President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Trump is heartless and cruel

A narcissist is a person concerned only about himself. He sees the world through a lens reflecting just his image. Everything is a function of his ego. He is hypersensitive to slights. He bristles at criticism. If it serves his interests, he attacks, maligns, humiliates, and obliterates those he perceives as a threat.

When a narcissist is President of the United States, his actions, words, and policies can be cruel, and cruelty is the only word that adequately describes Trump’s action against 800,000 children of undocumented people who have committed no crime.

Trump’s cancellation of DACA instituted six years ago by the Executive Order by President Obama, despite the urging of Trump’s advisors and many fellow Republicans not to do so, is without question the ugliest action he has taken since becoming President. In my memory, this is the ugliest action taken by any president in my lifetime.

Countless Jewish organizations have condemned Trump’s decision including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, Bend the Arc, J Street, Amenu, the National Council of Jewish Women, Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Shalom Center, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Why did Trump do it? The writer John Binder in Breitbart News tried to justify Trump’s action:

“Ending DACA could be a major stimulus for the 4.4 percent of unemployed Americans who will see more than 700,000 new job openings across the United States.”

Rob Eshman, the publisher of the LA Jewish Journal, put it exactly right when he wrote this week

“… ludicrous. It assumes none of the Dreamers are self-employed, that their roles can easily be filled by the ranks of the remaining unemployed – many of whom are far less well-educated, less well-trained, less motivated, far older or not even living in areas where the Dreamers work. Some 250 work for Apple – in what fantasy world are those jobs just ripe for the picking? But Breitbart knows that.”

And so, what’s this all about?

It seems to me that Trump was motivated by two things:

First, he hates Obama never missing an opportunity to trash policies of the Obama administration. It doesn’t matter what good Obama did for the country and for millions of people. If the policy was Obama’s, Trump has sought to reverse it.

Second, Trump recognizes that his shrinking power-base has to be fed continually. His base of nativist, xenophobic, white supremacist, and anti-immigrant bigots will stay close if he speaks and acts to their dark impulses. According to polls, Trump is now losing everyone else at the rate of one percentage point each week.

Thankfully, for the sake of these 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants, there is a potential silver lining. Not only has the nation reacted negatively across political lines to Trump’s decision, Republicans are working in a bi-partisan effort with Democrats in Congress to legislate a compassionate and humane solution for the dreamers.

As more and more Republicans lose faith in Trump and see him for who he really is, many Republicans in Congress will be guided not by partisan politics but by a true moral compass. That will be good not only for the DACA people, but for the country.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at an AJC event on immigration. Photo by Howard Pasamanick

Garcetti denounces Trump plan to end DACA at AJC event

Inside Wilshire Boulevard Temple on Sept. 5, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti denounced President Donald Trump’s decision announced earlier that day to rescind protections for children brought into the U.S. illegally, saying, “This is a day — a dark day — for this nation and for the city.”

Outside, left-leaning groups accused the mayor of not doing enough to protect those children.

“What do we want? Sanctuary! When do we want it? Now!” came the chants from a coalition that included Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter, Ground Game L.A. and Democratic Socialists of America.

The event inside the synagogue, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), had been scheduled before the announcement of Trump’s decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration initiative.

Addressing an audience of about 100, including some who turned their backs to  him, Garcetti said he was disappointed in the Trump decision, calling it “un-American.”

But the mayor’s remarks were insufficient for the protesters outside.

“We are here because Mayor Garcetti, Police Chief (Charlie) Beck and Sheriff (Jim) McDonnell have had a history of talking big about how they are protecting immigrants without having the policy to back up some of their stances,” said Meghan Choi, a lead organizer with Ground Game L.A., a grass-roots civic engagement organization.

Actions like the protest outside the synagogue are becoming more common across the country, Steven Windmueller, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, whose expertise includes American- Jewish political behavior, told the Journal.

“I am detecting over the past eight months, a ‘radicalization’ of the left in opposition to the current administration, contributing to the further rise of socialists, anarchists and others, who I would describe as ‘rejectionists’ opposed to the President and his policies, but also unhappy with the Democratic Party,” Windmueller wrote in an email.

Trump’s decision, announced hours before the AJC event, gave Congress six months to develop a permanent solution for the 800,000 young adults, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, who currently qualify for protection under DACA.

Garcetti, who is of Latino-Jewish ancestry, said the decision to phase out DACA was personal, given his family’s history of coming to the United States illegally.

“We didn’t have the term back then, but my grandfather, Salvador, was a Dreamer, carried over the border by my bisabuela, great-grandmother,” he said.

At times raising his voice, Garcetti called on Congress to pass legislation that would codify DACA protections. He specifically mentioned Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who have expressed support for Dreamers but have not pushed for legislation to permanently legalize their status.

“Thanks for the words,” Garcetti said, “but it is time for Congress to act.

“Let us explode the myth of those who want to divide us and want us to divide each other,” he said. “We can’t afford that. We can’t afford to yell at one another, and we can’t afford to buy into the myths.”

Hours before the synagogue event, the AJC released a statement condemning the president’s action against DACA.

“Dismantling DACA is a devastating blow to hundreds of thousands of young people who have benefited from the program — and who have in turn contributed to communities across the country in which they live,” Richard Fotlin, the AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs, said in the statement.

In addition to Garcetti, the AJC event featured a panel that included Sheriff McDonnell; Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Horace Frank; and Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Cindy Chang. Dan Schnur, director of the AJC’s Los Angeles region, moderated.

The panel also discussed how law enforcement and immigrant communities can maintain trust with one another. That issue is at the core of a state Senate bill that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from sharing data for immigration enforcement purposes.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Tillerson: Palestinian Authority to stop paying terrorists’ families

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators that the Palestinian Authority will stop paying the families of terrorists who have attacked or killed Israelis.

“We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us,” Tillerson said on Capitol Hill Tuesday at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Tillerson noted that he and President Donald Trump both spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the issue during recent meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.

The American Jewish Committee welcomed Tillerson’s remarks.

“If a firm U.S. stance actually leads to the end of this outrageous practice, as Secretary Tillerson said will be the case, AJC would be the first to applaud,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement.

According to Times of Israel, an Israeli general told parliament last month that the Palestinian Authority has paid out nearly $1.2 billion to terrorists and their families over the past four years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 28. Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters

Netanyahu: Arab ‘street’ may one day soften on Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said alliances of convenience between Israel and Sunni Arab states could lead to improved perceptions of Israel on the “Arab street.”

Shared interests of crushing the rise of Islamist terrorist groups “may eventually open the door not only for changing the relations of governments abut also to change the perception of Israel in the Arab street,” Netanyahu said in a conversation with five alumni of an American Jewish Committee Israel advocacy training program.

A video of the conversation, filmed recently in Jerusalem, was screened Tuesday at the annual AJC conference in Washington.

“In parts of the Arab world, Israel is no longer the demon it once was — we take a back seat to some of these forces” Netanyahu said, referring to the Islamist terrorist groups.

The AJC program, Leaders for Tomorrow, brought five incoming college freshmen to meet with Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister called college campuses “bubbles” that can inhibit young Jews from seeing Israel as a nation advocating not only for peace and stability, but also for technological and economic investments.

He closed with a simple statement for the aspiring leaders: “Stand up for the truth. Stand up for Israel. Be proud.”

From left to right: Tali Klein, AJC Ass't Director of BILLA, L.A.; Ambassador Carlos Garcia de Alba, Consul General of Mexico in L.A.; Dina Siegel Vann, AJC Director of BILLA; Eva Dworsky, AJC LA International Relations Co-chair; David R. Ayon, Latino Decisions Senior Strategist and Advisor

Surprising results revealed in survey of Latino Jews living in U.S.

“Latino Jews” — who are they?

That was a question posed by a study carried out in late 2015 by David Ayon, senior strategist for the opinion research group Latino Decisions. Requisitioned by an arm of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and underwritten by the Ford Foundation, the survey probed focus groups of Latino Jews who live in five U.S. cities — Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago and Houston. Ranging in age from 22 to 78, more than 60 participants were asked in-depth questions about identity, national attachments and community engagement.

The results were presented on the AJC website last year and have been shown to groups around the country, including one in Los Angeles on March 28 that included diplomats from Latin American countries as well as Southern California Latino and Jewish leaders. The inquiry, Ayon said, was unique in that it placed, at the center of the research, “a small but thriving population” of approximately 200,000 Latino Jews now living in the United States.

Most Latino Jews are cut from the same cloth as the majority of U.S. Jews — descendants of Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews who left Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th century or early decades of the 20th century — but immigrated to Latin America instead of the United States. The term “Latino Jews” also includes some Sephardic Jews, those who left Turkey and other countries in the Levant after World War I and immigrated to Latin America.

Jews, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, who settled throughout the continent, from Mexico to Argentina, soon adopted Spanish as their language (or Portuguese in Brazil), built synagogues, started Jewish social clubs, opened businesses, became professionals and often have played prominent roles in the civic, economic and artistic life of their adopted countries.

In recent decades, sometimes because of political or economic turmoil, many Latino Jews have left Latin America and immigrated into the U.S. (as well as Israel and other countries.) As a result, Ayon said, the Latino Jews who took part in the survey’s focus groups have undergone a “double Diaspora.”

For Dina Siegel Vann, director of the AJC’s Belfer Institute on Latino and Latin American Affairs, the most surprising part of the survey focused on the question, “Who are Latino Jews?” Presented with seven identity choices — American, Hispanic, Immigrant, Jewish, Latina/o, Latin American and Latin-American country of origin (e.g., Mexican, Argentine, etc.) — participants registered their preferences, in order: Jewish, 95 percent; Latin-American country of origin, 69 percent; Latin American, 51 percent; Latino/a, 44 percent; immigrant, 41 percent; Hispanic, 34 percent; and American, 31 percent.

“This tells us a number of things,” Siegel Vann, who grew up Jewish in Mexico City, told the Journal. “No. 1, that Jews in Latin America, even in Argentina, with the largest concentration of Jews in any Latin American country, felt like ‘insider-outsiders’ — one foot in, one foot out. The first marker of identity for them was Jewish, not the country they came from. They did not say ‘I’m an Argentine.’ No, no, no. They said, ‘First of all, I’m a Jew.’

“That tells me that the [Jewish] community might have felt they were integrated into the life of the country where they lived, but, at the end of the day, we’re all insider-outsiders.”

Siegel Vann pointed out that the focus group results indicate these same Latino Jews, after immigrating to the U.S., once again feel they are insiders-outsiders. Even though more than 80 percent are U.S. citizens, and most of the rest are permanent residents, fewer than 1 in 3 identifies as American. “In previous generations … it was a moment of pride to say you were American, but now that’s changed,” she said.

There are reasons why Latino Jews in the U.S. don’t feel American, Siegel Vann said. In L.A. or Miami, which have large concentrations of Latino Jews, there’s less pressure to integrate into American life. More significant is that even though Latino Jews felt they had good reasons to leave Latin America, they often did so with regrets, in contrast to previous generations of immigrants to the U.S. Some Latino Jews still own property in Latin America, and almost all have family and friends there. As a result, most still identify with the Latin American country they came from (69 percent) rather than as American (31 percent).

Siegel Vann said when earlier generations of Jews came to the New World from Lithuania or Poland, for example, they were eager to shed that past identity. “But Latino Jews who have come to the U.S. over the last 30 years don’t feel that,” she said. “Most express appreciation that the Latin American country where they lived took them in, opened their doors and permitted them to have a good life.”

Besides establishing who Latino Jews are, Ayon said, the survey aimed to consider how this “unique group can leverage their main identities to build domestic, global and transnational bridges.” The implication is that Latino Jews, at least from the focus group sample, have education, money and a strong connection to Israel but haven’t yet been sufficiently integrated into mainstream Jewish organizations.

Siegel Vann said it is in everyone’s interest for that to happen. She said the survey report recommends that the “experiences [of Latino Jews], their personal and professional relationships and their passion for Israel can help advance any number of [Jewish] organizational programs or efforts.” She added that her institute already has launched a number of cooperative Jewish and Latino programs focused on three issues.

“One, immigration reform,” she said. “Immigrants are this country’s lifeline, so we think it’s important to pass immigration reform now. The second issue is hate crimes and hate rhetoric, as they apply to both Latinos and Jews. And the third issue is foreign policy, the relations between the U.S. and Mexico, and U.S. policy toward Israel.”

Siegel Vann said the political and social importance of Latinos in the U.S. is growing. Latinos and Latino Jews “don’t generally inhabit the same spaces, but we have to come together and become aware of the commonalities, the linguistic, cultural and historical ties the two communities have. Latino Jews could play an important role in being the link between Jews and Latinos, so what we’re trying to do is create more and more spaces for this interaction and cooperation to happen.”

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York speaking at a news conference held by Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee criticizing the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to foreign spending, March 16, 2017. Engel is joined by Reps. Albio Sires, left, of New Jersey, and William Keating of Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of HFAC-Democrats.

Jewish groups, politicians deem Trump budget bad for Israel, other U.S. interests

Citing the importance to Israel of a robust U.S. posture abroad, Jewish groups decried drastic proposed cuts in foreign assistance funding in President Donald Trump’s budget, despite assurances that aid to Israel would be unaffected.

Israel’s guaranteed $3.1 billion defense assistance next year is a “cutout” and not subject to proposed drastic cuts to foreign funding, the Trump administration said.

“Our assistance to Israel is, if I could say, a cutout on the budget, and that’s guaranteed, and that reflects, obviously, our strong commitment to one of our strongest partners and allies,” State Department spokesman Marc Toner said March 16 in a call with reporters.

The reassurance came as an array of Jewish groups and Democratic Jewish lawmakers expressed alarm at proposed 31 percent cuts to foreign spending, saying it would undercut U.S. influence abroad and noting that it currently constitutes just 1 percent of the budget.

“Our consistent position has been that, along with security assistance to Israel, we have always supported a robust overall foreign aid budget in order to ensure America’s strong leadership position in the world,” an official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee stated in an email.

Rep. Lois Frenkel (D-Fla.) argued that foreign aid helps stem the unrest that threatens security interests.

“I wish the president would spend more time talking to the generals because they would tell you that pencils can be as persuasive as cannons and food can be as powerful as a tank,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said national security interests are at stake.

“The proposed draconian cuts in areas vital to executing U.S. foreign policy could adversely affect our national security interests by potentially creating more pressure on the American military while essential diplomacy is being undermined,” David Harris, the AJC CEO, said in a statement. “Deep cuts to the State Department, including in key educational and cultural exchange programs, will severely harm America’s ability to assert our interests and values abroad.”

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, decried what it said was the budget’s isolationism.

“Over the years, many pro-Israel organizations — including J Street — have argued that Israel cannot be treated as a special case, exempted from cuts to foreign aid while programs affecting the rest of the world are slashed wholesale,” the group said in a statement. “Ultimately, weakening US foreign aid, which is already far below the contributions of other advanced economies in percentage GDP terms, undermines Israeli security as well.”

Next year is the launch of a 10-year agreement that would see Israel receiving an average of $3.8 billion a year in defense assistance.

Centrist and left-wing pro-Israel groups have long argued that overall robust foreign assistance is healthy for the United States and Israel because it sustains U.S. influence.

Toner, the State Department spokesman, fielded a question from a reporter about whether the cuts would affect funding for U.S. defense assistance to Egypt and Jordan — policies that were written into Israeli peace deals with those countries and seen for years as critical to sustaining the peace. Toner deflected the question.

“With respect to other assistance levels, foreign military assistance levels, those are still being evaluated and decisions are going to be made going forward,” he said. “So we’re still at the very beginning of the budget process, and in the coming months, these are all going to be figures that we evaluate and look at hard, obviously bearing in mind some of our — or not some of our — our treaty obligations going forward. But we’ll have more details, obviously, when the final budget rolls out in May, I believe.”

Trump administration officials have said programs targeted by the cuts have not proven their efficiency or efficacy, a claim sharply disputed by Democratic Jewish lawmakers and some Jewish groups.

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), wrote a letter to House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), urging him to reject the cuts.

“We cede the role as the world’s champion of democracy, freedom and justice. And what happens then?” Engel said at a news conference March 16 unveiling the letter. “Who steps into the void? Probably a country that doesn’t share our values or priorities. Think Russia or some other country like that.”

Other Jewish Democrats lambasting the cuts included Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

B’nai B’rith International, which advocates for international assistance and also focuses on assistance to the elderly in the United States, decried the budgets cuts in both areas. The organization noted a proposed 13.2 percent cut to the Housing Department, which would adversely affect the 38 buildings with 8,000 residents in the B’nai B’rith network.

“Lack of access to safe and affordable housing for all older Americans has deep ramifications for the health and welfare of so many,” it said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting. March 5. Photo by Abir Sultan/REUTERS.

AJC joins US Jewish groups criticizing Israel’s anti-BDS entry law

The American Jewish Committee said it was “troubled” by a new Israeli law banning entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

The AJC’s statement, released a day after the law’s passage, was the first signal from the American Jewish establishment that it was unhappy with the law. An array of American groups on the left — including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, the New Israel Fund, and T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group — condemned the law as soon as it passed.

“Every nation, of course, is entitled to regulate who can enter, and AJC, a longtime, staunch friend of Israel and opponent of the BDS movement fully sympathizes with the underlying desire to defend the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” AJC CEO David Harris, said Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, as history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is, or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel,” Harris said.

According to the final wording of the boycott bill, the ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge limiting boycotts to areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.

Backers of the bill say it would be used only against those active in organizations that support BDS, and would not block an individual for something she or he might once have said.

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


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 Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.


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.


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 Address, in Tarzana, provided upon RSVP.


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.


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.

SAT | FEB 11


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.


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.

SUN | FEB 12


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


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 FindMyPast,, 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.


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.


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.


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 The Rose, Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena.



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.

WED | FEB 15


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.


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; no walk-ins. Google, 340 Main St., Venice. (310) 446-4232.



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 Jewish Women’s Theatre, 2912 Colorado Blvd., No. 102, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1400.


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 Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles.

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

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, Trump has won support by loudly rejecting the Iran nuclear deal authored by the Barack Obama administration.

“It struck a very bad chord for us,” Alona Hassid, 29, a real estate attorney, said of the agreement. “The deal was no good.”

Hassid said many Iranian-American Jews like her parents, who fled the Islamic revolution, have trouble stomaching any kind of engagement between America and the current Iranian regime. Recent revelations that the U.S. leveraged a $400 million payment due Iran in order to secure the release of American prisoners only make matters worse.

“These are not people that you can negotiate with and make a deal with and hope that the deal will work out,” Hassid said.

Hassid said the great majority of her friends support Trump, though many shy away from saying so publicly for fear of reprisal.

Michael Mahgerefteh, 45, a Beverly Hills resident born in Tehran, said many Persian Jews fault the Obama administration for not projecting an air of strength that would help shield Israel from her enemies.

“A lot of us feel like Israel is our country, more than the U.S., or Iran even,” he said. “All the stuff that’s happened in the last seven or eight years, which I think Hillary will continue, is bad for Israel — not just the Iran deal, but just the way that when the U.S. gets weaker, the bad people in the world, the terrorists, feel stronger. They fill in the void.”

But Mahgerefteh doesn’t have to look past America’s borders for a reason to support the Republican nominee. Many Iranian immigrants feel the freedoms that helped them climb the socio-economic ladder here are under assault, he said.

“If you want to work hard or go to school or do whatever you want, there’s always been a lot of opportunity here,” he said. “But it feels like that’s changing, mostly in the last seven or eight years.”

He added, “It might be irreversible after that.”

Steven Windmueller, an emeritus professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who studies American Jewish political behavior, predicted that Jewish support for the Republican will decline compared with previous years due to Trump’s unpolished rhetoric and his failure to adequately disavow anti-Semitic supporters such as one-time Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

But some Persian Jews, along with Israelis, Russian Jewish immigrants and the Orthodox, constitute a “Republican emersion” that defies the Jewish liberal mainstream.

“Persians and Israelis come to this out of a sense of grave concern for national security, for protecting Israel, for isolating Iran and all the sort of foreign policy pieces,” Windmueller said.

As for observant Jews, polling indicates they are more likely to take a politically conservative stance out of concern for Israel’s security. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, 34 percent of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. said they believe Jewish settlements in the West Bank help Israel’s security, compared with 16 percent who say they hurt it. Among Reform Jews, the numbers flip: 50 percent say settlements hurt Israel’s security while only 13 percent say they help.

Yet the majority of American Jews are not observant, and supporting the Republican candidate has long been a minority position in Jewish L.A. If anything, Trump’s candidacy has made it even worse.

After Friedman put up a George W. Bush lawn sign in 2004, an Israeli friend ripped the sign out of the ground and stomped on it to demonstrate his opposition. But this election foists an additional stigma on backers of the Republican candidate: that supporting Trump makes them bigots.

“That’s one of the accusations that they throw out,” she said. “You’re probably not educated or you’re married to your cousins.”

“People just try to bully you,” Mahgerefteh said of his experience as a Trump supporter. “They say, ‘Only certain type of people are behind Trump.’ ”

As a result, many Republican voters have learned to remain wary when political conversations arise.

“If it’s not going to be a healthy debate,” Hassid said, “I’m not going to bring it up.”

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.


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.

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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

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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


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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.


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
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.