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia, has tended to diplomatic affairs in the island nation since Ruth Kahanov departed her post following budget cuts. Her successor, Shemi Tzur, 64, a former envoy to Finland, Cyprus and Estonia, is expected to arrive later this month.

A spokesman for the embassy said no date had been set yet for the opening.

In 2004, relations between Israel and New Zealand cooled after two alleged Mossad agents were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain a New Zealand passport. As a result, New Zealand suspended high-level diplomatic relations for more than a year until Israel apologized in 2005.

Bilateral relations have since thawed, helped in part by the defeat of Helen Clark and her Labor Party in 2008 elections. She was succeeded by Conservative leader John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee from Austria who has family living in Israel.

Arrested development: Young Jewish activists voluntarily go to jail in support of union rights

Sarah Leiber Church and Laura Podolsky had big plans for the evening of Sept. 28 — getting arrested.

They were part of a protest march that took place along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport aimed at hotels that allegedly have been preventing employees from unionizing. During the late afternoon, approximately 2,000 people marched down the major thoroughfare, cutting off traffic. In what has been called the largest act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles, more than 300 of those people later deliberately sat down in the street, were arrested and jailed for up to 24 hours.

Both Church and Podolsky say their Jewish heritage is an important motivation for their activism for labor rights.

“From a young age I learned there’s a really strong message [in Judaism] about the importance of standing up for justice, and the importance of being directly involved,” Podolsky said.

Both she and Church are members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a group dedicated to social justice in Los Angeles. Daniel Sokatch, executive director of PJA, estimates that the group had anywhere between 50 and 100 people present at the protest, and that about 10 of those were arrested.

One part of the PJA’s larger goal is to reexamine the meaning of “kosher” among the Jewish population of Los Angeles.

“We’re working to expand the definition of kosher for the Jewish community, to go beyond how food is prepared to how workers are treated in institutions,” said Jaime Rapaport, program director for PJA. For example, she said, “The LAX Hilton is not a kosher hotel. Their kitchen may be kosher, and they may serve kosher food, but the way they treat their workers is not kosher.”

Church, the PJA’s Bay Area program director, said the timing of the protest, during the holiest part of the year, added meaning to her participation.

“The time in the Jewish calendar was very important to me in making the decision to take the steps to risk arrest … it’s a time when you take stock of how you’ve treated people over the last year,” she said. “I can think of no better way to start off 5767 than by supporting hotel workers and hard-working immigrant families in their fight for dignity in the work place.”

The sentiment was echoed by many, including Rabbi Jason Van Leeuwen of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester,who presided over a blessing of the challah in front of the Westin Hotel — one of three blessings that took place: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. The challahs used were round, he said, “as a symbol for the cycle of the year, but also as a symbol of a message to the hotel management — what goes around comes around.”

Church said the religious service had been a highlight of the march.

“They said, ‘We give you bread for the journey,’ and passed out challahs to everyone. I remember hearing from some of the women later that the bread was just exactly what they needed, because they were feeling a little faint; they were feeling a little scared, frankly, and they said that having something to eat whether or not they were Jewish was really important to them.”

When the marching stopped, the sitting began. Those being arrested sat down on Century Boulevard — the main thoroughfare to LAX — where the police warned them that, unless they moved, they faced arrest. All wore matching shirts that read, “I am a human” in English and Spanish, echoing signs held at the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. The 300 arrested offered no resistance as officers put them in plastic handcuffs.

En route to jail they sang songs.

“I wanted to lead songs in Hebrew and teach people, but it didn’t seem like the right environment,” Church said. “But we sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and we sang ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ in English and Spanish.”

Even as they were arresting the protesters, many police seemed supportive of the action.

“I was speaking to one of them who was taking my fingerprints,” Church said, “and he said, ‘You know, I think I support what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘You’re unionized, right?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, and if we weren’t I’d want you all to be out on the streets.'”

This was a first arrest for both Church and Podolsky.

“Jail is cold, dingy and boring,” Podolsky said. “But I would do it a lot more, if it were necessary in order to stand up for these issues.”

Other arrestees shared cells with prostitutes or drug dealers.

Both Church and Podolsky spent the night in jail in South Central, released at 3:30 and 6:30 a.m., respectively.

Van Leeuwen agreed that the action was in accordance with Jewish teachings.
“The Torah repeatedly tells us that we should love the stranger; that they should be subject to laws and rights we’re subject to,” he said.

Though tired from a long march and a night spent in jail, everyone seemed in good spirits by Friday, proud of what they had accomplished.

“It was an incredible experience, and it was also an uncomfortable experience
… it’s something that I look back on with pride,” Church said.
Said Podolsky, simply, “It’s a good way to be Jewish.”

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife


More than 1,000 pro-Israel activists from across the United States will meet in Los Angeles for the Oct. 30-31 National Summit on Foreign Policy and Politics of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

They will join former President Bill Clinton, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, members of Congress, Israeli military leaders and journalists, scholars and top AIPAC officials in analyzing key issues facing Israel in the Middle East and in its relations with the United States.

Among forum and panel topics are terrorism threats against Los Angeles and other American cities, attitudes of the Latino community, Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, innovative Israeli technology, challenges on American college campuses, the role of European Jewry and development of the Negev and Galilee.

For a Hollywood break, participants will take a studio tour and join a panel discussion with producers of “The West Wing” and “Commander in Chief.”

Attendance at the two-day meeting at the Westin Century Plaza Hotel is limited to members of AIPAC’s Capitol Club, who annually contribute $3,600 or more.

The meeting comes at a time when the influential pro-Israel lobby finds itself the object of much unwelcome media attention.

Two former top AIPAC officials in Washington, D.C. are currently facing trial in federal court on charges that they conspired with a former Pentagon analyst to communicate secret information to an Israeli diplomat.

AIPAC has dismissed the two officials, but is paying for their defense in accordance with its bylaws.

The legal charges have not impacted the organization’s clout in Congress nor its membership and fundraising figures, AIPAC officials maintain.

On the contrary, they say, since the beginning of the second intifada five years ago, AIPAC membership has almost doubled from 55,000 to 100,000, and its annual operating budget has risen from $17 million to $40 million.

Over the last two years alone, membership has grown by some 25 percent and conferences across the country have scored record attendances, according to AIPAC officials, who are not obliged to document this information.

They attribute the rise mainly to the violence of the initifada and the impact of Sept. 11, factors that emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

While figures regarding AIPAC could not be independently verified, a number of key L.A. Jewish activists asserted in interviews that the indictments of the two ex-AIPAC officials have not, so far, had a detrimental effect on support for the organization.

About half of the attendees at the summit meeting are expected to come from the Southern Pacific region of AIPAC, which has an estimated 10,000-15,000 members in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.


All About AIPAC

AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying

How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star


Evangelicals Are Not Our ‘Natural Allies’

A few years ago, a few moderate American Jewish leaders tried to allay Jewish fears that the Christian right was a threat.

American Jews had it wrong, they said — former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk really were quite nice, even open-minded fellows and strongly pro-Israel to boot. They were our friends.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) publicly praised Reed’s pro-Israel stance and invited Christian conservatives to ADL banquets. Christians, in turn, organized nationwide prayer vigils and lobbying campaigns to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vision of a greater Israel.

Basking in the glow of this newfound friendship, Reed proclaimed that the Jewish-Christian alliance for Israel was as important as the black-Jewish coalition for civil rights in the 1960s.

Then, a Hollywood film star produced, directed and bankrolled a cinematic portrayal of Jesus’ final hours that depicted Jews as Jesus’ killers, promoting an age-old anti-Semitic theme. Fearing that the film would stoke new anti-Semitism, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman pleaded that Gibson alter the film, the pope disavow it and the Christian evangelicals that had become Foxman’s allies sermonize against it — to no avail.

Foxman should have seen it coming.

For all their talk of loving Jews and Israel, conservative Christians’ No. 1 priority always has been to expand their influence and numbers at home and abroad.

Several years ago, I interviewed dozens of Christian activists for a book I was writing about a campaign against gay rights that bitterly divided many Oregon communities, where I was living at the time.

When I disclosed my Jewishness to the evangelicals I met in the course of my research, they responded with boundless curiosity and kindness. A few asked if they could accompany me to synagogue, professing their great affection for the Jewish people. Several spoke excitedly of their trips to Israel or their desire to visit there.

I found it all disarming and even a little flattering.

But then the invitations to attend their churches arrived, along with offers to pray for me. I declined them graciously and heard little else until my book, a critical but empathetic account of conservative Christian activists, was published.

The messages then began to get meaner and were often tinged with anti-Semitism.

“How could a Jew possibly write an unbiased account?” one asked.

Another told me to “go back to New York, where you belong.”

Today, some of those activists have gone on to mobilize support for Israel, working to insure that the Holy Land stays in Jewish hands so that “saved Christians” like themselves can enjoy their final rapture out of harm’s way.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, these Christians have felt further justified for their alliance with Israel by the conviction that Judeo-Christian culture must protect itself against the followers of Mohammed, in preparation for the coming “clash of civilizations.”

My travels in evangelical America tell me that despite the claims of Jewish conservatives, and even moderate leaders like Foxman, conservative Christians are not our “natural allies.” In fact, most American Jews find themselves deeply at odds with the Christian right over a host of issues.

Witness the overwhelming support that the American Jewish community has given to the issue of gay marriage. In Massachusetts, a near unanimity of Jewish communal leaders support gay marital rights, and opinion polls nationally show Jews to be the most solidly in favor of gay marriage of any religious group.

Christian conservatives, needless to say, are champing at the bit to make gay marriage the next major battle in the “culture war.”

Even when it comes to Israel, evangelicals are out of step with American Jews and Israelis — most of whom would agree to trade land for peace if a viable peace plan were proposed. Evangelicals, by contrast, support the maximalist ideology of the most fundamentalist Jewish settlers, who view territorial concessions as suicidal.

The Jewish-Christian alliance was based on the idea that Israel needs as many friends as it can get. But it needs good friends — friends who believe in the importance of a democratic Jewish homeland, not those whose support for Israel is based on inflexible theological explanations for Israel’s right to exist.

The rift over “The Passion” should be a wake-up call to American Jewish leaders: The Jewish-Christian evangelical honeymoon is over. It may even be time to file for divorce.

Arlene Stein is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and the author of “The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle Over Sex, Faith, and
Civil Rights.”

Community Briefs

Gaming Commission Postpones MoskowitzVote

The California Gambling Control Commission again has postponed a vote on Dr. Irving Moskowitz’s permanent license request for his Hawaiian Gardens Casino card club, which peace activists decry as a funding tool for West Bank settlers.

“There has been more significant opposition to this than there has been to any other application,” said commission chief counsel Peter Melnicoe, who wants California Department of Justice gambling investigators to double-check Moskowitz’s application, whose casino-style card club now operates with a temporary, provisional license. “We plan to ask the Division of Gambling Control to clarify certain points.”

Unlike the commission’s Dec. 18 and Jan. 9 hearings in downtown Los Angeles, the Moskowitz application did not dominate the Feb. 26 hearing, with the application postponed in routine fashion and no outcry from opponents or supporters. The application is not on the commission’s two March meeting agendas.

A long activist battle has been waged against Moskowitz, a retired Long Beach doctor whose rise as a Bingo impresario radically changed tiny, poor Hawaiian Gardens in southeast Los Angeles County. Though he enjoys Hawaiian Gardens and Jewish community support, the activists’ main gripe is that Moskowitz uses part of his gambling proceeds to buy East Jerusalem land for Jewish settlers.

“We want to take a methodological approach to evaluating the complaints and the charges that have been made,” Melnicoe told The Journal. “We’re going to try to expedite this as much as we can, but at the same time we want to give consideration to the merits of the application.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

LAPD Members Visit Israel

Leaders in the Los Angeles Police Department, such as John Miller, commander of the Critical Incident Management Bureau; Joe Polisar, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; and William Gore, special assistant to the Department of Justice in Southern California, traveled to Israel in February as participants in the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs’ (JINSA) Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP).

The law enforcement officials joined 14 of the most senior police chiefs, sheriffs and state police commanders in Israel to intensively study counterterrorism techniques. They were briefed on bomb disposal, the increasing sophistication of domestic terrorists, the mindset of suicide bombers and how to secure large venues, such as shopping malls and concert halls, without disrupting the enjoyment of the public.

The LEEP program is designed to establish cooperation between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement personnel and to give the U.S. law enforcement community access to the lessons learned by the Israelis in the interdiction of and response to all forms of terrorism.

The Israeli National Police hosted the JINSA group in cooperation with the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Defense Forces.

“Nothing can replicate American officials seeing these types of programs firsthand, and the systems that are put in place to deal with them,” said Steven Pomerantz, a member of JINSA’s board of advisers. — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

A Few Jews Focus on Props, Too

With a few notable exceptions, Jewish politicians, activists and community leaders are getting into the controversies over Propositions 53 and 54 late and lackadaisically, having focused most of their attention and fundraising efforts on the recall election.

Proposition 54, The Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI), backed by University of California regent Ward Connerly, bans the state from classifying people according to race, ethnicity, color, or national origin.

Supporters maintain it would move society closer to a color-blind society, while opponents maintain it would impede the collection of data needed to redress discrimination.

Though opponents claim it would also block collection of data that could be helpful in addressing genetically transmitted diseases such as Tay Sachs, which affects Ashkenzic Jews, supporters say the measure would not affect health-related issues. The state’s independent legislative analyst said the matter is unclear.

Among Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Progressive Jewish Alliance oppose Proposition 54.

Jewish politicians including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Con. Howard Berman (D-26th) and Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss oppose it as well.

The statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee, a coalition of mostly Federation-based groups, has not taken a stand on RPI, though the San Jose/Silicon Valley Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) unanimously passed a resolution opposing it.

"There’s been a trend among JCRCs of not wanting to get involved in controversial measures," JPAC Director Coby King said. "Federations don’t see how taking a position benefits them."

For many groups, RPI brings dangerous echoes of the highly controversial Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative designed to dismantle state affirmative action programs based on sex or race. That ballot measure caused considerable division between liberal and more conservative Jews. "A lot of people feel [Proposition 54] is not worth the risk," King said.

Democrats for Israel’s Howard Welinsky said his organization follows the Democratic party position on such measures, and the party opposes it. Welinsky, who sits on the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, said Proposition 54, "will make it impossible to determine if there are civil rights violations or equal opportunity violations."

The Southern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition has not taken a position on RPI, said the chapter Chair Bruce Bialosky, because members have been so focused on the recall. But Bialosky, speaking for himself, said he would support it. "As long as we continue to classify people by race," he said, "we are going to continue to think of them by race."

If Proposition 54 is getting relatively attention, Proposition 53 is going positively unnoticed. If it passes in Tuesday’s recall election, Proposition 53 will set aside up to 3 percent of the annual state budget for repairs of California’s infrastructure of highways, hospitals and libraries.

"One of the tenets of the Jewish religion is to improve our community, to leave our community a better place than we found it," said State Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge). Richman, who is Jewish, helped create the legislation that later led to Proposition 53. "If California is going to be successful in the future, then we need to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place," he said.

The measure’s supporters include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and Caprice Young, former Los Angeles Unified School District president. Opponents include the California Tax Reform Association and the Congress of California Seniors.

State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) said he finds himself, "smack dab in the middle," about supporting Proposition 53, formerly known as the "Funds Dedicated for State and Local Infrastructure" state constitutional amendment.

"The basic concept is that we have not done enough and are not doing enough … to pay for the infrastructure needs of the state," Koretz said. "When you have a surplus, this would trigger some of that surplus money to go to infrastructure. It’s one of many initiatives that can strain a state budget left with fewer and fewer options. I see its pluses and its minuses."

On the left, Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) director Daniel Sokatch called Proposition 53, "another conservative, far-right fake fix-all. It’s not going to solve any problems, just shift the problems around."

Despite no formal endorsement, RJC of Southern California Executive Director Michael Wissot spoke supportively of Proposition 53.

Richman said Proposition 53 protects against pulling funds out of the state education budget and transferring that money to rebuild roads, hospitals, libraries and state buildings.

The assemblyman added that from the 1960s through the 1970s, California politicians regularly poured 15 percent to 20 percent of annual state budgets into building the state’s extensive freeway system — plus hospitals and libraries and other public entities to be covered by Proposition 53.

But since 1990, Richman said, "our state has spent two-tenths of 1 percent of the General Fund annually on infrastructure. There’s no question why our roads are congested why they’re crumbling. This money is specifically going to infrastructure projects and capital outlay, not for operations."

Koretz also noted that, "There are Jewish values, I would say, on both sides of this issue. It’s really a compelling case of what do you do right? We can never do everything right. It’s a question of are you more concerned about social services or are you more concern about the long-term effects of the state crumbling?"

"I’m actually leaning in favor of it," the assemblyman said. "I think the pluses and minuses are about equal. People need to think this through themselves."

News That’s Fit to Paw Print

In 1999, Lori Golden left a 25-year career in freelance television production when she found industry changes and “ageism” working against her. Struggling to make ends meet, Golden taught herself desktop publishing and, soon after, The Pet Press was born.

The paper’s primary goals are the promotion of animal adoption and rescue from overcrowded shelters, spaying/neutering and responsible pet care. Each issue spotlights a personality involved in some form of animal welfare work.

“Just because a person loves her dog or cat doesn’t mean she rates a cover story,” Golden said. Celebrity activists that have been featured include Betty White, Bea Arthur, Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett, Ed Asner, James Cromwell, Shannon Elizabeth and Mary Tyler Moore with her dog, Shana Meydela.

Golden attributes her inspiration for The Pet Press to her own dog, Maxx, whom she rescued from an L.A. shelter. “She was dedicated, loving and loyal, and always by my side in good times and bad. I thought about all of the other wonderful dogs just like Maxx who were lying in animal shelters in Southern California,” she said.

I quickly discovered the phenomenal benefits of the barter system,” Golden said.

“It was a struggle, but because of a lot of chutzpah, and my father’s fantastic support and belief in me, the paper is now doing just fine.”

The free monthly paper, headquartered in Northridge, reaches more than 95,000 readers throughout greater Los Angeles and has grown from 20 pages to 40.

“The Pet Press is distributed to pet-related venues and many other places, including libraries, car washes and my favorite locations — Jewish delicatessens from Calabasas to Long Beach … and all points in between,” Golden said.

Although Golden admits she only attends services once a year for the High Holidays, in keeping true to her profession she makes The Pet Press available for the animal lovers who attend.

“Although I miss the excitement of entertainment,” she said, “I take great pride and satisfaction in knowing that my efforts are appreciated, and that I’m helping to save the lives of countless numbers of cats and dogs.”

For more information, visit

World Briefs

Police: Suspects Financed TerrorIndirectly

There’s no evidence that members of the Islamic Movement arrested this week in Israel used funds to directly finance terror attacks, Israeli police said.

“We do not claim that the money was used to buy explosive belts” for suicide bombers, a police spokeswoman said.

But the movement is suspected of transferring money from abroad to help support families of suicide bombers.

“Without this financial support, Hamas would not be able to carry out terror attacks,” the spokeswoman said. Israel arrested 15 members of the northern branch of the movement on Tuesday.

Court Hears Petition Against ChiefRabbi

Israel’s High Court on Wednesday heard a petition challenging the appointment of the chief Ashkenazi rabbi. The petitioner, a Tel Aviv accountant, cited allegations against Rabbi Yona Metzger, including sexual harassment and forgery. Metzger’s attorneys rejected the allegations as baseless. The accountant also said Metzger is not qualified to serve as a rabbinic court judge because he did not complete the appropriate studies. Israel’s state attorney recommended that the court reject the petition on the grounds that under current law, the appointment of a chief rabbi can be canceled only if the rabbi resigns. The court will publish its decision at a later date.

Crown Heights Conviction

Lemrick Nelson was found guilty of violating the civil rights of yeshiva scholar Yankel Rosenbaum during the 1991 Crown Heights riots. However, the jury in the civil trial found Wednesday that Nelson was not responsible for Rosenbaum’s death. As a result of the conviction, which came a day after the jury said it was deadlocked, Nelson faces up to 10 years in jail.

Man Beaten in Berlin

An Orthodox Jew was beaten up in Berlin. Tuesday’s attack on the 19 year old, who wears a black hat and sports a beard, occurred in the Berlin subway. Three youths made anti-Semitic remarks to the man. They then followed him out of the subway, throwing fruit at him and asking if he is Jewish. They beat him when he refused to answer. The men are believed to be of Arab descent, police said. Earlier this week, a non-Jewish man who was wearing a Star of David also was beaten in Berlin by attackers who mistook him for a Jew.

British Burial Practices Questioned

Britain’s chief rabbi is calling for certain post-mortem procedures to be phased out after it was revealed that a Jewish man was buried without his brain, contrary to Jewish law. Jonathan Sacks made the call after the publication of the Isaacs Report, a three-year government study that reveals that tens of thousands of brains were removed from British corpses without the consent of relatives. The report focused on Cyril Isaacs, who committed suicide in 1987 and whose brain was removed for medical research into mental illness, unbeknownst to his family. He had suffered from depression.

N.J. Pressed to End Poet Laureate Job

A Jewish coalition is calling for the elimination of New Jersey’s poet laureate post. The coalition, which includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, U.S. Jewish groups and New Jersey rabbis, wants the position eliminated in order to oust the current holder, Amiri Baraka. Baraka made headlines last year when he read a poem that said Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Harvard Center Investigates Donor

Harvard’s divinity school may return a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates with ties to a controversial Arab think tank.

The executive director of the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up once denounced Jews as the “enemies of all nations.”

In addition, the Web site for the center, which is described as a “fulfillment of the vision” of Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, features a list of speakers including a Holocaust denier and one who alleges that the United States was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

A spokesman for the school said a researcher recently had investigated the ties, but the spokesman declined to discuss the researcher’s findings, according to newspaper reports from Boston.

French Rabbi Scandal Deepens

A member of a Paris synagogue whose rabbi is accused of staging his own stabbing last January wrote a threatening letter to the rabbi shortly after the incident, police believe.

The man, whose identity has not been divulged, was arrested and appeared in court last week, the Le Monde daily reported Monday. Gabriel Farhi, the rabbi of Paris’ Liberal Synagogue, was treated for knife wounds following an alleged stabbing outside his synagogue on Jan. 3. Around two weeks later, he received a threatening letter regretting “that the job had not been completed.”

Anti-Israel Boycott Fails

A British teachers union rejected a motion to boycott Israeli academics. By a 2-1 vote, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) rejected a motion by Sue Blackwell, a pro-Palestinian activist from Birmingham University, for AUT members to “review immediately, with a view to severing, any academic links they may have with official Israeli institutions, including universities.”

Andy Marks, founder of the International Academic Friends of Israel, said, “We are pleased that the AUT came to the right conclusion. However, it concerns us that such a motion ever made it on their agenda.”

Orthodox Group Eyes Liquor Ban

A rabbinical group will consider banning hard liquor in Orthodox congregations. Rabbi Hershel Billet, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, told the New York Jewish Week that he will propose restricting the use of hard liquor on Shabbat and other religious occasions during the group’s annual convention later this month.

Billet is the rabbi of Young Israel of Woodmere, N.Y., which recently issued its own liquor ban after a teenage member drank too much and got sick at a “Kiddush.”

3 Charged in Tel Aviv Bombing

British police charged three people in connection with the recent deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Zahid Hussain Sharif, 46; Paveen Akthor Sharif, 35; and Tahari Shad Tabassum, 27, all from Derbyshire in England, were charged with failing to disclose information about a terrorist act. Paveen Sharif also was charged with aiding and abetting acts of terrorism overseas.

General Strike Resumes

Israeli public sector workers renewed a general strike Tuesday after negotiations between Treasury and trade union officials on an emergency economic plan broke down. Seaports, trains and government offices were shut down, while schools opened an hour late and hospitals operated on a Sabbath schedule. There also were disruptions at Ben-Gurion Airport, where work stoppages by baggage-handlers Monday prompted the pilot of a Czech airlines flight to take off without boarding outgoing passengers and with the luggage of those who had just disembarked still in the cargo hold.

El Al to Fly on Shabbat?

The privatization of Israel’s national airline could lead to El Al flying on the Sabbath. El Al’s stock will be sold on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange by the end of the month, according to a decision made Tuesday by the Knesset Finance Committee. El Al’s new management would decide whether the airline would fly on Shabbat.

Bush Won’t Party for Israel

President Bush will not attend a gala for Israel later this month in Washington because he never received an invitation, White House officials say. Organizers of the Spirit of Israel Concert had touted the expected appearance of Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the May 19 event. But White House officials told JTA they did not receive an invitation and have a state dinner planned that night with the president of the Philippines.

Condoms for Israel

Student activists in San Diego passed out condoms that read, “Israel: It’s Still Safe to Come.” Activists with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life at the University of California at San Diego dispersed the condoms with a pamphlet promoting Israel’s record in protecting the rights of women and gays, in contrast to other countries in the region, the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage reported May 2. The move is part of UCSD Hillel’s “Got Israel” campaign

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Captains of Destiny

This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, finds us studying the Book of Exodus for the first time this year. Probing the text, I began to think about the Hebrew word tevah (ark) that is found only twice in the Torah — in parshat Noah and in this one.

As Rabbi James Mirel once wrote: "There is an important link between these two mythic tales. In the story of Noah, God uses the ark to rescue all the animals, including the human species. In this instance, Moses, who is to become the vehicle for the redemption of the Jewish people, is kept alive by means of an ark."

"Both narratives depict the ark as being surrounded by potentially destructive waters. In the case of Noah, the waters of the flood, which covers the entire earth, and in this case, the river into which Pharaoh commands that all Hebrew male infants be thrown," Mirel said.

"From this parallel, we can learn that we, too, should consider the ways in which each of us can find a tevah by which to navigate the threatening waters that surround us in order to reach safety and redemption," he added.

I submit that there is another way to cite this rare Hebrew word in order to make a somewhat different point. Namely, are we to merely drift through life — mirroring Noah, who was able to survive during the flood, and Moses, who, we find on his way to being given an opportunity to live in the lap of luxury as Pharaoh’s adopted nephew — or is something else required of us?

It is my belief that God and Judaism’s prophets and sages demand that we not just rock along, dependent on the currents of life to move us from birth to death, but that we place a tiller into the waters of life, grab the helm and steer a course, which will provide us with personal fulfillment and satisfaction while responding to the needs of others who seek — and deserve — our assistance.

Here’s how we can avoid being dashed upon the rocks of despair, becoming stuck in the narrows of bias and prejudice or finding ourselves trapped in the shallows of limited thought and action.

Within this context, here’s the ultimate question which Shemot forces upon us: "Are we willing to risk everything to be the captains of our own destiny, or are we merely content letting circumstances and other people determine the course of our lives?"

If we are activists, we constantly take charge and even — on occasion — attempt to go upstream and thereby willingly confront one mighty challenge after another.

If we are pacifists, we are delighted to easily and simply follow the currents of the headwaters — even if this means that we must always allow others to decide the direction we’ll go … solely dependent on the winds of their opinion which then propel us from place to place. Under these circumstances, it is they and never we who will determine what our eventual goals might be.

Sam Rayburn, the late speaker of the House of Representatives, often instructed his younger colleagues "to get along just go along." If all a person desires is ease and comfort, that may be good advice. However, if someone decides that the demands and benefits of life require that we must occasionally take a chance, such an individual elects not to be under the thumb of others, but to set off on a self-selected course.

I am convinced that our lives are far more exciting and rewarding when we take charge of our own situations, set our sights on distant shores and then battle our way to reach them.

You see, just as so very little is written in this and in subsequent parshot about the first 80 of the 120 years allotted to Moses, we ought not to think too much about our origins, or where we find ourselves at any given moment. Instead, we need to concentrate on what we wish to achieve, to think about what demanding choices are ours, and to concentrate on the benefits that will be ours and others when we exert ourselves as proactive decision-makers and doers.

After all, as Vancouver’s Rabbi Philip Bregman has taught us: "By speeding through the description of Moses’ early and middle years, the Torah is making the statement that beginnings are less important than endings in life.

"In other words, a human being’s worth is not determined by where that individual came from but what that person ultimately accomplished," Bregman said. "This message has tremendous relevance for us today. Too often we spend our time dwelling on the past instead of focusing on our ultimate goal in life. What really counts is where our experiences lead us and what we have learned along the way."

"This week’s parsha encourages us to ask ourselves tough questions about where our own personal journey is leading," Bregman added. "Are we still growing and learning? What is that we seek? Are we moving in the right direction toward a worthwhile destination? Are we basking in the sun of a previous generation’s accomplishments, or are we endeavoring to make our own mark in the world"?

I wish you Godspeed and a bon voyage as you answer those profound questions and then act upon them in the most creative, dynamic and productive ways possible.

Congress Remains Pro-Israel

Pro-Israel activists say they are confident their legislative priorities will be able to get through the new Congress, which is now under Republican control. In the final election returns, which came early Wednesday morning, a predominance of pro-Israel lawmakers retained their seats, and several new faces emerged, many of whom pro-Israel officials called promising.

The new Congress will take office at a critical time in U.S.-Israel relations, with Israel entering a heated election campaign, prospects for peace with the Palestinians at a standstill and a U.S.-led war against Iraq looming. The congressional approach to Israel and the Middle East is a significant component in those relations.

While American Jewish leaders were closely watching the poll results, there was not much concern: Officials had said they were comfortable with the candidates from both major parties in most of the congressional races.

"Everyone seems to be very good nowadays," said Morris Amitay, a veteran Jewish activist who is treasurer of the pro-Israel Washington PAC.

While the Jewish community is predominantly Democratic, Jewish groups have had much success getting legislation passed in a Republican House. Prior to the election, many said they believed they would have success no matter which party controls the Senate.

Support for Israel "is a bipartisan issue," one American Jewish leader said. "Congress is overwhelmingly pro-Israel."

Another senior pro-Israel official said his organization had spoken during the campaign season to virtually all the nonincumbent candidates who won Tuesday, and that they expected the 108th Congress to be even more supportive of Israel than the outgoing body.

Many of the candidates that the pro-Israel community targeted for defeat were eliminated in primaries or were not seeking re-election.

Republican Norm Coleman, who narrowly defeated his last-minute Democratic challenger, former Vice President Walter Mondale, in Minnesota, was opposed by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations as a possible Bush administration appointee two years ago because he is a "ardent supporter of Israel."

The former Jewish mayor of St. Paul, he received strong support — financial backing from the Republican Jewish Coalition and its supporters.

"He’s a passionate, Jewish representative," Brooks said.

Among other Senate results of note:

  • Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) defeated the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Max Cleland, in Georgia. Chambliss had criticized Cleland for being reluctant to speak out against comments made by ousted Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) that were deemed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Chambliss is considered to have a strong record in the House, stemming from his work as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism.
  • Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will fill the seat of Sen. Strom Thurmond, the retiring senior senator from South Carolina, having defeated his Democratic challenger, Alex Sanders. Graham spoke last month at the Christian Coalition’s rally for Israel in Washington, and is believed to be a strong supporter of the Jewish state.

The 108th Congress will get down to work in early January as both Israel and the Palestinians prepare for elections of their own, and the possibility of U.S. military action against Iraq is still an unknown. Against this backdrop, pro-Israel advocates say their agenda for the next two years will focus on legislation that did not get passed this year. Those measures include:

  • An additional $200 million in aid to Israel is expected to be tackled by the lame-duck Congress later this month. That will be wrapped into the foreign aid bill, which includes $3 billion in economic and military aid for Israel.
  • The Palestinian reform bill, dubbed the Arafat Accountability Act, would deny visas to Palestinian Authority officials, restrict travel of Palestinian officials and freeze the American assets of Palestinian leaders.
  • The Syria Accountability Act would ban military and dual-use exports to Syria, and ban financial assistance to U.S. businesses that invest in Syria.

Jewish officials say a Republican majority in Congress could move the flow of legislation faster than in a divided body where partisan issues are paramount.

However, the Republican-led House of Representatives still has had to battle with the White House on several bills related to the Middle East, with the Bush administration complaining that the bills tie its hands and make it harder to implement foreign policy. But House Republicans have been able to prevail, pushing through a pro-Israel resolution last spring that called on the United States to provide additional aid to Israel and condemning "the ongoing support of terror" by Arafat and other Palestinian leaders.

Other variables, such as the changing makeup of the Israeli government after the Labor Party’s departure last week and upcoming Israeli elections, could affect congressional action on the Middle East.

U.S. action against Iraq could change things as well. If the United States attacks Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime, lawmakers are expected to rally around the flag in support of the president. This could push other Middle East issues off the agenda and make it difficult for Jewish groups to pursue legislation. However, Congress would be likely to offer strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself if attacked by Iraq in the course of a U.S.-led war.

Congressional officials say the Middle East portfolio is expected to come under the auspices of the chairman of the full committee, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). If the Middle East subcommittee remains separate, possible Republican chairpersons include Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a strong Israel backer, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a lawmaker who has frequently voted against pro-Israel resolutions and foreign aid.

Mom, Can We Keep Him?

If your kids are out of the house and you’re experiencing empty-nest syndrome, how about considering adoption? Don’t worry though, this adoptee will be pretty low-maintenance — all he needs is a caring family, food, water and, of course, plenty of fly-repellent gel.

The adoptees are donkeys that are a part of the Israel-based charity, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land (SHADH). The U.K.-registered organization was founded to rescue and protect abused and abandoned donkeys and mules in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Apparently, the beasts of burden are so greatly burdened in the Middle East that they have captured the attention of SHADH, animal rights activists and concerned families around the globe. Sold for as little as 100 shekels (approximately $20) in Israel and the disputed territories, there is very little value attached to a donkey’s well-being. As a result, when donkeys are injured, sick or too old to work, they are often abandoned and left to starve; many suffer from abuse.

Founded by Lucy Fensom, a former

airline stewardess, SHADH is dedicated to the rescue of these oppressed animals and committed to improving their plight through community-wide education. Abandoned donkeys are taken to SHADH’s “Safe Haven,” located 40 minutes from Tel Aviv at Moshav Gan Yoshiya, where they can live in a safe and protected environment. There are currently 29 donkeys at Safe Haven and all are up for adoption for only $6 per month.

While the animals must stay at Safe Haven — they don’t make great house pets — families will receive a photograph of their donkey, an official certificate of adoption — and full visitation rights.

For more information on adopting a donkey, visit

Prager vs. Lerner: A Clash of Politics, Values


That’s the atmosphere expected at an upcoming debate between two of the Jewish community’s most outspoken activists on each side of the political spectrum.

In Prager vs. Lerner, conservative talk show host Dennis Prager will debate Michael Lerner, editor of the leftist magazine Tikkun, on Nov. 7 as part of the Orange County Jewish Community Center’s book festival.

“They are thought-provoking speakers with polar-opposite views about nearly everything,” said Arie Katz, founder of the Community Scholar Program, which is co-sponsor of the Nov. 7 “We Beg to Differ” debate at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm.

Prager is best known as a veteran host of a conservative, nationally syndicated talk show, now broadcast on KRLA-AM, a radio station with a small percentage of the Los Angeles radio audience. He is also a prolific author, who teaches Torah twice a month at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles.

Lerner, a San Francisco rabbi, is the editor of Tikkun, a bimonthly magazine with a circulation of 24,000 that is variously described as leftist and progressive. Its stand on calling for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders and respect for Palestinian rights has earned Lerner death threats. He achieved fleeting mainstream fame by becoming a spiritual mentor to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in 1993 adopted his turn of phrase, “the politics of meaning.”

“Their agenda is an open book,” said Rabbi David Woznica, an executive vice president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who will moderate the exchange. No winner will be declared.

The two antagonists are both steeped in Judaism and regularly tested on their positions. Woznica’s intent is to illuminate for the audience the values that underlie those stances and how they arrive at differing conclusions.

“I love to ask why,” said Woznica, who moderated similar debates at the 92nd Street Y in New York, and has compiled a fat clipping folder in preparation.

Most polling shows that Jews remain the most liberal group in the United States, said Samuel G. Freedman, a Columbia University journalism professor and author of “Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of the American Jewry” (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Yet, many Jews are more conservative about Israel than any other foreign-policy issue, a viewpoint that also applies to the current confrontation with Iraq and the war on terrorism, he said. While there continues to be a vociferous peace camp, any private misgivings about Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are rendered irrelevant by the terrorism of the intifada, Freedman said.

The conservative shift by leaders of the established Jewish community is what prompted Lerner in 1986 to start the influential magazine with the financial help of his then wife, Nan Fink. With Tikkun (Hebrew for “repair”), Lerner’s editorial intent was to create a liberal alternative to Commentary, the conservative magazine of the American Jewish Committee, which has a circulation of 26,000. By comparison, National Review and The Nation, opinion journals of the political mainstream’s right and left, have circulations of 150,000 and 100,000, respectively.

Lerner says Tikkun articulates a vision of Judaism that rejects materialism, selfishness and vacuity. An unabashed utopian, in January he convened the Tikkun Community, seen as a movement committed to spiritual, economic and social transformation.

Its Tikkun Campus Network, by organizing academics, spiritual leaders and students into a new group, hopes to diffuse tensions on campuses inflamed by nasty barbs thrown by student supporters of Israel and Palestinians. Lerner’s son served in Israel’s military.

Lerner, 59, leads a 200-family nondenominational Jewish Renewal movement synagogue, Beyt Tikkun, started in 1996. He is a career chameleon: from anti-war activist in Students for a Democratic Society while attending UC Berkeley to philosophy professor, psychologist, editor and spiritual leader. He did not respond to several requests for an interview.

Prager, 54, a fixture on Los Angeles morning radio, spent 18 years in weekday shows on KABC-AM. He left two years ago when the new Disney management intended to end his show’s syndication.

Prager’s new radio home is KRLA, a Salem Communications Inc.-owned station that draws less than a 1 percent share of the L.A. radio audience, according to Arbitron. Salem’s programming includes other conservative talk show hosts, such as Michael Medved, and Christian rock and talk shows. Prager’s national audience in 33 cities is 287,700 weekly, said Monica Koffman, Salem’s research director.

Prager thinks his longevity on the air is owed to his personal appeal to listeners, rather than fitting into an ideological mold. “I try to earn my listeners respect in the ad hominem way I take on adversarial positions,” he said.

For seven years before entering broadcasting, Prager, who attended a yeshiva, was a lecturer and director of the Simi Valley-based Brandeis-Bardin Institute, which offers nondenominational Jewish education. Though the Jewish life courses he taught were well received, Prager was dissatisfied.

“I always wanted a broader audience,” said Prager, who has gone on to write four books, numerous opinion pieces and lecture extensively. On the air, he is a moralist, less scathing than some of his peers, but often dismissive of alternative views. He also is one of the few Jewish writers to build nontheological bridges to Christian supporters of Israel.

“If you can’t tell the moral gulf between Israel and its enemies, then there is something wrong with your moral compass,” Prager said.

Asked how he will prepare to meet Lerner, a reprise of a similar Oakland exchange 10 years ago, he said, “There’s nothing to prepare. It’s the easiest thing I’ll be called to do.”

Prager supports capital punishment and in 1992 opposed an effort by Conservative Judaism to re-examine views on gays and lesbians. He also can be inflammatory. In an opinion piece, he described the nations surrounding Israel as “morally equivalent to Nazism and Stalinism.”

The same 1990 article contains an eerily prescient prophecy. It says the West can save itself great suffering by confronting the Arab world and Muslim fundamentalism. “If not, once again, Jewish children will be gassed, but they will not be the only ones.”

Palestinian Supporters Gift-Wrap Message

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States is considered Israel’s last remaining key ally. Aiming to change that, the anti-Israel movement on college campuses has adopted a message rooted in bedrock American ideals.

The second National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, held at the University of Michigan last weekend, framed its anti-Israel arguments in the language of civil liberties and human rights. The new, slicker message showed the challenge Jewish groups will face after a conference that both sides considered a pivotal moment for anti-Israel activism on U.S. campuses.

It’s still unclear whether the Oct. 12-14 pro-Palestinian conference, sponsored by a Michigan group called, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, will give the anti-Israel movement a lasting boost or, instead, show that the tide has turned against it.

The movement has come under increasing scrutiny in the past month, after Harvard’s president said the anti-Israel activism bordered on anti-Semitism. Approximately 300 university presidents then signed an American Jewish Committee (AJC) ad criticizing the anti-Israel movement for allegedly intimidating its opponents. The developments drew publicity to a movement that, until then, primarily had attracted campus radicals, but they also put the anti-Israel forces on the defensive.

The weekend conference showed that the pro-Palestinian groups are reacting to the spotlight by crafting an increasingly sophisticated message. Jewish activists are split on the proper strategy to confront it.

Mainstream groups, such as Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, sought to avoid direct confrontation so as not to give the conference more publicity. Hillel planned pro-Israel programming to highlight Israel’s democratic values, placing ads in campus newspapers, bringing pro-Israel lecturers to campus and sponsoring a pro-Israel rally on Oct. 10 with speakers from mainstream organizations.

A new group, Michigan Student Zionists, worked with Aish HaTorah, the Zionist Organization of America and Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA, in crafting a more confrontational approach. The student activists flanked the doors of the conference building, chanting that the pro-Palestinian movement was "justifying suicide bombing" and was anti-Semitic.

The Student Zionists group also staged a prayer service, counterconference, rally and a "street theater" demonstration in which students scattered on the ground to simulate the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Leaders of the student group also filed a lawsuit trying to force the university to cancel the conference.

The basis of the suit was that guest speakers — including Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor under federal investigation for alleged links to terrorist groups — would incite violence. A judge denied a hearing on the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing.

Many of the 400 people at the pro-Palestinian conference represented extreme elements from 70 universities across the country. Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a coordinating body for Israel advocacy, said he wasn’t impressed by the Palestinian supporters’ new message.

"I believe they’re very much on the defensive, and they’re essentially failing," he said. "They had almost no buy-in from the local Michigan population. And most of the participants were fly-ins. To the extent that the advance publicity succeeded in bringing this to the public’s attention, it galvanized the administration’s opposition."

The university’s president, Mary Sue Coleman, on Sept. 26 denounced one of the conference’s key planks, that universities should divest their holdings in companies that deal with Israel.

However, the anti-Israel message could find fertile ground among impressionable and often-uninformed college students. Participants at the pro-Palestinian conference argued that university divestment would pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which they say is the first step toward making peace. Those who oppose divestment really want to squelch pro-Arab organizations’ free speech, the pro-Palestinian group claims.

In response to charges that the anti-Israel movement is anti-Semitic, conference organizers made sure to feature Jewish participants prominently.

"We categorically reject" the accusations of "anti-Semitism being tossed around," said Ora Wise, an Israeli-born junior at Ohio State University, who is on leave to work for the New York-based Jews Against the Occupation. "We need to go to the origins of the conflict" — in Wise’s view, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — to remove the barrier to peace. She said ending the occupation will also bring "Jewish emancipation."

At a news conference, pro-Palestinian conference leaders responded to the charge that they endorse terrorism by condemning suicide bombings — along with "state-sponsored terrorism" against civilians. Palestinian supporters use such formulas to equate Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli counterterror operations, both of which may result in civilian deaths.

In trying to undermine a key Israeli argument — that Israel is a democracy like America — Palestinian supporters say America’s historic subjugation of blacks and allegedly of women shows that democracies can be oppressive, too.

The Israel on Campus Coalition released a resource guide last week that offers tools to counter pro-Palestinian arguments, and describes different approaches favored by various organizations. Other groups also have produced materials countering pro-Palestinian arguments, including divestment.

But if attitudes at Michigan are representative, the pro-Israel forces are having a difficult time courting some of the 6,000 Jews on campus on such a highly polarized issue. Israel and American Jewish groups have "failed to contextualize how remarkable the Zionist enterprise is for this generation of Jews," said Michael Brooks, executive director of the University of Michigan’s Hillel.

While many Jewish students are instinctively pro-Israel, even some of the most ardent defenders of Israel are at a loss as to how to refute the pro-Palestinian arguments. Others doubt their pro-Israel education, assuming it was biased.

The competing approaches among pro-Israel activists — confrontation or low visibility — complicates things for many Jews on campus, who feel misrepresented by both. "Most Jewish students are very confused," Brooks said. "They don’t really understand the stuff they hear well enough" to respond to it, and — unlike the Palestinian supporters — they’re "very suspicious of absolutist positions."

Stacie Ain, for example, was turned off by T-shirts at the Oct. 10 Hillel rally that read, "Wherever We Stand, We Stand With Israel." Many of the 1,000 people in attendance wore the shirts.

It’s "almost passively-aggressively attacking another side," said Ain, a junior studying psychology. Ain said a lack of impartial information has made it hard for her to assess the conflict.

Ain said the information she received in her youth, when she attended a Jewish day school in Rockville, Md, was biased toward Israel. "If I had to choose, I would support Israel," she said, adding, "I still have to be somewhat skeptical about what I hear."

The fear of wholeheartedly embracing either side has given rise to a new Jewish group on campus, the Progressive Israel Alliance.

"You can’t just pick one side," said sophomore Becky Eisen, an activist with the group. "You need to look at the whole picture" and recognize that "both sides have valid points."

But most Jewish students remain reflexively pro-Israel, even if they don’t understand the conflict. Freshman Shelby Kaufman from West Bloomfield, Mich., said she supports Israel because Jews are a minority, and "we gotta stick together in the world."

Jonathan Dick, a 23-year-old law student, said he attended the Palestinian conference to hear the other side’s position. Yet he complained to one speaker about how one-sided the conference was. Discussion was "too much about what the atrocities have been" and "not enough about the context they’ve existed in," Dick explained.

Conference speakers focused exclusively on the Palestinians’ suffering, without mentioning their aggression. A key tactic to rouse the audience was to discredit their opponents.

In a lecture at the conference, Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee, jeered at pro-Israel efforts: the "beshawled jokers" protesting outside, the "crackpot" lawyer who tried to sue the university, the AJC ad against intimidation on campus and the controversial new Campus Watch Web site that lists professors deemed anti-Israel.

Jewish opponents of the conference are a "desperate, desperate group of people," Ibish said. "It’s like being showered in tissue paper," he said of the opposition from pro-Israel forces. "If you treat it as rubbish, it will blow in the breeze and disintegrate."

Gathering for Peace

Last Sunday afternoon, I and about 30 other Angelenos accepted an invitation to gather at the Brentwood home of Joan and Rabbi Leonard Beerman to meet with Nafez and Laila Nazzal, two Palestinian professors who were visiting Los Angeles.

Of course, we knew what to expect. Beerman, rabbi emeritus at Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air, has been active in the Middle East peace movement for at least three decades. The grimmer the events, the more determined he seems to become. His is not a stance that is in favor in Jewish Los Angeles today; nor are there many gatherings and discussions between Palestinians and Jews, or even Muslims and Jews, taking place here these days.

At the Beerman home were what I would characterize as a standard, upscale West Coast mix: a couple of people from Hollywood; several political activists; two rabbis, both self-identified as peace activists; couples who were affiliated with Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee; and a number of people with friends in the Mideast. The median age was well-above 50.

The conflict and violence in the Mideast were far outside everyone’s life … except for one fact: They had friends, relatives or friends whose relatives were living in Israel. So they — we — came out of friendship and affection for Beerman, and in order to listen, somewhat critically, and in judgment, to a couple of Palestinian intellectuals.

Nafez Nazzal had met Beerman 25 years ago at a conference in Israel. The Palestinian had been in his mid-30s, proud and angry, and had challenged Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, after Kollek had proclaimed that Arabs and Jews lived in peace and equality in Jerusalem. Nazzal had jumped up and declared loudly that while it was true they were better off economically, Arabs in Jerusalem did not live in freedom, nor were they treated equally. "We do not wish to live in a palace under Israeli rule," he had declaimed, and with that, stormed out of the conference, the Arab delegates behind him.

Ten years later, he and his wife, Laila, and their children turned up in Los Angeles as part of a group of Jewish and Arab professors planning to spend a month living together. During that period he and his family became friends with the Beermans. As Beerman recounts, the Nazzal children refused to believe the rabbi was Jewish. He had opened his home to them, and he did not carry a gun. How could he be a Jew?

Nazzal had been a guest of the Beermans a year ago, and many of the same people had come to meet him then and hear the story from "the Palestinian side." I had not been present at that gathering, but was told his reception had been frosty. He had been critical of Israel, but had seemed to harbor few doubts about the actions of Yasser Arafat or the PLO; at least he had not shared them with the group of Californians. The exchange had not been a success.

But something had occurred during the past year. Perhaps despair. Nazzal, who lives in Ramallah and teaches in the Jerusalem Center of Brigham Young University, has been trying in vain to establish a peace center in Jerusalem where Israelis and Palestinians — particularly young people and children — could come together and talk. However, there had been no moving forward, he explained, largely because the Palestinians were unwilling to participate; certainly, unwilling to help financially.

It was, he realized, a reflection of the hatred that had seized both sides, but, especially, Palestinians today. There was scarcely a family that had not been touched economically or physically, or by death. There was a pause in his account. And the children, of course, he said, are consumed by hatred. He hesitated for a moment. They expect to die; they are looking to die. And then, standing in the middle of this Brentwood living room, with its wonderful art on the walls, its French doors open to an intimate garden in the back, he began to weep.

No one moved or said a word.

Eventually, he went on. He was critical of Israel: in Jerusalem there were no equal services; children were suffering from malnutrition; a high percentage of pregnant women had been diagnosed as anemic; and curfews, in effect, shut Palestinians into home prisons.

But he was also quick to articulate the failures of Palestinians and the PLO. He saw no hope, no future for his people until Ariel Sharon or Arafat stepped from the scene, and only fear and desperation for Israelis. He counts many Jewish Israelis among his friends, and told a story that echoed the one Beerman had told me. In Israel, his friend’s children had refused to believe that he and his wife were Arabs. They can’t be, the children told their parents. They’re college professors, and they don’t carry bombs, so they can’t be Arabs.

A small group went off to dinner with the Nazzals. How can we help set up his dream, a house of peace and hope in Jerusalem? was the question that animated them. The next day, the telephone calls began.

The New Middle East Battleground: College Campuses

The signs on campus read, "Zionism equals Nazism" and "Why do Israelis love to kill Palestinian children?" One simply showed an Israeli flag dripping blood.

When Sarah Tolkoff returned to UC Irvine from her Birthright Israel trip last year, she says, "I realized the anti-Israel rhetoric on campus had gotten out of control. Going to school every day, I felt like my identity was being stomped on." The founder of UCI’s Anteaters for Israel activist group says, "I wasn’t involved until I got angry."

This school year, plenty of Jews and Jewish organizations are angry enough to get involved on campus. Hasbara ("advocacy" in Hebrew) for Israel is planned for colleges nationwide, as Jewish organizations begin campaigns to reach students this school year.

On college campuses, as in the news, the Israeli-Palestinian situation dominates the political conversation. In the pitched emotional battle to shape the thinking of the nation’s future leaders, the pro-Palestinian position often wins.

Like the protest movement against the Vietnam War, the Free Speech Movement or multicultural education, support for the Palestinian cause gains legitimacy and massive press coverage when it wins the hearts and picket signs of U.S. college students. This month, as students arrive at or return to college, Jewish organizations large and small hope to change the situation by organizing educational campaigns to help pro-Israel students make their case to their peers.

"Jewish students feel outgunned. We need to work on our intellectual arsenal," says B. J. Elias of Southern California Students for Israel, a program of USC Hillel. Elias, a USC graduate student and former Israel advocacy leader at Emory University, estimates, "About 70 percent of Muslim students could give a coherent analysis of how Israel is at fault in the current situation. About 70 percent of Jewish students could not answer those charges."

Elias believes Jewish students have not felt much need for a connection to Israel until recently. "For people in their mid-20s and younger," he says, "the existence of Israel has been a given; it didn’t need defending."

That situation has changed, as demonstrated by the highly publicized rallies on the campuses of UC Berkeley in April and San Francisco State in May of this year. In Berkeley, as reported in the student newspaper, on Yom HaShoah a Jewish student stood before a chanting crowd and recited "Kaddish" in honor of Palestinians killed during the conflict.

Confronted on campus with highly organized and often emotionally appealing pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rhetoric, many students lack the factual and rhetorical preparation to support Israel among their peers. Even before Bay Area rallies in May, national Jewish organizations were coordinating efforts and preparing Israel advocacy initiatives for college campuses across the country. Even Hollywood is getting into the pro-Israel act, with a number of key people participating.

Though a recent American Jewish Committee-funded poll of college students found that more support Israel than the Palestinian cause in the current conflict (see p. 15), recent events show that most are still unable to articulate that support in a convincing way, while Palestinian supporters argue their case more effectively. It is this rhetorical disadvantage that Jewish organizations are now beginning to address.

At the forefront of the effort is Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. With funding and support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Hillel has created the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), a network of 20 national Jewish organizations working to improve Israel’s image on college campuses.

"One of our biggest challenges is the majority of Jewish students who are not well informed," says Rhoda Weisman, chief creative officer for Hillel and director of its Center for Jewish Engagement. "We want to make sure, for those who are not well-connected with Israel, that we are giving them multiple points of entry."

ICC will coordinate pro-Israel events, information, marketing campaigns, speakers’ tours and programming, serving as a hasbara clearinghouse. Newly appointed ICC Director Wayne Firestone, formerly the Israel director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement, "I believe I can help students penetrate beyond the headlines to better understand Israel’s position as the only democracy in the Middle East, as well as its centrality to the Jewish people."

"We are almost a year behind," says Lynn Schusterman, president of the Schusterman Family Foundation, "I heard students in April of ’01 saying they needed help at an AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] policy conference student breakfast. They were not prepared factually to debate pro-Palestinian students. It took us until this May to get all of the organizations together."

More than 440 college activists from around the world convened this week at Hillel’s Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly for a six-day conference to learn leadership skills and pro-Israel advocacy.

Lisa Eisen, program director for the Schusterman Foundation and the ICC steering committee chair, says, "We saw diffuse efforts on campus, but given the worsening situation, we thought the problem was bigger than any one organization."

The problem is even bigger than one metaorganization, and many other groups have formed or refocused their efforts to support college students in their need for good arguments for Israel. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jews in Crisis campaign has set a goal of $48,500 for the College Campus Initiative (CCI), a partnership of The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Los Angeles Hillel Council. The money will go toward a variety of projects on eight campuses in the greater Los Angeles area, according to Federation spokesperson Tzivia Schwartz Getzug.

CCI plans include a weekend-long conference called Action Israel, to train students and campus professionals in pro-Israel activism. The initiative also plans a weekly e-mail newsletter by and for Los Angeles-area students, and regular meetings of an Activist Student Leadership Network to develop leadership, organizing, and public relations tools.

Money will also be set aside to bring experts on Israel to speak on campuses, and to organize pro-Israel rallies. CCI plans to subsidize students who want to attend AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., as well.

David Suissa, chairman of SuissaMiller Advertising, is a leader in the effort to formulate a pro-Israel message to which students will respond. Formal debate isn’t Suissa’s style. "The mood for us next year is to take the gloves off," he says.

The advertising guru applies his sloganeering and sound-bite expertise to Israel advocacy in the form of fliers, leaflets and pamphlets produced by organizations he supports, such as and The two groups, which share office space, produce similar eye-catching and provocative literature designed to grab and hold the attention of students.

Suissa calls it "instant activism for people with short attention spans." The message should not require too much time or effort to understand, Suissa says, because "the students didn’t sign up to join a war."

Olam4Israel plans to print 1 million pamphlets for distribution on campuses nationwide this year. Titled, "This Leaflet Is Full of Lies," the literature points out false but widely believed arguments that, unanswered and undisputed, have left pro-Israel students feeling helpless. Sister organization offers on its Web site downloadable provocative "Did You Know?" fliers, featuring information supporting Israel that students can print and post on campus.

If Israel’s problem is public opinion, then there’s no business like show business to look to for help. Project Communicate is a working group of entertainment industry professionals who support Israel and want the world to know why. Among the heavy-hitters going to bat for Israel are CAA agent Dan Adler; political consultant Donna Bojarsky; producers Sean Daniel and Zvi Howard Rosenman; attorney Lynne Wasserman; screenwriter Tom Teicholz; entertainment attorney Ken Hertz, and Art Levitt, CEO of movie ticket Web site

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited Los Angeles in May as part of The Jewish Federation’s Jews in Crisis campaign, a group of 25 entertainment industry creative people and executives from across the political spectrum held a breakfast meeting with the former prime minister. Since that time, Project Communicate has identified college students as its first priority, commissioning prominent political consultant Frank Luntz to report on the issues, arguments and ideas that can effect pro-Israel attitudes on campus.

Whoever is making the case for Israel — organization or individual, student or teacher, Jew or non-Jew — convincing Americans of any position requires the right words, the right language and the right framing. At the behest of Project Communicate, the American Jewish Committee and other organizations, Luntz went beyond college students, examining a range of U.S. attitudes toward the situation and the language that works to persuade Americans.

"From history to culture to values, the closer you define the similarities between Israel and America, the more likely you are to win the support of those who are neutral," the Luntz report says. Other general advice in the report includes, "Promote Anwar Sadat and King Hussein before you delegitimize Arafat," and, "The nation that is perceived as being most for peace will win this debate."

College students, with fast, easy access to the Internet, can find a wealth of hasbara advice with the click of a mouse (see sidebar), for example, The World Union of Jewish Students Web site has a downloadable "Hasbara Handbook."

As a student and a student leader, USC’s Elias has learned an important lesson in the hasbara battle that he likes to share with fellow pro-Israel students: take the offensive. "We need to put our position out there first," he says, "Not attacking the other side, but make them respond to our message."

For more information on Israel advocacy and the way the media portrays Israel, visit any of the sites below.

American Israel Public Affairs Committee:




Honest Reporting:

The Middle East Media Reseasch Institute:

Palestinian Media Watch:

Independant Media Review Analysis:

World Union of Jewish Students:

Betar on Campus:

Olam For Israel:

American Jewish Committee:

Jewish Internet Association:

A District Divided

As the City Council begins it consideration of Redistricting Commission-drawn district maps, a conflict between Valley activists and Jewish interests seems to have been resolved. But as proposed districts are scrutinized and rescrutinized block by block, the question of whether the 5th City Council District will contain three core Orthodox neighborhoods remains open.

Council District 5 has historically contained core Jewish communities on both sides of Mulholland, including the Chandler corridor and the Fairfax and Pico-Robertson areas. A push to include five districts wholly within the San Fernando Valley and only one district split between the Valley and city threatened to separate Valley Jewish communities from their city counterparts, diminishing a strong Jewish influence in the City Council.

For the first time, wrangling over Council district lines was conducted in open hearings this year, with the new city charter creating a special Redistricting Commission composed of 21 members appointed by the City Council, mayor and city attorney.

Though the final redistricting plan will be decided by the City Council, the Redistricting Commission collected and helped implement public input. On average, Los Angeles’ 15 Council districts encompass 246,000 people each. The Council will approve a final map by June 30.

Redistricting commonly pits myriad interests against each other. Part of the difficulty in keeping the Chandler corridor in the 5th District derived from unrelated disputes between neighboring districts.

Valley activists like Richard Close, chair of the secession group Valley VOTE, wanted five Council districts entirely within the Valley to better represent concerns specific to the Valley.

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the 5th District, and chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting (composed of five councilmembers) says, "It’s interesting to see how the overheated desire of those who want to split the city apart almost directly conflicted with the representative needs of an important constituency."

Weiss adds that, unlike pro-Valley secession activists, he approves of the Valley-City districts. "I think it is good for the City of Los Angeles to have districts that straddle Mulholland. It forces officials to be less parochial," he says.

Close was appointed to the Redistricting Commission by former 2nd District City Councilman Joel Wachs. For Close, keeping Jewish neighborhoods together takes a back seat to ensuring proportional Council representation for the Valley. "There were drafts discussed without [the Chandler corridor] in the 5th District," he explains. "The problem is, the 5th District is probably the longest district. We understand that Jack Weiss wanted the Fairfax district as well as the Chandler-Burbank area. Many ethnic groups came to us and testified to their interests. But if you have one ethnic neighborhood down in San Pedro and another in Chatsworth, you just can’t draw that into a district. The big problem we had was compactness was not consistent with some community interests.

"When we do districts, we’re supposed to be blind to race, religion and ethnicity," Close says. But the commission does consider the needs of "communities of interest." Commissioner Ron Turovsky, appointed by Weiss, says the ties that bind a community of interest can be a "whole range of factors," including ethnic or religious groups as well as distinct neighborhoods.

Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek Congregation was among those voicing concern that Los Angeles’ Orthodox community would be split. "We do see ourselves as a single entity," he says. "You’re talking about a very large Jewish community that is very unified — which can be very advantageous." Together in the same council district, says Tendler, "We have shared issues and shared support."

The Jewish community and Valley representation controversies were only a small part of the litany of issues faced by the Redistricting Commission over the course of 11 public hearings since November 2001.

The map of the 5th District that the Redistricting Commission has sent to the City Council includes the Chandler corridor area, attached via Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the main body of the district, which includes Bel Air and Westwood and extends east as far as Highland Avenue.

Close is pleased that the plan, as proposed, includes the five Valley districts, but says, "The real question is, is the City Council going to meddle in the process?… Was the Redistricting Commission just a façade?"

At the final hearing on March 26, Ruth Galanter, whose 6th District has been moved from Venice to Van Nuys, told the commission, "Of course we’re going to meddle with the lines you decide."

At the same meeting, 13th District City Councilman Eric Garcetti called the redistricting process "intensely imperfect." That process, now nearly completed with the finalization of the commission’s proposals, is still subject to tinkering. But Weiss believes the Jewish communities of the 5th District will stay together.

"We’re talking about a community that has made their interests known," Weiss says.


In the solar system of Jewish life, Irv Rubin is Pluto.

The man accused of conspiring to plant a pipe bomb at a mosque and at the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-48) has long operated at the distant edges of greater Los Angeles’ Jewish population that numbers some 600,000.

If you subtract from that number Rubin, his associate Earl L. Krugel and other active members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) here, you end up with 599,975, give or take 20. Nationwide, the JDL has perhaps 200 activists, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

To be honest, no one can say for certain just how many JDL activists prowl the delis of Los Angeles, plotting over half-sour pickles late into the night. The organization has never produced a membership list, it is not a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and in seven years of covering this community I’ve rarely encountered a soul who doesn’t consider these men to be, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, loose cannons.

None of this is to say they’re guilty as charged. The strongest witness for the prosecution seems to be an informant with a criminal past of his own. In the current climate, it is fair to raise questions of overzealous FBI even-handedness. Rubin and Krugel deserve the full measure of the civil and legal rights that they are accused of plotting to deny others of. Aren’t they fortunate that the Constitution rushes in where the rest of us would prefer to watch what we’re stepping on.

Following the arrest, a handful of local Muslim spokespeople used the occasion to gloat. The alleged JDL plot made clear that "Jewish terrorism is just as dangerous as Muslim terrorism," Muslim Public Affairs Council Vice-President Aslam Abdullah told the Los Angeles Times’ Teresa Watanabe. Muslims demanded that authorities treat Jews as Muslims have been treated post-Sept. 11: profiling those who "look like Rubin," freezing JDL assets, blocking JDL Web sites. The implication is that their crazies equal our crazies, that the problem of religious fanaticism is shared by Jew, Muslim and Christian, so why devote special attention to Arabs and Islam? Well, here’s why:

The reaction of the Jewish community to the JDL arrests was swift and unequivocal condemnation.

The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Simon Wisenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress, Hadassah, the synagogue movements — no one hedged, no one displayed any residual support for Rubin’s politics or argued for an understanding of his sense of victimhood. Every Jewish leader called for Rubin and Krugel to receive the maximum penalty under the law if found guilty.

The JDL and its founder, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have been institutionally marginalized in the Jewish world.

In 1988, Israel’s Central Election Committee barred Kahane’s Kach party from competing in Knesset elections, terming it "racist" and "Nazilike," a ban upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Here in Los Angeles, for years now Rubin has been escorted out of far more Jewish events than he’s ever been invited in to.

Sept. 11 was the work of a worldwide terror network supported by millions of dollars and the rhetoric of religious teachers. Dec. 11 was, at worst, two Jews and a pipe bomb.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations implied that Rubin’s alleged actions were the result of "an atmosphere of Islamophobia" fanned by mainstream Jewish organizations. The truth is that mainstream Jewish organizations were among the first to separate the actions by relatively few of the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims from Islam. And Jewish organizations, like the Progressive Jewish Alliance, have been at the forefront of protecting the civil liberties of Arabs and others following the attacks.

None of this is to say that Jewish extremism doesn’t exist. It has a virulent Israeli-based strain, as evidenced by Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir and those nationalist religious teachers for whom the idea of taking all of the land of greater Israel by force necessitates a milchemet mitzvah, or Holy War.

These voices are a minority, though as professor Reuben Firestone has pointed out, the ideas they propound have a way of trickling into mainstream discourse. But Rubin is not a foot soldier of any mass organization, or the vanguard of any movement. He has garnered the spotlight, but gained no sympathy, and as news of his arrest circulated over the weekend, the only question on most Jews’ minds was, "What planet is he from?"

Flourish, Not Fail

The financial crisis facing Jewish Community Center (JCC) programs and locations this week will come as an awful shock to tens of thousands of area Jews, and it should (see story, page 14).

JCC officials and Federation lay leaders and staff stress there is no cause for panic. They believe they can work out a way to save the majority of JCC programs and locations. (The Federation is the largest donor to the JCC system.) But there is no question that without immediate community response, the JCC system faces severe cutbacks.

Other organizations have already offered to step in and help those immigrants, seniors, children and others who would be most affected by cutbacks. And JCC supporters are working to make sure that what looked like inevitable closure last week can be avoidable by next.

The writing has been on the wall for some time now: years of accumulating deficits have led to a series of controversies over JCC closures of centers and services from Santa Monica to mid-Wilshire. "Maybe they should have sold the Westside J," an insider told me. "Maybe they should have sold Silverlake. But they always deferred the tough decisions."

What seems clear even now is that the JCC’s present executive director, Nina Lieberman-Giladi, has done a magnificent and largely thankless job since taking over the helm last year. Giladi inherited the accumulated financial woes — and errors — going back a dozen or more years. The hot potato of debt landed in her lap. Credit her with at least not passing it on.

That the JCCs of the second largest Jewish population in the Diaspora face this crisis raises serious questions about this community’s present priorities and future possibilities.

The centers were incorporated in Los Angeles in 1932. After World War II, Judge Irvin Stalmaster provided the lay leadership to establish the centers as a strong, autonomous institution.

"My dad cared so much about the centers," the judge’s son, Lynn Stalmaster, told me from his home in Santa Fe, N.M. Stalmaster, who went on to create a premiere film industry casting agency, remembered how his father devoted almost every evening to nurturing the center. "He felt the community needed places to parti-cipate in Jewish life other than the synagogue," said Stalmaster.

Stalmaster and the activists, staff workers and donors who followed him shared a vision of JCCs as a place where Jewish Americans could be Americanized, and, later, where American Jews could be Judaized. That is, the centers provided generations of immigrants with a familiar foothold in American society. These days, they provide generations of Americans with a way to reconnect with their Jewishness.

JCCs are as important and as effective today as they ever were. In San Jose, Boston, New Orleans, Orange County and elsewhere, communities are spending millions investing in state-of-the-art Jewish center facilities.

What about in Los Angeles? A Federation-funded study based on the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Study revealed that, while only 11 percent of households belong to a Jewish Community Center, an estimated 133,000 households reported contact with a Jewish Center in the course of a year.

Visiting the Westside JCC — as I do about twice each week — provides a clue as to why centers work, even if the system that supports them is broken. On a given afternoon, moms and dads are picking up kids from swim practice, seniors are kibitzing in the activities room, men wearing kippot are playing basketball alongside men whose only connection to Jewish life is the weekly pick-up game. Centers are the gathering place of the great swath of Jewry, religious and nonreligious, male and female, young, old, somewhat wealthy and downright poor. How can we call for Jewish unity but not support the system that physically makes it possible?

Do we really want our children and grandchildren to grow up in an L.A. Jewish community that has more Holocaust museums and memorials than Jewish Community Centers?

This crisis need not leave the JCC in ruins. As the L.A. Jewish community has shifted and changed, centers have changed with it. In 1952, there was a bitter fight over closing a JCC in the West Adams section near downtown, as most Jews had moved west. But the JCC moved west, and grew as L.A. Jewry did.

This crisis too is an opportunity for more growth and change. But for that to happen, JCC and Federation leaders have got to show creativity and leadership. Centers provide a spawning ground for Jewish identity, which in turn strengthens every Jewish institution here. "This is a time to get everyone around the table — Marvin Hier, Uri Herscher, every rabbi, everyone — and figure out how to save the centers. Are those calls even going out?" said someone close to the process.

On Tuesday, I called Herscher, founder and president of the Skirball Cultural Center, and told him what was happening at the JCCs. "I feel like I’ve just been told someone has died when I wasn’t even told he was sick," he told me. "Are we so divided as a community we can’t ask one another for help? I wouldn’t say no."

When he immigrated to America, Herscher had relied on the centers in Cincinnati and San Jose. "They embrace a lot of people," he said of JCC.

We should extend that embrace into the future: a vision of a new, state-of-the-art center, such as the one outgoing Federation Chairman Todd Morgan has promoted, is a place to start. Add to it the brilliant redesign of the Westside JCC that members there have been struggling to bring into fruition. Add to that other visions, along with better financial oversight and better outreach, and there can be a renewed dedication to a system that deserves to flourish, not fail.

Ideological Insults

As terror struck New York and Washington, D.C., Jewish activists were still recovering from the ideological bomb of a U.N. conference that lashed out at Israel as racist and apartheid.

The final governmental declaration adopted here last Saturday by the U.N. World Conference Against Racism was dramatically toned down in its criticism of Israel.

But an earlier declaration by non-governmental organizations remains on the ledger as, in the view of Jewish activists, the most damning indictment of Jews since World War II.

The impact of the NGO declaration may be seen when a series of U.N. forums resumes later this month.

Israel and the United States withdrew their delegations from Durban several days after the NGO declaration, and vigorous lobbying by European governments managed to remove direct references to Israel from the conference’s final governmental declaration.

That prompted back-slapping in Jerusalem — but the document nevertheless criticizes the Jewish State by implication.

Compromise language adopted Saturday, after the conference had been extended a day in the search for a settlement, condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The Arab bloc’s last-minute effort to label foreign occupation “among the forms and sources of racial discrimination” was also rejected.

But the conference did recognize the “plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.”

In Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior breathed a sigh of relief that the document did not “include one word condemning Israel.” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described it as an “accomplishment for Israeli foreign policy.”

Beneath the spin, though, lay a more ominous truth.

It would be one thing for the United Nations to acknowledge the Palestinian “plight” at say, the U.N. General Assembly. It’s another when the linkage is made at an anti-racism conference.

The implication is that Palestinian suffering is a result of racism — and that Israel therefore must be practicing racism.

In contrast to the governmental declaration, the NGO declaration requires no parsing. It accuses Israel of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “racism” and “apartheid.”

It calls for the creation of an international tribunal to investigate war crimes and other crimes that Israel allegedly has committed against the Palestinians.

And it unveils what Jewish observers say is a strategy aimed at dismantling Israel through extreme international isolation.

In linking Israel with the old South Africa as pariah apartheid states based on notions of racial superiority, the NGO declaration proposes a similar recipe for dismantling — “mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel” and the “launch of an international anti-Israel apartheid movement” through “a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society, U.N. bodies and agencies, business communities, and to end the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States.”

While the “apartheid” tag is new, some Jewish activists suggested it is merely an escalation in the Palestinian diplomatic offensive against Israel.

“No doubt, the language adopted here is another brick in the wall for those using international human-rights mechanisms to delegitimize or even dismantle the Jewish State,” said Stacy Burdett, the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director of government affairs. “This movement has always existed. But our opponents have demonstrated an unprecedented sophistication and cunning.”

While the language may have changed, the intent remains the same, said Irwin Cotler, a Canadian parliamentarian and renowned human rights lawyer.

“In a world in which human rights has emerged as the secular religion of our time, Israel, portrayed as the worst of human-rights violators, is the new anti-Christ,” said Cotler, who worked closely with the Jewish caucus in Durban.

“Classical anti-Semitism was discrimination against or denial of the right of individual Jews to live as equal members of a free society,” he said. “The new anti-Jewishness is discrimination against [Israel], or denial of the right of the Jewish State to live as an equal member of the family of nations.”

The declaration was so harsh that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said she would not recommend it to governmental delegates as a guideline for their own declaration.

However, Robinson said, she also was determined that the final declaration recognize the Palestinians’ “suffering” — indicating her belief that a racism conference was the proper context for Palestinian complaints.

While some observers and activists dismissed the NGO declaration as irrelevant, the Palestinians and their allies will be able to claim that the “voice of civil society” has spoken, since roughly 8,000 NGO delegates from around the world were on hand.

Jewish activists suggested that the NGO statement was so caustic that Palestinian sympathizers felt they could ease off in the government document, appearing magnanimous and open to compromise.

But Jewish observers said they wouldn’t be surprised if the “racist, apartheid” mantra comes up again when the U.N. General Assembly reconvenes in New York later this month, at an upcoming U.N. conference on children, at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and in other forums.

In addition, pro-Palestinian student groups plan to launch a nationwide campaign Oct. 12-14, urging people and institutions to divest from “Israeli apartheid,” a la South Africa.

The declaration raises other questions.

Some wonder whether the European defense of Israel in the waning days of the conference was motivated by a sense of justice or Europe’s longtime desire to play a more influential role in the Mideast crisis.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country currently holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, hinted as much when, at a press conference late Friday night, he boasted that the continent is emerging as a “peace power.”

Since the intifada broke out a year ago, the Palestinians have been pushing to marginalize the Americans — whom the Arab world considers hopelessly allied to Israel — and to “internationalize” the Mideast crisis by bringing in other parties.

When the European Union came to Israel’s defense at Durban, a Jordanian journalist lashed out at Michel, suggesting that the E.U.’s hard bargaining was damaging its status as a “neutral” player.

Finally, with the Mideast conflict drowning out practically all other causes at Durban — and detracting from a potentially historic apology for slavery — there was concern about who would be blamed for the missed opportunity.

Some at Durban grumbled about U.S. Jewish groups and Israel, alleging that they have too much influence in Washington and orchestrated the U.S. pullout.

“Those groups who didn’t get their issues aired fully will be looking for someone to blame,” said Alan Gold, a spokesman for B’nai B’rith International. “And the historic scapegoating is of the Jews.”

Dissenting Opinions

Congressional leaders, activists and religious leaders invoked biblical notions of justice to spotlight the need to bring about campaign reform, reduce poverty and end the “failed war on drugs.” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) warned the packed Shadow Convention 2000 audience in downtown Los Angeles that the Democratic and Republican con-ventions are “the worst display of money and corruption in American history.”

The Shadow Convention 2000, sponsored by Common Cause, Public Citizen, political columnist Arianna Huffington and Call to Renewal, brought together journalists, policy experts and lots of T-shirt-clad 20-something activists for four days of intense discussion. Each day focused on different topics – campaign-finance reform, the failure of the war on drugs, poverty – that both the Democratic and Republican conventions prefer to avoid. Patriotic Hall, just five blocks south of the Staples Center, has also become a mecca for liberals dissatisfied with Clinton Administration policies. Jewish speakers and themes of social justice prevailed throughout.

Feingold, the principal sponsor of major campaign finance reform with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), argued that “we have devolved from a representative democracy to a corporate democracy in this country.” Feingold called on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to stop soft money fundraising at the convention.

“This is not a system of one person, one vote; or one delegate, one vote; but a system of $1 million dollars, 1 million votes,” the popular Jewish senator asserted. “It is a system of legalized bribery and legalized extortion.”

“Let us at least have the Democratic Party turn away from this distortion of our democracy.” The Shadow Convention atmosphere was a peculiar mix of C-SPAN, ironic humor and earnestness. The convention auditorium itself was lined with randomly placed signs that read “Disillusioned,” “Ignored,” “Disregarded” and “Not a CEO.”

Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), introduced by Rev. Jim Wallis as “speaking with the voice of an Old Testament prophet,” grounded his calls for clean elections with the civics he learned as the son of Jewish immigrants believing in the American dream. “It hurts my heart when people tell me that both parties are bought and paid for,” he said.

Wellstone praised the Shadow Convention and con-trasted it with the Democratic Convention. “Some of my friends weren’t happy with my being here,” Wellstone said. “But this convention combines the focus on reform, with getting big money out of politics, with economic justice.”

“How is it, with this record economy, that so many Demo-crats say we can’t change our social arrangements, that we allow our children to be the most poverty-stricken people in America?” asked Wellstone. “Both parties are controlled by the same set of heavy hitters.”

Praising the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Harvard Prof. Cornel West said, “A blow against bigotry is a step forward for humanity.” Yet, West continued, “I’d be a lot more excited about a Jewish brother like Sen. Wellstone .”

Juxtaposing the wealth of the world’s richest residents with the poorest nations, West, author of “Race Matters,” claimed that “the three richest people have the same wealth as the bottom 48 countries.” West proceeded to quote Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We can have a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both.”

The overflow of people at the Shadow Convention led to a sit-in atmosphere where people found space on the lobby floor to watch speakers on huge TV screens. Volunteers wearing T-shirts with the slogan “We vote every four years; money votes every day” ushered celebrities and speakers into rooms. Free newspapers, large banners and leaflets filled the tables. Ben Cohen, founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, distributed free ice-cream bars to activists. Humorists like Harry Shearer and Al Franken mocked the DNC convention as a corporate-sponsored collection of focus-grouped words and slogans.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Jewish political journal Tikkun, argued Monday for “an emancipatory spirituality” that would reconnect people, challenge the status quo and in-spire hope. Noting that leftist politics often focus on “those left out,” Lerner preferred the hopeful message “There is enough,” referring to material needs for most people.

“America is a spiritual wasteland whose temples of material prosperity are built to the idols of money and power that do not satisfy the soul,” Lerner said, warning that progressive poli-tics must include a spiritual dimension and criticism of consumerism.

“People are finally starting to wake up to the fact that the drug war makes no sense,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, a sponsor of the Shadow Convention proceedings on the drug war.

According to Nadelmann, taxpayers will spend more than $40 billion this year alone to enforce the drug laws – a dramatic increase since 1980, when federal spending was roughly $1 billion and spending by the states just a few times that.

“Yet illicit drugs are cheaper and purer than they were two decades ago and continue to be readily available,” Nadelmann said. He praised the Shadow Convention as a “having a higher percentage of mensches than any other political movement.”