Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed


Marijuana is everywhere. Smokers come from every walk of life — from the college student to the cancer patient, from the wealthy older couple to the heroin addict who started out just smoking weed.

Jews care about this issue because Jews, like every other group, can be found among those who use, who dispense, who grow, and also those who disdain this all-pervasive drug. In fact, the halachah of pot is not entirely clear.

The Talmud states that the law of the land is the law. But when it comes to pot, what does that mean? State and federal rules on marijuana are rapidly changing. California has legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational possession of small amounts, but many smokers still rely on the black market. And marijuana remains completely illegal under federal law, although enforcement is inconsistent.  Now, Californians face Proposition 19 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a measure that would allow possession, purchase and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Jewish perspective on pot is ambivalent, and observant Jews could plausibly take either side of Proposition 19, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of ethics and Jewish law and rector at the American Jewish University. On one hand, Judaism “is very insistent on responsibility for our actions,” Dorff said, meaning that becoming extremely intoxicated on any substance is forbidden. Any drug that harms the body is also forbidden because “in the Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies, and we have a fiduciary relationship to take care of [ourselves],” Dorff said.

On the other hand, marijuana may be more akin to alcohol — a drug that observant Jews may take in moderation — rather than tobacco, which the Jewish tradition frowns upon as dangerous and highly addictive, Dorff said. Where marijuana falls on that sliding scale is an “empirical question,” he added, and the answer may affect how Jews vote on Proposition 19. Schools, synagogues, drug control experts and law enforcement all have a role to play in providing that answer and determining the boundary between the law and making a responsible individual choice.

Cities Rule

The most distinguishing feature of Proposition 19 is how much authority it delegates to cities. Possession of up to 1 ounce would be legal statewide, but California already has made possession of that amount an infraction on par with a speeding ticket. The real meat of Proposition 19 is that cities would become free to make their own rules on regulating and taxing the commercial sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. 

“I think they’re trying to make sure cities can opt out, like with liquor stores [or] medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Kyle Kazan, a former Torrance police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supports the measure. “You can zone it away.”

Story continues after the jump.

Opponents, however, see the delegation of authority to cities as a “legal nightmare,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the No on 19 campaign.  “You’re going to have 550 different versions of this law, city by city,” said Rodney Jones, chief of the Fontana Police Department and a Proposition 19 opponent. County sheriffs will have a particular problem, Jones said, because they cross city lines and will be responsible for enforcing small differences in rules on marijuana.

But Kazan said police already handle similar complexity in enforcing various city ordinances on the sale of liquor.  And if the initiative had set a single rule for marijuana sales statewide, supporters worry that “the other side would say, ‘How dare they have a one-size-fits-all solution?’ ” said Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, an attorney and member of the legal committee of Yes on 19.

The Case for Talking to Kids

Even if only a few cities authorize sales, both sides agree that Proposition 19 almost certainly would increase overall use of marijuana in California.  It would be more widely available in stores than it is on the black market now, and it would not be stigmatized as illegal. And unless governments levy huge taxes, it would also likely be much cheaper. The real debate is whether the inevitable increase in use will be more harmful than the status quo.

Drug war veterans have long argued that marijuana physically damages the brain and other organs, but the data on that are inconclusive. “ ‘Reefer Madness’ isn’t true,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. “The [idea that] everyone who picks up a joint has their life ruined is absurd,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless, Humphreys said. “I don’t deny that some people use marijuana and they’re fine, but if a million people pick up regular marijuana use, probably at least 10 to 20 percent will have significantly adverse experiences in life, maybe do badly in school, maybe get in a car accident.” Legal marijuana would be particularly harmful to high school students who are already on the verge of flunking out, he said.

Nobody knows exactly how much usage will increase, but Humphreys predicts the state could add anywhere from 1 million to 3 million new smokers. Vulnerable groups, such as teens and the poor, are particularly likely to smoke more, he said, because they have less disposable income and will be more attracted by the lower price.

Jason Ablin, head of school at Milken Community High School, has worked with high-school students for 20 years, but he’s not convinced that the status quo of criminalization is an effective deterrent, either.

“I think if kids are going to use drugs and alcohol, they’re going to find ways to acquire them — they do it with alcohol already,” Ablin said. “We have a lot of double standards with marijuana use. The association with marijuana is counter-culture, so that becomes a lot more damning than, say, alcohol,” he said.

For Dershowitz, that association is patently unfair. “As we look inward [following] Yom Kippur and the New Year, we also need to look outward to reflect on our actions as a society,” she said. Dershowitz is particularly troubled by the social and legal stigmas that follow a young person who is busted by law enforcement for marijuana, even now that the penalties have been reduced. “We should abhor a system that erases other people’s chances to turn toward the good simply because they’ve chosen an action that we singled out for disdain.”

Instead of focusing on heavy-handed scare tactics and criminalization, Ablin prefers to engage kids in a broader public policy discussion about the way society treats drugs in general. “Because I work in schools, I have a lot more confidence in kids to critically think through problems,” Ablin said. “You’re not getting anywhere with kids by talking at them. [You’ll do] much better work by listening to them.”

Steinitz Says Sharon Move ‘Damaging’


Dr. Yuval Steinitz, one of the most influential Likud stalwarts in the Knesset, lashed out against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during a just concluded visit to Southern California.

Steinitz, who chairs the key Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as intelligence and security subcommittees, spoke his mind after Israeli media reported that Sharon decided to leave Likud and form a new centrist party.

“A party leader cannot leave his party,” he said in a phone interview. “It goes against the basic democratic norms and is damaging to Israel.”

“Sharon is very talented, but he has always had a problem about basic rules of behavior,” said Steinitz, who in his chairman’s post reports directly to Sharon and has known him for seven years.

Former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion “spoke of his problematic personality,” added Steinitz, and former Prime Minister Menahem Begin considered Sharon “dangerous.”

Steinitz spoke with leaders of the American Friends of Likud during his visit last weekend and said he was “100 percent confident that they will stay with Likud. They wouldn’t even consider any other course because it would be immoral.”

That remains to be seen, of course. The stance of American Likud supporters matters in Israel because Israeli leaders call on American Jews both for financial support and to advocate for Israel within the U.S.

Steinitz acknowledged that Sharon had played a key role in the formation of the Likud Party but argued that this made the prime minister’s current action even more reprehensible.

“Sharon also built the settlements [in Gaza)] and then destroyed them,” said Steinitz, who is considered on the right wing of Likud but said he voted for disengagement from Gaza.

“It’s like parents who bring children into the world, but that doesn’t give the father or mother the right to destroy them,” he added.

Steinitz enthusiastically lauded the leadership qualities of Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who is likely to become the new head of the weakened Likud Party.

“Bibi was a very good prime minister and finance minister,” Steinitz said. “His record on security and the economy is the best in Israeli history.”

Whether the political upheaval will hurt Israel’s standing in the Middle East and the world is “completely uncertain,” said Steinitz, but he predicted a political slide for Sharon.

“Our history shows that new centrist parties start with a lot of appeal but decline within a few months time,” Steinitz said. “Even if Sharon loses only 30 percent of his Likud support, he will be bypassed in a new election by both Likud and Labor.” He predicted that 10-15 out of 40 Likud Knesset members would follow Sharon into his new party.

The 47-year old Steinitz, who is “on leave” from his post as philosophy professor at the University of Haifa, switched from Peace Now activist to Likud hardliner over his opposition to the Oslo agreement.

During a busy schedule in the Los Angeles area, Steinitz spoke at a Jewish Republican conclave, in Orange County, the Iranian community’s Nessah synagogue, B’nai David-Judea Congregation and UCLA Hillel.

Steinitz expressed confidence that despite the liberalism of the Jewish communities in California, the nascent American Friends of Likud organization on the West Coast would attract supporters.

“There are lots of conservative Jews and they feel a strong commitment to Israel,” he said.

 

A Guilty Plea in AIPAC Case


A Pentagon analyst at the center of an investigation that has rocked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will plead guilty.

Edward Adams, a spokesman for the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., announced last week that Lawrence Franklin had scheduled a guilty plea for this week. Edwards said he did not know what charge Franklin would plead to, or if the plea is part of a larger deal.

Lawyers for Franklin in the past have suggested that he would plead guilty to charges that he moved classified documents out of a designated area to his home in West Virginia, the least of the charges against Franklin. He also is charged with leaking classified information to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two AIPAC staffers who have since been fired, and to Israeli diplomats. Franklin’s lawyers said in August that they would seek to try Franklin separately from Rosen and Weissman, who also have been indicted.

 

Community Briefs


Suit Seeks $51 Million in Israeli Immigrant’s Slaying

The family of an Israeli immigrant fatally wounded by Burbank police has filed a $51 million wrongful death suit against the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles. Assaf Deri, 25, died June 25, 2004, when Burbank undercover officers shot him in a North Hollywood alley.

The fatal shooting occurred when plainclothes officers approached Deri, after “boxing him into an alley with their vehicles,” according to the suit. A coroner’s report concluded that Deri died after officers shot him multiple times.

Officials said the shooting occurred after two officers approached Deri’s car on foot while conducting a narcotics investigation in an alley near Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Oxnard Street. Police said Deri, who was alone in the car, accelerated the vehicle, hitting and slightly injuring one of the officers. The officers then opened fire.

The shooting remains under investigation by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office. However, the city of Burbank has denied any wrongdoing. Its shooting review board determined that officers acted “within policy,” and that they were “defending themselves from death or serious injury.”

The suit asserts that Deri “was not engaging in any illegal or suspicious activity, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” It also states that Deri had no previous criminal record.

In addition, the suit alleges that officers were quick to draw their weapons because Deri looked Middle Eastern. The suit charges that Deri “was killed because of his race and national origin [Middle Eastern], and his religion [Jewish] and/or his perceived religion [Muslim].”

Later the night of the shooting, police reportedly went to Deri’s apartment and handcuffed his father, who was visiting from Israel, and his girlfriend, according to family friends. Officers allegedly roused them at midnight, told them that Deri was dead, then held them there overnight without allowing them to make phone calls.

The suit says that officers “conduced a fruitless search for contraband and/or illegal activities without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.”

The family went public late last week with its legal action. But the claim was apparently filed late last month, just prior to the one-year anniversary of Deri’s death.

The Burbank City Attorney’s Office said it is preparing a statement in response. The city of Los Angeles, where the shooting took place, has already rejected the claim, according to attorneys. — Howard Blume, Senior Editor, and Jim Crogan, Contributing Writer

GOP Jewish Coalition Raises USO Funds at Gathering

About 500 Jewish Republicans chastised liberals at an annual bash that paid tribute to U.S. troops in general and the Bob Hope Hollywood USO in particular.

The July 10 gathering at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley was put on by the Southern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). One-fourth of the each $100 ticket was set aside for the USO.

Jewish moralist and radio talk show host Dennis Prager told the crowd that traditionally liberal-voting Jews should remember that the Democratic Party today is not the same one it was in the Depression.

“Roosevelt is dead,” said Prager, who singled out anti-war activists for criticism. “What exactly ended the Holocaust if not war? Do you know how South Koreans would be living if not for war?”

He also accused liberals of failing to denounce “this resurgence of Nazism called Islamic fascism. You can’t say, ‘It’s the wrong war in the wrong time at the wrong place,’ and then say, ‘Hey, I support the troops.'”

Speakers generally did not comment on Israel’s planned withdrawal next month from the Gaza Strip.

The 21-year-old RJC has 20,000 members nationwide, said Matthew Brooks, the national group’s executive director. Brooks added that there is “nothing more important” right now than creating Jewish support for John Bolton, President Bush’s controversial nominee for U.N. ambassador. The event attracted Jews from GOP chapters in Santa Barbara, Orange County, Sacramento and Fresno.

Prager clearly enjoyed his receptive audience, saying, “It’s so eerie for me to actually speak with people I agree with.” — David innigan, Contributing Writer

Here’s Mud in Your Face

A teacher reaches some students with poetry. Others are inspired by idealism, or by the team spirit of athletics or by the imagined universe of books. But if putting Dead Sea mud on your face does the job, so be it.

That’s part of how Catholic schoolteacher Theresa Yugar connected her religion class students to Israel at Sacred Heart High School, a girls school in East Los Angeles.

As for Yugar, she developed her own connection through a program that sends Catholic educators to Israel. The Holy Land Democracy Project is run by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The goal is to combat negative perceptions of Israel.

Last year, the program was conducted as a pilot project in five Catholic high schools. This year, another seven high schools came aboard, with seven religion or social studies teachers spending March 28 to April 10 in Israel. They followed up the trip with a weeklong course for their students in May, emphasizing Israel as a Middle East democracy.

It worked for Yugar, who was in the second group of teachers in the program. When she wanted to share her new-found bond with Israel, she decided this spring to use a piece of the land — some mud.

“They thoroughly loved it,” said Yugar. “They’re girls. They’re totally girls.”

Participating high schools include those located in poorer areas, such as Sacred Heart and Verbum Dei in South Central L.A., plus more middle-class campuses, such as Mary Star of the Sea in San Pedro, and tony Villanova Preparatory in Ojai.

At a June awards ceremony, organizers handed out $1,900 in Israel Bonds as prizes for student essays, art projects and poems that arose out of their teachers’ post-Israel class assignments.

Traveling to Israel was “an experience that will take a very long time to sort out,” religion teacher Mary Killmond of Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills told the audience at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“Going there inspired me,” said Jeanine Di Cesaris, a social studies teacher at the all-girls Pomona Catholic High School, who traveled to the Israel on the first trip last year. “It wasn’t like going to Hawaii. Israel stayed with me. It becomes a part of you.”

The Federation would like to expand the program to Catholic schools in Mexico. — DF

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The Battle Over Gaza in America


It all started with a dream.

One night in March, Jon Hambourger slipped into a deep sleep and envisioned a train rolling through history. The 47-year-old Los Angeles mortgage broker said he had a choice: jump on or risk irrelevance.

The next morning, the Orthodox father of one told his wife that he had to go to the Gaza Strip, the coastal plain occupied by Israeli forces since 1967 and subsequently settled by groups of Israelis.

During his four-day Gaza visit, Hambourger met with Israeli factory owners, farmers and religious leaders. He also spent time with his wife’s nephew, a resident of the Atzmona settlement, which faces an August forced evacuation by the Israeli government.

The withdrawal is part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, a key component of his government’s strategy to secure Israel’s borders and perhaps take a step toward peace with Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries.

Hambourger was touched by the settlers’ kindness and determination to stay in Gaza, in the region known as Gush Katif, a block of Jewish settlements in Southern Gaza. They won him over.

In April, he took a leave of absence from his job and founded SaveGushKatif.org, a Los Angeles-based group committed to scuttling the Israeli government’s planned evacuation through advocacy and education.

In the past two and a half months, 70 members, largely Orthodox Jews, have joined, including Jews in New York, Phoenix and Chicago. Another 800 supporters have registered on the group’s content-laden Web site, savegushkatif.org. Hambourger’s group is apparently the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, and it has forged alliances with pro-settlement groups worldwide.

The likelihood of SaveGushKatif or any other pro-settler group stopping the evacuation has dimmed in the wake of a court decision last week: Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the government’s disengagement plan, ruling that the government’s compensation for the displaced settlers is fair. The decision removed a crucial legal hurdle that stood in the way of the Sharon administration.

“Disengagement is decided. It’s planned. It’s going to happen,” said David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now.

Still, many newspaper polls in Israel have shown a drop in support over the past year for Sharon’s plan from a high of more than 70 percent to around 55 percent. Public sentiment has shifted, experts say, partly because Israeli settlers and their partisans have launched a successful PR drive.

Among other initiatives, Gush Katif residents are going door-to-door in Tel Aviv and other largely secular communities, explaining why the settlers should stay and handing out complimentary fruit and vegetables from Gaza. SaveGushKatif helps fund these grass-roots efforts through direct fundraising appeals.

To be sure, most of America’s roughly 6 million Jews continue to support the evacuation, according to most experts. Many hope that relinquishing Gaza to Palestinian control might jumpstart the peace process and lessen tensions. At the very least, they argue that Israel should leave the disputed region because of the overwhelming financial and military drain of protecting less than 9,000 Jews surrounded by more than 1 million Arabs.

But there’s still a significant minority, especially among Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians, that opposes withdrawal. Hambourger hopes his organization will become one of the most influential voices among them.

“I had to do something,” Hambourger said. “Otherwise, how could I look at myself in the mirror again?”

Hambourger’s sojourn in Gaza convinced him that giving up the 21 Jewish settlements there would reward Palestinian terror, unfairly uproot settlers and contravene God’s wishes that Jews remain in the land. Sharon’s plan also would uproot four settlements in the northern West Bank.

A Sense of Mission

A religious man, Hambourger said he would ideally like Jews to control all territory the Torah designates as Greater Israel. But as a pragmatist, he said he would support trading land for peace, if he thought it would serve the interests of the Jewish state.

A pullout from Gaza does not, he said. Leaving, he added, would only embolden terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, which are bent on Israel’s destruction.

Hambourger characterized the Palestinian Authority as corrupt, and said it would simply view withdrawal as a concession and step up pressure for the Jews to retreat from the West Bank, Jerusalem and eventually all of Israel.

That’s why, Hambourger said, Save GushKatif highlights the security argument above all others. Such a position also resonates better with nonobservant Jews who might tune out biblical exhortations.

Seated in a booth at the kosher La Gondola restaurant in Los Angeles for an interview recently, the burly 6-foot-2 Hambourger was clad in black pants, blue dress shirt and a kippah. He said he’s found his calling in heading up the group.

Working alongside his chief of staff Chaya Rivka Brenners, a special events and fundraising coordinator, he routinely puts in 12-hour days. Together, they plan events, fundraisers and educational activities.

Given the high stakes, Hambourger said, he has invested nearly $20,000 of his own money in the organization. He also recently retained an attorney to obtain official nonprofit status.

SaveGushKatif wants to make its presence felt across the United States. Members recently handed out brochures and stickers at speeches given by Sharon in New York and Washington. Several local Save GushKatif supporters traveled to Gaza in early June to show solidarity with Gush Katif residents.

SaveGushKatif members believe the tide is turning. The overwhelmingly positive response they received at their debut appearance at the Israel Independence Day festival in Los Angeles shows that opinions can change.

At the May 15 event at a Van Nuys park, revelers, braving long lines and nearly triple-digit temperatures, dropped by the group’s booth and snapped up a thousand free shirts and other items all dyed in orange — the color that has come to symbolize solidarity with the beleaguered settlers.

SaveGushKatif member Shifra Hastings, who donned an orange skirt, orange bracelet and orange nail polish at the festival, hadn’t expected such a uniformly positive reaction. She thought some liberal Jews would make snide remarks about the settlers, whom she said the media stereotypes as crazy right-wingers. Instead, Hastings added, secular, Reform and Conservative Jews in shorts and tank tops, Orthodox Jews in kippahs and Israeli Jews seemed almost universally open to arguments that leaving Gaza would darken Israel’s future.

“People cared. People were curious. People were supportive,” she said. “It was great.”

Local SaveGushKatif volunteers have also distributed bumper stickers and fliers to Jewish bakeries and mostly to Orthodox shuls in Hancock Park, Sherman Oaks, Pico-Robertson and other Southland communities with a high concentration of observant Jews. Similar mass distributions of new materials are planned, as are lectures, fundraisers and rallies. A print advertising campaign has just begun, with the first spot running in The Jewish Journal.

“I believe we’re starting to make a difference,” said L.A. resident Stephanie Wells, a SaveGushKatif member who attended protests in New York and Washington during Sharon’s recent U.S. visit. “We’re just telling the truth and trying to get it out.”

“When people begin to hear the truth, they respond to the truth,” added Southland resident Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member who helps with fundraising. “And the truth is, disengagement is bad for the state of Israel and bad for the Jewish people on every conceivable level.”

Expanding beyond its Southland roots, SaveGushKatif recently joined with seven other groups to establish the bicoastal American Coalition to Save Gush Katif/Gaza and Northern Samaria. Members include the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI, a New York-based advocacy group that supports a “Greater Israel.” Coalition partners share e-mail lists and ideas for educating the public.

Group partners discuss strategy via conference calls, ZOA President Morton Klein said. He added that even if these efforts fail, the importance of taking a stand cannot be overestimated.

“If it doesn’t work here, we have to send a message to the [Israeli government]: Don’t think it will be so easy to throw Jews out of Judea and Samaria,” Klein said, referring to the biblical names for the West Bank.

“Misguided” Zeal

All of these “save Gaza” efforts are misguided, said Sabiha Khan, communications director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Khan said that Israel’s security situation would worsen if groups like SaveGushKatif and the Zionist Organization of America prevailed.

“True peace will not occur until Israel ends its occupation and Palestinians have their independence and a viable state, too,” she said.

Khan’s opinion is shared by many Jews, including Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Sokatch insisted that leaving Gaza would benefit Israel in the long run.

“This overwhelming support for disengagement from the American and Israeli governments, as well as their citizens, reflects an understanding among so many that the only way Israel can survive as a Jewish democracy is to withdraw from the Occupied Territories,” Sokatch said. “Gaza is a critical first step.”

Sokatch and others worry that passions surrounding the pullout could lead to Jew-on-Jew violence in the Holy Land. Certainly, emotions, both locally and internationally, will heat up as the disengagement grows near, observers predicted.

At the very least, the conflict over Gaza reflects a growing division between liberal and Orthodox Jews, who frequently have more in common politically with evangelical Christians than with their secular Jewish brethren, said David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

SaveGushKatif founder Hambourger said the last thing he wants is to exacerbate divisions among Jews. He’s admonished group members to refrain from overheated rhetoric against the Israeli government, including against Sharon, whom he calls a heroic general making a terrible mistake.

Shouting down pro-disengagement Israeli leaders or painting them as traitors only alienates moderate and liberal Jews, whose support SaveGushKatif needs, he said. Recently, Hambourger asked a man who advocated disrupting pro-disengagement gatherings to stop attending Save GushKatif meetings.

Not all SaveGushKatif members appear to share Hambourger’s position. Brooklyn supporter Robin Ticker said God gave Gush Katif and other disputed land to the Jews and to the Jews alone. She thinks Israel should treat Arabs living within its borders well, but bar them from owning land. The Jewish state, which she calls a “theocracy,” should also require Arabs and Muslims to take loyalty oaths.

“Only Jews can sanctify the land, just like only a violinist can play violin or a computer programmer can program,” said Ticker, who has lobbied at least a dozen rabbis in her Flatbush neighborhood to publicly oppose the disengagement.

Hambourger distances himself from his more extreme supporters, because he’s playing to win. And he believes he needs a wide array of Jews, without regard to their religiosity, politics or even sexual orientation.

His acolytes include Zohar Wertheim, 38, an Israeli-born gay man who owns a framing gallery in West Hollywood. He characterizes disengagement as a muddle-headed attempt to appease world opinion. After meeting with Hambourger, Wertheim said, he wrote SaveGushKatif a check for $50 and began posting pro-settler fliers in his shop window.

“I plan to do as much as I can,” Wertheim said.

Talking with a reporter at La Gondola restaurant, Hambourger surveyed fellow diners and said the fight for Gush Katif begins and ends in such places.

“These are the people who make donations, call politicians and get involved,” he said. “These are regular people, and I want to reach them.”

 

Q & A With Al Pacino


 

“The Godfather’s” Michael Corleone has taken a crack at Shylock. Oscar-winner Al Pacino — always a daring actor — steps into the shoes of Shakespeare’s notorious moneylender in the latest big-screen version of the Bard’s classic, “The Merchant of Venice.”

Directed by Michael Radford and co-starring Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Sony Classics is handling “Merchant’s” distribution with extreme care. Aware that the film could be used to stir hatred in today’s global climate of mounting anti-Semitism, Sony is sensitive to interpretations of the most famous anti-Semitic stereotype in literature, especially given last year’s release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

Having Pacino in the lead guarantees attention will be paid to the film. At 64, the actor is one of the few movie names that commands instant respect. He is part of an elite band known simply by their last name: Brando, Garbo, DeNiro, Streep.

The first signal that this actor was potentially for the ages came in l972 with his Michael Corleone, the straight-arrow who takes his family’s concept of loyalty to the extreme to become the ruthless capo di tutti capi (boss of the bosses) in “The Godfather” and its two sequels.

Pacino could have played it safe, but he never did. He revels in risk. Despite or maybe because of that fact, he has delivered unforgettable and mesmerizing performances on stage and in countless movies including “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Scarface,” “Sea of Love,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Heat,” “Donnie Brasco” and “Any Given Sunday.” He won a best actor Oscar in l992 for “Scent of a Woman.”

He first tackled Shakespeare on film in 1996 as Richard III in “Looking for Richard.” Last year he played another controversial Jew, despicable lawyer Roy Cohn in the award-winning mini-series “Angels in America.”

Jewish Journal: How do you view Shylock?

Al Pacino: I see him as more sinned against than sinning. When I chart the history of this character, when I go into his life and his conditions, that’s what I come away with.

JJ: Because of the history of this play and the rise of anti-Semitism around the world today, can ‘Merchant’ not be seen as some kind of a provocation?

AP: I never had a desire to do ‘Merchant of Venice’ for a lot of reasons, but certainly I just couldn’t quite see the character. I saw some great performances done, but I myself had no relationship to it. But then I read Michael Radford’s text and I thought I understood somehow where Shylock was coming from. I thought that he made a case for Shylock and in doing that I was able to see the other elements of the character, those human elements. I started to understand his motivation and that was the point for me. I thought, ‘I can play this.’ Before that I didn’t know how I would approach it, but I saw a character that I could understand and identify with.

JJ: Is his tragedy that he lived during his time?

AP: I would say that, and his tragedy is also how he dealt with these conditions. As Michael Radford says, it’s a kind of road rage really because of what he’s come to in his life. It’s sort of being violated by the conditions of his life. I remember going into it very much with Michael and Jeremy Irons and talking about that scene with the pound of flesh … and knowing that what Shylock is really doing there is taking a risk. He doesn’t know Antonio’s ships are going to sink. It’s a way of standing up to the oppressors, his way of posturing to them.

JJ: Talk about approaching the ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ monologue. Is it about racism and is it indicating that Shakespeare wasn’t anti-Semitic?

AP: This is a real case against prejudice. It’s one of the great speeches against it. What I liked about it, what I felt about the way Michael set it up, and what I finally related to, was the fact that it was something that was happening on the street. It wasn’t a speech anymore. It was an incident that was taking place. Of course it’s wonderful. You get a speech like that and you really want to give it the old gun.

JJ: Yet it seemed you low-keyed it if anything.

AP: You know, you want to be Mr. Righteous, Mr. Right, and Michael kept moving me away from that and saying, ‘This is something that’s got to do with something that’s happening inside of him.’ It’s an episode that happens on a street. You’ve got the whores looking at him and you’ve got those two guys that he’s talking to and it just happened. It might not have happened. He might’ve just kept walking, but he turned around and just said it. You know, I’m sure that it’s happened to everyone: where we’ve had an opportunity sometimes that we just want to say, ‘You know, f— off.’ He’s earned the right in a way to speak out like that and he does it in that instant and it’s over. I only wish that I could talk about things that bother me like that.

JJ: What keeps Shakespeare so fresh in our minds?

AP: Lots of things. First of all though, let’s start with this: one has to have an appetite for it. I mean, it’s not a criteria for, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a big-time actor if you do Shakespeare.’ No. I mean, Charles Laughton, one of the greatest movie actors of all time, stage actors, too, never did Shakespeare. He couldn’t get around it. Paul Muni never did Shakespeare. It’s just something that either appeals to you or it doesn’t. There are a lot of great actors out there who aren’t doing Shakespeare. They have no desire to. It’s whatever rings your bell.

JJ: What are your priorities in life and movies?

AP: I’ve been lucky because I always let what I did dictate the work that I do. That’s what interests me. I remember doing roles for reasons that were really strange only because I wanted to explore something in the movie. And there were times when I did a movie to get away from what was happening in my personal life. My career is part of my personal as well as my artistic life.

JJ: After a lifetime in the business, what have you learned about acting?

AP: I learned early in my life that you try different parts in order to see if any of them will work. And that’s the benefit of repertory. You’ll read a role and say, ‘Never. I could never do that. I don’t understand it.’ But once you say, ‘Oh gee, I’d love to sink my teeth into that,’ you do. And it happens.

Ivor Davis writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.

 

Garbage Mouth


When the controversy over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” first erupted, Jewish leaders like Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League angered Christians by coming out forcefully against the movie.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, took umbrage. “A lot of Catholics in this town are saying, ‘Is that how Jews are looking at us,'” he told The Jewish Week, “‘that you scratch a Catholic and out comes a latent anti-Semite?'”

Last week, Donohue provided the answer to his rhetorical question. And the answer is, in his case, yes.

In a Dec. 10 appearance on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” Donohue railed against the possibility that Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” would receive an Oscar nomination, while Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” would not.

“Who really cares what Hollywood thinks?” Donohue said. “All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s why they hate this movie. It’s about Jesus Christ, and it’s about truth. It’s about the messiah.”

Donohue continued: “Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common.”

The host for this Jew-bashing fest was — surprise! — Pat Buchanan. Instead of calling Donohue out, he turned to panelist Rabbi Shmuely Boteach and asked why secular Jews hate America and love Michael Moore.

Read the transcript, and you’ll begin to wonder what looking glass you’ve fallen through. Boteach did a superb job in the role of Moses Nachmanides, the 13th-century scholar who was forced into public disputations over religion with Christian opponents.

“I’m amazed that we’ve made this a discussion about secular Jews,” Boteach said. “I have got to tell you that Bill Donohue, who I otherwise love and so respect, ought to be ashamed of himself, the way he’s spoken about secular Jews hating Christians. That is a bunch of crap, OK?”

Donohue’s accusations, goaded on by Buchanan, turned nastier:

Boteach: The fact is that Jewish people are incredibly charitable, good, decent family people.

Donohue: I didn’t question that.

Boteach: Hollywood has become a cesspit because it’s secular, period. Don’t do this — don’t tell us that it’s secular Jews.

Donohue: So the Catholics are running Hollywood, huh?

Boteach: Soon, you’re going to start telling us that the NBA is violent because it’s black people, all right, Bill? No, no, no. When people behave badly, just hold them individually accountable.

Donohue is clearly on the right flank of the Catholic world, but he is far from a fringe character. His organization, based in New York, claims a membership of 350,000 and has some significant mainstream names attached to it.

On the group’s Web site, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, offers this endorsement: “I encourage you to join the Catholic League, which defends not only the interests of Catholics but of all victims of anti-religious bigotry.”

Um, almost all.

So far, Donohue hasn’t apologized, and Mahony and others haven’t publicly chastised him, resigned their memberships or done anything to indicate that blaming “secular Jews” for all that is rotten in contemporary culture is perhaps out of bounds.

The comments buzzed through the entertainment community, evoking equal measures of outrage, disbelief and humor. Suffice it to say that in the wake of the scandals concerning priestly pederasty, Donohue didn’t get a pass for his “anal sex” remark.

It seems indecent to have to point out the obvious, but here’s a quick reality check for Donohue:

1. Jews don’t control Hollywood, corporations do. If you have a problem with smut on TV, tell Rupert Murdoch — not a Jew — to sink “Temptation Island.”

2. Hollywood is profit-friendly and risk-averse. Religion and politics are risky subjects. Knowing what they know now, 99.9 percent of studio execs would have green-lit “The Passion” faster than you could say “Scary Movie 7.”

3. The vast majority of Hollywood movies are positive, uplifting and moralistic, anyway. “Ray,” “The Incredibles,” the upcoming “Lemony Snicket” — great entertainment and great values.

I like the fact that Jews are represented across the political spectrum. But Jews who wave the banners of the left and right have to understand the dangers. On the left, there is a short hop from demonizing Israel to anti-Semitism. On the right, there is a finger snap from lumping together all “liberals” and “secularists” to attacking Jews. Just ask Bill Donohue.

Then ask him to apologize.

Our Cross to Bear?


At first blush it seemed an odd thing for an observant Jew to do: Slogging my way through morning rush-hour traffic to get downtown to demonstrate against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ decision to remove a small cross from the county seal.

And yet, I felt compelled to be there. The supervisors had already capitulated, in a 3-2 vote, to a threat by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to sue the county over the cross. Surprised by the public outcry, the supervisors called for another vote to consider a so-called “compromise” with the ACLU in which the cross on the seal — just one of a dozen various symbols of the region’s history — would be replaced by a mission. But as one clever observer noted, a mission without a cross just looks like a Taco Bell.

For years the actions of the ACLU have infuriated me. Their reflexively leftist positions have accomplished the exact opposite of what their name suggests: Instead of promoting civil liberties, they have hampered them at every opportunity, particularly by trying to eradicate symbols of Judaism and Christianity from public life and, by extension, have stifled free expression. Their successful bullying tactics have so cowed public officials that they simply fold when the ACLU comes complaining. In fact, the ACLU first targeted the city of Redlands, whose city seal also has a cross, and now bureaucrats there are busily taking black marker to the crosses until they can redesign the seal. Things must be pretty slow at the ACLU if this is all they can come up with as a threat to our national civil liberties.

By the way, the Los Angeles County seal also includes the pagan goddess Pomona, goddess of gardens and fruit trees, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the ACLU. Their animus is toward Christianity and Judaism, and it is as limitless as it is hypocritical. While they are now busily checking for crosses on county seals (and the cross on the Los Angeles County seal is so small they probably needed a magnifying glass to see it), they are only selectively bothered by Christian symbols. In 1995 they represented — are you ready? — the Ku Klux Klan, who were denied the right to erect a 6-foot cross in front of the Ohio Capitol State building. This bastion of “free speech” and civil liberties took up the Klansmens’ case (Capitol Square Review Board vs. Pinette), rejecting Ohio’s argument that allowing the display violated the separation of church and state. According to the ACLU, a tiny cross on a county seal representing part of the county’s history is intolerable, but an enormous cross put up by virulently racist Klansmen in front of a state capitol building is an expression of free speech. Got it?

Many of the demonstrators, led by radio talk show host Dennis Prager, argued that by eliminating the cross from the seal, the supervisors were rewriting history — a hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Like it or not, Los Angeles was founded by the Rev. Junipero Serra as a mission, making Christianity a central element in the county’s early history. For a group claiming to stand for free speech and civil liberties, eviscerating the truth of our history is unconscionable.

Most people understand the danger inherent in rewriting history. That’s why the 1,000-plus demonstrators at the Hall of Supervisors were multiracial, multiethnic and religiously diverse. (Of course, one would not know that from the coverage in the Los Angeles Times, which chose to include a photo making the gathered crowd look like a good ol’ boy come-to-Jesus meeting. The photo was so misleading and out of context that the Times ran a correction the following day.) I was pleased to find some of my religious friends among the crowd, including David Altschuler, who took his 10th-grade daughter out of school for the occasion. Like me, David came to show non-Jews that “many Jews appreciate the freedom that Christians in this country have granted to us.” Many people who noticed his kippah came up and thanked him for coming.

I probably would not have come to value the importance of this issue had I not studied with Rabbi Daniel Lapin, founder and president of Toward Tradition and formerly the rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice. For nearly 20 years, he has been a lone voice in the wilderness, arguing that it is the uniquely tolerant brand of Christianity practiced here that has given Jews the kind of freedom unprecedented anywhere in the Diaspora. On Jewish participation in the fight to save the cross on the seal, Lapin said, “Seldom have Jews appealed to the Christian community in vain when we needed help with issues important to us, such as supporting Soviet Jewish immigration or fighting domestic anti-Semitism. This is a chance for the organized Jewish community to return the favor.”

If anyone would have told me in my early adulthood that I’d become a defender of the cross, so to speak, I would have been as incredulous as if they’d also predicted I’d one day vote Republican. But people change. Sometimes, people become open to new ideas, even previously foreign ideas. The cross on the county seal is small, but the fight to preserve it is very, very big. I demonstrated not only to preserve the truth of our history, but also because I’ve had enough of the tyranny of the ACLU. This time, they’re after crosses. Can anybody doubt that next time it will be a Star of David?

Judy Gruen is an award-winning humorist and columnist for Religion News
Service. More of her columns can be found at www.judygruen.com.

Insurance Claim Debate Heats Up


Two antagonists in a long-simmering dispute about the handling of life insurance claims stemming from the Holocaust era took off their gloves last week in a bitter exchange of letters.

On one side stands Lawrence S. Eagleburger, chairman of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). ICHEIC was established in 1998 in Switzerland with a mission to speed up and settle claims against European insurance companies, at no cost to survivors and families of Holocaust victims.

The commission’s board includes representatives of European insurance carriers, the National (U.S.) Association of Insurance Commissioners, major Jewish organizations and the State of Israel.

On the other side is John Garamendi, insurance commissioner of the State of California, as well as an ICHEIC commissioner, who has been a long-standing critic of Eagleburger and last year called for his resignation.

Garamendi opened the volley in a two-page letter to Eagleburger, accusing ICHEIC of sloppy management, dragging its feet in processing claims and favoring European insurers.

At the present pace, and as elderly survivors keep dying, "claims will not be completed until 2011," he wrote and charged that only 5 percent of claims had actually been paid out.

Since ICHEIC’s operations are budgeted only until the end of this year, Garamendi said that he feared that "claimants will be deserted."

He also accused ICHEIC of ignoring its own commissioners "who dare to suggest improvement, make constructive criticism, ask incisive questions or call for better management."

Eagleburger, a former U.S. Secretary of State, struck back with a seven-page rebuttal, in which he characterized Garamendi’s letter as "an ongoing embodiment of your grandstanding tactics."

In response to a recommendation by Garamendi, which Eagleburger said would mean going back on his word, he noted acidly, "That may be the way you do business in California, but it would be my definition of truly amateurish."

Among the mass of data cited in the Eagleburger letter, clarified in a phone interview with ICHEIC Chief Operating Officer Mara Rudman, are:

Since its inception, ICHEIC has received 80,373 insurance claims, of which only 17,200 named a specific European insurer, who had issued the original policy to a Holocaust victim or survivor. In addition, ICHEIC linked 2,000 further claims to the names of companies. The remaining 76 percent of claims did not list a specific company.

ICHEIC has made concrete settlement offers to 3,700 claimants. Of these, 2,500 have been accepted by the claimants (which means that about 13 percent of the 19,200 claimants linked to specific insurance carriers have accepted settlement).

So far, $58 million has been paid out to claimants, with an additional $16 million in "humanitarian" aid going to elderly individuals, who received $1,000 each.

While ICHEIC is budgeted only until the end of this year, it expects to receive operating funds for another year. The commission hopes to process all valid claims by early next year and wind up its operations by the end of 2005.

German, French, Swiss and Italian insurance companies have funded ICHEIC for a total of $500 million for its operations and to settle all claims.

The main sticking point is the Italian insurer Assicurazoni Generali, one of Europe’s largest, which did a thriving business selling policies to East European Jews before World War II. A number of survivors are suing Generali for allegedly stonewalling their claims for decades. Rudman acknowledged that Generali’s current pace was unacceptable and that ICHEIC is seeking to speed up the company’s claim processing.

In California, survivors have lawsuits pending against Generali, as well as against ICHEIC for its bias in favor of Generali. The lead attorney in most cases has been William M. Shernoff of Claremont and Garamendi has publicly supported the plaintiffs’ suits.

According to financial reports filed with the California Secretary of State, Shernoff’s law firm contributed $55,000 to Garamendi’s election campaign in 2002.

Asked about the frequent complaints aimed at ICHEIC’s operations by survivors and in congressional hearings, Rudman acknowledged that all sides greatly underestimated the complexity and timeline of settling claims and that the commission suffered from "some poor communications. Everybody expected too much."

"We at ICHEIC have had a lot ground to make up," she added.

Court: JCC Parents Can Sue Gunmakers


Three families, whose children were shot by a white supremacist in an attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), can pursue their lawsuit against the makers of the weapons used in the shooting spree.

The May 28 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was greeted with relief by the three families and by the mother of postal carrier Joseph S. Ileto, who was slain by the same gunman in a separate attack.

The suit grew out of the Aug. 10, 1999 attack by Buford O. Furrow Jr., a self-avowed anti-Semite and white supremacist, on the Jewish center in Granada Hills, which left three children, one teenager and one adult wounded.

"I am so elated that we are finally moving forward," Donna Finkelstein told The Journal. Her daughter Mindy, then a 16-year-old counselor at the JCC, suffered two gunshot wounds to her leg.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Alan Stepakoff and Loren Lieb, whose then 6-year-old son, Joshua Stepakoff, was also shot in the leg.

Also participating in the suit, which seeks unspecified damages, are Eleanor and Charles Kadish, whose son Benjamin, then 5, was the most seriously injured, with gunshot wounds to his stomach and legs.

Eleanor Kadish said that the legal decision was "something of a victory" and she was optimist that the gunmakers would ultimately be held accountable.

She described her family life as "pretty much back to normal, but the trauma always comes back to you."

Among the large cache of weapons found in Furrow’s car were an Austrian-made Glock 9-millimeter handgun and a 9-millimeter rifle, made by North China Industries. Both manufacturers are named in the suit.

Furrow, who is now serving five life terms in prison, without possibility of parole, was a longtime member of the Aryan Nations. The Idaho-based group proclaims that all Jews are descendants of Satan.

When he turned himself in to the FBI in Las Vegas, Furrow told agents that he had shot up the Jewish center the day before as "a wake-up call to Americans to kill Jews."

He added that he had shot and killed Ileto because he was non-white and worked for the federal government.

Before the shooting rampage, Furrow had checked out the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Skirball Cultural Center and University of Judaism, but had found security too tight. He described his choice of the NVJCC as "a target of opportunity."

In filing the original suit almost four years ago, attorney Joshua Horwitz of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence said that Furrow, a convicted felon with a history of mental instability, should not have been allowed to build an arsenal of assault-style weapons.

"It’s not enough to let guns go out your factory door and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t know where they’re headed,’" Horwitz said.

Commenting on the current court ruling, Horwitz said that "When the actions of gunmakers and distributors put public safety at risk, they must be held accountable."

Friday’s ruling by the full 26-member appeals court upheld the same ruling by an earlier three-judge panel, which had been appealed by the Glock company.

However, eight of the 26 judges dissented, warning that the ruling could threaten many non-gun manufacturers and seriously damage the state’s economy.

Attorneys for the gunmakers said they had not yet decided whether to request a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

One outgrowth of the JCC attack has been the Million Mom March, a national gun control initiative, with much of the initial impetus coming from Jewish Valley women, including Finkelstein and Lieb.

Finkelstein, and her husband David, were active participants in the 2004 march, held last month in Washington, D.C.

Right Wing Girds to Block Gaza Plan


The earthquake in Israel that measured 5 on the Richter Scale last week is not the only ground shifting these days in the Jewish state.

In the wake of the recent announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel soon could withdraw unilaterally from Jewish settlements from Gaza, the political landscape is shifting as well. Since Sharon made his remarks two weeks ago, right-wing ministers have been busy mobilizing Cabinet colleagues in an effort to stop the prime minister, while the left-leaning Labor Party has been preparing to embrace Sharon.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the hawkish National Union, has written to 10 right-wing ministers, urging them to come up with an alternative plan to Sharon’s. The Likud’s Uzi Landau is openly trying to drum up a majority against the prime minister in the Cabinet. In addition, the National Union and the National Religious Party are threatening to bolt the coalition, if Sharon goes ahead with his plan.

Some politicians are predicting that Sharon’s move will tear apart the government and bring early elections. What’s more, some military officials are saying a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip might encourage more terrorism, as Palestinians interpret the withdrawal as a retreat under fire.

But Sharon is not backing down. To take the wind out of the right wing’s sails, the prime minister said he will take the matter directly to the people by calling a nationwide referendum on the Gaza withdrawal plan. Sharon is hoping that a popular mandate for withdrawal will make it difficult for the right-wingers in his own party to continue opposing him, thereby paving the way for a coalition with Labor.

Last week, Matan Vilnai, a Labor leader, said in Washington that the Labor Party would consider joining Sharon’s government if the prime minister has a plan to return to peace talks. Vilnai said the ruling Likud Party could count on Labor’s support if Sharon goes ahead with his plan to uproot Jewish communities in Gaza.

The most active Likud opponent to Sharon’s plan is Landau, a minister without portfolio, who said he is close to assembling a majority of 12 votes in the 23-member Cabinet against the Gaza withdrawal. So far, Landau counts seven ministers against: Effi Eitam and Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party; Lieberman and Benny Elon, National Union; and Likud’s Yisrael Katz and Natan Sharansky, in addition to Landau.

Landau said four other Likud ministers — Benjamin Netanyahu, Meir Sheetrit, Tzachi Hanegbi and Limor Livnat — are leaning toward vote against Sharon’s plan. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom or Shinui’s Eliezer Zandberg could provide a decisive 12th vote against the prime minister.

In his letter to the 10 hawkish ministers, Lieberman attempted to build on Landau’s work. He urged them to set up a joint forum to draft what he calls a "plan for the national camp."

Lieberman wrote that the "national camp" is divided, merely reacting to left-wing plans, like the unofficial Geneva peace proposal. Instead, Lieberman said, the government should come up with a plan of its own — and quickly. Lieberman proposed "fencing in the Palestinians" in several cantons, with Israel controlling passage between each one.

Clearly, Lieberman’s target is not the Geneva plan but the prime minister’s. Lieberman wants both to block Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan and set a political agenda for a post-Sharon era. Elon, Lieberman’s colleague in the National Union, has been speaking out against the Sharon plan in the United States.

Such actions on the part of ruling coalition members are tantamount to mutiny in Sharon’s government.

The questions are: Will Likud Cabinet ministers agree to join the rebel forum, will Sharon vanquish the rebels or will Sharon dump the rebels for new, left-wing coalition partners?

Netanyahu’s position is the key. Having staked his political future on the success of his stewardship of Israel’s ailing economy, the finance minister and former prime minister is believed by some pundits to favor the plan that would help propel the economy out of its current slump. That would put Netanyahu in Sharon’s camp of withdrawal from Gaza.

However, if Netanyahu believes the timing is right, he could well vote against Sharon’s plan and take the lead of forces in the government opposing Sharon, thereby challenging the prime minister’s leadership. Netanyahu’s decision could decide the fate of Sharon’s government and the unilateral withdrawal plan.

Several Knesset members and expert observers believe the countdown to early elections has already begun. One of them is Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a former Sharon ally who now opposes the prime minister’s disengagement plan.

Rivlin said he does not believe Sharon will be able to keep his present coalition together for long or form a stable government to replace it. He also predicted Netanyahu would not make a leadership bid until new elections are called.

Rivlin’s reasoning is simple: If Sharon gets his plan through the government, the right-wing parties will leave. Then, if Sharon replaces them with Labor, he won’t be able to count on the support of the right-wingers in the Likud or on Labor’s hard left.

That would make Sharon’s government quite vulnerable. Theoretically, Netanyahu then could make his move. By triggering a vote of "constructive no-confidence" in Sharon, Netanyahu could have an opportunity to take over as prime minister.

But it would be tough for Netanyahu to assemble and hold together a ruling coalition, according to Rivlin, because Netanyahu’s coalition partners would have to be constituted exclusively of hawks and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

The hawks would press for special allocations for settlements, and the ultra-Orthodox would press for special funding for yeshivas. These financial demands would torpedo the tight fiscal policy upon which Netanyahu has staked his political reputation.

On the other hand, if Sharon fails to get his disengagement plan through, that in itself could be enough to spark elections.

Therefore, Rivlin believes, there is no escaping early elections, probably in 2005. Then the battle for the Likud leadership will begin in earnest.

Sharon sees things differently. His aides are already making plans for a referendum on the issue of the Gaza settlements, which they are sure he will win. Recent public opinion polls show that an overwhelming 77 percent of Israelis favor withdrawal from Gaza.

Winning a referendum with such an overwhelming majority would give Sharon the moral and political authority to proceed with his plan, perhaps enabling him to set up a stable government with Labor. But any referendum on the fledgling plan still is a long way off.

In the meantime, Lieberman and the other right-wing members of Sharon’s coalition are looking to the future — working, watching and waiting.

Controversy Erupts in Shooting at Fence


Talk about trading places. Last month, Gil Na’amati finished
his three-year stint of compulsory military service after serving in Israel’s
artillery corps and spending time operating in the West Bank. Now the
22-year-old kibbutznik is the poster boy for Palestinian grievances against Israel.

During a demonstration last week by Palestinians and Israeli
left-wingers against Israel’s West Bank security barrier, Na’amati was shot by
soldiers, who until recently might have stood shoulder to shoulder with him at
a checkpoint. An American activist also was lightly hurt in the clash.

“I was in the military and am familiar with the rules of
engagement. What I did was not even close to something that I think would
warrant opening fire,” Na’amati said from his hospital bed, where he was
recovering from leg and hip wounds. “It’s unbelievable.”

The sentiments were echoed around the country after last
week’s incident at a section of the security fence outside Kalkilya. It was the
first time an Israeli Jew had been targeted by forces meant to protect Israelis
from Palestinian terrorism.

The shooting was the latest incident to divide the country
in the ongoing dispute over how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians and some left-wing Israelis have complained that the fence
disrupts Palestinian civilian life and livelihood, while Israeli officials have
maintained that it is a necessary bulwark against terrorism.

Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, ordered an
investigation of the shooting, which occurred when Na’amati and fellow members
of a fringe pro-Palestinian group, Anarchists Against the Fence, were
protesting, along with the International Solidarity Movement. They attacked the
barrier with wire cutters.Â

Police questioned Na’amati under warning, meaning that his
statements could be used against him if he is prosecuted for causing damage to
the fence, unruly behavior and violating a military order prohibiting entry to
the area next to the fence.

Na’amati’s father, Uri, said he advised his son to exercise
his right to remain silent. The investigator decided not to press the wounded
man for answers at this stage, in light of Na’amati’s medical condition, the
Israeli daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported.

Ya’alon made no secret of where he believed blame for the
incident lay. The protesters “masqueraded as Arabs, mingled with Palestinians
and entered the Palestinian side of the fence illegally,” he told Israel Radio.

The commander of the force involved reportedly told
investigators that he thought it was a group of Palestinians trying to break
through the fence into Israel, and that it might be a diversionary tactic aimed
at allowing a terrorist to infiltrate the fence at another location.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim said soldiers followed
orders by first shouting warnings and firing shots over the protesters’ heads,
before aiming at their legs. Witnesses disputed the account.

Television footage showed soldiers taking aim at the
protesters from approximately 50 feet away, despite clear appeals to the
soldiers in Hebrew not to shoot. The footage had a major impact on public
opinion.

Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security
service, said any orders to shoot the unarmed protesters were illegal and
should have been disobeyed. His viewpoint was endorsed by Avshalom Vilan, a
former commando, member of the liberal Meretz Party and a founder of the Peace
Now movement.

“In a proper country, you don’t shoot civilians,” Vilan
said.

At least one newspaper said the issue wouldn’t have been a
matter of such great debate had it been a non-Jew who was injured.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” an editorial in Israel’s daily
Yediot Achronot said. “If a Palestinian” had been shot, “it probably would not
have merited even one line in the newspaper.” Â

Israel and Saddam Share Long History


Spewing anti-Israel vitriol was one of Saddam Hussein’s
specialties. Of all the leaders in the Arab world, Saddam seemed to have the
most to say against Israel, and he seemed to say it the most often.

Now that he has been captured and faces possible trial,
experts are asking whether the Jewish State will again be his target of choice.

“It will be interesting to see if he chooses to attack Israel
this time, not with Scuds but verbally,” said Martin Kramer, a research fellow
at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center. “Historically, when he found himself up
against the wall, his usual method was to divert and deflect attention to Israel.”

After attacking Israel in the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam became
fond of saying that the Iraqi people represented 22 million missiles against Israel.

It was Saddam’s rhetoric against Israel that “was the main
glue for the Iraqis for developing national Iraqi feelings and remained so
until the very end,” said Ofra Bengio, a professor of Middle East history at Tel
Aviv University. “Hussein wanted to be able to mobilize the population around Israel
as the symbol of evil.”

In 1969, soon after Saddam was appointed Iraq’s vice
president, the government hanged 17 alleged spies, 11 of whom were Jewish, in
what is perceived as Saddam’s first message to Israel that he was a force with
which to be reckoned. The animosity continued in the 1970s, when Israel
provided covert military training and support for Iraqi Kurds in their struggle
against the regime in Baghdad.

The enmity intensified in 1981, with Israel’s air strike on Iraq’s
nuclear facility at Osirak, outside of Baghdad. Israeli officials defended the
strike in the face of worldwide condemnation, arguing that Saddam’s regime was
attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Years later, some of the same voices
that condemned Israel in 1981 said the strike had been the correct move.

Out of all the Iraqi-Israeli recriminations, Saddam was
proudest of Iraq’s firing of Scud missiles at the Jewish state. Casualties and
damage from the attacks were minimal, but the rain of missiles caused Israelis
trauma.

For the first time in the country’s history, Israel did not
strike back when attacked. Instead, the Israelis, many of them survivors of
persecution elsewhere, hid in their sealed rooms with gas masks, while the
government heeded a request by the United States — which was trying to keep
intact its alliance with the Arab world against Saddam — not to counterattack.

Saddam’s power lay in part in his image and forceful
rhetoric, said Bengio, author of “Saddam’s World.” Saddam “managed to put
Israeli society into a panic for more than a decade. There was no basis for
such hysteria, but he managed to do it,” she said.

However, a serious Iraqi military threat never materialized,
she said, because Saddam was on such bad terms with the Syrians and Jordanians
that he was unable to establish a common cause.

Making Israel the focus of his diatribes was politically
profitable for Saddam. Presenting himself as a leader of the Arab world,
Hussein could use anti-Israeli sentiment to rally Arabs behind him.

He was seen by many in the Arab street as a hero for taking
bold stands against Israel and the United States. While other Arab nations
entered into peace talks with Israel and acceded to U.S. pressure, Saddam stood
firm with his belligerent stance.

The Palestinians cheered Saddam for supporting them, even
when the Scuds he fired at Israel endangered them as well. Most recently,
Saddam enraged Israel during the current intifada by sending substantial
monetary rewards to the families of suicide bombers who perpetrated attacks
against Israelis.

There was, however, a brief period in the 1980s, under
Yitzhak Rabin’s government, when high-level contacts took place between Israel
and Iraq. Led by Moshe Shaval, an Iraqi-born Israeli Cabinet minister, the
secret talks aimed at securing minimal relations between the two countries and
permitting return visits to Iraq by Israeli Jews from Iraq. The talks collapsed
shortly after they began. Â

A Voice of Democracy Where None Exists


Tashbih Sayyed believes in democracy as a way of life. He can be counted among the few Muslims in America who believe that modernism, free-thinking and education are keys to rid Muslims from the morass of extremism.

Sayyed was the keynote speaker at a two-hour discussion on the Middle East crisis during a July 27 Laguna Beach Havurah gathering at a private residence in Monarch Bay.

The discussion, organized by Rabbi Stuart Altshuler, head of Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, explored ideas and exchanged views on how to tackle the growing fanaticism in Islam and how to alert the Muslim world that their biggest enemies — imams and emirs — lie within.

“I have to challenge the enemy of Muslims, the enemy of Islam, who is also the enemy of Israel and enemy of [the] USA,” said Sayyed, who once served in Pakistan’s government and is now editor of Pakistan Today.

Sayyed also blamed the United States and its Western partners for installing corrupt dictators in the Islamic world and giving them billions of dollars in aid.

Due to a lack of education and social services in the Middle East, according to Sayyed, Arab and Muslims are trying to qualify for eternity by doing what they determined to be God’s work, which is to make war on those who ignore or question divine authority.

For extremists it is not about killing Jews per se, but a means to purchase a heaven filled with women, he said.

Sayyed, who has been harassed and threatened by fellow Muslims, spoke out vehemently against some Islamic rights organizations in the United States. He said such organizations — many of which are funded with Saudi money — should be banned.

He also said the time had come for the United States to be vigilant at mosques and other Islamic institutions where Saudi-funded literature is being distributed and Saudi Arabia’s Whabisim is spread, in the name of Islam, to the mostly peaceful and educated North American Muslim community.

Sayyed also said he strongly opposes the creation of a separate homeland for Palestinians, saying that another Islamic state is not going to help Muslims, Islam and the world when so many other Islamic countries are already failing to do good. He said he feels this way not out of favoritism for the Jewish state, but because a Palestinian nation is just not ready for a separate country.

It will just be another state on the world map, spreading the message of hate, he said.

Sayyed added that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who can easily pass as a personal stenographer of Yasser Arafat, could hardly be an example of leadership and that the world was just wasting time dealing with him. However, Sayyed couldn’t elaborate on whom among Palestinians to deal with.

For more information about Tashbih Sayyed, e-mail Rabbi
Stuart Altshuler at eilatrabbi@yahoo.com .

British Writer Snubs Pro-Israel Letters


A British newspaper columnist who admits that he ignores pro-Israel letters to the editor if the writer has a Jewish name will not be punished, the country’s media watchdog has decided.

Richard Ingrams, a columnist for the Observer newspaper, made the remark last month in a column criticizing Barbara Amiel, a journalist and the wife of Jerusalem Post proprietor Conrad Black.

"I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it," Ingrams wrote in his July 13 column.

The Observer received about 50 letters and e-mails in response to the column, including one from the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews.

Neville Nagler, the director general of the board, called Ingrams’ position "quite unacceptable."

"If a Jewish person chooses to support the Israeli government, this does not make his argument any less legitimate than a non-Jewish person’s," Nagler wrote. "It is deeply worrying that a journalist of your paper is so willing to blind himself to one side of this sad conflict."

Another person who complained to the paper about the column pointed out that many Jews are highly critical of Israel.

"Ingrams would thus exclude names such as [Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag and David Grossman — all fierce critics of Israeli policy –] from the public debate on Israel, on much the same ethnic principle as Jews were once blackballed from certain gentlemen’s clubs," R.J. Chisholm wrote.

The Observer’s own journalist employed to investigate reader complaints admitted that the piece was "inflammatory" and "bigoted."

"I agree with a reader who pointed out that Ingrams’ piece displayed such a degree of prejudice against Jews that it will be impossible ever again to take seriously anything he writes about Israel," journalist Stephen Pritchard wrote on Aug. 3.

But the Press Complaints Commission, which received two formal complaints about the piece, has decided not to take action against Ingrams.

"It is clear there has been no breach of the code" governing newspapers, commission spokesman Stephen Abell told Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Complaints were filed on two grounds, he explained: accuracy and discrimination.

The column did not breach the accuracy clause because it was clearly labeled opinion, rather than news, Abell said. And the code’s discrimination clause applies only to named individuals, not to groups, he said.

"[Ingrams] wasn’t naming individuals, he was making a point about a group," Abell said.

The column might have been offensive, he said, but that is not a violation of newspaper guidelines.

"Matters of taste and offensiveness aren’t covered by the code," he said.

Norman Lebrecht, a former columnist for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper, supported the commission’s decision.

He called it a matter of courtesy to read one’s mail, adding, "If a columnist chooses to be discourteous, that isn’t a matter for the Press Complaints Commission."

"There is no anti-Semitism" in Ingrams’ refusal to read mail from Jews in support of Israel, he told JTA.

The reaction to the column stemmed from anxiety in the Jewish community, Lebrecht said.

"There is an awful lot of nervousness in the community at the moment, [and the complaints] are a manifestation of that," he said.

In May, the Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint that a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating a baby was anti-Semitic. The commission said it based its decision on the grounds that the cartoon criticized Sharon’s policies, not his religion.

State Fund to Keep Israel Investments


The California Public Employees’ Retirement System
(CalPERS), the nation’s largest public pension fund, has decided to keep Israel
on its list of permissible foreign countries in which to invest, in spite of
campaigns spearheaded by groups on several University of California campuses
demanding that it divest itself of Israeli equity holdings.

At the Feb. 18 meeting of the CalPERS Board of
Administration, Israel was green-lighted for its 10th straight year as an
approved country for investment.

Reacting to calls for a CalPERS boycott of Israel, Byron
Tucker, a Los Angeles spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis, told The Journal this
week, “We will continue to stand side by side with our friends in Israel, both
in business and friendship. The people of Israel are going through tremendous
difficulties right now.”

“They live with daily unrest, violence and death,” Tucker
continued. “California will not abandon its friends in their time of need.”

Campus activist groups — led by Arabs in Students for
Justice in Palestine and Jews for a Free Palestine — had been gaining ground in
their campaign for divestment from Israel, to the point where the UCLA Daily
Bruin editorially endorsed divestment last July. This prompted a pro-Israel
backlash, headed up by the UC Justice Campaign (www.ucjustice.org).

The Legislature formally rejected divestment in a joint
Assembly-Senate resolution in September.

Until last month, Israel was the only Middle Eastern country
in which CalPERS was permitted to invest. Neighboring Jordan has now been added
to the list. Egypt was evaluated but did not make the cut.

In other action, the CalPERS board, which oversees a fund
with assets of approximately $131 billion, complied with its requirement to
report to the Legislature on equity holdings in companies that may have
benefited from slave labor during the Holocaust era.

“CalPERS is required to annually report to the Legislature,
under Chapter 216, Statute of 1999 (SB 1245, Hayden), on investment holdings in
companies that may owe compensation to victims of slave or forced labor during
World War II,” Mark Anson, chief investment officer, wrote in a Feb. 18 letter
to the secretary of the California Senate.

According to Anson, the CalPERS report contains “the latest
information on companies that includes precursor companies, subsidiaries and
affiliates identified as employing forced/slave labor during World War II. To
compile the report, CalPERS contracted with Investor Responsibility Research
Center (IRRC). The center provided research from multiple information sources
and supplied a list of companies with a potential Holocaust-era restitution
liability.

The majority of the companies on the IRRC list in which
CalPERS holds stock are headquartered in Germany, Japan, Austria and
Switzerland. However, a few major U.S. corporations appear on the list, too,
including Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Eastman Kodak, Honeywell, NCR and
Pitney Bowes.

Sacramento-based CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco told The
Journal that the pension fund, itself, had received no direct protests from
groups demanding that CalPERS divest itself from investments in Israel.

“Israel was evaluated as one of 27 emerging equity markets
and received a passing grade, along with 14 other countries,” Pacheco said.

The pension fund’s consultant, Santa Monica-based Wilshire
Associates, reviewed the emerging market countries against a variety of
financial factors, plus other considerations, such as transparency, political
stability and labor practices/standards. Israel was ranked in seventh place overall
on the list — a weighted result after combining its No. 1 ranking in market
analysis and No. 8 in “country factors.”

Israel could arguably make a case for being included in the
category of “developed country markets,” which comprises the similar economies
of Finland and Singapore and the recent entry of Greece.

“Israel certainly meets the criteria for a developed country,”
said Doron Abrahami, Israel’s economic attaché in Los Angeles. “In terms of GDP
per capita, Israel is ahead of Greece. On the other hand, there are certain
advantages to being defined as an emerging market.”

Israel was approved by CalPERS, while some of the world’s
largest economies were not — notably China, Russia and India. Not one country
in conflict with Israel — or even hostile to the Jewish State — qualified.
Among those receiving failing grades were Malaysia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

CalPERS has approximately $1.6 billion currently invested in
emerging markets, including $83.3 million in Israeli equities.

“After CalPERS sets the policy guidelines, we oversee but do
not make the actual investments,” Pacheco emphasized. “That is done by our
active managers: asset management companies and investment banks.”

Although Pacheco originally said that CalPERS invests only
in public equity markets outside of the United States, IVC-Online in Tel Aviv
told The Journal that CalPERS has invested in six of Israel’s leading venture
capital funds through East Coast-based private equity manager Grove Street
Partners.

Holocaust Exploited


An emaciated death camp survivor stares blankly alongside a
gaunt steer. “During the seven years between 1938 and 1945, 12 million people
perished in the Holocaust,” the image declares. “The same number of animals is
killed every 4 hours for food in the U.S. alone.”

The poster forms the heart of a new national campaign
launched last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that
compares the Holocaust and the meat industry — and that is ruffling Jewish
feathers.

Dubbed “The Holocaust on Your Plate,” PETA’s campaign and
its companion Web site,

Send Troops


As the weather warmed this week, the yard signs protesting NO WAR pushed up like crocuses through lawns from Santa Monica to Hollywood.

Not many, mind you — but enough to signal that quite a few Americans are having second and third thoughts about a war against Saddam.

Nobody likes Saddam, but the Bush administration has failed to present incontrovertible evidence, or even very convincing arguments, as to why we must fight now.

The most enticing reason seems to be that by deposing Saddam, America will send a clear message that tyranny will not stand in the Middle East, and that regime change in Iraq will blow the winds of democracy through Iran, Syria, Libya — maybe even Saudi Arabia.

Critics wonder whether such a war is one of choice or of necessity, and, beyond that, what happens if the best-laid war plans go awry. "Both logic and historical evidence suggest a policy of vigilant containment would work" against Saddam, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write in the current issue of Foreign Policy.

The authors accuse the Bush administration of deliberately exaggerating the Iraqi threat in order to sell a preventive war. The CIA’s own risk assessment revealed that Saddam would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.

Meanwhile, North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and threatened war this week, seems much more frightening than Saddam. The same goes for Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration, despite numerous attempts, has yet to tie to Saddam.

The whiff of colonialism accompanying the administration’s attempt to bring democracy through conquest carries with it all the dangers of colonialism’s unintended consequences. What if Islamists in nuclear-armed Pakistan decide to toss a missile toward Israel in Iraq’s defense? What if Iraqi and American casualties mount precipitously? Where is that post-victory plan that even the war’s supporters have been clamoring for?

The president sent tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf this week to signal his readiness for war. Taking the president at his word — that his intent in confronting Saddam is to help create a new, more peaceful Middle East — I have a suggestion for the president: Send those troops to Israel instead.

The twin suicide bombings that ripped through Tel Aviv last Sunday, leaving 23 people dead and more than 100 seriously wounded, underscores the failure of Palestinian terror and Israeli force to achieve either party’s aim.

The attack proves once again that Yasser Arafat will not bring peace to his people. Whether he can control the acts of his Fatah-associated militias anymore or not, he certainly unleashed them. And their continued operation, in this case, thwarted his hopes of appearing at a planned London conference, at which he was to show off his government’s economic and political reforms, and thus secure more European aid. Instead, Israel barred him from attending.

Furthermore, each additional terror attack ensures that Israeli voters will reject the more dovish parties in the upcoming elections, pushing hopes of compromise with Palestinians further out to sea.

But the attack also proves that Israel’s anti-terrorism policies aren’t working. Despite a massive, sometimes brilliant and sometimes cruel retaliation against devastating terror, the attacks continue.

There may be lulls (during which attacks are attempted but thwarted), but there will be no end. "What once took months takes a few hours," former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon told David Margolick of Vanity Fair magazine, "instead of a few [bombers], we shall see tens and hundreds."

The long-term diplomatic solution may well be something along the lines of the proposal outlined in the "road map" developed by the United States in conjunction with the European Union, United Nations and Russia — the Madrid Quartet. But that plan won’t move an inch until after the Israeli elections this month. A lot of blood, a devastating and needless amount, may be shed by then.

That’s why Bush should consider using U.S. and allied troops to serve as a buffer between the warring parties, to act, in the words of UCLA Middle East expert Steven Spiegel, as a monitoring presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "American control of the force, coupled with Israel’s rock-solid relationship with the Bush administration, should go a long way toward alleviating" Israel’s concern over international interference, Spiegel has written.

The idea isn’t new, but it has gained urgency. Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to be out of ideas when it comes to confronting terror, but there’s no indication the Israeli public will trust anyone else at the helm.

"In retrospect, what was missing from Oslo all along was a stronger international [in effect, NATO-led] presence to contain outbreaks of violence and manage their aftermath in the context of continuing negotiations," wrote Bernard Avishai in his prescient epilogue to "The Tragedy of Zionism" (Allworth Press, 2002). "Without the hope of an American-sponsored peace process, or the fear of American opposition to Israel’s status quo, Israeli democratic forces cannot get traction."

And without traction, the slide quickens. Send troops.

U.S. Courts Israel to Not Join Iraq War


Never have Israel and the United States had such close operational coordination on Iraq. As the anticipated American attack on Baghdad draws nearer, the U.S. military has been showing Israeli officials its detailed plans for preventing Iraqi missile attacks on Israel. But the reason for the U.S. operational largesse is clear: The United States does not want Israel to play any military role in the war against Iraq.

Despite the close coordination, Israel has not promised to stay out of the fighting. Moreover, there are sharp differences between the two sides on how to respond if Israel is attacked with nonconventional biological and chemical weapons.

During Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s mid-December visit to Washington, U.S. officials went out of their way to try to convince the Israeli delegation that the United States would do all it could to defend Israel, and that there would be no need for Israel to get involved in the war. The officials said U.S. forces would take decisive action to prevent Iraqi missile launchers from being moved into western Iraq — from where Israel would be in their range — and to destroy them if they are.

The officials promised that the United States would show Israel its plans for neutralizing the Iraqi missile launchers and allow Israel to comment and offer suggestions. Moreover, the United States said it would send 1,000 soldiers to Israel with Patriot missiles to back up Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense system.

If, despite these offensive and defensive measures, an Iraqi missile were to get through and hit Israel, the United States — not Israel — would retaliate, the officials said. The problem is that Israel and United States have a number of fundamentally different strategic interests in the context of the conflict with Iraq.

The United States does not want its ties with the Arab world further complicated by direct Israeli involvement in the war. However, Israel has domestic and regional considerations that make it very difficult to refrain from retaliation if the country is hit by Iraqi missiles, as it did in the 1991 Persian Gulf War under fierce U.S. pressure.

If Israeli casualty figures are high or if the Iraqis attack with nonconventional weapons, Israel’s government will feel duty-bound to retaliate — both to satisfy domestic public opinion and, more importantly, to maintain Israel’s deterrent capacity in the region. Mofaz therefore refused to say what the United States wanted to hear and would not commit that Israel would avoid getting involved in the war under any circumstances.

On the contrary, Mofaz made it clear that Israel reserves the right to retaliate if it suffers heavy civilian casualties or if it is attacked with nonconventional weapons. However, Mofaz did promise that in return for U.S. consideration of Israel’s interests, Israel would coordinate any retaliatory strike with Washington. That might be why U.S. military planners were smiling after the meeting.

In operational terms, the Mofaz commitment seems to mean that Israel would clear retaliatory plans with the United States in advance and would not attack unless given flying times, routes and friend-foe air codes. That would seem to make an Israeli strike dependent on U.S. approval. If the United States disapproves of the response, it could withhold the operational information, making an attack virtually impossible.

Israeli defense officials acknowledged that this could present a problem but said they are confident the United States will understand Israel’s needs and will make it possible for Israel to retaliate if it feels it must. Then again, Washington would want to have a say on the scope of the Israeli response, especially since Israel and the United States openly disagree on how to retaliate against a nonconventional Iraqi attack.

Israel would prefer to respond itself — and with great force — to deter other countries in the region from following the Iraqi example. That could mean widespread destruction in Iraq.

"We would want everyone to know it was us, and to realize just what we can do," an Israeli defense official said. The United States, however, would prefer a far more measured response, one that the United States carries out and controls, because it hopes to rebuild Iraq and Iraqi institutions as quickly as possible in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

How serious is the threat of a nonconventional Iraqi attack?

Besides the possible delivery of biological or chemical agents via Scud missiles, Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials believe Iraq will attempt to send "suicide pilots" with cargos of biological or chemical weapons.

Israeli officials recall that in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq planned a fighter-bomber biological attack, first sending three conventionally armed bombers to see if they could penetrate Israeli airspace. If successful, the plan was to follow up with more sorties, including one by a Sukhoi bomber loaded with biological agents. The plan never materialized because the first Iraqi planes were shot down soon after takeoff.

Since the Gulf War, Israeli air defenses have become even tighter, and defense officials said the relatively slow-flying "suicide planes" would be easier to intercept than Scud missiles.

As for missile attacks, the officials rate these as less likely than suicide-plane missions, because the number of missiles Iraq has and its capacity to launch them have been severely curtailed since the 1991 Gulf War, officials said.

Still, Israel is not taking chances, and plans are being considered to inoculate the entire population against smallpox.

The bottom line is this: Should an Iraqi missile or plane get through, and should the United States urge restraint, Israel would face an acute dilemma, because in addition to its operational leverage, the United States has considerable political and economic leverage.

Israeli officials said their U.S. counterparts have not made any attempt to place conditions on the $4 billion Israel has requested in military aid — to help defray the costs of its deployment against the Iraqi threat — on Israel’s agreement to take a blow quietly.

Clearly, however, if Israel were to retaliate against U.S. wishes, it could find itself forfeiting this aid and being punished by the United States on the Palestinian issue after the war.

If it sits out the war, Israel might just be rewarded. However, it is unclear whether that would make up for physical damages to the Israeli home front and the intangible damage to Israel’s deterrent capacity.

Kenya Attacks Blur Lines of Terrorism


The attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya are not expected to divert the United States from a possible war with Iraq — or change U.S. limits on Israel’s response to Palestinian terror. One immediate effect of the Nov. 28 attacks, thought to be the work of Al Qaeda, may be a subtle change in the way Israel is perceived in the context of the war on terror.

Until now, the Bush administration has tried to distinguish between terror attacks like those of Sept. 11 and Palestinian terror attacks against Israel. Essentially, the administration has argued that the U.S. struggle is an uncompromising one against terrorists bent on destroying democratic values, while Israel’s war is a nationalistic dispute that must be solved through negotiations.

While the administration has condemned both kinds of attacks, some have argued that the distinction granted a sort of legitimacy — at least in many parts of the West — to Palestinian terrorism.

But last week’s attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and an Israeli passenger plane in Kenya may blur those lines, analysts said.

"It highlights the fact that the myth — that all terror against Israel is because it occupies Palestinian territories — is wrong," said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The blurring of the line between Palestinian and other terrorism may make Arab support harder to come by if the United States goes to war against Iraq, a State Department official said.

Arab states have been leery of what they see as the war on terror’s disproportionate focus on Arab and Muslim states. Their resistance to an Iraq war may rise if the Kenya attacks are subsumed into the war on terror and Arabs begin to believe that the United States is attacking Baghdad because of the attacks on Israel.

The attacks initially were claimed by an unknown group calling itself the Army of Palestine, but both Israel and the United States believe the attacks were carried out by Al Qaeda.

"Despite the name of the group that claimed responsibility, this does not seem to be a perceived act of Palestinian nationalism," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

An Internet posting attributed to Al Qaeda claims responsibility for the attacks. A "Letter to the American People," also purportedly from Al Qaeda and posted to the Internet several days before the Kenya attacks, for the first time defines support for Israel as the root cause of Al Qaeda’s hatred of the United States.

Analysts say the use of the front name indicates that Al Qaeda is trying to capitalize on the Palestinian issue to build support.

For Israel, the attacks may garner more sympathy from the American public and the Bush administration, but they are not expected to ease U.S. constraints on Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorism. They also are not expected to alter the U.S. position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be solved diplomatically, or change U.S. backing for the "road map" toward peace crafted by the diplomatic "Quartet" of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Israel probably will still find limits to the steps it can take against Palestinian terrorists, experts say.

The State Department frequently has criticized Israel for "targeted killings" and other tactics against Palestinian terrorists. Any Israeli actions that cause civilian casualties still will likely earn American reprimands. However, Israel may be given more leeway to strike at the perpetrators of the Kenya attacks.

"We recognize it creates pressure for the Israeli leadership," one State Department official said. "The Israeli people desire to have justice done as well."

If Israel does launch an attack with U.S. blessing, it will be a shift in policy for the Bush administration, which has tried to keep Israeli military action to a minimum during the run-up to a possible U.S. war with Iraq.

But the State Department seems to understand that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may feel it necessary to respond to preserve political face, especially as Israeli elections approach next month.

Israeli officials hope the Kenya attacks also will solidify perceptions of Israel as a victim of terrorism, and lead to an increase in international and American support. The attacks may make it easier for the United States approve up to $10 billion in loan guarantees and an extra $200 million in emergency aid for Israel. But the United States is not likely to shift its policies on the war against terrorism because of the Kenya attacks.

"Our problem with Al Qaeda didn’t need this to get people’s attention," Alterman said. "It highlights the importance of a global war on terrorism, with the emphasis on global."

Extra Israel Aid: No Slam Dunk


Republican leaders on Capitol Hill say they can’t wait to prove their friendship for Israel. They’ll get their chance when the new Congress convenes in January, but some may wish they could take a pass.

The test will come when lawmakers take up a huge new aid request Israeli officials presented to administration officials last week. Israeli newspapers say winning the multibillion-dollar package of grant aid and loan guarantees will be a political slam dunk, but veteran pro-Israel activists tell a different story.

In fact, much of this week’s aid talk may be political playacting intended to give a boost to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his reelection bid, not to produce real shekels in the Israeli treasury.

First, the numbers: Unconfirmed reports suggest Israel is asking for up to $10 billion, with most of that being in the form of loan guarantees, but also including up to $4 billion in extra military aid. The totals are huge, but few in Washington take them seriously.

Traditionally, Israeli officials begin arduous aid negotiations with high-ball figures, then negotiate down. The numbers may also be inflated by Israeli politics; recent leaks may be calculated to show that Sharon, running hard for reelection next month, is best able to manage relations with Israel’s top ally and boost the country’s battered economy.

The Bush White House, satisfied with Sharon’s leadership, has publicly signaled a willingness to talk about the new aid, especially since any aid package won’t hit Congress until long after Israeli voters make their choice.

But there’s no assurance the administration will even bring an aid request to Congress — or that lawmakers will act in a timely fashion.

The next Congress will face unprecedented budgetary pressures because of the recession, Bush administration tax cuts, escalating homeland security costs and the enormous price tag of fighting a worldwide war against terrorism.

A war against Iraq could cost up to $200 billion, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate.

With painful cuts in domestic programs as a backdrop, new foreign-aid spending will face particularly tough scrutiny.

President George W. Bush’s administration is said to be sympathetic to Israel’s new request, but there is a wide gap between sympathy and spending. That was evident in this year’s White House decision to yank $200 million in extra Israel aid from an emergency appropriations bill because of a dispute over spending.

Lawmakers are loathe to vote against aid for Israel, but many, facing voters worried about things like Social Security and Medicare, may be perfectly happy to drag out the debate for years.

Loan guarantees, in which Washington backs up loans from private lenders so Israel can borrow at favorable rates, will be an easier sell because Israel has always paid back its loans on time and because only a fraction of the face value of the loan has to be set aside as a guarantee.

Depending on how the guarantees are structured, they may not technically add to the federal deficit.

But those dollars must still be approved by Congress; with Congress facing a genuine budget emergency, that could produce significant discomfort on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. war on terrorism and the administration’s desperate hunt for allies in the fight against Iraq will also produce a line of Middle Eastern countries looking for military aid, loan guarantees and other forms of assistance.

Indeed, Israeli officials say their extra shot of aid and loan guarantees could be part of a regional package tied to the Iraq conflict. But when all the requests are added up, Congress and the administration may suffer from serious sticker shock.

The administration has also made it clear it wants to shift the focus of U.S. aid to democracy-building, especially in the Middle East. That could add to the competition for scarce aid dollars. Israel’s current aid is not in jeopardy, but new aid will require an extraordinary lobbying effort and genuine political courage by Israel’s newest friends in Congress.

Conservative leaders like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have been trying to portray themselves as more reliable friends than the liberal Democrats, whose ranks include some strong critics of Israel.

But those new friends have never had to take political risks to prove their friendship. It’s one thing to pass nonbinding "sense of the Congress" resolutions supporting Israel, something very different to cough up extra money for Jerusalem during a time of budgetary crisis at home.

The big new aid request will also give the Bush administration powerful new leverage in areas where there have been disagreements between the two allies.

That includes the always-contentious issue of Jewish settlements, which held up loan guarantees during the first Bush administration, as well as administration demands that Israel ease restrictions on the Palestinians.

In Israel, newspapers speak of the new aid package as almost a done deal; in Washington, pro-Israel activists are hunkering down for what is likely to be a long and grueling battle.

Anti-Semitism on Upswing in Greece


Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Greece, according to a new report. The Greek Helsinki Monitor, a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said in its report that since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than two years ago, "blatant anti-Semitism" has been expressed in the Greek media "by a spectrum of influential personalities in politics, labor, education and culture."

The Sept. 11 attacks in the United States also contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in Greece, according to the 64-page report that was issued late last month.

The report cited a sharp increase in anti-Semitism in the media after Israel launched a large-scale military operation last spring to uproot the Palestinian terror infrastructure in the West Bank. At that time, according to the report, mainstream Greek newspapers published anti-Semitic editorials and cartoons, drawing parallels between the Israeli military operation and the Holocaust and comparing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Hitler.

Expressions of anti-Semitism through Holocaust imagery were so harsh in the Greek media and political circles at the time that Hronika, the official magazine of the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities, spoke of a climate of "hysteria and anti-Semitism" that was masquerading as mere criticism of the State of Israel.

International Jewish organizations have responded to the developments. In July and September, the Anti-Defamation League sent two letters to Greek Prime Minister Konstantine Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou protesting the use of Holocaust imagery in the Greek media.

During a July meeting at which European security representatives discussed anti-Semitism, Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Paris office, urged Simitis and other Greek leaders to publicly condemn the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and Nazi imagery when criticizing Israel.

"Anti-Israel fanaticism has degenerated into anti-Jewish hatemongering by leading intellectuals and politicians," Samuels said at the time.

In a more recent development, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to the Greek government calling on it to close down the TV station of Yorgos Karatzaferis, the leader of the far-right Popular Rally Party. The party recently garnered nearly 14 percent of the vote in local elections for a district that includes the city of Athens.

Karatzaferis, who regularly hurls epithets against Jews and the Israeli ambassador to Greece on his TV station, has propagated the libel, circulating widely in the Arab world, that Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In September, Karatzaferis submitted a question in the Greek Parliament asking the foreign minister if he was aware that the Israeli press had published articles claiming that Jews had not gone to work on Sept. 11 after they were forewarned about the attacks on the Twin Towers.

The question was subsequently published in several right-wing papers in Greece with no comment, while articles embracing the rumors were found in editorials of the official magazine of the Technical Chamber of Greece, the government body that oversees the work of Greek industrialists. The magazine is distributed to thousands of Greek businessmen.

While the Greek Helsinki Monitor reported anti-Semitism in the Greek media and on the part of some politicians, observers pointed out that there is no state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Greece. However, the report said, "A fundamental obstacle to counteracting anti-Semitism in Greece" is the fact that "the Greek government has yet to take a strong and consistent stand against anti-Semitism."

The government defended itself against the charges by saying it will not try to censor the media.

Greek Jews cited two occurrences to point out what they believe are examples of media bias. They noted that there was barely any media mention of the recent desecration of the Holocaust memorial in Salonika and of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of the northern city of Ioannina. In the latter case, local police officers appeared to have been involved.

Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas condemned the two incidents. However, there was no official condemnation when the newly unveiled Holocaust memorial on the island of Rhodes was defaced in July.

‘Crime’s’ Anti-Semitic Critics


The American distributor of a Mexican film denounced by Catholic groups has been flooded with protest letters, many with an anti-Semitic tone.

"The Crime of Father Amaro" is based on a 19th-century Portuguese novel, but the film is set in contemporary Mexico. Its protagonist is an ambitious young priest who starts an illicit affair with a young woman that ends in tragedy.

Also shown are issues confronting modern Mexican priests, such as donations received from drug dealers and aid sent to fund guerrilla activities in poor rural areas.

Catholic groups say the film depicts the Roman Catholic Church in an unfair, negative light.

A huge success in Mexico, where it was released last summer, "Father Amaro" is being distributed in the United States by Samuel Goldwyn Films. The company’s president, Meyer Gottlieb, told the Los Angeles Times that he is alarmed by the anti-Semitism in many of the protest letters and postcards the company has received.

"I am sure you don’t plan on showing rabbis or Jews in a compromising position, but your hatred is vented against the Savior who gave his life to redeem mankind for their sins," wrote one man from Manchester, Conn.

"What I find offensive is that they are taking the leap that I am only doing this because I am Jewish," Gottlieb said. "Everyone can have an opinion about a film. But the thing that I object to [is the insinuation that] if I wasn’t Jewish, I wouldn’t be releasing this movie, which is of course absurd."

The protest is being organized by a conservative Catholic lay group, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). The group says its members will picket theaters when the film opens Nov. 15.

Through a mass mailing, TFP has asked 80,000 people, especially Latino Catholics, to send protest letters to Goldwyn Films. America Needs Fatimah, a group affiliated with TFP, has promised to mobilize another 250,000 letter writers.

Among the objectionable scenes are one in which the priest and the young woman make love under the mantel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and another in which a cat eats a communion host.

Carlos Carrera, the film’s director, defended it as "fictional," but also told the Times that "all of this behavior seen in the film has happened in reality. None of this is a lie or a part of our imagination."

"Father Amaro" became the highest-grossing movie produced in Mexico, despite pressure from Mexican bishops to have the movie banned.