President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Jewish groups, lawmakers berate Trump for blasting reporter who asked about anti-Semitism


The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League decried President Donald Trump’s brusque treatment of a reporter who asked about a spike in anti-Semitic incidents and challenged him to offer an explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism.

“It is honestly mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The American Jewish Committee’s CEO, David Harris, also posted a statement on Twitter.

“Instead of answering a timely and legitimate question, the president chose instead to besmirch the journalist,” Harris wrote.

Jake Turx of Ami Magazine had asked Trump at a news conference Thursday about a recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, particularly a wave of bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers.

Trump interrupted Turx, called him a liar and treated the question as if Turx had asked Trump if he was an anti-Semite, although Turx had prefaced his question by emphatically saying he did not believe Trump was an anti-Semite.

Both statements noted that Trump within the space of 24 hours had evaded other questions about spikes in anti-Semitism, sometimes manifest in expressions by purported Trump supporters: one at the same news conference on Thursday, and one a day earlier at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The ADL and the AJC implored Trump to address the spike.

“Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather, to help solve a problem that for many is real and menacing,” Harris said.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., chided Trump on Twitter for saying Turx’s question was not “fair.”

“60 bomb threats against Jewish Centers in 27 states,” Deutch wrote. “Oh, it’s fair.”

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., also picked up on Trump’s claim that the question was “unfair.”

“What is truly unfair and deeply disturbing is the Trump Administration’s deafening silence at the continued rise of anti-Semitic incidents across the country, leaving Jewish families fearful for their safety,” she said in a statement. “The Jewish community deserves nothing less than a swift, comprehensive response from President Trump and his Administration on their plans to investigate these dangerous threats.”

Both Deutch and Lowey are Jewish.

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, also released a statement noting that Trump has twice refused to directly address reporters’ questions about an uptick in anti-Semitism.

“President Trump, you are President of the United States. It’s not enough to just not be an anti-Semite, we expect you to do something about it,” Moline said. “Get past being offended and take action to protect the Jewish community. And while you are at it, the Muslim community and all other minority faiths in this great nation.”

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect separately berated Trump for telling Turx that he was “the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen.”

“Mr. President, that’s an alternative fact on a psychedelic acid trip,” said its director, Steven Goldstein. “Have you been adding magic mushrooms to your chopped liver on matzo?”

Bend the Arc, a liberal Jewish activist group, re-released its statement from a day earlier after Trump had avoided the question at his joint news conference with Netanyahu.

“Donald Trump’s inability to simply condemn antisemitism boggles the mind,” the statement said.

Human Rights First, a watchdog, said Trump’s reply was a lesson in how not to respond.

“In our investigation into hate crime in Germany, particularly hate crime associated with xenophobia, we found that the rhetoric of leaders matters a great deal,” the group said in a statement. “Insufficiently denunciatory language like Trump’s normalizes hatred and effectively gives license to hate groups.”

Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order on Jan. 29. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jewish groups praise court for upholding stay on Trump’s travel ban


Jewish groups welcomed a federal appeals court ruling upholding a stay on President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“We applaud the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and hope that it sends an important message to the nation and the world that the United States is a nation that does not exclude people based on their faith and welcomes those seeking refuge,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement it posted on Twitter just minutes after the court ruled on Thursday.

The tweet noted that the ADL had joined an amicus brief in the legal action originally brought by the State of Washington against the ban.

The unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit panel of three judges was a narrow one, upholding last week’s decision by a federal court in Seattle to stay the ban pending further consideration of its legality.

Also commending the ruling was the American Jewish Committee. “We welcome the 9th Circuit ruling–an important moment for U.S. democracy and values,” it said on Twitter.

HIAS, the Jewish group advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees, tweeted links to the decision. It also has joined an amicus brief against the ban, in Maryland.

One of the HIAS tweets was a reminder that its battle against the ban is not over; Trump’s ban may yet be upheld by the courts.

“We will continue fighting Pres. Trump’s executive order until we’ve re-secured the American tradition of #WelcomingRefugees to our shores,” it said.

HIAS is spearheading rallies on behalf of refugees to take place in nearly a dozen states this Sunday. A focus will be Trump’s executive order. Also backing the rallies are the ADL, the American Jewish World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the rabbinical associations of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called the court’s ruling “a victory for American freedom over Presidential tyranny.”

“The court has sided with refugees who thirst for hope over a president who yearns to hate,” the center said in a statement.

Trump appeared ready to take his case to reinstate the ban pending further legal review to the Supreme Court. “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” he said on Twitter.

Neither Trump nor his team has explained what imminent danger cannot withstand the temporary stay on his order, issued about a week after he assumed office last month; no terrorist committing a crime on U.S. soil has hailed from any of the seven nations listed in the ban.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, called on Trump to give up on the executive order.

“President Trump ought to see the writing on the wall, abandon proposal, roll up his sleeves and come up with a real, bipartisan plan to keep us safe,” he said on Twitter.

Alan Dershowitz, the noted constitutional lawyer, had similar advice.

“Precedent trumps President Trump,” he said on CNN.

Ninet Tayeb album release show Feb. 16 at The Echo.

Calendar: February 10-16, 2017


FRI | FEB 10

SHABBAT IN EGYPT

Experience Shabbat, Egyptian-style, with Sephardic Temple Young Professionals and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA). Guest speaker Larry Clumeck will discuss Jewish life in Egypt. Authentic Egyptian food will be served (kosher dietary laws observed). This event is intended for Jewish professionals ages 21 to 39. 7 p.m. $30. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. jimena.org.

SARAH SCHULMAN

Sarah Schulman will discuss and sign her book “Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair.” From intimate relationships to global politics, Schulman observes the differences between conflict and abuse. She reveals how punishment replaces self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning. The controversial book illuminates contemporary and historical issues of personal, racial and geo-political differences in a world of injustice, exclusion and punishment. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

ISRAELI KABBALAT SHABBAT

Start davening! Young adults are invited to enjoy traditional Jewish-Israeli cuisine and Israeli music. Bring friends or come and make new ones. This event is intended for young adults, ages 21 to 35. Alcohol will be served. 7:30 p.m. $14. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Address, in Tarzana, provided upon RSVP.

SHABBAT SHIRA: “THE SHABBAT OF SONG”

Celebrate the “Shabbat of Song” with a special service featuring the world premiere of Michael Isaacson’s “Ladorot Habaim” (“For Generations to Come”) and the voices of six congregations: Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Akiba, Temple Judea, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and University Synagogue. Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and Rabbi Jonathan Aaron will narrate the evening of music that will include numerous local cantors. Featuring guest speaker Rabbi Michael Marmur, provost of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 7:30 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org.

“RULES OF THE GAME”

Acclaimed Tunisian-American choreographer Jonah Bokaer will frame three works during this program, including “Rules of the Game,” his latest piece. “Rules of the Game” was inspired by Luigi Pirandello’s play “Il Giuoco Delle Parti” and features an international cast of eight dancers, incorporating dance, art and music. Bokaer collaborated with artist and architect Daniel Arsham for “Rules of the Game,” as well as the other two works, “Recess” and “Why Patterns.” They also worked with composer Pharrell Williams. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $29. Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. cap.ucla.edu.

SAT | FEB 11

FEIT FAMILY SHABBAT LIVE

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), will speak about the current political climate and thoughts about the future. Featuring Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and Cantor Marcus Feldman. 10:45 a.m. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

CELEBRATE TU B’SHEVAT

Celebrate the holiday that’s the “New Year for Trees.” The service will be led mostly in English and feature fruits and other foods from Israel. Noon. Free. Mishkon Tephilo, 206 Main St., Venice. mishkon.org.

SUN | FEB 12

“SUPER SUNDAY”

Join in a day of community fundraising. Sign up at jewishla.org/supersunday. 9 a.m. Free. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8000. jewishla.org.

FAMILY SEARCH LIBRARY

Learn about your family heritage from experienced Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Vallley and Ventura County members and Family Search Library volunteers. They can help you utilize resources including databases such as Ancestry.com. FindMyPast, Fold3.com, MyHeritage (library edition), ProQuest Obituaries, World Vital Records and more. There also are Jewish microfilms of Eastern Europe resources and others. Bring your research documents and a flash drive if you want to download electronic images. 1 p.m. Free for JGSCV members; $25 annual membership at the door. Los Angeles Family History Library, 10741 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 889-6616. jgscv.org.

“GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK & ALL THAT JAZZ”

Come enjoy “The Great American Songbook & All That Jazz on Film” with jazz historian and archivist Mark Cantor. Celebrate the musical genius of the 20th century’s most influential singers, bands and musicians during an afternoon filled with electrifying screen performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme and more. Presented by American Jewish University’s Whizin Center as part of the Dortort Program for the Performing Arts. 4 p.m. $15. American Jewish University, Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

FRITZ COLEMAN: “DEFYING GRAVITY”

Fritz Coleman. Photo courtesy of NBC4

Fritz Coleman. Photo courtesy of NBC4

Help continue to improve the quality of life for women, children and families who struggle to safeguard their rights and freedoms by enjoying  a night of comedy with Coleman, the local weathercaster who has won four Los Angeles Area Emmy awards for his comedy specials. Proceeds benefit the National Council of Jewish Women-LA  (NCJW). (The organization will get credit only for advance ticket sales.) 18 and older only. Two-drink minimum. 7 p.m. $15. Ice House Comedy Club, 38 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. (626) 577-1894. icehousecomedy.com.

KEIKO MATSUI FEATURING CARLY ROBYN GREEN

Internationally acclaimed and celebrated pianist, composer and humanitarian Keiko Matsui will take the stage with modern adult-contemporary and smooth jazz artist and songwriter Carly Robyn Green. 7 p.m. $24. Tickets available at tikly.co/events/1779. The Rose, Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena.

TUES | FEB 14

“SONGS OF LOVE”

Cantor Kenny Ellis will perform a mix of comedy and music in honor of Holocaust survivor Clara Knopfler. This is the second in a series of three organized events to celebrate Knopfler’s 90th birthday and raise money for the Clara Knopfler Jewish Leadership Scholarship at Cal Lutheran. The scholarship provides support to Jewish student leaders. 6 p.m. $36 donation suggested for the Clara Knopfler Jewish Leadership Scholarship. Lundring Events Center, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 493-3512. callutheran.edu

WED | FEB 15

“TRUMP AND IRAN: WHAT COMES NEXT?”

Join American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Stephen Wise Temple for a panel discussion and Q-and-A evaluating the Iran nuclear deal as the one-year anniversary of its implementation approaches. The panel also will analyze the choices that the Trump administration faces about Tehran, how sanctions relief is affecting Iran’s economy, what Tehran is doing to expand its reach from Syria to Yemen, and the status of human rights in Iran. The panel members will include former Congressman Howard Berman; Heather Williams, senior analyst at Rand and former national intelligence officer on Iran; and Andrew Apostolou, former Iran director at Freedom House and foreign policy analyst. The program will be moderated by Jason Isaacson, AJC associate executive director for policy. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. 6:30 p.m. Free. Stephen Wise Temple Sanctuary, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 282-8080. ajc.org.

STATE OF CYBERHATE

Speakers Brittan Heller, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) first director of technology and society, and Robert Kang, cybersecurity counsel and lecturer, will discuss what role we can play in fighting the spread of hate online. Sponsored by the ADL’s Asian Jewish Initiative and NextGen community. There will be a happy hour after the program. 7 p.m. Free. RSVP (required) to la@adl.org; no walk-ins. Google, 340 Main St., Venice. (310) 446-4232. la.adl.org/events.

THURS | FEB 16

“FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES”

Actress and comedian Rain Pryor, daughter of comic legend Richard Pryor, will open her new solo play “Fried Chicken & Latkes.” Pryor grew up African-American and Jewish in Beverly Hills and has lived a fascinating life filled with pain, poignancy, purpose and lots of laughter. Her unique background led to many adventures that she will share in the course of her show. Directed by Eve Brandstein. 8 p.m. $40. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Jewish Women’s Theatre, 2912 Colorado Blvd., No. 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400. jewishwomenstheatre.org.

NINET TAYEB ALBUM RELEASE SHOW

Ninet Tayeb is an acclaimed singer, songwriter and actress — and household name in Israel. On the verge of her fifth album, which will be the first to be released in the United States, Tayeb reveals herself as an artist filled with resilience, determination and vulnerability. She won “Israeli Idol,” launching her to instant fame. Her debut album took less than a day to go platinum and yielded five No. 1 singles, and she starred in a long-running TV series based on her life. 7 p.m. $10.50. Tickets available at ticketfly.com. Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles. theecho.com.

Lyndon B. Johnson as U.S. Senator in the 1950s.

Preserving the barrier between church and state


Lyndon Baines Johnson is undoubtedly rolling over in his grave. For more than six decades — with bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic presidents and members of Congress — a landmark law has stood as a bulwark against using public funds to breach the wall separating church and state. The so-called Johnson Amendment — authored by LBJ during his Senate tenure (but passed by a Republican-majority Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower) — prevents all tax-exempt entities, including religious organizations, from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaigns on behalf of, or opposed to, any candidate. At the risk of losing this tax-exempt status, the Johnson Amendment expressly forbids all rabbis, ministers and imams from using their pulpits as partisan political platforms.

Spurred on by his evangelical right-wing base, President Donald J. Trump has now pledged to “get rid of and totally destroy” this decades-long, common sense legislation. Fortunately, the Jewish community understands the dangers posed by such a radical revision. In a strongly worded statement issued the day Trump uttered his vow at the National Prayer Breakfast, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said a repeal of the Johnson Amendment “would result in government support — through the tax code — for religious speech in a manner contrary to binding interpretations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.” And if applied to all tax-exempt organizations, the AJC properly warned that such a change “would threaten to drag civil society more broadly — from museums and other charitable organizations, to national, communal and religious groups of every sort — into the political arena.” Joining the AJC in expressing immediate outrage was the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, noting that “politicizing churches does them no favors.”

Trump’s obsequious effort to pander to Christian conservatives’ desire to “totally destroy” a law that has well served the principle of church-state separation cannot be accomplished by means of a mere executive order. Only Congress can change the tax code. Unfortunately, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) quickly quipped that he had “always supported” such a repeal. Moreover, the day before Trump’s speech, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) separately introduced House and Senate bills to accomplish this goal. And Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has introduced unsuccessful repeal legislation in every session of Congress since 2001, hopefully declared, “This is the best opportunity we’ve had.”

Meanwhile, even if Congress declines to repeal the Johnson Amendment, the same functional result may be achieved if Trump directs the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the law. Indeed, since 2008, more than 2,000 mostly evangelical clergy have dared the IRS to do its job by holding “Pulpit Freedom Sundays,” during which their sermons incorporate political views; only one such case has ever been investigated and no one has been punished.

Beyond encouraging the unseemly spectacle of religious leaders pontificating about partisan political campaigns, any actions that undercut the efficacy of the Johnson Amendment will allow churches to spend their congregants’ tax-exempt 501(c)(3) donations to support political campaigns. This scenario poses at least two problems. First, there is no reason why we should allow tax-free dollars to be used to support or oppose candidates for public office. If individuals want to spend their money on political campaigns, they should do so with after-tax dollars, rather than asking other taxpayers to subsidize their partisan electoral choices.

Second, nonprofit organizations such as religious groups do not have the same federal tax reporting obligations as those required of PACs. If campaign funding were funneled through houses of worship, political spending could become even less transparent than it already is. In the words of David Herzig, a Valparaiso University tax law professor, “If you allow churches to freely allow political activity … you’ve turned those into Super PACs.”

As with many of the hot-button campaign issues that the Trump presidency has now moved to the front burner to the delight of his die-hard supporters (such as building a Mexican border wall,  barring refugees and deporting immigrants), the broader American public opposes the philosophical basis for repealing or weakening the Johnson Amendment. In 2015, Lifeway, a Christian polling firm, found that 79 percent of Americans thought that religious leaders should not endorse politicians from the pulpit. Now that the Trumpian gauntlet has been thrown down, it will be up to this silent majority to ensure that the church-state wall remains in place and that tax deductible donations are not used to support political campaigns. And so long as the Johnson Amendment remains the law of the land, the IRS should not render it a dead letter through coerced non-enforcement.


Douglas Mirell is an attorney and board member of the ACLU and ACLU Foundation of Southern California. As a volunteer attorney, he has litigated numerous church-state separation and other First Amendment cases. He can be reached at dmirell@hmafirm.com

Poll: Clinton leads Trump 61-19 among Jewish voters


Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is leading Republican nominee Donald Trump by 42 points in a 4-way race among Jewish voters, a new poll released on Tuesday showed.

According to the telephone-only poll of 1,002 Jews, conducted by the research company SSRS for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Clinton is supported by 61 percent of Jewish voters, while Trump is supported by only 19 percent.

The last time a Republican presidential nominee got 19 percent of the Jewish vote was in 2000.

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is supported by 6 percent of Jewish voters.

In the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama won 70 percent of the Jewish vote, and 74 percent in 2008.

The poll also shows a majority of Jewish voters think Clinton would be better than Trump in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship (57 percent vs. 22 percent) and dealing effectively with Iran (58 percent vs.19 percent).

On the state of U.S.-Israel relations today, 16 percent of respondents said they consider the relationship “very good,” while 57 percent say it is “fairly good.” Twenty-five percent consider the U.S.-Israel relationship to be fairly/very poor.

Among Jewish voters who identify themselves as Republicans, 55 percent consider the relationship very/fairly good, while 44 think it has become fairly/very poor. A whopping 82 percent of Jewish Democrats consider the relationship as good, including 19 percent who think it is  “very good.” Only 16 percent said  it’s fairly/very poor.

What turns many Jews away from Trump energizes his Jewish supporters


In August 2015, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) asked 1,030 American Jews to name their favored candidate in the following year’s presidential primaries. Hillary Clinton was the clear winner with 39.7 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders with 17.8 percent. Donald Trump came in third with 10.2 percent, more than any of the other nine Republicans named.

A majority of Jews will almost certainly line up behind the Democrat in the November election: The same AJC poll found 48.6 percent of American Jews identify as Democrats, compared with 19 percent who say they are Republicans.

But some of the same factors that have turned many voters off Trump — his unyielding stance on immigration and fondness for insult, for instance — are some of what’s driving another group of Jewish voters, even some in liberal Los Angeles, to support his candidacy.

“I like the idea that somebody fresh and new and a little bit vulgar is getting ahead,” said Culver City resident Leslie Fuhrer Friedman, who attends the Pacific Jewish Center on Venice Beach.

“Does he say uncouth things?” she said. “Of course. You know, he’s kind of like an Israeli in the Knesset. He’s a little rude.”

For all the offense many Jews have taken to the Republican’s musings, others have found a set of reasons, specifically Jewish ones, to support him — from his close relationship with his Orthodox son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to his disdain for an administration many feel has disrespected Israel.

And then there are some Republican Jews who see Trump’s candidacy as merely the lesser of two evils. 

Brian Goldenfeld, a Woodland Hills paralegal who contributes to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said he’s disappointed with both candidates but doesn’t view Clinton as an acceptable option.

“I don’t think just because you’re conservative you have to support Trump,” he said. “But what other alternative do we have?”

For its part, the RJC has offered Trump its lukewarm support: When it became clear he would be the party’s nominee, the RJC released a statement congratulating him, but it has yet to endorse him. 

Yet there’s a sense, at least among the Jewish Trump supporters interviewed for this article, that his shoot-from-the-hip style allows him to speak political truths others avoid, especially on issues of foreign policy.

Clinton “has never admitted there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism,” said Phillip Springer, a World War II veteran who lives in Pacific Palisades.

Springer said he supports Trump because he sees him as the candidate most suited to protect the United States from terrorist attacks of the type that are increasingly common in Europe.

“He does not want New York to turn into Paris and Washington to turn into Brussels,” Springer said. “That will happen if the gates are opened to anybody that’s trying to get into this country.”

Among some of L.A.’s Iranian Jews,

Boast about ‘anti-sharia laws’ falls flat at panel on anti-Semitism


Judson Hill, a Georgia state senator, appearing on a panel on anti-Semitism coinciding with the Republican National Convention, was laying out his bona fides on combating the phenomenon.

“My faith is what gives me the motivation to stand with the Jewish people and with Israel,” he said Monday morning, and it is what led him to sponsor “anti-BDS legislation and anti-sharia legislation.”

Hill’s remarks were fleetingly awkward, coming during an event sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, which is among an array of Jewish groups — spanning left to right, Reform to Orthodox — on the record opposing “anti-sharia legislation.”

The panel took place blocks from where Republicans were gathering for their four-day nominating convention.

In part, the Jewish groups see the initiatives that seek to limit the use of sharia, or Islamic religious law, in the United States as undergirded by bigotry. But they also realize that there’s no way to “ban” sharia without shutting down Jewish religious courts and interactions between the religious and public squares on a host of matters, including certifying kosher inspectors and penalizing men who withhold divorce decrees from their wives.

Just last week, AJC decried the proposal made by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to deport Muslims from the United States “if they believe in sharia.” Jason Isaacson, AJC’s associate executive director for policy, called Gingrich’s remarks “disgraceful and fundamentally anti-American.”

Moreover, Hill was seated next to Suhail Khan, a leader in promoting Muslim-Jewish relations who has been the target of right-wing smears that he is an “agent of sharia.”

No one called out Hill directly — there was some silent wincing — and much of the focus of the panel was on the mission he shares with Khan, Rep. Pete Roskam, R-Ill., and the AJC in combating the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. (The Republican Jewish Coalition is honoring state legislators leading the anti-BDS push later this week, and the Jewish Federations of North America and The Israel Project are running similar events in Cleveland and next week for Democrats in Philadelphia.)

Later in the panel, Roskam singled out Khan for his willingness to buck even members of his own community by fighting BDS and partnering with pro-Israel groups and politicians. Khan has taken part in the Muslim Leadership Initiative of the Israel-based Shalom Hartman Institute, an interfaith effort that has roiled many in the Muslim community. Khan himself described what he termed the “mishegas” within the Muslim-American community over whether or not one should cooperate with Israeli outfits like Hartman.

“It’s easy for conservative Christians to be Republicans for Israel,” Roskam said, referring to himself and Hill. “For Suhail to be out there to say ‘there is a trend line in my community of faith, to say there is a trend line going in the wrong direction’ … that’s fantastic. That sort of leadership needs to be celebrated.”

AJC in Berlin urges action to change Arab refugees’ anti-democratic values


Amid fears that Muslim refugees’ arrival to Germany may cause problems for local Jews, the American Jewish Committee in Berlin called for a national summit on ways to combat anti-democratic values among the newcomers.

“It is five minutes before midnight, but not yet too late,” said AJC Berlin director Deidre Berger in statement published Thursday by AJC, in which is calling for holding national summit on strict educational priorities for refugees.

Approximately 1 million migrants entered Germany in 2015; more than half have asked for asylum. A majority come from Syria and other Muslim countries. Watchdog groups in France and the Netherlands said immigrants who arrived from the 1950s onward and their descendants are responsible for most violent anti-Semitic incidents today, as well as increases in attacks.

Berger’s words echo the concerns of Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who has asked for reassurances that Chancellor Angela Merkel would take Jewish concerns seriously.

Leaders of Jewish communities in Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium, among other places, expressed similar concerns while insisting — as has Schuster —  they favored magnanimous treatment of refugees.

In Germany, the recent release of a video documenting an Israeli religious Jew’s visit to a refugee camp has drawn considerable attention within the Jewish community and beyond to this issue.

Yonathan Shay, an intern at AJC in Berlin, filmed for the website of the Die Welt newspaper his visit to the center, documenting several drawings graffiti of anti-Jewish and Nazi symbols drawn together — possibly by residents.

“It’s very important for people who didn’t grow up in a democracy to forget what they’ve learned,” he said.

Shay faulted Germany for trying to atone for the Holocaust by “accepting all the refugees of the world,” adding that, “Jews will be put in danger if there are so many refugees here” who hate them.

Some activists helping refugees, including Israelis and other Jews living in Berlin, criticized Shay’s reportage as designed to provoke, but he said the criticism was because they preferred not to be confronted by his findings.

#WeAreNext


The campaign to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States represents a complete lack of faith — not just in Syrian refugees, and not just in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but in America itself.

I would like to be able to say such a campaign is un-American, but there has always been a fearful, xenophobic strain infecting the U.S. body politic. The anti-Chinese movement of the 19th century, the calls to keep Jewish refugees out on the eve of the Holocaust, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and now the move to block people suffering from the horrors of Bashar Assad and radical Islam in Syria.

Just before Thanksgiving — the holiday that celebrates our Pilgrim immigrant forebears — Donald Trump, grandson of immigrants, brought the debate to a new low calling for a registry of Muslim Americans.

“Singling out any ethnic or faith group to register with the government is morally repugnant, not to mention unconstitutional,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement. “What Mr. Trump proposes, in this case targeting all Muslims, is a horror movie that we Jews are quite familiar with.”

In response to the latest round of xenophobia, non-Muslims have adopted the Twitter hashtag #IAmMuslim. And why not? Once it becomes acceptable to single out people based on their ethnicity or religion, all of us are vulnerable, Jews more than others. Perhaps a more accurate protest would be #WeAreNext.

America was founded by, and to a great degree for, immigrants. Without immigrants, our great country would be just above average, an oversized Scotland. No offense to Scotland.

The fact that both these insights are cliché just makes them easier to ignore and take for granted. Immigration is an economic and cultural driver. Europe didn’t fling its doors open to Muslims solely out of the goodness of its heart. Old Europe needs young blood. Otherwise it can never compete with countries like, say, America.

It is no coincidence that the governors of the states thriving the least economically are the most steadfast against admitting the Syrian refugees. States that welcome immigrants, like California, do better.  

I get that the Republican and Democratic representatives who voted to support a bill putting a hold on the processing of 10,000 Syrian refugees don’t understand the nature of civil war, Islamic extremism or Islam.

But more disturbing is that they don’t seem to understand America.

America does immigration so well, because America does assimilation so well. America does integration like Jews do shivah. We just excel at it. The banlieues of Paris are festering sores of isolated Muslim youth who feel, justly, as French officials readily admit, that they don’t belong in France.

But America at its best and most commonplace accepts all comers and enables them to become proud hyphenates. That’s why the elevator in the Journal’s Koreatown office building is filled with Ethiopians, Koreans, Sri Lankans, Salvadorans — Muslim, Jewish, Christian — it makes the United Nations look homogeneous. 

America has a race problem, but it never has an immigration problem — until some people try to foment one.

And keep in mind, the facts do not support their arguments.

“If a potential terrorist is determined to enter America to do harm,” an Oct. 18 article in the Economist says, “there are easier and faster ways to get there than by going through the complex refugee resettlement process. Of the almost 750,000 refugees who have been admitted to America since 9/11, only two Iraqis have been arrested on terrorist charges; they had not planned an attack in America, but aided al-Qaeda at home.”

The threat to America’s wellbeing from 10,000 Syrian refugees pales in comparison to the threat of turning into a hateful, closed-door society where any of our families could be the next ones kept out, and any of us could be the next ones forced to register.

That fear is why the Anti-Defamation League, AJC and nine other Jewish organizations have joined with 81 other groups in sending a letter to Congressmembers urging them not to roll back plans to accept Syrian refugees into the United States.

“It would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States makes judgments about people based on the country they come from and their religion,” the letter states.

This is one appropriate response to the surge in one of America’s ugliest and most forgetful impulses. Another is to join with groups such as the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief and the Democracy Council, which is holding a fundraiser Dec. 13 in Los Angeles to help bring teachers and services to the Syrian refugees.

On the list of supporters for the fundraiser are Christians, Jews and Muslims. 

But what else would you expect? That’s America.

And for that we can all be very grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving

Rob Eshman is on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

For more information on the Democracy Council fundraiser for Syrian relief, click here.

At gala dinner, Mexican President Pena Nieto thanks American Jews for pro-immigration stand


Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto praised the Jewish community of the United States for supporting the rights of Hispanic immigrants.

“You have raised the banner of this cause,” he said.

The president addressed 150 Jews from North and South America at a gala dinner last night at Mexico City's Centro Deportivo Israelita. The event marked the culmination of a three-day conference hosted by the American Jewish Committee to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs.

Guests in sharp evening attire stood as the handsome, young president entered along with three top-level cabinet members. 

AJC Executive Director David Harris welcomed Pena Nieto, affirming the Jewish community’s support for his efforts to bring economic reform and equality to the country.  Conference co-chairman Bruce Ramer introduced the president by stressing the value of “the trilateral relationship” of the United States, Israel and Mexico.

American Jewish Committee conference co-chairman Bruce Ramer shakes hands with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

In his extended remarks, Pena Nieto did not mention Israel. He did stress the Mexican-Jewish contribution to the country’s development, then returned to the plight of the Mexican-American community.

“Your loud voice protects the rights of the immigrant community in the United states,” Pena Nieto said, “You are great partners.”

Pena Nieto also thanked the American and Mexican-Jewish community for supporting his efforts at developing Mexico's economy and reducing inequality. 

“The cause we share is development of Mexico. You have been part of this,” he said.

Guests included Israeli Ambassador to Mexico Jonathan Peled as well as ambassadors from Azerbaijan, Armenia Turkey, and several other countries.  

After the president spoke, he remained for dinner, dessert, and a performance by the Centro Deportivo Israelita dance troupe, who performed traditional Mexican dances to Jewish music. The president stayed to the end.

“He brought the government with him, and he stayed,” one impressed Mexican-Jewish businessman said. “He’s saluting our people.”

The entire conference began Nov. 9 with a rare ceremony inside the Metropolitan Cathedral.  Mexican television and press turned out in force as the AJC audience gathered in front of the massive gold-leaf main altar to hear a panel of Catholic and Jewish leaders mark the 50 year anniversary of Nostra Aetate.

Billed as a “dialogue,” the event unfolded more as a series of brief speeches lauding Pope Paul VI’s October 28, 1965 declaration that reversed centuries of official Catholic anti-Semitism.

“The Second Vatican Council,” said Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Archbishop of Mexico City,  “was one of the most important events of the 20th century.”

Rivera, who is Mexico’s highest-ranking priest, said that Pope Francis would be very happy to see Jews and Catholics gathered together in Mexico’s central cathedral.

“We have to learn to walk together,” said Rivera.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico, declared that Nostra Aetate means, “fighting any form of anti-Semitism, insults, discrimination, or persecution.”

Both priests emphasized that Jews and Catholics can be partners in responding to the pope’s call to address climate change and environmental degradation.

Nostra Aetate, said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s Director of Interreligious Affairs, established that, “it is wrong to present Jews as rejected and condemned.”

Rosen recounted several meetings between the American Jewish Committee and the current pope, and praised his deep connection to the Jews.

“Not since St. Peter has a pope known the Jewish community as well as Pope Francis does,” Rosen said.

While the church officials emphasized that Nostra Aetate was a way for “enemies” to reconcile, the Jewish speakers saw the landmark statement as the Church finally coming to terms with its anti-Semitic teachings.

“What we are celebrating is true teshuva,” he said, using the Hebrew word for “repentance,” though its root meaning is “return.”  “The Church is returning to its origins.”

The AJC promotes partnerships among Jewish communities and between Jews and the wider society.  While much of its most important work is behind the scenes—and off the record–this conference focused on very public displays of cooperation between Latin and North American Jewry and Jews and Latin America.

Salomón Chertorivski, Secretary of Economic Development of Mexico City, drove that theme home with a keynote speech during a dinner hosted by the Mexican Jewish community at the Gran Hotel (Jewish-owned, and the location of an opening scene from the new James Bond movie).

The up and coming young Mexican Jewish politician praised the great strides in Mexican development but urged the well-heeled audience to work with Mexico to help close the country’s gaping divide between rich and poor.

The greatest risk to the Jewish community, he said, is a Mexico  “fragmented” along class lines.

During the day, panel presentations on issues pertaining to Jews, Israel and Latin America took center stage.

Israel’s Ambassador to Uruguay, Nina Ben Ami, and Israel’s Ambassador to Mexico Jonathan Peled discussed the challenges of representing Israel during the Gaza War, and cooperation between Israel and Mexico through the Mashav program.

At a state-of-the-Jews session one afternoon, Jewish community leaders from Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Brazil presented the situation of their communities.

The situation ranged from positive if not problem-free to dire, with the majority at the positive end of the scale.  The Colombian government, for instance, is deeply pro-Israel—the only Latin American country that has refused to recognize a Palestinian state. 

The philo-Semitism extends to its people—some 6,000 Colombian Christians have converted to Judaism, and rabbinical officials worry about the increasing demand.

Generally, the problems the Jewish leaders faced tended to be problems shared by their wider societies—their fate is tied to the fate of their countries.

There were, however, deep concerns voiced by experts about the situation of Jews in Venezuela, whose ruling party has aligned itself closely with Iran and Hezbollah.  AJC officials said they continue to monitor the situation there with concern.

But at the gala dinner for Mexico’s president, the focus was on partnerships that are working.

AJC Executive Director David Harris addressed the President of Mexico directly, thanking him for deepening Mexico’s relationship with Israel and declaring, “Mr. President, know that day and night, 24/7 you have friends in the U.S. We at AJC have stood with you and we stand proudly with you tonight.”

Moving and shaking: AFMDA Humanitarian Award, Tour de Summer Camps and more


The Beverly Hilton was filled with laughter and emotion on the evening of Oct. 22 as Jerry Seinfeld emceed the American Friends of Magen David Adom’s (AFMDA) Los Angeles Red Star Ball, which drew 1,100 guests and raised $12 million. 

Those funds will go toward ambulances, medical supplies and the construction of an underground blood-supply facility in Israel that will be immune to rocket attack and natural disasters and will provide 97 percent of the blood used by Israel’s hospitals and the Israel Defense Forces.

From left: Michael Richards and Jerry Seinfeld attend the American Friends of Magen David Adom Red Star Ball. Photo courtesy of AFMDA

The world-famous comedian and sitcom star took the stage after a series of intense videos highlighting the life-saving role in Israel that Magen David Adom has played, particularly during the spate of Palestinian knife attacks in recent weeks.

“As a comedian, I always like to perform after emergency activities are shown with injured people and blood flowing,” Seinfeld joked. He then went into a routine touching on many of his classic observations of life, ranging from marriage and children to smartphones and voicemails.

Dina and Fred Leeds, the evening’s hosts, told the audience that in the first three weeks of October, Magen David Adom had provided treatment for 174 casualties since the knife attacks began. After the names of the nine Israelis who were murdered in the attacks were read, several Magen David Adom volunteers were brought onstage, including Hananel Alvo, who was stabbed several years ago on his way to work, then became a paramedic for Magen David Adom after his life was saved by the group’s paramedics.

AFMDA presented the Humanitarian of the Year Award to Adam and Gila Milstein, who are major donors to groups such as the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and StandWithUs. (Adam Milstein was recently named national board chairman of the IAC.) Ruth Flinkman-Marandy and Ben Marandy received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Barak Aviv received the Next Generation Award.

Following a 30-minute after-dinner fundraising appeal — which included a $5 million gift from casino mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam — Seinfeld took the stage again before dessert to close out the evening.

Joining Seinfeld in attendance was one of his co-stars from “Seinfeld,” Michael Richards, who played lanky goofball Kramer. Actresses Odeya Rush and Karla Souza also came to honor Magen David Adom. 

Joining them was a distinguished group that included Michael Milken, Art Bilger, Antonio Villaraigosa, Elan Carr, Sam Yebri, Geoffrey Gold, Shawn Evenhaim and Naty Saidoff

— Jared Sichel, Senior Writer


This year’s Tour de Summer Camps — the annual community cycling event organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — drew more than 500 cyclists on Oct. 25 and raised $1.2 million through riders and sponsorships for summer camp scholarships, according to Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.  

Tour de Summer Camps, the annual community cycling event organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, raises money for summer camp scholarships. Here, some of the beneficiaries express thanks to Federation for its efforts. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography 

Rodney Freeman, a Federation supporter who is active in a Federation real estate and construction group and who was instrumental in launching the event three years ago, raised more than $20,000, making him this year’s top individual fundraiser. Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, the top fundraising team, brought in nearly $43,000 at the event presented by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation. 

Accommodating all skill levels, the event featured 18-mile, 36-mile, 62-mile and 100-mile rides. Ages 16 and older were eligible to participate. Riders began and ended at Camp Alonim on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University.

Children were able to enjoy arts and crafts and visit farm animals, as well. Those younger than 16 who raised funds were considered “virtual riders,” according to the Tour de Summer Camps website. 

“It’s about the kids and the family,” Sanderson said. “It’s not about any one camp or institution.”


Entertainment executives mingled with Jewish community leaders at an Oct. 20 American Jewish Committee (AJC) awards dinner at the Globe Theatre. More than 200 people turned out, including dinner co-chairs Ron Meyer, NBCUniversal vice chairman, and Donna Langley, Universal Pictures chairwoman.

From left: NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara; Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell; Universal Pictures Chairwoman Donna Langley and Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz attend an American Jewish Committee dinner Oct. 20 at the Globe Theatre. Photo by David Medill

AJC, an advocacy organization focusing on Israel and domestic issues, awarded Jeff Shell, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman, the Dorothy and Sherrill C. Corwin Human Relations Award — the highest honor AJC bestows upon members of the entertainment industry.

“AJC plays an irreplaceable role for the Jewish community,” Shell said, as quoted in a press release. “AJC isn’t just an organization that fights anti-Semitism across the globe — it promotes freedom and tolerance of all religions and cultures and builds bridges at a time when we desperately need them.”

Dana Shell Smith, the honoree’s younger sibling and the United States ambassador to Qatar, delivered a keynote address about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and AJC Regional President Dean Schramm discussed the mission of the organization.

Mark Hoppus, vocalist and bassist for rock band Blink-182, served as master of ceremonies. Level A Cappella performed. 

Other attendees included Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros. chairman and CEO; Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz; and former national AJC president and prominent entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer, as well as the Corwins’ children, Bonnie Corwin Fuller and Bruce Corwin.


The Tower Cancer Research Foundation (TCRF) Magnolia Council Spirit of Hope Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire honored Harriet Rossetto, founder and executive vice president at Jewish addiction recovery center Beit T’Shuvah, and Nancy Mishkin, chairwoman of the board at TCRF.

Rossetto spoke about how her work with Beit T’Shuvah has helped her understand what it is to be human.

From left: Tower Cancer Research Foundation (TCRF) Magnolia Council President Beth Goren; Harriet Rossetto, founder of Jewish rehabilitation center Beit T’Shuvah; Nancy Mishkin, Tower Cancer Research Foundation board chairwoman; and Shelley Warsavsky, TCRF Magnolia Council chairwoman attend a luncheon to support cancer research. Photo by Tiffany Rose

“I have accepted I matter and I’m good enough, with all my flaws and imperfections, and so are all of us; I make peace within myself with right action; I defeat sloth and existential despair by making my bed; I have resolved my good boy-bad boy problem by finding a Jewish bad boy and helping him become a rabbi,” the wife of Beit T’Shuvah spiritual leader Rabbi Mark Borovitz said.

Mishkin, former board chairwoman at Beit T’Shuvah and the child of Holocaust survivors, focused on how TCRF is making a difference, addressing approximately 400 people at the Oct. 12 event.

Among those present were TCRF Magnolia Council President Beth Goren and Chairwoman Shelley Warsavsky.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas.  Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

U.S. will insist on full access for inspectors in Iran deal, Blinken tells AJC


The United States continues to insist on nuclear inspectors’ unfettered access as part of a nuclear deal with Iran, the deputy U.S. secretary of state told an American Jewish group.

“We would not agree to a deal unless the IAEA is granted access to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful – period,” Tony Blinken said Monday, addressing the annual global forum of the American Jewish Committee and referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran’s leaders have in recent weeks said they would restrict inspections under a deal.

The major powers and Iran are due to come to a comprehensive agreement by June 30. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a number of pro-Israel groups, including the American Jewish Committee, say the emerging sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal concedes too much to Iran.

“The United States continues to believe – as we have from day one – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal,” Blinken said.

He also pushed back against criticism that some provisions of the deal would lapse within 10 to 15 years.

“Different requirements of the deal would have different durations, but some – including Iran’s commitment to all of the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the obligation not to build a nuclear weapon, as well as the tough access and monitoring provisions of the Additional Protocol – those would continue in perpetuity,” Blinken said.

Did the Obama administration drop Iran and Hezbollah from its threat assessment?


There’s a change in how James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, assesses terrorist threats, and it has sowed some confusion.

The Times of Israel this week reported that the DNI’s annual threat assessment “removed Iran and Hezbollah from its list of terrorism threats.” Newsweek picked up the story, and the American Jewish Committee tweeted its reaction, which it said was “beyond shocking.”

Both publications quote experts suggesting there is a quid quo pro with Iran as nuclear talks appear to be progressing and as it shares an enemy with the United States in ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Except calling what Clapper has done a “removal” of Iran and Hezbollah isn’t quite accurate. Compare this year’s threat assessment to last year‘s and you’ll see that all threats have been “removed”; the terrorism section in the assessment no longer appears as a list. So not only have Iran and Hezbollah disappeared, so have Al Qaeda and homegrown threats.

Instead, Clapper focuses exclusively in the section on terrorism on the threat posed by the ISIS.

This is not insignificant: The exclusive focus on a single threat has policy implications for how the United States confronts terror threats in other arenas. Israelis watching Hezbollah’s massive arms buildup have reason to be concerned that the following warning, in the 2014 report, does not appear this year: “Hizbollah has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s.” The group’s eight mentions in 2014 are reduced to one this year.

But the terrorism section’s exclusive focus on ISIS does not add up to a “quid pro quo” for Iran; Iran, for one thing, gains nothing from the “removal” of another of its natural enemies, Al Qaeda, from the list.

Indeed, Iran in 2015 still merits its own listings, as it did last year, under separate sections, including “cyber,” “weapons of mass destruction” and “regional threats.”

Here’s how the Iran entry in the “regional threats” begins: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is an ongoing threat to U.S. national interests because of its support to the Assad regime in Syria, promulgation of anti-Israeli policies, development of advanced military capabilities, and pursuit of its nuclear program.”

In other words, Iran still remains very much a threat, according to the U.S. government.

Moving and shaking: Times of Israel gala, Nostre Aetate anniversary and ROSIES


American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) has launched the Max Steinberg Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund in memory of the lone soldier from Woodland Hills who was killed last summer during Israel’s war in Gaza.

Lone soldiers are members of the Israel Defense Forces who are living in Israel without any family, much like Max Steinberg, who served as a sharpshooter and staff sergeant in the elite Golani Brigade after a Birthright trip that, by all accounts, changed his life. In July, he died in battle in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

The scholarship fund by the fundraising organization that supports the Israel-based university officially was launched Feb. 15 during a Times of Israel gala in New York City by AABGU Vice President Jessica Sillins. It represents a partnership with Steinberg’s family — his parents, Stuart and Evie, and siblings, Paige and Jake

“We felt this was the best way to perpetuate Max’s legacy,” Stuart Steinberg said in a phone interview. “Ben-Gurion University is really consistent with our belief system — their education and everything they stand for — [and] we’re happy to be associated with them.”

It costs $75,000 to fund a scholarship for a single undergraduate student at the university annually, according to a press release. The fund will provide scholarships to Golani and other combat reservists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, with first preference going to lone soldiers. The Steinbergs will be part of the decision process to ensure that recipients “mirror Max’s values and vision,” the press release said.

Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel worked with Philip Gomperts, AABGU’s Southwest regional director, and the Steinberg family “to create an appropriate legacy for Max and his fellow soldiers,” the press release said.

“Max Steinberg made the ultimate sacrifice and we are forever indebted to him,” Siegel said in the release.


Jewish and Catholic leaders met Feb. 17 under the high ceilings of the ornate Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels to celebrate five decades of interfaith relations. 

From left: Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of AJC-LA; Eugene J. Fisher of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Rev. Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles; Rabbi David Rosen, AJC international director of interreligious affairs; and  the Rev. Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious affairs officer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Photo by David Medill

The event, dubbed “A Watershed Moment in Catholic-Jewish Relations: Marking the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate,” was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It attracted more than 100 attendees.  

Rabbi David Rosen, AJC international director of interreligious affairs, described “Nostra Aetate” (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions)  — copies of which sat before each of the attendees — as a “historic document.” 

The Second Vatican Council passed it in a sweeping vote in 1965, effectively — and finally — distancing Jews from the death of Jesus and denouncing anti-Semitism. It served as the Catholics’ official embrace of non-Christian religions, and signaled a new beginning for Catholics and the Jewish people.

Literally, the Latin nostra aetate translates as “in our time.” During the event, Fisher earned laughs when he translated the title as “it’s about time.”

Other speakers were Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles (AJC-LA); the Rev. Jose H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles; and Eugene J. Fisher, specialist in Catholic-Jewish relations for three decades at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and the Rev. Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious affairs officer of the local archdiocese.

Philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff, AJC-LA Chairman Clifford Goldstein and Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart, attended the event.

AJC and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles were co-sponsors. The former fosters interfaith coalitions as part of its mission of being a global Jewish advocate.


The nonprofit ROSIES (Removing Obstacles, Supporting Innovation, Empowerment and Sustainability) Foundation hosted its first “Give ROSIES” Pop-Up at its Culver City office Feb. 13, selling Valentine’s Day roses to raise funds and community awareness for its work. 

ROSIES employee-in-training Ezra Fields-Meyer with Nechama Chernotsky, co-chair of the events committee, selling Valentine’s Day roses to raise funds and community awareness for the nonprofit’s work at the ROSIES Foundation “Give ROSIES” event at its Culver City office Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of ROSIES

The event was staffed by volunteers and ROSIES staffers, as well as participants in ROSIES’ CREW (Collaborative, Respected, Empowered Workers) College, a program that trains individuals with developmental disabilities to be successful in the workplace.

The ROSIES team also distributed free flowers the previous night in Culver City. Between the two events, they met face to face with approximately 500 people and raised just over $2,000, according to ROSIES founder and CEO Lee Chernotsky.

The CREW members, young adults in their 20s, greeted customers, helped them select and wrap roses, and processed payments — all skills they had been trained to do as part of the ROSIES program.

“Everyone has a specific job,” Chernotsky explained. “We work to identify everyone’s learning styles, because people are not going to be successful at learning skills unless they’re taught the information in a way they can process it.”

For instance, Mia Senzaki, 23, had a cheat sheet available, hich showed her in both photos and words how much change to give customers.

Ezra Fields-Meyer was the friendly greeter at the door — and already familiar to some in the local Jewish community. His parents are Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer and writer Tom Fields-Meyer, whose book about raising an autistic son is called “Following Ezra.” 

Sonia Dickson, a ROSIES CREW chief, said finding sustainable employment for people with disabilities is difficult. They can be taught skills but often can’t adapt those skills to new situations. “But we’re shifting the paradigm. We assume competency and intellect in our CREW members, and focus on shaping their ability to adapt.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Rabbi Mark Diamond resigns as L.A. AJC leader


Rabbi Mark Diamond, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA), announced Jan. 9 that he will step down at the end of February as AJCLA’s top professional. Diamond said he plans to “pursue other professional and personal opportunities.”

“I write this letter with mixed emotions to announce my resignation as director of the [AJC] Los Angeles region,” Diamond wrote in an email to AJCLA members. “I have decided to pursue other professional and personal opportunities as I embark on a new chapter in my career.

“Please be assured of my continued leadership and assistance in performing the full range of my duties. Moving forward, I am committed to a smooth transition and full support of AJC’s projects and programs in the Los Angeles region.”

Diamond, who does not specify where he will serve next, was not immediately available for comment. His final day is Feb. 27.

Diamond took over at AJCLA in late 2012 after 12 years as the professional leading the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. At AJCLA, he replaced Seth Brysk, who was leaving to lead the San Francisco chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. 

During his time at AJCLA, Diamond prioritized forging interfaith partnerships, advancing progressive domestic policies and supporting Israel.

An outspoken supporter for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, Diamond took part in a delegation in 2013 that met with high-level Homeland Security officials at the United States-Mexico border.

Diamond worked to support pro-Israel students on college campuses, particularly at UCLA, where students have been fighting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions controversy for some time. 

The AJC is a global advocacy organization. Its chapters, which are located all over the world, focus on a range of international and domestic issues, including challenges facing Israel, immigration, energy conservation and more. 

A successor for Diamond has not yet been named.

Moving and shaking: FIDF, AJC and more


More than 15 Los Angeles residents returned home on Nov. 21 after participating in a weeklong, sold-out national leadership mission to Israel organized by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). The mission brought together 160 FIDF members from 58 American cities, including the Los Angeles-based contingent, to check out Israeli military sites and speak with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel in hopes of garnering new perspective on military proceedings transpiring on the ground. 

Participants on the trip heard from IDF soldiers serving on the front lines, toured an Iron Dome missile battery in southern Israel, visited wounded soldiers and met with beneficiaries of FIDF programs such as Lone Soldiers, which provides assistance to those in the IDF without parents in Israel, and recipients of IMPACT! Scholarships, an effort to contribute financial aid for higher education to former Israeli soldiers.

Abraham Stein, 78, took part in the mission, searching for insight into the experience of Israeli soldiers and a potential cause to which to donate.

“To see the faces of the soldiers, to look into their eyes, you see they’re just children. We see many things from over here, but once there, you see the dedication, the passion, the assertiveness and the sense of calm,” he told the Journal. “It was striking. I always wanted to donate to Israel and have that be a part of my legacy. Now, after seeing what the IDF does and where my donation would be going, I can make it.” 

Traveling with Stein were Ana Mancia, Adam Bess, Ludmila Bess, Leo David, Igal Elyassi, Carol and Michael Erde, Michael Flesch, April Hardy, Elliot Megdal, Janet and David Polak, Ari and Rebecca Ryan and Adam Sher.

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer 

 


The American Jewish Committee Los Angeles’ (AJC-LA) annual Chanukah celebration drew 150 attendees to The Mark for Events on Dec. 17. AJC members, community leaders, diplomats and elected officials, including AJC-LA director Rabbi Mark Diamond, led a candle-lighting ceremony, in which “each candle represented one of the eight elements of American-Jewish values: democracy, global peace, unity, diversity, learning, tradition, Israel and hope,” according to an AJC-LA press release. Diamond also discussed the importance of defending Jewish rights and democratic values here in the United States and across the world.

From left: AJCLA Vice President Ira Handelman; L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and AJCLA Director Rabbi Mark Diamond participate in a candle-lighting ceremony. Photo by David Medill

From left: AJCLA Vice President Ira Handelman; L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and AJCLA Director Rabbi Mark Diamond participate in a candle-lighting ceremony. Photo by David Medill

 

AJC is an advocacy organization that focuses on Israeli matters, domestic issues and more. Its Los Angeles chapter is one of 22 regional offices in the U.S. 

Participants in the lighting ceremony last month also included Assemblymembers Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and Matt Dababneh, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, the Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Randolph Dobbs of the Los Angeles Baha’i Center. 

AJC-LA President Dean Schramm “addressed the audience about living the lessons of Chanukah,” the press release said. AJC-LA Vice President Ira Handelman also took part in the festivities.


California State Sen. Robert M. (Bob) Hertzberg has joined the government and regulatory law practice group of the law firm Glaser Weil, according to a Nov. 5 press release, and will serve as Of Counsel.

Robert M. (Bob) Hertzberg, Photo courtesy of Glaser Weil

 

The recently elected Democrat who serves the 18th District will “advise [Glaser Weil clients] on local issues, matters in other states, and on international projects,” the release said. Hertzberg will “not advise clients on matters that may come before the legislature or state agencies,” according to the release.

He is working at Glaser Weil with Thomas Levyn, former mayor of Beverly Hills, and Timothy McOsker, former chief deputy city attorney for Los Angeles and chief of staff to former L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn. The firm describes itself as one of the “nation’s premier midsized law firms, with approximately 100 attorneys.”

“We are honored to have Bob join our firm,” Glaser Weil Managing Partner Peter Weil said in the release. “His 35 years of experience as a lawyer, work-ethic, dedication and vast knowledge will contribute to the continued growth of the firm.”

“Bob will be an excellent addition to our firm,” Partner Patricia L. Glaser echoed in prepared remarks.

Hertzberg has been a partner at Mayer Brown, LLP for the past 12 years. He previously served on the board of the Public Policy Institute of California and as chairman, twice, for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. He is currently a member of the board at USC’s Price School of Public Policy and Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy.

Meanwhile, Hertzberg added a familiar face to his public office’s staff. Barri Worth Girvan, who previously served as The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ director of community engagement programs and government affairs, is now serving as Hertzberg’s district director in the San Fernando Valley, having joined the team on Dec. 18.


Fredi Rembaum, assistant vice president for institutional advancement of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), was celebrated Dec. 8 during a retirement lunch at the Reform seminary’s Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles.

Among those who feted Rembaum were Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, HUC-JIR president; Joshua Holo, dean of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus; and Steven Windmueller, a longtime faculty member and former dean of the L.A. campus. Her husband, Rabbi Joel Rembaum, former senior rabbi of Temple Beth Am, led haMotzi.

Before coming more than 10 years ago to HUC-JIR — which she also has served as director of development for the Western region — Rembaum worked for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for 20 years in a number of capacities, focusing on fundraising and community development. 

From left: Joshua Holo, dean of HUC-JIR’s L.A. campus; Sue Neuman Hochberg, chair of the Western region board of overseers; Fredi Rembaum, assistant vice president for institutional advancement; and Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, HUC-JIR president, at Rembaum’s retirement lunch on Dec. 8. Photo courtesy of HUC-JIR

 

She will not be replaced at HUC-JIR. Instead, officials said, her work will be continued by the team of Cathee Weiss, director of development for the Western region, and Aaron Herman, assistant director of development. Rembaum planned to work through the end of December.

— Ryan E. Smith, Associate Editor

 

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

A TV pilgrimage to Jerusalem and other holy sites


Every religion has its pilgrimage, and PBS’ “Sacred Journeys” provides a lively visual guide to six of the best-known destinations for the devout.

On Dec. 23, series host Bruce Feiler visits Jerusalem, and while the date might indicate a link to Christmas, the focus is on Sukkot, the third of Judaism’s pilgrimage festivals.

In biblical times, Jews were commanded to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkot, though following its destruction by the Romans and the dispersion of the Jewish inhabitants, few were able to follow the tradition.

With the rebirth of the State of Israel, the number of pilgrims has swelled, with Jews joined by Christians, Muslims and even Buddhists, converging on Jerusalem’s Old City, which contains the Western Wall, Al Aqsa Mosque and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“This is the most contentious quarter mile in the world,” notes Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, contested not only by different faiths but also frequently by competing factions within the same religion.

The general tension erupts at times into confrontations between local Arabs and Jews, whom Feiler likens to “a couple in a bad marriage living in the same home.”

For observant Jews, the Sukkot pilgrimage starts at the outdoor market to select the most perfect lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron), which are inspected with the care of a jewelry dealer seeking the perfect diamond.

At the Western Wall, men, many clad all in white, chant prayers and in one vivid snapshot, an Orthodox worshipper records the scene on his cell phone, combining ancient ritual with modern technology.

Locals and foreign visitors join in the building of a sukkah, an experience which Ahava, a young women from Philadelphia, describes as “celebrating Judaism in a physical way.” An outdoor dinner in the sukkah lends itself to introspective conversation, with Ahava debating whether she should stay in Israel or return to the United States.

The camera and Feiler join Christian pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where according to their faith, Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The hardiest then travel to the Galilee, retracing Jesus’ steps in a 40-mile hike.

One of the more unusual visitors is Brian Kwon, whose Buddhist parents emigrated from their native Thailand and settled in Colorado Springs. Kwon, like many others, has come to Jerusalem as a faith seeker, and eventually converts to Christianity and is baptized.

Feiler, the 50-year old director, writer and narrator of “Sacred Journeys” is somewhat of a pilgrim himself, having traveled and worked in 65 countries, at latest count.

Born in Savannah, Ga., he is the descendent of five generations of Southern Jews, among them men who fought for the Confederacy in “The War of Northern Aggression,” as the Civil War was known in the South. Feiler now makes his home in the Yankee enclave of Brooklyn.

As a Jew, he cannot visit Mecca, but otherwise his ethnicity has not proven any barrier to filming in Muslim or any other countries. It took him five years “to raise the money, shoot and edit” the six segments of “Sacred Journeys.”

Asked if he believes that the world’s different faiths could ever live peacefully together, particularly in the Middle East, Feiler answers, “If I didn’t believe that, I couldn’t get up in the morning.”

However, he thinks that now and in the future the struggle will be not among opposing faiths, but primarily between the religious and the non-religious.

But even among believers, Feiler said, traditional religious practice, such as “sitting in the pew while someone preaches at you,” is on the decline, while pilgrimages are on the upswing as “an expression of religious activism.”

He cited a recent United Nations study that one third of the world’s tourists are primarily motivated to travel by pilgrimages. “It used to be that a pilgrimage meant going from Tiberias to Jerusalem on foot, but with discounted air fares, it’s easy to fly from Los Angeles to Israel,” he said.

“Sacred Journeys” airs in six one-hour segments, presented in two-hour blocs during three Tuesday evenings, and can be seen locally on KOCE (PBS SoCal).

The earlier Dec. 16 presentation featured visits to visits to French town of Lourdes, sacred to Roman Catholics, and to Shikoku, Japan, popular with Buddhist worshippers. On Dec. 23, the “Jerusalem” segment will air at 8 p.m., followed at 9 p.m. by a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

On Dec. 30, the journey will start on the banks of the Ganges River in India, followed by a visit to Osogbo in Nigeria and a festival in honor of the river goddess Osun.

An interfaith statement on the kidnapping of three teens in Israel


AJC Los Angeles has reached out to our community partners, including faith leaders, to express their support in this crisis. To that end, we share an Interfaith Statement of Solidarity and Concern issued by the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders earlier today (list of signatories in formation):

The members of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders are deeply saddened by the abduction of three Israeli teenagers—Eyal Yifrah, age 19; Gilaad Shaer, age 16; and Naftali Frenkel, age 16 and an American citizen—who were kidnapped last Thursday on their way home from school.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families as we appeal for their speedy and safe return.

Our hearts are broken that innocent young men have been taken captive. We stand in solidarity with leaders around the world who have unequivocally condemned the teens’ abduction, and commend Israeli and Palestinian cooperative efforts to bring these boys back to their families as soon as possible. We echo the words of Psalm 121 in praying:

The Lord will guard them from all harm and guard their lives.

The Eternal One will guard their going and coming, now and evermore.  Amen.

(signed)

Bishop J. Jon Bruno
Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles
President, Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond
Director, Los Angeles Region, American Jewish Committee (AJC)
Immediate Past President, Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders

Reverend Linda L. Culbertson
General Presbyter
Presbytery of the Pacific
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Archbishop Hovnan Derderian
Primate
Western Diocese of the Armenian Church 

Bishop Dr. R. Guy Erwin
Southwest California Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith
Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer
Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Rev. Felix C. Villanueva
Conference Minister
Southern California Nevada Conference,
UCC, United Church of Christ


About the Council

Representing faiths in the Abrahamic tradition for more than three decades, the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders is an informal alliance of heads of major religious bodies in the Greater Los Angeles area consulting and collaborating in common cause.

Current initiatives include “One Voice for Immigration Reform.” An related interfaith prayer service is set for 9am, Friday, April 4, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. The public and the media are invited.

Recent efforts have focused on health-care policy together with interfaith communication and collaboration such as the OneLight prayer service held in 2011 in partnership with Mayor Eric Garcetti, then president of then Los Angeles City Council.

The Council's current president is the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Most Recent Past Presidents:  Rabbi Mark Diamond, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian.

Battleground California: How UCLA became the epicenter of the campus battle for Israel


If only Lauren Rogers had known what she was getting herself into when she signed up to go to Israel.

During UCLA’s winter break in December 2013, the rising senior and outgoing financial supports commissioner for UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association (USAC) took an all-expenses-paid trip called “Project Interchange,” organized by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which allows California undergraduates to travel throughout Israel to learn about the country’s society, culture and political structure and to meet with key players on both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

Five months later, on May 15, Rogers — a Christian — found herself sitting in a classroom in UCLA’s Royce Hall facing cross-examination from Dana Saifan — a member of UCLA’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — who was grilling her as part of a hearing before UCLA’s student judicial board about allegations that Rogers’ trip had violated USAC rules against student officers creating a perceived conflict of interest.

SJP alleged that the free AJC trip to Israel may have influenced Rogers’ no vote in February on a SJP-sponsored resolution calling upon UCLA’s administration to divest from a number of companies that do business with the Jewish state. 

When losing is winning

Taher Herzallah is encouraged.

The campus coordinator for SJP spoke with the Journal by phone from Orange County about the resounding 4-0 defeat SJP had just endured at the hands of UCLA’s judicial board.

There is no central governing board of SJP that directs strategy for its many campus branches. Nevertheless leaders at each chapter regularly communicate with one another and with Herzallah about successful and unsuccessful tactics, thereby providing the group’s chapters in California and around the nation crucial feedback and information that help SJP leaders design their plans. 

Had the board’s May 21 ruling at UCLA favored SJP, it could have ensured that all aspiring student leaders at the university would need to choose between running for office and taking sponsored Israel trips, which could have been a major blow to the pro-Israel campus movement at UCLA and across the country.

But the defeat doesn’t worry Herzallah.

“In our world, whatever step we take to bring about justice is a step forward, whether or not the outcome is necessarily the desired outcome,” he told the Journal.

Herzallah is one of the “Irvine 11”—11 students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside who disrupted and cut short a 2010 speech at Irvine by then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. The students were removed from the room and were ultimately charged and convicted in 2011 of misdemeanors. One of the students, Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, took a plea deal.

Their disruption of the ambassador’s speech was just the most famous of the many public displays that SJP used to hold regularly on Southern California campuses. These days, the displays are not nearly as common as they used to be in California, perhaps because SJP’s chapters in the Golden State moved on to the equally public, but far less obviously disruptive battle for votes.

At San Diego State University (SDSU), SJP co-chair Nadir Bouchmouch knew that the divestment resolution brought to vote on April 23 was a long shot. As predicted, SDSU’s student government resoundingly rejected it, with 16 members voting against and only three in favor.

 “We went into it with that knowledge,” Bouchmouch told the Journal in April, saying they were “trying to shock it [the student government] into something about issues that don’t just pertain to Palestinian students, but to students of color in general.” 

SJP’s aim is to keep Israel in the conversation and its supporters on the defensive. At UCLA, SJP’s sponsorship of a speech on campus by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti in January, the divestment resolution in February and everything since — all of it receives significant media attention — on campus, in these pages, and sometimes in local and national media, as well, which means Israel has become a constant topic on the minds of UCLA’s students.

Judea Pearl is an international award-winning professor of artificial intelligence at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named for his late journalist son, who was murdered in 2002 by Muslim terrorists in Pakistan; Pearl is also a Jewish Journal columnist.  

Making friends

Estee Chandler, the Los Angeles organizer of JVP, a leftist group, said JVP and SJP share a common goal — peace.

“Both organizations probably are looking for a resolution to the conflict which affords Israeli Jews and Palestinians self-determination and equality; justice and security,” Chandler said. “Both organizations seek an end to the Israeli occupation.” That’s precisely why JVP and SJP worked in concert to circulate the Israel travel pledge, along with three other groups.

“When you see the commonalities between people speaking out for Palestinian rights with the dreamers with other organizations of people who feel marginalized, it’s no wonder that they have such a broad coalition,” Chandler said, referring to the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association, which also joined SJP’s push for the pledge.

When the Journal emailed the UCLA Armenian Students’ Association asking for comment on its involvement in the effort, a spokesman responded that, “Armenian concerns about the Anti-Defamation League’s problematic stance on the Armenian Genocide and AIPAC’s involvement with Azerbaijan/Ambassador Suleymanov” prompted the group to sign on. 

Describing SJP’s success in coalition building, Rahim Kurwa, an SJP member, explained that appealing to “human rights” and attracting students who care about “social justice” and other “progressive” values gives SJP a leg up in finding allies.

The rising cost of supporting Israel

For William Jacobson, a Cornell University law professor who has analyzed many of SJP’s recent tactics across the country on his popular legal blog, “Legal Insurrection,” the group’s recent actions at UCLA go deeper than raising the profile of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are a warning call to pro-Israel students who want to run for office — it will cost you.

“What they tried to do was create a chilling effect for pro-Israel students becoming involved in student government,” Jacobson said. By dissuading certain sponsored trips to Israel and targeting Singh and Rogers, Jacobson thinks that SJP is trying to filter out from student government UCLA’s most pro-Israel students.

A mixed record

If Jacobson and Cohen are right — that SJP’s new tactics will tarnish their image among college students — there still may be a ways to go until that evidence is clear.

On May 22, Cohen spoke by phone with the Journal from the campus of DePaul University in Chicago, where, one day later, the student body passed a referendum calling on the administration to divest from a number of companies that do business with Israel. The measure passed, with 1,575 students supporting divestment and 1,333 voting against it. 

Since 2010, an estimated 24 schools have voted on resolutions on Israel divestment, and that’s not counting Earlham College in Indiana, whose dining service removed Sabra hummus from its coffee shop in 2012 after a request made by some students and faculty.

Of those 24 schools, student votes for divestment have passed cleanly at 10, with UC Santa Cruz's student government passing one on the night of May 27. An additional two schools’ student governments (University of South Florida and Loyola University Chicago) have favored divestment, but their votes either were overturned by veto or invalidated. That leaves SJP with a .500 batting average when it comes to divestment resolutions, which is not bad, especially because the organization seems to view garnering attention to be nearly as important as scoring actual political victories.

This year, though, SJP divestment votes passed at only six of the 18 schools where it was voted upon. Is the mood toward SJP souring? Or is the new tactic of playing politics going to evolve over time, with early losses no indication of future results?

For Herzallah and SJP, the answer makes no difference, at least in the short term.

“Some have passed, some have not, but the campaign continues,” Herzallah said.

Fighting back

Miriam Eshagian knows not to discount the determination and intelligence of SJP’s leaders at UCLA. But she also knows that the group’s many actions this year have prompted a reaction — it has rallied UCLA’s many pro-Israel students around a common cause. 

“I think we are dealing with a very strong chapter at UCLA,” said Eshagian, president of Bruins for Israel, UCLA’s pro-Israel group. She added that Bruins for Israel wants to encourage more UCLA students, Jewish and non-Jewish, to visit the country, in the hope that a trip there will unravel the perception SJP tries to create of Israel as an apartheid state.

Even so, Eshagian said there’s a lot of difficult bridge building for pro-Israel groups to do.

“They’ve created very strong alliances with groups like the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association,” she said. “It’s hard for us to create a relationship with them, because they are already so biased.”

UCLA Hillel executive director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller believes SJP may have hurt its cause in 2014, revealing to the student body what he said is the group’s anti-Israel and sometimes anti-Semitic intentions.

“They’ve overplayed their hand,” Seidler-Feller said, citing SJP’s sponsorship of Barghouti as revealing BDS’ purported “moderation and reasonableness” as a “cover” for its true aim — destroying Israel.

The new unity across much of the Jewish political spectrum at UCLA might also be seen in the condemnation issued by UCLA’s J Street U, the campus arm of the left-leaning “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby that has had a shaky relationship with some more-established pro-Israel organizations. 

“We reject the implication that students are not able to think critically on sponsored trips,” J Street said in its statement.

Then, on May 22, UCLA undergrad Abraham “Avi” Oved was nominated as the 2015-16 student representative on the UC Board of Regents. Oved is active in UCLA’s pro-Israel movement and follows the previous year’s appointment of Sadia Saifuddin, a UC Berkeley student and outspoken BDS advocate. Ovid’s nomination could suggest that UC leaders wanted a pro-Israel voice on the board, although in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, UC regent George Kieffer denied any relationship between the two students’ stances on Israel.

From West to East?

The very public and very visible actions SJP has gained a reputation for have by no means vanished at East Coast schools. In April, SJP at New York University in Manhattan slid mock-eviction notices under the doors of a heavily Jewish dorm, which began with the statement: “We regret to inform you that your suite is scheduled for demolition in three days.” They concluded with the words, “This is intended to draw attention to the reality that Palestinians confront on a regular basis.”

A few weeks later, on May 15, SJP at NYU marked the secular anniversary of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day — Palestinians refer to it as “Nakba Day” or “Day of Destruction” — by staging a “die-in,” with students dressed in red playing dead in the courtyard in front of NYU’s business school. 

In February, at Vassar College in upstate New York, a session for an earth sciences class was picketed by SJP members in response to a planned class trip to Israel with 28 students. Nine members passed out leaflets to students walking into the class, citing various allegations of Israeli human rights violations. 

The purpose of the trip? 

To study water conservation and distribution in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

From Los Angeles to San Diego and Irvine to Davis, the move toward diplomacy and away from the “street theater” that is still active on the East Coast is already entrenched in California. Of the 10 campuses that fall under the UC system, all but two — San Francisco and Merced — have voted on divestment, with six of them endorsing the move. And while “die-ins” and “apartheid weeks” may not be gone in the Golden State, the shift in tactics here will, according to Herzallah, spread across America’s campuses. 

“A lot of other schools nationwide are looking at this model here in Southern California and sort of following in the footsteps,” Herzallah said, adding that SJP is starting its work on California State University campuses.

“UCLA has definitely grown in the past couple years and has really become a model,” he said. “This is really just the beginning of something much bigger. A lot hasn’t been done yet.”

Israelis, Palestinians vie for Latino support during Pope’s visit


The first Latin American pope brought a wave of Latino love with him on his trip to the Holy Land last weekend.

At Pope Francis’ public prayer at Manger Square on May 25 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near the site where Jesus is believed to have been born, Spanish was being spoken almost as much as Arabic. Flags from Argentina and Spain flew alongside those of the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.

Francisco Primero, te quiere el mundo entero! (Francis the First, the whole world loves you!) a group of Spanish tourists chanted as they rushed the square, surrounded by giddy Palestinian schoolchildren. And then, louder: “Viva El Papa! (Long live the Pope!)

On the walls of stone buildings above the tourists, Palestinian Museum officials had hung mural-sized posters mixing images from classic Christian paintings with photos of Palestinian suffering. In one, a re-mixed “Madonna in the Meadow” showed the Virgin Mary huddling with Baby Jesus under the infamous separation wall that now divides Israel and the West Bank. In another, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” the saint’s hand was replaced by a Palestinian’s holding out his ID for an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint.

“Welcome to Palestine,” a huge banner proclaimed on the local mosque. “The detainees in the occupations prisons are pleading for freedom and dignity.”

So began Day One of the “Hasbara Superbowl” between Israelis and Palestinians, in which the ultimate prize was support of the international Christian community — and, in particular, Christian Latinos.

Joseph Hyman, president and founder of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, made the Superbowl comparison back during the first-ever Israel Summit last January, where 17 pro-Israel organizations were vying for funding from some 100 philanthropists. The star of the summit, Hyman said, was Fuente Latina, an organization that assists Spanish-language media looking to cover Israel and the region. The organization needed a funding boost to provide extra resources during the Pope’s much-anticipated visit to the Holy Land.

Its pitch was a no-brainer. Latinos form the largest minority in the United States — this year, they even surpassed non-Hispanic whites in California.

And in the University of California system, where impassioned debates over whether to divest from Israel have been pushing student-government meetings late into the night (as at many other campuses across the U.S.), more Latino students than white students have been accepted for fall 2014.

That’s not to mention the 21 countries that make up Latin America — whose population is 90 percent Christian, and mostly Catholic, like the pope — plus Spain and Portugal.

Fuente Latina’s director, Leah Soibel, an American with Argentinian parents, founded the organization in December 2012 after working seven years at The Israel Project, another nonprofit that aims to improve Israel’s image abroad. “We’ve been preparing for weeks,” she said in an interview a few days before the Pope’s arrival. “It’s going to be 72 hours of madness when he’s here. A lot of people are going to be watching — all eyes on Jerusalem.”

Even more than his predecessors, Pope Francis has captured hearts beyond the Catholic world: A pop-culture icon for his focus on the disenfranchised and his willingness to break molds of papal opulence, Francis was named 2013’s “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. He speaks tirelessly of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and of putting social justice before capitalism. At a press conference in Jerusalem arranged by Fuente Latina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the leader of Argentina’s Jewish community and one of the pope’s closest friends, called him “probably the most influential person in the world.” 

Soibel said that the three employees at Fuente Latina normally process 50 to 100 requests in a month. In contrast, during the Pope’s visit, the organization was providing heavy assistance to about 300 media outlets.

Fuente Latina connected reporters with Spanish-speaking experts in Israel, arranged press conferences — most notably, the one with Rabbi Skorka, who co-authored the pope’s book on inter-religious dialogue — and took them on helicopter rides across Israel.

On one such sky tour, Soibel explained the reality on the ground to reporters from Mexico and Columbia, with an emphasis on Israel’s reasoning for building the separation wall and the fear experienced by Israelis near the border. The group also touched down in Sderot to tour a police exhibit of rockets that have been fired from Gaza. “When they don’t feel they’re getting enough attention, they begin to send rockets again,” Soibel said of the terrorists in Gaza.

Fuente Latina Director Leah Soibel with a case of rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Photo by Simone Wilson

Later, the Mexican reporter wrote in an online piece for her news site, Religión Confidencial, that although the pope would observe the separation wall, in many Israeli cities he would also observe minimal separation — places where Jews, Christians and Muslims live in peaceful coexistence.

Jewish philanthropy leader Hyman said of the helicopter rides: “For journalists to look at the size of Israel and understand its nature, it lends a sensitivity to why Israel is so concerned on the existential front.”

The Vatican also pulled its weight in the battle for public opinion. The pope’s visit was the picture of balance: He ate lunch with Palestinian refugees and spontaneously stepped down from his Popemobile to pray at the separation wall in Bethlehem, which is covered in anti-Israel graffiti. On the other side of the Green Line, he laid a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and blessed a group of gravely ill Christian Arab-Israeli children (at the request of Israel’s branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation).

The pope also stopped for an instantly iconic photo of three very different Argentinians — the heads of Argentina’s Jewish, Catholic and Muslim communities — hugging at the Western Wall.

“He will try to balance,” Rabbi Skorka said in advance of the pope’s visit at the Fuente Latina press conference. “This is going to be his policy in his speeches and in his acts. Total balance, this is what he is.” 

But while Pope Francis tried to spread his love evenly, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state fought for the upper hand. After the pope’s stop at the separation wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjaman Netanyah steered him toward a Jerusalem memorial for Israeli victims of terrorism, so he could pray there, too. And both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued in their welcoming speeches that life is better for Christians under their jurisdiction.

Abbas condemned “the settlement enterprise, and daily attacks on places of worship including churches and mosques.” He also emphasized his willingness to “work together to strengthen the Palestinian indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the pope: “The rights of Christians in this state are protected. To my sorrow, that doesn’t happen in other places in the Middle East. … Palestinian terrorists not only hurt us, they also harm Christians.”

Rima Saba, an American-educated Palestinian and “staunch Catholic” from Ramallah, spoke to the Journal in the crowd at the Bethlehem rally — the pope’s only public, open-air event while in the Holy Land. “This is an international, historical moment,” Saba said. “It means a lot for Palestine and its people. This is the land of Jesus Christ, but it also carries a lot of meaning and emotion for us as Palestinians. The fact that [the Pope] chose to come to Palestine first shows he really has clarity of vision, vis à vis the Palestinian question — that we are refugees, that we have been tortured and evicted.”

An increasingly popular annual conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” a project of the Bethlehem Bible College, has tried to loosen Israel’s monopoly on Evangelical Christian financial and moral support abroad.

“With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel Christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and are influencing the mainstream,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), wrote after this year’s conference. “In particular, they are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly: the millennial generation.”

OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, author of the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column and an advocate of Jewish-Latino relations, agreed that although Israel has wooed many members of the Latino political class, it's losing them at college level: “In the Latin market in general, but especially in the U.S. and among young people, the Palestinians are definitely winning the battle.”

According to Arellano, the “brown people oppressed by white oppressors” narrative is easy for pro-Palestine groups to sell to young Latinos going through their “leftist years where they love all revolutionary causes.”

He said this stems from the reality that “the Israel question registers not a blip for Latinos — not until one side of the other comes to them with their perspective. Kind of like, ‘We’re yours, whoever gets to us first.’”

Pope Francis drives by a crowd holding Palestinian flags in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Separate polls conducted by The Israel Project and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) over the past few years have shown that U.S. Latinos, in particular, are somewhat of a blank slate when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“There’s a lack of awareness” about the region among Latinos in the U.S., Soibel said. “They have more pressing issues, like immigration, health care, economy. We know very well that Israel is down the list of things that matter personally to them.”

But as Latinos become more politically and economically empowered in America, said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute at AJC, “they’re slowly but surely becoming a very influential and important group, which will have an impact on decision-making in this country. So it’s important to us that they understand what Israel is about. That they understand we are partners.”

Geraldo Rivera, a columnist for Fox News Latino, likewise pointed out in 2011 that Israel would not be a state, nor would Palestine enjoy “non-member state” status at the United Nations, if not for the Latin American voting block.

“Relations between Latin America and Israel are starting to look like a budding love affair,” World Politics Review commentator Frida Ghitis wrote in February following a wave of cross-globe visits between Israeli and Latin American leaders.

“Israel and Latin America have discovered each other — or, to be precise, a portion of Latin America has,” she added. “Latin America is increasingly falling into two separate camps, and it is one of those camps that has found an affinity for Israel.”

Speaking to the Journal at the pope’s prayer rally at Manger Square, most religious tourists from Spain and Latin America distanced themselves from the Israel-Palestine issue, refusing to take a stance.

“It’s very complicated,” said Laura Rodriguez, a Catholic visitor from Spain. “There’s no one truth about it.”

Also in the crowd was Buenos Aires politician Lidia Saya, who said she had traveled to Bethlehem with a group of 60 dignitaries, including Argentinian religious leaders Father Pepe Di Paola and Rabbi Alejandro Avruj. “The grand majority of us [Argentinians] don’t understand the conflict. The grand majority don’t have a position,” she said. However, “coming here, and having to go through a checkpoint just to get to the plaza — I can see that it’s very bad for the citizens.”

Argentinian journalist Nelson Castro interviews religious tourists from Argentina in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Carlos Boselle, also from Buenos Aires, was on a tour with around 70 Catholics from across Latin America. He said that many Israelis and Palestinians had tried to argue their position to him. Although he called the Israelis “big fanatics,” he said he understood that “Israel has its reasons” for building the separation wall. “They’re protecting their rights, too.”

Another group of sunburned Argentinians heading back through the checkpoint at the end of the day looked rather shell-shocked when all the Palestinians were pulled off the bus and examined for 20 minutes before they could continue on to Jerusalem.

According to Vann at the AJC, missing this prime era for Latino outreach could have big consequences. 

“It could go one way, or it could go the other way,” Vann said. “Because there’s a lack of information out there [about Israel], you have an incredible opportunity, if you do it correctly in a strategic way, to inform. … There’s a sense of urgency and a small window of opportunity to make a difference before Latinos truly become empowered.”

AJC, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, runs dozens of Israel tours for Latino politicians, faith leaders, culture-makers and other dignitaries. But other organizations, like Fuente Latina, have taken a more back-channel approach to reach a greater audience.

“As this area began to heat up in terms of the Arab Spring, which was widely covered by the Latino media — Syria, Egypt, ongoing issues here in Israel — there was a growing demand” for Spanish-language press resources in the region, Soibel said.

And with the pope’s visit to Israel, demand flew off the charts — opening new opportunities for Latino outreach. “When you have a journalist that is taking one stance versus another stance, it’s about making that personal connection,” Soibel added. “That’s why the language is so important.”

Hillary Clinton in AJC address embraces Obama Middle East policies


Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced the Obama administration’s second-term Middle East policies in an address to the American Jewish Committee.

Clinton, in a major foreign policy address Wednesday coming as she nears a decision on whether to seek the presidency in 2016, outlined her role as President Obama’s first-term secretary of state in setting the stage for second-term policies, including nuclear talks with Iran and the renewed Israel-Palestinians talks.

“I was involved in developing a bilateral channel,” she said, referring to the nuclear talks between Iran and major powers that have largely been credited to Clinton’s successor as secretary of state, John Kerry. “This is a promising development and we need to test it.”

Clinton, speaking to an enthusiastically pro-Israel crowd attending the AJC’s annual Washington conference, reinforced her image as a foreign policy hawk by embracing the rhetoric of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in describing possible outcomes of the Iran talks.

“To get there, we will have to be tough, clear-eyed and ready to walk away if need be,” she said. “No deal is better than a bad deal. We cannot or should not accept any agreement that endangers Israel or our national security.”

However, Clinton also made clear that she rejected concerns by Netanyahu and Republicans that the talks now underway ceded too much to Iran, for instance in lifting some sanctions.

“There will be an opportunity to put in place additional sanctions in the future,” she said.

Clinton also praised Kerry for his efforts in renewing the Israeli-Palestinian talks last July, despite their collapse last month. Like Kerry, she squarely blamed both sides for the collapse.

“In the end, the parties were not ready to make the compromise necessary,” she said.

A feature of Clinton’s 2008 bid for the presidency, and of some of the bitter exchanges between the Obama and Clinton campaigns in that primary race, was that she was perceived as being relatively closer to the pro-Israel community.

Clinton as secretary of state maintained a low profile on Iran and on Israeli-Palestinian peace, contrasting with Kerry’s subsequent assertive posture in both areas.

Court upholds conviction of Irvine protesters


A California state appeals court has upheld the conviction of 10 students at the University of California, Irvine, who disrupted a 2010 speech by then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.

During the speech, the protesters interrupted Oren repeatedly, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal.” The heckling caused him to pause his speech amid calls for order, and he curtailed his hourlong speech to 12 minutes.

In 2011, the students were charged and subsequently convicted of violating a state law prohibiting the disruption or breaking up of a lawful assembly. The appeals court upheld the conviction. The defendants face up to a year in prison.

General Counsel Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the prosecution along with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish National Fund, said his group was “pleased that the appellate division concurred with our view that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech may not be invoked to protect those who intentionally disrupt a lawful meeting.

 

Kerry presses sides on framework agreement


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders to discuss a framework agreement.

Kerry, who met Friday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was on his 10th visit in the region to discuss the outlines of such an agreement, according to State Department officials who accompanied Kerry.

The framework Kerry hopes to achieve would address borders and Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

Kerry, in an impromptu appearance Friday afternoon at an event in Jerusalem for American students organized by the American Jewish Committee, said getting to a deal would be “very, very difficult,” Haaretz reported.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders have pledged to Kerry that they would not discuss the negotiations. But Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, told Israel Radio that the sides are further apart than ever. Netanyahu told two visiting U.S. senators, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), about his concerns regarding Kerry’s proposals.

“Netanyahu has serious, serious concerns about the plan as it has been presented to him, whether it be on the ability of Israel to defend its borders, on the reliability of a Palestinian state,” McCain was quoted by Haaretz as saying after the meeting.

U.S., Israeli LGBT community leaders convene


In a first-ever seminar organized by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities from the United States and Israel met recently to explore possible collaborations and share knowledge.

“Israel has a lot to be proud of — there are a lot of LGBT community centers sponsored by the government — and the trip was about sharing and facilitating best practices,” said Myra Clark-Siegel, director of international communications at Project Interchange, which was founded in 1982 to bring leaders to Israel for a week of travel and learning.

It was a natural fit to connect members of the LGBT community through the seminar — which took place Oct. 28-Nov. 4 — given AJC’s commitment to advancing human and civil rights, she said.

The nine American delegates on the trip met with secular and Orthodox Israelis and Palestinians to explore the multiple facets of Israel that cross the political and religious spectrum. They visited with representatives of the Agudah, Israel’s national LGBT organization, and Gal Uchovsky, co-founder of the Israeli Gay Youth Association. The delegation also traveled to the West Bank. 

L.A.-based delegate Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBT scholarship organization, said there is much the two countries can learn from each other. 

“For example, the U.S. could stand to learn from the manner in which Israel accepts LGBTQ members into its military and see this as a strength, not a weakness to its safety,” he said, using a Q for “queer” or “questioning.” “And as a young country, Israel can learn from the advancements the U.S. has taken to support its LGBTQ youth in school through certain legislative actions and publicly funded youth organizations.” 

Nurturing unity between the LGBT communities in both countries is vital to the equal treatment of people around the world, Valencia added.

“Most recently, we’ve seen the importance of solidarity in our community surrounding Russia’s anti-gay propaganda and the upcoming Olympics,” he said. “We owe it to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Russia to raise awareness across the world of the hatred, harassment and violence that they’re suffering under the current leadership and of our disapproval of such treatment.” 

Another delegate, Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law dedicated to conducting research on sexual orientation law and public policy, said there’s great value in learning about how countries, such as Israel, handle LGBT rights. 

“Interacting with professors and lawyers engaged in LGBT rights in other countries is helpful in thinking how LGBT rights have evolved here and reflecting on U.S.-specific barriers and opportunities with regard to LGBT rights,” he said. 

Future plans at the Williams Institute include inviting individuals to speak about LGBT rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

“The seminar allowed me to meet and talk with lawyers and scholars working on LGBT rights and consider them to come to UCLA and speak,” Sears said. 

Israel’s position on gay marriage helped influence the Equality Forum, an LGBT civil rights organization that recently filed a federal marriage recognition lawsuit, according to executive director Malcolm Lazin, who attended the recent seminar. 

“Most states do not recognize lawful same-sex marriages. As such, you are divorced against your will in 32 states even though legally married int California,” he said. “In 2006, Israel’s highest court decreed that lawful same-sex marriages in foreign countries would be recognized in Israel and treated with equality. As a result, there are a large number of same-sex married Israelis who were married abroad. That case helped spur our thinking about a U.S. federal marriage recognition lawsuit.”

Equality Forum also coordinates LGBT History Month in October. Lazin said his Israeli counterparts now will make use of the organization’s free, online resources as a result of their interactions at the seminar.

“We also provided our Israeli counterparts with U.S. LGBT organizations that could be of assistance to their organization and its members,” he said.

Clark-Siegel said that the program by Project Interchange, which pays for delegates’ trips and receives the majority of its funding from donors, is a great opportunity for a two-way dialogue with Israelis who are adept at getting to best practices. 

“The young leadership is very encouraging in Israel,” she said.

A call for Iran sanctions at Port


Amid the international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, some national groups, as well as Los Angeles-based Jewish community organizations and other Iran human rights activists, have launched a new campaign calling for Los Angeles city officials to bar from the Port of Los Angeles ships that have docked in Iranian ports. During recent months, the campaign’s primary focus has been on L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who since his election has remained mum on the issue, though it is within his authority to ask the port to enact such sanctions.

“It is greatly disappointing that Mayor Garcetti has not even taken a position, let alone provided support or a leading voice on this critical issue,” said David Peyman, an L.A.-based senior adviser to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), the New York-based nonprofit advocating for tougher economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.

During the mayoral election campaign earlier this year, UANI and six local Jewish organizations, including the Los Angeles offices of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), called on then-candidate Garcetti and his opponent, Wendy Greuel, to support the ban on ships that had previously docked in Iranian ports, following federally mandated Iran sanctions legislation signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.

“Los Angeles is a major U.S. trading hub, and ships that have conducted business with Iran use our ports,” Peyman said. “We are asking the mayor and the port … to force companies to make a decision between doing business with a terrorist-sponsoring regime seeking nuclear weapons or with the Port of Los Angeles.”

Garcetti’s office did not respond to multiple requests from the Journal for comment on the issue.

Many local Jewish groups argue while current sanctions again the Iranian regime are working, more pressure is needed to stop the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s strained economy is the regime’s Achilles’ heel and provides our most effective leverage against its nuclear program,” said Michael Aurit, a spokesperson for the AJC’s Los Angeles office. “It is critical for Los Angeles to take a firm stance against Iranian ships docking in American ports — we can and should do nothing less.”

While local Iranian Jewish groups declined to comment on their efforts to get the mayor to become involved, many Iranian-Jewish activists say they support such sanctions because of widespread human rights violations by the Iranian regime against religious minorities in Iran.

“We Angelenos have a history of standing up for justice and freedom locally and internationally,” said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, an L.A.-based Iranian-Jewish nonprofit. “Much like the South African boycott movement, using economic measures to pressure the Iranian regime advances human rights and democracy for the Iranian people.”

On Oct. 26, the Iranian regime summarily executed 16 Iranian Baluchi prisoners in custody in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on trumped-up charges of drug smuggling. According to Amnesty International, the executions were in direct retaliation for an armed attack by Baluchi insurgents against Iranian border guards.

Strong local support for Iran sanctions at the Port of Los Angeles has also come from Los Angeles’ non-Jewish Iranian groups. Roozbeh Farahnipour, an Iranian Muslim leader of the L.A.-based Marze Por Gohar Party, which opposes the Iranian regime, said many of the city’s 800,000 Iranian residents have been surprised that Garcetti has not taken a stand on the issue. 

“If we want to avoid war with Iran and truly help the people of Iran gain their freedom, we must use nonviolent economic means, such as divestment and sanctions, and the Port of L.A. is the best first step to take on a local level,” Farahnipour said. “When the mayor of Los Angeles has remained on the sidelines and not stepped up against the regime now, how does he want to stand up to the regime if they want to open a consulate office in Los Angeles in the future?”

Farahnipour said he and California state Sen. Joel Anderson addressed the Port of San Diego in 2008 calling for similar Iran sanctions to be implemented, but no steps were taken at that time. Farahnipour also pointed to the regime’s crackdown on the Iranian labor movement as a possible motivator for Garcetti.

“It is a well-known fact that the Iranian regime has imprisoned, tortured and killed hundreds of union leaders in Iran over the years,” Farahnipour said. “So I am wondering why the mayor of L.A. has not taken a tough stance to send a real message to the regime on this human rights issue?”

The Journal requested comment from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 56, which works in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Calls were not returned.

Some city officials are not staying silent on this issue, however. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the city’s 5th District, which is home to the largest segment of Iranians in Los Angeles, has introduced a number of City Council resolutions regarding Iran’s human rights abuses and nuclear ambitions.

“The City of Los Angeles is fortunate enough to have and run the Port of Los Angeles, one of the largest economic hubs in the world,” Koretz said in an interview. “Consequently, we will make sure the port is strongly committed to following the sanctions on Iran, thereby doing our part to make a safer and more peaceful world.”

Likewise, some members of Congress representing local districts have supported more stringent U.S. sanctions on Iran. Most notably, Rep. Janice Hahn, a Democrat representing L.A.’s South Bay, is the founder of the Congressional Ports Caucus and has been a leading voice on the issue of U.S. ports and Iran sanctions.

“During my time in Washington, Congress has passed some of the toughest sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced — sanctions that have particularly targeted the Iranian shipping sector,” Hahn said in a statement to the Journal. “I believe that strong sanctions give us the best chance of driving the Iranian regime to make real concessions about their nuclear program at the negotiating table.”

Hahn’s office in Washington, D.C., stated that she and other members of the Congressional Ports Caucus had been briefed last month by UANI’s leadership on issues pertaining to current Iran sanctions and commerce within U.S. ports.

For more information on UANI’s push for Iran sanctions put in place for the Port of Los Angeles, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog: jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

What’s in a name? The false narrative of Kristallnacht


Two years ago, I was among a group of 24 young American Jews visiting a Protestant Church in Berlin to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On that night, November 9, 1938, Nazi gangs destroyed thousands of synagogues and other Jewish-owned buildings across Germany, murdered dozens and sent hundreds more to concentration camps.

At the moving, hour-long ceremony I saw over 300 Christians, young and old, remembering and commemorating the systematic persecution of Jews in Europe that eventually resulted in the murder of six million.

I learned from some of the young Germans that hundreds of such services were happening across Germany, with at least 100,000 people participating. The director of Germany Close Up, the organization that cosponsored our visit with ACCESS: AJC’s next generation program, told me that that in her small hometown in northwest Germany, 400 residents gathered on every year on November 9 to read out loud the names of all the local Jews who perished during the Holocaust. It was, she said, a statement promising that such a horror should “never again” happen in Germany, or anywhere else.

And, we were reminded that the commonly-used term “Kristallnacht” – translated as “Night of the Broken Glass” — was actually a euphemism coined by the Nazis. Stressing the broken glass, with no hint of who broke it or what it signified, sanitized an event that was actually a pogrom, similar to those committed against the Jews in Russia, Romania and elsewhere earlier in the century. In fact—to add insult to injury—Jews were held financially liable for damage caused by the “broken glass.” Thus, Pogromnacht, night of the pogrom, is now used in Germany to more accurately describe what transpired 75 years ago.

On this landmark anniversary of that night, shouldn’t  we  ask, What is in a name? Has the way we have framed this crucial turning point in Nazi policy toward the Jews distorted the true nature of that fateful evening?

Perhaps it is time to change the terminology and call it Pogromnacht, so as to indicate what truly happened – a pogrom – and to serve as a reminder that we cannot allow racists, bigots and anti-Semites to euphemize and sanitize the language of history.

Other examples of this sanitization abound today. The Golden Dawn party in Greece, which rails against immigrants, Jews, and other minorities, denies its association with neo-Nazism, despite its fascist roots and use of Nazi symbolism, literature and anthems. Thankfully, the Greek government under Prime Minister Samaras has taken a stand, seeking to deracinate the party, and the Parliament voted to suspend state funding for political parties accused of criminal activity. The fact is that anti-Semitic crimes continue in Western democracies from Malmö, Sweden to Sydney, Australia. And, just this week the European Union released the results of a survey that found over 40 percent of Jews in Belgium, France, and Hungary are considering emigrating because of rising anti-Semitism.

The constant, collective reminder of the true nature of Nazism a commitment to track and prosecute hate speech, and a ban on Holocaust denial that creates a safer society for Jews remain necessary, even if anti-Semitism can never truly be eradicated. More countries should follow the example of Germany, in strengthening their laws and in calling key historical events by their right names—like Pogramnacht. And more leaders in the Jewish community should use the historically accurate term Pogramnacht going forward; two leaders that have been convinced are AJC’s David Harris and Rabbi Noam Marans. I hope many more follow the AJC’s lead.


Eli Lipmen is Communications & Advocacy Strategist for the Department of Regional Offices of AJC – the global Jewish advocacy organization.

Judea Pearl reaches out to young Jews


“I look at young Jewish boys as the army of the future, the elite force of the army of decency.”

With these strong words, Judea Pearl — activist, scholar and father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — used an Oct. 17 lecture to a group of Millennials to emphasize how important it is that proud Jews be a force of good in the world.

“This is what I feel about them, and that is what I want them to feel about themselves,” Pearl said.

He appeared before a group of about 30 people as part of an event organized by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) regional chapter of ACCESS, the young professionals initiative of the global Jewish advocacy organization that trains professionals in their 20s and 30s to represent AJC on the local, national and international levels. 

It took place in the Encino home of philanthropists Richard and Marcia Volpert, and drew ACCESS members who work in law, medicine, government relations and other fields. It was open to the public, but offered at a discount to ACCESS members. 

The talk on young American Jewry could be considered commentary on the recent and much-publicized study by the Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” Released last month, the report showed Jewish affiliation, particularly among young Jews, on the decline.

Without mentioning the study by name, Pearl, a UCLA professor emeritus and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, suggested that the way one achieves Jewish pride is by absorbing the history of the Jewish people and by placing Israel at the center of identity.

“By saying we are proud of the story, we are building the future together in the same shape, same mold,” he said during remarks that lasted about one hour and included a
Q-and-A.

Cole Ettman, one of the evening’s attendees, agreed that the history of the Jewish people — which spans thousands of years, from times living in disparate tribes to modern society with Jews acting as leaders in art, science, business and technology — can be an effective bait to grab the attention of the unaffiliated.

An ACCESS member who works as chief operating officer of the law firm Levine and Blit, Ettman used his soapbox during the Q-and-A to suggest that Pearl’s philosophy should be embraced by larger outreach efforts. While other organizations may promote Judaism by getting young Jews to wrap tefillin or keep Shabbat, identifying with the Jewish story is what’s essential, he suggested.

“You’ve got the right path, and it is enough,” Ettman said.

Pearl’s appearance followed a brief rendition of Bach’s “Sonata No. 1 in G Minor,” performed by 20-year-old violinist Stephen Tavani — the event doubled as one of the many concerts taking place worldwide this month as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days. 

An initiative of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, World Music Days is an international network of live music performances during the month of Daniel Pearl’s birthday. This is the 12th consecutive year of concerts to honor Pearl and his love of music.

Founded by Daniel Pearl’s family and friends, the Daniel Pearl Foundation is a nonprofit that works for peace by supporting programs and fellowships around music, journalism and cross-cultural dialogue.

Two academicians challenge anti-Israel professor from CSUN


Tammi Rossman-Benjamin stood before the board of trustees, the highest governing authority of the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system, and in her allotted two minutes stated her case against a professor who levels consistently hostile charges against Israel on his university Web site. 

Standing behind the 25 trustees on Sept. 25 in Long Beach were the legal, academic and administrative resources of the largest four-year college system in the United States. Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was backed only by Leila Beckwith, a professor emerita and child psychologist at UCLA.

The two women pretty much represent the total leadership and staff of the Amcha Initiative (AI), whose purpose, according to its Web site, lies in “investigating, documenting, educating about and combatting anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America.” They founded the organization in 2011 and qualified it as a nonprofit the following year.

If the odds — and resources — hardly favor the two academicians, they make up for it in passion, persistence and hard work. As a result they have forced CSU to fight a lengthy defensive battle against AI’s charges.

The trigger for these confrontations is David Klein, a mathematics professor at the CSU Northridge campus (CSUN), as well as publisher of the “Boycott Israel Resource Page” on the university Web server. Besides linking boycott enthusiasts of all stripes, Klein’s Web site labels Israel “the most racist state in the world at this time,” and accuses the “apartheid state” of ethnic cleansing and mass murder.

Underlying much of the emotions, arguments and lengthy briefs is a question that has challenged legal scholars, pundits and Jewish defense organizations for years: When are attacks on Israeli policies and actions legitimate expressions of constitutional and academic free speech, and when do they serve as cover for outright anti-Semitism?

“I have been wrestling with such questions for 35 years in Jewish life,” said Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “Not every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but that doesn’t mean that none is.”

When Klein calls Israel the world’s most racist state, that is so obviously untrue as to smack of anti-Semitism, Stern said.

The seeds of AI — not related to the Israeli organization that aids Holocaust survivors, Amcha (Hebrew for “Your People”) — sprouted when Beckwith spent a sabbatical year on the Santa Cruz campus and met Benjamin. Both felt that university administrators, the federal government and the Jewish community at-large were ignoring the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel agitation on California university campuses, and they decided to do something about it.

“I lived through [the era of] World War II and the birth of Israel, and I am not going to let the Jewish state be demonized and delegitimized,” Beckwith said. “I knew it was only a step from condemning Israel to condemning Jews.” 

Rossman-Benjamin, the mother of two college-age children, noted, “As a teacher of Hebrew, I’ve had students come to me crying about being harassed or that one of their professors was an Israel-basher. This is scary stuff, and nobody bats an eye about it.”

Initially, AI took on UC’s then-President Mark Yudof, who is Jewish, charging that his and various campus administrations failed to act against harassment of Jewish student and anti-Semitic incidents.

For the past two years, AI’s main focus has been on Klein, who through his Web site and capacity as adviser to two student groups has become the chief campus advocate of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Amid a steady exchange of letters, memos and legal opinions, AI has accused CSU of allowing Klein to violate various sections of the California Education Code by misusing the university’s server to promote boycotts, while also endorsing the candidacy of a pro-boycott congressional candidate running against the “extreme Zionists” Brad Sherman and Howard Berman last year.

Over the course of the last two years, AI’s appeals have been consistently denied by authorities, starting with California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, whose staff determined that Klein had not misused CSUN’s name and resources. Last month, on Sept. 23, CSU’s interim general counsel, G. Andrew Jones, wrote Rossman-Benjamin that, while both he and CSUN President Dianne Harrison disagreed with Klein’s views, the contents of his Web site do not violate California law and count as “constitutionally protected speech.”

Jones told the Journal that Klein’s Web site did not imply that CSU endorsed his pronouncements and that substantial private misuse of state resources, which is illegal, is hard to pin down.

“If you are a state worker and use the phone to call your mother, is that misuse of state resources?” Jones asked rhetorically.

In his e-mail to AI, Jones also mentioned, “We have consulted with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which agreed that [Klein’s] Web site’s contents were not anti-Semitic.” Later, he clarified that “although the university based its conclusion on the ADL briefing, the ADL did not issue an official opinion regarding Professor Klein’s statements.”

Those quotes connect indirectly to Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint that while she has received some backing from the Zionist Organization of America and the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, most mainstream Jewish organizations had not given any support to her efforts.

Amanda Susskind, director of ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said the meeting between local ADL lay and professional leaders and their counterparts at CSUN did not focus on the Klein case but was rather a general courtesy briefing for incoming president Harrison on ADL’s concerns and services on college campuses. 

“Certainly, if there are any incidents on campus, whether labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, ADL will jump in,” she said in a phone interview.

For his part, Jones said he understood that part of the meeting was set aside to focus on the Klein case. Neither Susskind nor Jones was present at the meeting.

The Journal attempted to speak to Klein, but as on a previous occasion, he hung up the phone when the reporter identified himself. 

Klein’s own religious leanings are uncertain. According to a 2011 interview in the Los Angeles Daily News, “The 23-year CSUN professor declined to discuss his own religious background.”

Jody Myers, coordinator of CSUN’s Jewish studies interdisciplinary program, counseled against making too much of Klein’s influence. 

“He has a certain following among the faculty, not much among students, but I’m sure he loves all the attention,” she said.

“Jewish life on campus is very good,” Myers added, noting that much more worrisome than any “Boycott Israel” activity was the cutback in community funding for the local Hillel, which has deeply cut into its outreach to Jewish students.

Like all public and private institutions, CSU would rather do without persistent critics, and some established Jewish defense organizations might feel that dealing with campus anti-Semitism is a job for professionals. On balance, however, what Beckwith and Rossman-Benjamin have accomplished is pretty impressive.

Working without any staff, they conduct their campaigns almost entirely via e-mail. They put the number of supporters — people who have contacted them, signed the AI petitions and sent money — at 5,000, and they have received donations of between $150,000 and $200,000 during the last year. 

Despite any legal setback, they even hope to expand their operations from California to the rest of the country.

As the AJC’s Stern noted, “These two ladies are not a bad thing — certainly better than total apathy.”

Immigration bill: For nannies and caregivers, legal status isn’t enough


At 2 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, Amelia Barnachea waited in a copy shop in downtown Los Angeles, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “I’m exercising,” the diminutive Filipina-American home health aide explained, looking very spry for her 72 years. 

Barnachea, who officially retired years ago, had spent the previous 18 hours filling in for a friend who was responsible for an ailing white woman only a few years Barnachea’s senior. 

Barnachea said she’d been awake almost the entire time. 

“I had to feed her. The place was dirty, so I had to clean. I had to cook something for her to eat,” Barnachea said. “That’s the work of an aide.”

Domestic work is often fluid, and the treatment of workers varies depending on their bosses. But federal laws that grant basic protections to almost all other workers in the United States — minimum wage requirements, for instance, and laws governing overtime pay — don’t apply to elder-care workers like Barnachea. Some workers don’t even get a standard meal break.

“Right now, some of our members have to pull food out of their pockets and eat whenever they can,” said Aquilina Soriano, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California. “There are some employers who don’t want them to sit down even for a moment.”

[Related: The proposed reforms, rights and regulations]

On June 27, the U.S. Senate approved an immigration bill that would bring 11 million people living illegally in the United States out from the shadows; should it become law, the bill would grant provisional legalized status to millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, offering them a path to citizenship. Legalized status would also bring with it other concrete benefits, including the ability to visit family members abroad and to get a driver’s license.

Activists aren’t popping champagne yet, as it’s not clear whether the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass similar legislation and allow the Senate’s bill to take effect. What’s more, advocates for domestic workers’ rights are also acutely aware that even if the Senate bill were to become law, without additional changes to existing state laws and federal regulations newly legalized domestic workers could still find themselves stuck working in a shadow economy. 

“Should immigration reform be enacted into law, it will be a tremendously positive change in the lives of these people and for our country,” said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, who also runs the progressive Jewish group’s political action committee. “At the same time, home care workers who are here legally, or are citizens, face a huge array of challenges.” 

Rabbi Heather Miller, center, sounds a shofar at a 24-hour vigil that began on June 26, one day before the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

’The standards are basically not governed by law’

Bend the Arc was one of a number of Jewish groups actively lobbying for passage of the Senate version of comprehensive immigration reform. Others include the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has devoted significant resources to organizing Jews behind immigration reform and published a handbook in 2012 titled “Immigration Reform: A Jewish Issue?” In it, AJC invokes economics, national security and demographic power politics to make the case that Jews should get behind reform. 

To persuade Jews to get involved with an issue that will mostly benefit non-Jews, the AJC brochure also leans heavily on the Jewish history of immigration to the United States and on biblical and talmudic texts. 

Yet while immigration reform advocates ask Jews to think about what today’s laws might have meant for their grandparents and great-grandparents a century ago, domestic workers’ rights advocates are asking Jews to consider what today’s laws mean for the people who clean their homes, care for their children and look out for their aging parents.

U.S. labor law doesn’t do much to protect domestic workers. Household employers are explicitly exempted from laws that apply in other workplaces, and where laws do exist they regularly go unheeded and unenforced. 

“The standards are basically not governed by law,” said Kevin Kish, director of the employment rights project for the legal aid nonprofit Bet Tzedek. “They’re governed by community standards.”

Over the years, Bet Tzedek has represented victims of the most egregious abuse — including one woman brought from Peru to Los Angeles by a professor as a housekeeper. The professor then confiscated her passport and forbade her from leaving the house, then beat her and threatened her family. When the worker made efforts to contact Bet Tzedek, her employer attempted to get her deported back to Peru. 

[Related: Modern slavery — Answering the cry]

Such stories of brutality toward domestic workers are rare, but the lesser abuses also add up: Those who work behind the closed doors of private homes typically earn low wages and rarely receive the benefits afforded other employees. They also work in environments that can be hazardous, and they must endure abuses of power with little recourse to act. 

These were the findings of the Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) at the University of Illinois at Chicago in its 2012 survey of more than 2,000 nannies, housecleaners and caregivers in 14 cities across the United States. Thirty-five percent of workers reported working long hours with no breaks, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of the workers surveyed reported being paid less than minimum wage ($8 an hour in California), and only 9 percent reported having a written contract with their employers. Nineteen percent of workers said they had been subjected to threats or verbal abuse on the job. 

Undocumented domestic workers, who made up 36 percent of the survey’s respondents, were markedly worse off than their counterparts. Median wages for those without legal status were found to be 17 percent lower than those of U.S. citizens employed in households.

The survey results suggest that even household employers who adhere to the models of common practice in their communities may in fact be breaking existing laws. 

Although there’s no way of documenting this, it’s commonly believed that the overwhelming majority of household employers — some estimate between 80 and 95 percent — do not pay taxes on wages paid to household employees. Indeed, fewer than 9 percent of the domestic workers surveyed by CUED in 2012 reported that their employers pay into Social Security on their behalf. 

And while current California law does not require that caregivers get breaks or overtime pay, some household employees — including housekeepers — are entitled to such benefits.

Nevertheless, Kish said, many employers ignore these laws as well. 

’These people, their lives depend upon this wage’

Lately, some Jewish communities have been devoting increased attention to this issue. Last month, Bet Tzedek’s Kish participated in a conversation with Rav Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea about what California law and Jewish law require of employers vis-à-vis their household employees. 

On some subjects — the prompt payment of wages, for instance — Jewish law is unambiguous. 

“These people, their lives depend upon this wage, and that’s why you have to be so particular — so machmir (stringent), really — about making sure that you’re paying people on time,” Kanefsky told a reporter, a few weeks after he covered the topic at a Shabbat afternoon program on June 1. 

This commandment can be traced back to a verse in Deuteronomy: “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it.” Yet the 2012 survey found that 23 percent of household employees said they had been paid late on at least one occasion in the past year. Ten percent said that during that same period, they had been paid less than what they were owed — or nothing at all. 

Kanefsky also took on a more nuanced question: From the standpoint of halachah (Jewish law), when may an employer cancel an agreement to engage an employee’s services? 

The Talmud addresses this in terms of agricultural workers, but Kanefsky applied the biblical text to the present day. If a parent comes home early from work and wants to send the nanny home, Kanefsky told me that halachah requires the full day’s wages be paid to the worker. If a family goes on vacation and expects an employee to be available for them upon their return, they have “some degree of financial obligation” to that employee for the wages that would have been paid during that time. 

“The only circumstance under which the employer is not committed to pay the wage,” Kanefsky said, “is if, (a) what happened is a completely unpredictable ’act of God’ and the employer did everything in his or her power to ensure that the work would be there, and (b) that the person didn’t commence work.”

Interestingly, Kanefsky said that he and his congregants agreed in advance that they would not address questions of immigration. 

“At least for our first go-round, we felt that we wanted to talk about the issues that people would come and engage with and not with issues that they would be squirming in their seats about,” Kanefsky said. 

Nonetheless, Bet Tzedek’s Kish, who is not Jewish, said he was surprised by the high standard for behavior Kanefsky espoused to the 40 members of his congregation who attended the program in early June.  

When employers and domestic workers hash out their responsibilities to one another, Kish said, “A lot of the negotiation doesn’t refer to law or what’s written in the labor code. It’s, ’What do your friends do? What does your family do? What do people in your community do?’ “

’Be a mensch’

It’s not clear how many Jews are asking such questions at all. Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, the largest Orthodox synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, said that the questions his congregants ask about domestic workers are focused less on wages and more often concern questions about “what a non-Jewish worker inside the home is allowed to do with regard to matters of observance.” 

Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard of Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Valley Village, said he has been asked by congregants — infrequently — what Jewish tradition has to say about domestic employees. Most of the time, he said, they’re not asking about immigration issues, even if they are employing people who don’t have authorization to work in this country. 

Those who do come with questions, Bernhard said, mostly want to talk about wages and vacations, and, in his experience, most appear to “already know the answers” to the questions they’re asking.

“What I would say is, ’Look, be a mensch. Now we have to figure out what that looks like in this situation,’ ” he said. “But that’s really what they’re looking for. They want to be a mensch.”

Such rabbinic guidance may be sufficient for individual cases, but domestic workers and the activists working on their behalf are trying to broaden accountability among employers and inject more specificity into these kinds of discussions. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), was developed with input from household employees and would grant certain basic rights to domestic workers that they don’t have at present. 

“Right now, nannies and caregivers do not have the right to overtime pay, do not have the right to meals and rest breaks,” Soriano of the Pilipino Workers Center said. “This creates the situation where they are working around the clock and being compensated very little.”

Soriano’s group is a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), which has been advocating for bills of rights for domestic workers in a number of states, including California. Other Jewish and interfaith groups, including the L.A.-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, have gotten involved in these state-specific efforts, as well. 

NDWA, together with Bend the Arc and the New York-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, are members of the Caring Across Generations movement, which is pushing President Barack Obama to approve new regulations formulated by the Department of Labor that will extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. 

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ammiano’s bill, AB 241, would grant to California’s domestic workers these and a handful of other rights. On May 29, the California Assembly voted 45-25 to approve the bill; the State Senate’s Industrial and Labor Relations Committee also approved the bill in a hearing on the bill on June 26. 

It’s the second time the legislation is making its way through Sacramento; in 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, citing concerns about the “economic and human impact” of the bill on those who are cared for by domestic workers. 

Should the State Senate pass the bill and the governor sign it — and Carlos Alcala, Ammiano’s communications director, said it’s hard to predict which way Brown will go on this issue — California would join New York and Hawaii in adopting an explicit bill of rights for domestic workers. 

Each one of those bills has its own particular language and protections. The Hawaii law specifically protects breastfeeding employees against discrimination; the California bill introduced in the last legislative session granted workers permission to use the kitchen in the home “without charge or deduction from pay.”

“That would be a little problematic for us,” said Irving Lebovics, chair of the California branch of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox advocacy organization. As written, the law looked as though it might have compelled Orthodox employers to allow employees to use their kosher kitchens. 

Language was added to the bill the first time around, Lebovics said, that exempted employers with specific food allergies or dietary restrictions from allowing their workers to use their kitchens. That language has been replicated in the current bill. 

As for the question of how non-Jewish workers should eat in kosher-observant households, Lebovics called it a “non-issue.” 

“We’ll go the extra mile to make sure they have what to eat,” he said. “If somebody wants something that’s not kosher, they’re free to eat it. Just not inside the house.”

But what some Orthodox Jews see as a non-issue appears to have been experienced by some domestic workers as an insult. 

One afternoon last month, I listened as a number of domestic workers, including some who have worked for Jewish families, spoke about their experiences. They all said they feel particularly vulnerable — either because they are not in this country legally or because they feared for their jobs and for future employment — and all asked that their names not be included in this article. One, who I’ll call L, recalled an unpleasant experience with the Jewish family that employed her mother in the 1990s. 

The mother in this family didn’t just prohibit L’s mother from eating non-kosher food in the house, but extended the ban into the backyard. L had been visiting her mother at the time, and she told me she remembered watching as her mother’s Jewish employer snatched food away from them, threw it across the backyard, and then forced L’s mother to go clean it up. 

Another woman told me that she had heard stories of domestic workers being forced by their kosher-observant Jewish employers to eat their lunches outside, or in the family’s garage.

Whether these anecdotes represent common practice among observant Jewish employers is impossible to ascertain, but Rabbi Nachman Abend, associate director at the Chabad of North Hollywood for the past seven years, said he hadn’t heard of any situations in which employees perceived kosher laws as insulting. 

“I would say most people respect religion, and most people, if you take the time to explain it to them, not only do they not take offense, but they appreciate it very much,” Abend said. 

’I almost cried. It had been so long since I had heard any words of appreciation.’

Abend’s own family employs a domestic worker — he and his wife have five children, including twin babies — and when he gets questions from members of his community, he offers guidance not so much from Jewish law but from his own practice. 

“I don’t know if they’re asking me as a Jewish legal authority or as a rabbi, friend and mentor,” Abend said. “I give general advice. So if somebody asks me if they should pay their nanny for July 4, or whatever national holiday is coming up, I say, ’I do.’ “

This question — how should a person treat his mother’s caregiver or her child’s nanny? — appears to be on the minds of many people these days, and on the minds of Jews, in particular. 

A parents group in a wealthy neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been conducting annual surveys of “nanny compensation” that cover everything from the range of hourly wages to whether “major Jewish holidays” are paid holidays for nannies. 

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association, a group started in 2010 by (mostly Jewish) employers of nannies, caregivers and housekeepers, issued guidelines to help other domestic employers foster “dignified and respectful working conditions” in their homes. 

So I asked Soriano, whose group represents more than 600 Filipina caregivers and other domestic employees, what advice she would give to domestic employers looking to be good bosses. First, Soriano urged employers to value their employee’s time, and to understand the power imbalance between employees and their employers. 

“Sometimes,” she continued, “when an employer is asking an employee to work, it’s not easy for the domestic worker to say no — even if they have other obligations at that time.”

Soriano went on: “It’s really about how they’re treated, as well. They’re not servants; they’re whole human beings, with families. If they’re being treated as if they’re not a whole person a lot of the time, I know from our members that really makes them feel bad.”

One of the domestic workers who spoke with me earlier this month, whom I’ll call S, said she had once quit a job she didn’t like, but it was only after her next employer thanked her for work she had done that she realized how unhappy she had been while working for her prior boss. 

“I almost cried,” S said. “It had been so long since I had heard any words of appreciation.”

Nothing in California’s proposed domestic worker’s bill of rights entitles a worker to receive thanks from her employer. But the bill would require employers to pay overtime and grant meal and rest breaks to all of their domestic employees. And while there’s no guarantee that  this new law will be followed any more widely than the existing ones, activists feel hopeful that the bill of rights could function as a starting point to educate domestic employers about how to treat their workers. 

Amelia Barnachea is working on the effort to pass the bill of rights in California. But just before she headed home for some (long-overdue) rest, she offered a philosophical explanation of what makes for a good working relationship. 

“If there is love and care [between an aide and her patient], you can work for a long time,” she said. “If there is none of those, just money, you can’t stay long. You cannot work for money alone.”

EU envoy targets settlements


Israel’s settlement building is increasingly isolating the country in Europe, leading to European Union policies that could reinforce Israel’s delegitimization, according to the top EU representative to the peace process.

Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said increasing frustration with the settlement movement is leading Europe to adopt policies that single out Israel for punitive measures.

In a June 5 interview at the EU’s Washington mission, Reinicke, in town for meetings with counterparts in the Obama administration, cited two policies in particular: increased levies on goods manufactured in West Bank settlements, which already are in place, and labeling to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those in the West Bank, which is under consideration.

“What the Europeans feel compelled to do is to make clear that our political position, our understanding of the territory of the State of Israel, which is the borders of 1967 including West Jerusalem, has to be reflected in our legal relationship between Israel and the European Union,” he said.

Reinicke said the European establishment overwhelmingly opposes actions that isolate Israel as a whole, noting for instance the decision by British physicist Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference in Israel this summer.

“The vast majority,” he began, then corrected himself. “Everybody is against this,” he said, referring to the boycott and divestment movement.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the policies distinguishing settlement products from Israeli products reinforce the movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

“The danger is there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good development.”

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

“The number of foreign ministers who are supporting this are increasing,” he said. “This is a development we should look at, which is not a good development.

“It is almost impossible to explain to any European why settlement is continuing all the time. It is difficult to explain to Europeans why increased settlement activities mean an increase of security for the State of Israel.”

The pessimistic scenario outlined by Reinicke echoed similar warnings this week from John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, and from the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, one of Israel’s staunchest friends on the continent.

“Yes, the United States of America will always have Israel’s back,” Kerry said in remarks to the American Jewish Committee on June 3. “We will always stand up for Israel’s security. But wouldn’t we both be stronger if we had some more company? “

Also addressing the AJC, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg described an erosion of support for Israel in Europe.

“Alarm among Israel’s foreign partners about the continued expansion of Jewish residential areas beyond the Green Line, steadily eroding the size and contiguity of the residual non-Jewish territories, often seems to be felt in Israel as a political nuisance to be overcome rather than a serious questioning of Israel’s political credibility,” he said.

The Czech Republic was the only European nation to join the United States and Israel last year in opposing the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid to enhance its United Nations status to non-member state observer.

Most of the other 27 members of the European Union abstained on the vote. Asked why Europe does not treat the Palestinian Authority’s quest for statehood recognition absent negotiations with Israel with the same seriousness that it opposes settlement expansion, Reinicke said it was hard for European nations to adamantly oppose a diplomatic maneuver.

“We think that the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table without preconditions,” he said. “We had a strong discussion and very, very intensive discussions among the Europeans about how to move. But the bottom line, it is a sort of diplomatic activity. It is peaceful, not a violent one.”

He expressed coolness about a plan advanced by Kerry to seek $4 billion in private investment for the Palestinian areas, noting that economic conditions — in particular the ability to move people and goods about freely — are more important than money.

Kerry’s investment plan, which a number of Republicans in Congress have rejected, won a hearty endorsement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Reinicke suggested that Europe would soon join the United States in designating Hezbollah — or at least its military wing — as a terrorist entity, which would curtail the Lebanon-based terrorist group’s fundraising on the continent.

“If you see the public statements of the major foreign ministers,” he said, “I think there is a move in this direction.”