As Israel’s economy grows, more Israelis are giving to charity

At Hadassah's centennial celebration in October, 2,000 guests heard about two major philanthropic projects being undertaken by the women's Zionist group: a new tower and a new cardiovascular wellness center at its Jerusalem hospitals.

The tower, which was dedicated at the centennial, cost $363 million. And a $10 million gift from American philanthropist Irene Pollin came with the announcement of the cardiovascular center. Most of Hadassah’s members and donors are American, and every year most of its $100 million budget goes to Israel — as it has for a century, well before Israel was a state.

For virtually all of Israel's history, the philanthropic highway between the United States and the Jewish state ran in one direction. Now, with the growth of Israel's economy and an expanding class of affluent citizens, Israeli initiatives have begun to encourage giving by Israelis for Israelis.

Still, experts say, building a culture of philanthropy remains an uphill battle in Israel.

“Israeli philanthropy is not very well developed, even though there’s [been] a lot of Israeli wealth in the past 10 to 20 years,” said Debra London, project manager for Sheatufim, which helps donors and nonprofits become more effective. “It’s about recruiting them to the idea that they have to give.”

Since well before the founding of the state, American Jewish philanthropy has been instrumental in establishing and sustaining Jewish settlement in Israel. This funding model persisted even as the state established itself and grew into a thriving industrial and information-age economy. American donors still fund many projects and organizations in Israel, while many Israeli outfits have established fundraising arms in the United States.

On the whole, Israelis are less philanthropic than Americans. In a recent paper, Hebrew University professor Hillel Schmid found that in 2009 Israeli philanthropy constituted 0.74 percent of Israel’s GDP, compared to 2.1 percent in the United States. In total that year, Israelis donated $3 billion. Part of the reason, Schmid says, is the high income tax that Israelis have pai d traditionally to support a robust social safety net. Many Israelis also feel that their years spent in compulsory military service provided a significant contribution to the state.

“We all go to the army, we pay a high income tax, so we think we give a lot,” Schmid, the director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel, told JTA. “There are a few good philanthropists, but there’s no movement of philanthropy.”

That’s changing. Schmid noted that in 2009, Israeli nonprofits received a majority of their donations from Israelis, not from abroad — a departure from previous years.

New philanthropic models are emerging, too. An organization called Takdim in the coastal town of Ramat HaSharom hopes to duplicate the successful North American Jewish federation model, where one central institution in each community manages collective Jewish giving. More than two-thirds of the funds raised by Takdim will go to projects in the central Israeli city, while 30 percent will fund projects across the country. A communal board will determine which projects to support.

“We need to have a change in outlook and show people that if they want to help the community, they need to help in both senses, to volunteer and to help financially,” said Revital Itach, Takdim’s project manager. “Our goal is not to depend on two or three donors but to draft the whole community.”

Founded a year-and-a-half ago, Takdim has 120 donors and is embarking on its first major fundraising drive. Itach hopes to raise $256,000, much of which will go to building a new park that will be accessible to disabled children.

“There was a sense of community” years ago, Itach said. “As the city grew and brought more people in, the feeling of community got weaker. There was a desire to bring back that feeling of togetherness, to look beyond your own sphere and to do something for all of the residents.”

Another initiative, called Committed to Give and run by Sheatufim, aims to expand the top echelon of Israeli donors, defined as those who give more than $64,000 annually. London estimates that 10,000 Israelis can give that amount. Twenty donors who already give that much are running the initiative.

A rise in Israeli philanthropy does not necessarily mean a drop in U.S. Jewish giving, says Becky Caspi, director general of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office. Caspi recognizes an emotional drive in American Jews to help Israel and does not anticipate a significant decline in donations to Israel.

Federations have been involved in helping launch Takdim and Committed to Give, and Caspi sees a growing number of Israelis “who can assist in carrying the burden to care for the most vulnerable in Israeli society.”

“There are so many people who see Israel hurting and want to help,” she told JTA. “When Israeli philanthropists are exposed to that strength and resilience, it’s a source of inspiration.”

In 2011, JFNA allocated $237 million to overseas funding, the bulk of which goes to Israel. It was a decrease from previous years: In 2010, $249 million went overseas from JFNA, while the figure was $258 million in 2009.

While Israel’s philanthropic culture is still growing, the country does have an established volunteer culture. Yoram Sagi Zaks, chairman of Israel’s national volunteering council, estimates that 46 percent of Israeli youth volunteer in some capacity, and that 800,000 Israelis volunteer in total. Many draw on their military experience to volunteer with security institutions, like the police force.

While Sagi Zaks appreciates rising philanthropy in Israel, he hopes that it doesn’t replace the culture of volunteerism.

“There’s a trend that more people are giving money because they can, and that needs to rise in all sectors of society,” he said. But, Sagi Zaks added, “It’s easier to give a monetary donation. A donation of yourself connects you to society.”

Hadassah awards grants to help women

The Hadassah Foundation has awarded $182,000 in grants for 2011 to help women from diverse cultural groups in Israel and the American Jewish community.

This year, due to the global economic downturn, in addition to funding programs in the fields of economic security for low-income Israeli women and leadership and self-esteem programs for adolescent Jewish girls and young women in the United States, the foundation also funded economic empowerment and financial training programs in the United States.

“The Hadassah Foundation is proud to provide support for activists and advocates who work to create social change for women and girls,” said Linda Altshuler, director of the foundation.  “Over the past decade, we have helped to leverage innovative grant-making as an important vehicle that now energizes a network of partners in philanthropy here and in Israel.”

Among this year’s grantees are the Clinic for Legal Aid for Women in Family Law at Bar-Ilan University; the Public Interest Litigation Project at the Center for Women’s Justice in Jerusalem; Itach-Maaki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice in Tel Aviv; Shalom Bayit, a Project of the Tides Foundation in Oakland, Calif.; Gan Nashim: Growing Strong Jewish Girls through Hazon in New York; and Life$avings: Financial Literacy for Young Women, part of Jewish Women International in Washington.

Agudath Israel emphasizes outreach to non-Orthodox

Is it permissible for an Orthodox family to play host to a Jewish couple if they don’t observe laws mandating sexual abstinence in the period surrounding menstruation?

That was among the questions posed to two leading rabbinic authorities in late November at the 85th national convention of Agudath Israel of America, the main umbrella body for ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, Jewry.

The answer: It is, if the room has two beds.

The session, titled, “Kosher Kiruv: Halachic Dos and Don’ts,” was part of a broad push to make kiruv, or outreach to nonobservant Jews, a mainstay among the rank-and-file of haredim.

At a plenary session titled, “American Jewry at Cliff’s Edge,” speakers cited worrisome statistics about American Jewish assimilation and stressed the responsibility of individuals to support efforts to help draw nonobservant Jews closer to their heritage.

“The cause of the spiritual Holocaust of the Jewish people isn’t as much assimilation as it is ignorance,” said Antony (Chanan) Gordon, a Harvard law school-educated hedge fund manager from Los Angeles, who persuaded the Agudah leadership to make kiruv the convention theme.

“Essentially, what we want the Orthodox world to hear from Torah authorities is that the time has come where we have to galvanize our forces and do what we can to spearhead a solution to what’s clearly a well-known problem in America,” he said.

While Gordon and others say the emphasis on kiruv is a path-breaking change for the Agudah crowd, an insular community mostly centered in a handful of close-knit enclaves in New York and New Jersey, kiruv in fact has been on the Agudah agenda for more than three decades.

After the group’s 1974 convention, Agudah founded the Jewish Education Program, which brought Jewish students from public schools to nearby yeshivas for religious instruction.

At the group’s 2004 conclave, Agudah’s executive director, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, noting demographic trends showing that Orthodox Jews represent a growing percentage of an otherwise shrinking Jewish community, said Agudah constituents needed to take on greater responsibility for communal concerns that typically had been left to secular Jewish institutions.

Bloom said that this latest initiative reflects an urgent need to bolster efforts that have long been under way. But others said the convention theme suggested that the kiruv message has not permeated the rank and file.

“There seems to be a little bit of a disconnect between what the message that I think they have been giving and what the strictly Orthodox community has perceived, or at least has picked up on,” Rabbi Eli Gewirtz noted.

Gewirtz, who lives in New Jersey and runs a program that matches up nonobservant Jews with telephone study partners, was one of a handful of so-called “kiruv professionals” at the convention.

“It has not really filtered down in a very, very significant way,” he said.

Gordon, who chaired an outreach conference earlier this year in Baltimore, said he believes the new initiative could portend a potentially historic shift because of the collaboration between outreach professionals and Agudah’s religious leadership, which retains overall authority over the organization’s policies.

“We’ve never had the greatest sages and the most respected authorities in the Orthodox world articulating very unequivocally that this is an obligation and a call to action of not only activists and people who have a propensity to reach out to others,” Gordon said. “This is every single person’s obligation in the Orthodox world, so I think that’s a distinction.”

While the success of the new outreach initiative remains to be seen, the rhetoric alone suggests a growing self-confidence on the part of the ultra-Orthodox. Statistics show that haredim are growing as a percentage of American Jews and retain their young people at rates that dwarf those of modern Orthodoxy.

A widely cited study co-authored by Gordon predicted that on average, 100 haredim would yield 3,401 haredim after four generations, compared to 434 for Modern Orthodox Jews. The same 100 Conservative and Reform Jews would produce 29 and 10, respectively, according to the study.

Aharon Ungar, author of a book on kiruv techniques that was distributed to conference attendees, said Agudah’s earlier focus on its own communal priorities reflected a mentality of galus, or exile.

“Now, the Jewish community as a whole is very strong and the religious community is very strong, as well,” Ungar said. “So the religious community now has the ability — both the wealth, the knowledge and the leadership — to go beyond our own circle-the-wagons mentality. That’s why it’s something new now. We’ve only reached this point in this generation.”

Agudah’s kiruv efforts had focused on its education program and so-called community kollelim — small groups of young men paid to study Torah full-time.

Agudah aims to make kiruv more of a grass-roots concern, though for now, the initiative is short on specifics. The sole kiruv-related outcome of the conference was the establishment of an executive committee charged with hashing out the details of an outreach plan.

“The Agudah is not going to start a new kiruv organization; we’re not going to become a kiruv organization,” Bloom emphasized. “What we’re attempting to explain to our constituency is that they have to work with all the existing kiruv organizations — to use their talents and their abilities — to volunteer to expand the effort. And we think that this is the right time for that.”

We must teach about Israel — warts and all

A friend of mine who used to run a large economic justice nonprofit organization tells the story of coming across a demonstration in Times Square at which an Israeli flag was being burned and of his shock at realizing that the lead burners were allies of his from the movement.

And while this kind of thing isn’t characteristic of progressive America (the Democrats didn’t get 87 percent of the Jewish vote in the last election because they are anti-Israel), it is true there is a lot of anti-Israel sentiment in some circles of the American left right now.

Some of it is calumny, and some of it is legitimate criticism, but either way, the result is that many young Jewish social justice activists are left with a sense of confusion, torn allegiances and discomfort. They are disturbed by the “Smash Zionism” signs they see at anti-war rallies and immigrant rights marches. They perceive an unfair bias against Israel on the left, a lack of nuance, a myopia that serves to magnify Israel’s faults and flaws beyond all proportion.

It doesn’t help that the organized American Jewish community establishment — the Jewish federations, organizations and agencies and synagogue movements that make up the stuff of American Jewish communal life — suffers from a sort of inverted identical twin myopia.

By this I mean that for the past 60-plus years, since the end of WWII, the American Jewish establishment has predicated Jewish identity on three pillars: vigilance against anti-Semitism, commitment to continuity and personal and communal identification with Israel. The reason for this is understandable: American Jewish leaders found themselves suddenly in 1945 at the center of a decimated Jewish universe. How better to unite and revive a broken people and insure its survival than through the epic project of building a strong Jewish state?

But the focus on and radical identification with Israel, the substitution of relationship with Israel for relationship with Judaism or Jewishness, has bequeathed to the American Jewish community a blind spot of our own. For many American Jews of a certain age, Israel is religion; it is everything.

I remember a cousin’s bar mitzvah in Chicago in the early ’80s and a great-uncle who told me that should Israel, God forbid, some day be annihilated by a nuclear attack, he hoped the rest of the world would go up in flames with it. You can’t be serious, I said, your grandchildren live here, not in Israel. The whole world, he said.

That’s extreme, but take a look at the actual work of the major Jewish advocacy, defense and human relations organizations. It’s almost all Israel, all the time. And, unlike in Israel itself, where a bewildering diversity of opinion is the norm, the big American Jewish organizations and institutions pretty much all subscribe to the party line when it comes to a position on Israel. If you’ve read Leon Uris’ “Exodus,” you have a good idea of what that line is: heroic Israel, right or wrong.

This is reflected in the whitewashed version of Israel that we impart to young Jews in our synagogues and Hebrew schools and summer camps — a Bushian story of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, us vs. them, with no room for the moral ambiguities and shades of gray that make reality so complicated. There is no room for recognition that Israel — like America — is a real country, one with high ideals that it does not always live up to.

And unlike in Israel, it’s very difficult to hear alternative opinions about Israel here at home. Thoughtful, loving critique of Israel is at best coldly tolerated. Public criticism is frowned upon. And outright disagreement with Israeli policy can open you up to charges of self-hatred and race traitorism. The idea that there might be more than one way to love and support Israel is not reflected in the public posture of the American Jewish mainstream.

The result of all of this is that young American Jews go out into the world without the tools to navigate a positive relationship with Israel in complicated times. It’s not just that what they’ve been told about Israel doesn’t prepare them to respond to anti-Israel propaganda on college campuses and in the social justice movement, it’s that they’re not even sure how to make sense of what they watch on CNN, read in the newspaper or find on the Internet. They don’t know where Jewish myths end and truth begins, or where truth ends and anti-Israel demonization starts up.

And the truth is complicated: Israel is a vibrant democracy that represents one of the great chapters in the history of the Jewish people. It is not an apartheid state: Despite numerous problems, all of the citizens of the State of Israel have the right to vote and access to the political and legal system, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

And despite an on-going campaign of terror, threats from Iran and radical Islamists worldwide and the failure of Palestinian leadership, the vast majority of Israelis have demonstrated time and time again that they want an end to the conflict and are willing to exchange land for peace.

Since the founding of the state, Israelis have tried to create a political space that can simultaneously embrace the core values of Judaism and democracy, serve as a refuge for Jews in need and provide real equality for all of its citizens. Obviously, it often fails to achieve these goals, but Israel struggles every day to live up to its own founding principles.

At the same time, Israel has for almost 40 years engaged in an occupation of the West Bank, subjecting 2.4 million Palestinians to a difficult and often miserable existence. Worse, successive Israeli governments have allowed and enabled a vast settlement enterprise that has resulted in terrible inequity, with land, water resources and infrastructure taken away from the Palestinian population to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers, whose presence makes the possibility of a resolution of the conflict ever more remote.

Yes, Israel took the West Bank only after Jordan attacked it in the Six-Day War, but if you travel there today, you will see the Jewish-only roads, the tidy and growing Jewish settlements and the overwhelming military matrix of checkpoints, bases and patrols needed to protect them, all built at the expense of millions of impoverished Palestinians. Its hard not to make some unpleasant comparisons.

Books: Shoah satire crosses line into nasty territory

“My Holocaust” by Tova Reich (HarperCollins, $24.95).

About a year after Yigal Yadin and his team discovered the startling ruins of Masada — the last holdout of a group of Jewish Zealots who in 70 C.E., who preferred collective suicide to Roman oppression — my parents were invited to tour the mountaintop with an expert guide.

For Yadin, the unearthed cisterns and synagogues offered surely the most thrilling validation of his career as historian and archeologist. Walking amid this first-century village, inspecting the architecture and annotations, remembering the details of King Herod’s reign, reading remnants of scrolls (from Deuteronomy!), and trying to imagine the awful last days of Jews for whom “live free or die” was a code 17 centuries before New Englanders made it fashionable, was awe-inspiring, to say the least.

Then a busload of American Jewish tourists, probably a Hadassah group, arrived. These characters were straight out of central casting: plaid shorts, baseball caps, loud blouses, cameras dangling, big mouths. As if scripted by Woody Allen or Larry David, one of the tourists looked around the dig atop this hill overlooking the Dead Sea — a hill bursting with history and Jewish civilization that evoked deep ideological questions about the meaning of freedom and survival — and in perfect Brooklynese offered this epiphany to her tour mates: “You know, it’s nice. But the Grand Canyon’s a lot betta.”

I don’t think Tova Reich was there that day. But she obviously knows, maybe from visits to Israel and tours of Holocaust museums in Washington and elsewhere, that Jews are capable of hilarious, unintended juxtapositions of kitsch and culture. (One of the characters in her novel “My Holocaust” is impressed with the handicapped-access ramps at the Auschwitz museum and asks if they had those during the Holocaust, too.)

Had Reich been at Masada that day, I suspect she would have registered the Hadassah lady’s summary and tucked it away for later use in a work of fiction. But she would have found nothing endearing by such cultural and historical illiteracy; she would almost surely have sneered in disdain, unable or unwilling as she seems to be to internalize certain comic moments without being overtaken by waves of condescension and shame.

Condescension and shame make a toxic combination. As I read “My Holocaust”, howling — but aching — through page after page of relentlessly acerbic comedy, I was reminded of Masada and the Grand Canyon and found myself wondering: what makes good satire? (Reich noted in her rebuttal to the negative review of her book in The New York Times that people who don’t understand satire or fiction shouldn’t weigh in. I’ll take my chances.)

My question is whether the Hadassah lady’s unsophisticated frame of reference, not to mention the bizarre self-aggrandizement and greed of some Holocaust survivors, should be the stuff of this type of biting satire. Maybe for middle school kids; maybe for “Saturday Night Live.” But isn’t it unseemly in the work of mature artists, from whom we might expect a little more pathos, maybe even a smidgen of derech eretz, or decent behavior, to blunt the sharper edges of their humor? Good satire requires at least decency, if not affection. It doesn’t pick on the little folks; it skewers the rich and famous and powerful, who are too rich and too famous and too self-important. Charlei Chaplin taught us that schadenfreude is OK, but not without rachmones (compassion). He elevated his nebbishes even as he had them pathetically eating shoestrings for spaghetti; it was the fascists he defanged, without pity, as they toyed around with our world.

In my family we savored the vignette of Hadassah at Masada, as we did the memory of Uncle Herman explaining how he lost money on each shirt he sold but “made up for it in the volume”; or of Grandma Vickie, who casually remarked after John Glenn’s first-ever earth orbit, “So, people with money travel”; or of dear mother Lucy, whose skirt suddenly lost its mooring on her arthritic hips and dropped to the floor while she stood there, embarrassed and momentarily helpless, holding a terrine of hot soup. But would we expose these innocents to public ridicule? Would we still think these are funny incidents if they became the subject of contemptuous sarcasm by embarrassed sophisticates who lower themselves to our primitive depths just long enough to take a good snapshot and have a hearty laugh at our expense? In my family we laughed at these memories, as we laughed at Abbott and Costello, Harold Lloyd and Allen’s Chasidic fantasy in “Annie Hall”: with affection, with tenderness. (We even laughed through “Hogan’s Heroes,” enjoying scenes of SS stupidity all the while wishing that, alas, they really had been such bumbling fools.)

This is my main beef with “My Holocaust,” which is that it’s so ruthlessly ridicules ordinary folks who would have preferred, thank you very much, to be allowed to continue their rather ordinary lives, but were instead catapulted into a higher status, “survivors,” revered by others and in rare instances by themselves and who, like most people who experience massively good or bad luck, may be clumsy with their new-found fame. Shakespeare understood this (some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon ’em, was Malvolio’s lament); Terrence Des Pres understood this in his celebration of the ordinariness of the people who died and survived the camps and the gulag; and Primo Levi revealed that one of the most painful realities imposed on survivors was the way they were judged — reprimanded — by the rest of us for what they did in the camps and what they did when they got out.

I believe Tova Reich knows all this. So it is surprising that she would deploy her furiously funny pen against people who, for the most part, find the fact that they are alive a flat-out miracle. Yes, some survivors glorified their suffering and their survival; some even came out of the camps and lied about who rescued them for political and ideological reasons. But the overwhelming majority were neither heroes nor villains, even if the circumstances they endured were extreme. They were rather average people when they went into the camps, and those who managed to come out mostly wanted a return to normalcy. They battled in German courts for their restitution checks, they remade their families, they sent their kids to school, and they cherished their freedom. Most of them were not psychologically unbalanced sleazebags like Reich’s stock survivor figure, Maurice Messer. And even if only a handful of the book’s main characters are survivors, they come off as so utterly weird that many readers will get the wrong idea. Same for the children of survivors: in real life most of them are no more neurotic or accomplished than the offspring of other immigrants or, for that matter, children generally. Yes, some of us opportunistically play the “survivors’ child” card to advance various political agendas (the anti-Israel rants of Sara Roy and Norman Finkelstein come to mind). Fortunately, these are the rare and disproportionately loud minority; but from Reich’s book, one would infer that the whole second generation is depressed, vain, wacko and certainly not endearing.

Reich astutely anticipated that some readers would be offended. Her book jacket clarifies how courageous she was to “penetrate territory until now considered sacrosanct,” and on the back cover she is shielded by no less an authority on Jewish literature and the Shoah than Cynthia Ozick (although it now appears that Ozick’s letter was included because of a publishing error). It is a clever strategy, to deflect potential complaints about the book on the grounds that it treads on hitherto taboo topics like Jewish greed after Auschwitz. But this masks a more generic flaw: it’s not just because some of her targets are survivors, it’s largely because Reich is so damned condescending, so searing in her reproach, so sneeringly snotty toward so many basic and ordinary people. Her stereotyping of survivors is mean, but at least they are in good company: the book has many characters who are not survivors or relatives of survivors at all, but rather miserably lost souls who happen to suffer from a rather virulent strain of Holocaust envy. Against this pathetic band of misfits who are desperate to expropriate the Holocaust and its various museums for their own personal and political interests, Reich unleashes some of her most pungent prose.

Delegation: Improve Israeli Arabs’ Status

A small group of American Jewish leaders that came to Israel recently is determined to put the issue of Israel’s Arab minority higher on the American Jewish agenda.

In an interview at a Haifa hotel, Rabbi Brian Lurie of San Francisco, the force behind the initiative, spoke calmly but could hardly hide his emotions.

Time is running out, he warned: Unless drastic action is taken to equalize the standard of living of Israeli Arabs and Jews, Arab frustration could endanger the country’s security.

The Jewish-Arab Task Force met Sept. 20 for a day of discussions with politicians and experts to discuss ways to make Arab citizens feel more equal. The meeting, organized by the New Israel Fund, will be followed by a meeting in New York in November to take action in the American Jewish community on behalf of Israel’s Arabs.

“We are trying to create an umbrella organization that looks at the Israeli Arab issue as a priority issue,” Lurie said.

The specifics of the plans are still unclear, but, according to Larry Garber, the New Israel Fund’s executive director, they should include more funds to minorities in Israel, a broad educational program about why the effort is necessary and “a dialogue with Israeli leaders on these issues.”

Lurie initiated the idea several years ago, but now is giving it an additional push.

Helping Israeli Arabs was a cause celebre among many American Jewish groups in the late 1990s, but it receded as a priority after the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.

Israeli Jews were shaken when Arab citizens rioted in solidarity with the Palestinians shortly after the intifada began. A number of Israeli Arabs also were involved in terrorist attacks, raising Jewish fears that the community could serve as a fifth column for irredentist Palestinians who do not accept the Jewish state.

But Lurie, a former head of the United Jewish Appeal, says his conviction that more needs to be done on Jewish-Arab relations has intensified since the intifada began.

“The October 2000 riots were a wake-up call,” he said.

Also attending the meetings in Israel were Steve Schwager, the executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Harriet Weiss of the UJA-Federation of New York; Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies; Ami Nahshon, the president of the Abraham Fund, and Garber.

The task force spent the day listening to briefings from Israeli legislators jurists, leaders of the Islamic Movement and civil rights groups such as Sikkuy.

Some of the guests already are involved in projects to improve Israel’s Arabs’ standard of living. But no one has any illusions: Task force participants are aware of the fact that it will take considerable time and effort to recruit American Jewish organizations — and public opinion — for work with the Arab community.

Since its establishment 26 years ago, the New Israel Fund has devoted 25 percent of its funds to Israel’s minorities. The challenge has been to reach a broader spectrum of American leadership and convince them of the importance of the issue.

“Among our supporters there is an appreciation that this is a crucial issue, but we still need to reach a broader spectrum,” Garber said.

The need to face Israeli Arab issues has become more urgent in recent months due to growing public debate about the “demographic danger” inherent in Arabs’ growing proportion of the Israeli population.

The task force was briefed by Rabbi Michael Melchior, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, who warned that talk of the “demographic threat” is used to disenfranchise Israeli Arabs.

“The moment you refer to Israel’s Arabs and the Arab womb as a demographic threat, you can no longer treat them fairly and equally,” Melchior said.

He added: “If we grant them rights as individuals and as a community this could, in fact, strengthen the Jews in this country. My approach to the issue is moral rather than demographic.”

Some insist that fully equal rights for Israeli Arabs must be accompanied by equal responsibilities on the Arabs’ part, such as national service.

Arnon Sofer of Haifa University has said that the number of Israeli Arabs will reach 2 million in 2020 and the Jewish majority will shrink to 65 percent, compared to its present 80 percent.

Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right Israel, Our Home Party, has made demography a key issue of his platform. Lieberman says Israel should exchange territory with the Palestinian Authority so that blocs of Arab villages along Israel’s border with the West Bank will be turned over to P.A. control in exchange for Israeli control of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

If boundaries are redrawn to exclude Israeli Arabs, “it’s the beginning of the Arab-rein concept,” Lurie said, a play on the Nazis’ wish to have an area that was Judenrein, or clear of Jews.

“Then what — are we a democracy? This is a frightening reality,” he said.

However, advocates of plans like Lieberman’s note that it conforms with the historic principle of separating Jewish and Arab populations into two states for two peoples, one rationale behind the recent eviction of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. All involved understand that a future Palestinian state will contain no Jews, even if it means uprooting tens of thousands of Jews from their homes.

Participants in the discussions heard data from Shuli Dichter, co-director of the Sikkuy Association for the Advancement of Civil Equality, illustrating alleged Israeli discrimination against Arab citizens. For example:


Card-Table Tales


I confess that most of my childhood Passover memories have nothing to do with the Passover story itself. How could they when seders were family dramas enacted against a backdrop of matzah and gefilte fish? Like most American Jewish kids, I started out observing the proceedings from a card table, fidgeting while the grown-ups read from the haggadah.

I remember my cultivated Grandma Lil, relishing dunking her finger into her cup and flicking wine out while reciting the 10 plagues. She always tried to avoid the eyes of my Grandpa Herman, her ex-husband. I think the tyrannical Herman, an esteemed ear-nose-and-throat doctor, had been one of her private plagues. But love Herman or not, Grandma tolerated him at seders. The didact in Grandpa Herman embraced the lecture component of seders. He had a little notebook full of Pesach cartoons and poems that he called a Children’s Haggadah. He dragged it out every year to show us the same poems and pictures. My grandmother just rolled her eyes. We kids humored him.

I also remember heated arguments about the Vietnam War, with my then-hawkish, young, dentist father vs. his UCLA sociology doctoral-student brother and Berkeley undergraduate sister. My father’s brother had a long, hippie beard that shook like a burning bush when he shouted, “We’re killing innocent children in ‘Nam!” My father’s sister’s breasts shook (she must have burned her bra during a protest at People’s Park) and cords stood out on her neck when she yelled at my father: “You’re sounding like one of the pigs.”

My father’s genial father stepped in with his Yiddish-accented English and said, “Quiet, we’re trying to have a seder here. What will the children think?”

He motioned at me, age 6, and my sister, age 4. The seder went on.

As I grew older and more responsible, I was allowed into the grown-up sanctum, the actual dining room. I felt almost adult as I carried steaming bowls of matzah ball soup, cleared the dishes and conversed with my elders. At age 15, as I cleared the dinner plates from the grandparent section of the table, I heard my sweet, widowed, little Grandma Bea sucking the marrow from a thick chicken bone. Suddenly, tyrannical Herman screamed at her from across the table, “That’s disgusting! You’re not living in the shtetl anymore. You’re nothing but a peasant.”

Grandma Bea ignored him and sucked louder.

“I’m done now, Sharon dear,” she said. “You can take my plate.”

I scooped up her plate and tried to dash for the kitchen. Grandpa Herman grabbed my forearm, fixed his blue eyes on mine and said, “I hope you won’t behave like her in polite society.”

I wanted to cry. But I followed my grandma’s example, ignored him, and walked out. Although Grandpa Herman’s rages were getting scarier with age, I learned to cope.

My Grandma Lil, tyrannical Grandpa Herman, genial Grandpa Fred and my father are all gone now, but these seder memories remain. I try to view even the painful memories as a blessing. Growing up, these experiences taught me that despite difficult relatives and challenging situations the seder must go on — the story must be told, the wine must be drunk and the songs must be sung. Doesn’t that somehow seem like a metaphor for the Jewish people’

My once wild-bearded sociologist uncle is now a retired college professor with very little hair remaining on his head. He conducts the seders much like my father did before him, and my grandfather before him. His past political outrages have been muted by time. But somehow the seder remains the same.

Now that I’ve graduated to near the head of the dining room table, I sense a lot more people around me then I did in the card table days. I feel the presence of all the dead relatives I remember from childhood on, and see a new crop of children sitting at the card table. From generation to generation, in my mind’s eye, everyone is around the table. That’s the power of seder I hope to pass on to my own children.

Sharon Rosen is a mother of three and is currently working on her first novel.


Investigation of AIPAC Crosses Line


There have been hundreds, even thousands, of articles in the American press regarding an FBI investigation involving the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

While the reports imply or assert various charges, none, in fact, has been lodged, despite an investigation that has lasted more than a year. While information has dribbled out, it’s still hard to discern exactly what wrong has been allegedly committed that would justify such a highly publicized case.

Leaders and members of the Jewish community are confident that there is no substance to the allegations, yet their level of concern is increasing. Why?

To fully understand the reaction and emotions evoked we would need to engage in a lengthy sociological, historical and even psychological analysis of the American Jewish community.

I think it’s safe to say that American Jews are among the most patriotic and loyal of American citizens. Certainly this is true of those who are the targets of this investigation. As a community, we respect the authority of government and support the rule of law. But historical realities have loaded on us a lot of baggage, so that when a Jew is charged, particularly in such sensitive areas, it is seen as a communal, not just a personal, matter.

When there are doubts about the motivation behind such actions, it raises other specters that have dark roots in our past. In recent months, there have been repeated stories about the “neocons” — often a code word for Jews — or widespread canards placing the onus on Jews for everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the war in Iraq.

The implicit references to “dual loyalty” cannot be overlooked, especially when reliable studies show that a significant percentage of Americans still believe this baseless and bigoted idea. American Jews care about Israel and advocate proudly in support of the special U.S.-Israel relationship. So do many other Americans with historical or ethnic ties to other homelands overseas.

The effectiveness of that Jewish advocacy has raised resentment, jealousy and wild mythologies. These are among the factors that set the context for the reaction to the AIPAC investigation.

There are many questions as to why, after such a long period, there have only been selected leaks, and why — after AIPAC cooperated fully — it was necessary for seven FBI agents to stage a raid for information that was voluntarily offered, with CNN waiting at the door as they departed.

In fact, the root of the concern harks back to Leslie Stahl’s original, breathless report on CBS’ nationwide broadcast on Aug. 27, 2004, a Friday night.

That initial account asserted that espionage was involved and that a Pentagon “mole” was working with AIPAC. The CBS Web site carried a headline, “The FBI Believes It Has ‘Solid’ Evidence That the Suspected Mole Supplied Israel With Classified Materials That Included Secret White House Policies and Deliberations on Iran.”

In the following days, the story kept changing — to the alleged transfer of secret documents, to the mishandling of classified information, to ever-lesser charges. Some immediately likened it to the Pollard affair, while others saw it as part of the administration’s internal turf battles.

There were many questions regarding CBS’ behavior, the timing of the release — three days before the Republican Convention — and the lead investigator’s earlier dealings with Jewish employees at the CIA.

There were no official statements from administration sources. Some members of Congress shied away from comment, while many called for investigations of the probe.

Jewish organizations, confident of AIPAC’s assurances that there was no substance to the charges, rallied to its support. So did members of AIPAC, in public and private ways.

They were bolstered by the appearances of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at a major AIPAC event in October, as well as the revelation that President Bush chose to address AIPAC’s annual conference a few months earlier, despite the investigation that was already under way.

But damage was done, and the Pat Buchanans of the world rushed to take advantage of it. Buchanan said on a national television show, “We need to investigate whether there is a nest of Pollardites in the Pentagon who have been transmitting American secrets through AIPAC, the Israel lobby, over to the Israel Embassy, to be transferred to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon].”

He went on to refer to reports about people in the office of Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defense.

These comments were repudiated by one of Buchanan’s fellow panelists, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich. But another panelist, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chose not to respond even when asked by the program’s host.

While speculation continues about the true motivations behind the investigation — whether it’s an attempt to take advantage of a sting operation to bring AIPAC down, or force it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or merely is the result of bungled effort — it clearly has crossed the line of the acceptable.

The latest revelations by investigative journalist Edwin Black (see page 22) and others suggest that agents took advantage of a scared, lower-level, non-Jewish Defense Department employee to set up AIPAC and others, including former Pentagon official Richard Perle and CBS News producer Adam Ciralsky.

The case already has taken a toll. Jews working in government have told of the pressure they feel and of unpleasant experiences. Those who seek to spread venomous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views have found temporary camouflage. AIPAC has been forced to divert resources and time from its ongoing work — and all before a single charge has been brought.

We do not want to cover up; if there was wrongdoing, let it be exposed. We are confident that there was none, and that the allegations will prove false.

We want to see a conclusion to this case and not see it “hang out there” as did “Agent X,” the “mole,” and other past charges against Israel, which were without foundation but were never repudiated. Periodically they re-emerge from the mouths and pens of the haters.

Neither AIPAC nor the Jewish community will be cowed into silence or in any way lessen our commitment to working on behalf of the interests of the United States and its democratic ally, Israel.

The American people identify with Israel based on common values and world views, and no fabricated charges or allegations can undermine these fundamental bonds or commitments.

I hope that the vindication — and perhaps the apology — will be as visible as the charges. But past experience shows that’s unlikely.

Malcolm Hoenlein is executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.


An Artistic Homage to Big Brother

Not many artists begin an ambitious new series at 76, but Arnold Mesches did just that after receiving a large box stuffed with FBI documents in 1999. It had taken the Jewish American painter three years and dozens of letters to obtain the 760-page dossier, his FBI file from 1945 to 1972. The papers — obtained under the Freedom of Information Act — chronicle his left-wing activities from the Communist red scare of the 1950s to the Vietnam War era.

Bronx-born Mesches, now 80, wasn’t surprised to learn that FBI agents had tailed him. “The usual variety of cropped hair, suit and tie shadowers, the clichéd kind seen on TV,” he said in a statement. He remembered how “they’d phone, on the pretext of selling car insurance … or snap your picture at a protest march.”

What shocked him were the “special informants” — friends, colleagues, lovers — who had apparently been recruited to spy on him. “[There was] a student who joined us for beer and pizza after class, a close neighbor whose children played with ours, a fledgling artist [I] helped get into an exhibition, a comrade in a meeting, an as– — buddy you trusted with your heart and being, a confidant whose life’s torments were deeply intertwined with your own,” he said.

Their reports not only revealed that Mesches had applied for membership in the Communist Party in 1948, but also the kinds of cars he drove and the hospital where his children were born.

“They knew what papers and magazines I subscribed to…. That I earned my living as a commercial artist, an art teacher, a film-strip artist, as the art editor for frontier, a magazine unfavorable to the FBI, as a lunch truck driver, an exhibiting artist, the director of an art school that — horrors! — showed a Czech film,” Mesches said.

One statement theorized he was a Communist because he “dressed like a Communist” in “rolled up blue jeans with paint spatters, a T-shirt and an old jeans jacket.”

Mesches, who said he was wearing a similar outfit during an interview from his Gainesville, Fla., studio, found the documents dismaying and “creepy.” Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the blacked-out sections that reminded him of color sketches by the late abstract expressionist Franz Kline.

His response was what one might expect of a contemporary artist known for turning personal history into art. He created 57 collages and paintings combining pages of his file with news clippings, photographs from his personal archives, 1950s-era commercial art, magazine illustrations, elements from his own paintings, drawings and handwritten texts. Files reporting that mesches had picketed during a Hollywood strike or the postcard he wrote to president Dwight D. Eisenhower protesting atomic weapons are juxtaposed with media and pop culture images: Sputnick, Batman, Nikita Kruschev, Marilyn Monroe, motorcycle gangs, the Hollywood sign, moviegoers wearing 3D glasses and an ad for Winston cigarettes.

His composition was inspired by a medieval art form: “Just as monks preserved cultural information through illuminated manuscripts, I was trying to preserve a segment of history, albeit my own,” he said.

“Arnold Mesches: FBI Files,” which opens today at the Skirball Cultural Center, is part of growing body of work that explores fears about the misuse of surveillance. The trend includes films such as 1998’s “Enemy of the State” and exhibits like “CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother,” which opened in Germany soon after Sept. 11.

While “Files” resonates after that tragedy, the show’s curator, Daniel Marzona, said he was drawn to the series for a different reason.

“I didn’t respond to it so much because of its connection to the Patriot Act or what the Bush administration is trying to do,” he said. “For me, what was fascinating was how Arnold had aesthetically dealt with his own past and the shocking discoveries in his FBI file. At first glance, his collages are well-composed and visually pleasing, but if you look closer, you see they depict very frightening events.”

Many of the pieces mirror the strange, surreal feelings the artist — whose work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum — felt upon perusing his dossier. One diptych juxtaposes an image of sculptor George Segal enshrouding a model’s head in a cast with a fuzzy 1959 photo of Mesches, taken from a camera that had been hidden in a student’s tie.

“I remember that guy,” said Mesches, who lived in Los Angeles from 1943 to 1984. “I couldn’t stand him coming to my private drawing class in mid-August, when it’s hotter than hell in L.A., wearing a white shirt and a tie. I remember saying to him, ‘Hey, take that tie off, relax,'” and he said ‘no, no, no.'”

Other collages recount the years of the Communist witch hunts, when Mesches marched for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and did a series of paintings inspired by their case. He said the paintings were stolen from his Melrose Avenue studio in Los Angeles on Aug. 6, 1956.

As for “Files,” he hopes the exhibit warns against the government’s recent call for citizen informants — lest America become what he considers “a nation of spies.” If that happens, “The times I’ve lived through will seem like a Zen garden,” he said.

On Jan. 31, 2 p.m., there will be a discussion at the Skirball with Arnold Mesches and experts on, “Censorship and Civil Liberties.” For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.

The Skirball will also be holding a class on “The Art of Social Protest: Mesches and Beyond” on Feb. 7 and Feb. 14, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $80 (general), $60 (members) $40 (students). For more information, call (310) 440-4651.

Pressure on Aiding Ethiopians Grows

Increased pressure from officials of American Jewish organizations is driving preliminary talks on a new deal to bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel before famine takes a heavy toll on the community remaining in Ethiopia.

Coming on the eve of a federation-sponsored trip to Ethiopia, federation leaders, advocates for Ethiopian Jews, representatives of Jewish humanitarian groups and Israeli government officials met recently in Jerusalem to discuss new ways of expediting the emigration process for thousands of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia. The Falash Mura are Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity, often under social pressure, but who have resumed practicing Judaism and whose Jewishness is accepted by all three major Jewish religious denominations, including Israel’s chief rabbinate.

Critics of deals to bring the Falash Mura to Israel charge that many of those left in Ethiopia are claiming Jewish ancestry merely to escape the famine and hardship of Africa.

In a landmark decision last February, Israel’s Cabinet voted to immediately verify the Jewish ancestry of approximately 19,000 Falash Mura so that they could be brought to Israel. Since 1998, Israel has absorbed about 2,500 Falash Mura immigrants annually.

In the months since the Cabinet decision, however, little action has been taken, and the verification process has stalled, prompting advocates for Ethiopian Jewry to blame Israel Interior Minister Avraham Poraz for foot- dragging. Poraz, who is responsible for implementing the Cabinet decision, declined to comment on the issue.

At the heart of the debate is the exact number of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia and the cost to Israel of absorbing the immigrants.

Participants said the closed-door meeting in Jerusalem on Oct. 23 was the first time an agreement was proposed with the potential to satisfy both skeptical Israeli officials like Poraz — who fear that bringing the Falash Mura to Israel will open the floodgates to an unknown number of Ethiopian immigrants with dubious claims to Jewish ancestry — and Jewish activists seeking to rescue Ethiopian Jews from famine and bring them to the Jewish homeland.

"At the meeting, a proposal was brought to the table that reasonable people believe should satisfy all reasonable objections to the issue," said one participant, who asked not to be identified. That view was confirmed by other participants of the meeting, most of whom refused to comment publicly about the discussions.

The preliminary proposal raised at the meeting would involve expediting the Falash Mura emigration, while guaranteeing that no more than those already accounted for are allowed to come to Israel under the process. U.S. Jewish groups would help bankroll the Falash Mura’s absorption in Israel, and the Jewish humanitarian groups working in Ethiopia would shut down operations there.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), one of only two Jewish groups running relief operations in Ethiopia, said it would welcome such a deal.

"We would be happy to close down if the Falash Mura issue were resolved," said Amir Shaviv, JDC assistant executive vice president. "We’re there to maintain medical services. If these people were to go to Israel, we wouldn’t need to be there anymore."

The exact details of the proposed agreement have yet to be worked out, and it remains to be seen how quickly a deal could be implemented or whether, in fact, there exists sufficient political will to see a deal through. Until a deal is worked out to enforce the Cabinet decision, Ethiopia advocates said, the risks of death and disease for the thousands remaining in Ethiopia are growing.

"The Falash Mura have always lived in the most deplorable of conditions, and now there is famine and a malaria epidemic, which is probably the most virulent in history," said Ricki Lieberman, chief operating officer and director of public affairs at the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ).

"I hope that all of these factors are coming together to make the Israeli government understand that it must act effectively and quickly, and that the American Jewish community must help NACOEJ feed and help this community stay alive until they can get to Israel," she said.

The conference helps run relief compounds for the Falash Mura in Addis Ababa and Gondar. The group provides food and Jewish education at the compounds, and the JDC provides medical care and nutritional support for children. The groups do not provide the Falash Mura — most of whom came to the cities from remote villages in hopes of emigrating to Israel — with housing.

In Israel, advocates for the Ethiopians are pursuing legal action to force Poraz to accelerate the emigration process. But the prospect of an agreement raised at the recent meeting between Poraz, Jewish humanitarian groups working in Ethiopia and U.S. federation leaders could render such a move superfluous.

Those at the Oct. 23 meeting included Poraz; Stephen Hoffman, the president of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) federation umbrella group; Sallai Meridor, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel; and Shai Hermesh, the group’s treasurer; NACOEJ officials; representatives of the New York and Philadelphia Jewish federations; JDC representatives; and others.

Participants said the meeting was convened at the request of Hoffman, who is facing pressure from Jewish federations to push Israeli officials on the issue. Hoffman declined to comment for this story.

"The federation world is trying to push UJC to advocate on behalf of the Falash Mura," said Sheryl Fox Adler, director of Israel and other international concerns at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. "When the famine really started to take hold in Ethiopia, many in our community became concerned."

Some U.S. federation leaders are planning to visit Ethiopia on a fact-finding mission this month. Observers said the heightened interest by American Jewish federation leaders on the Falash Mura is helping propel action by the Israeli government — and, specifically, by Poraz.

"Now he’s not facing a fringe group like NACOEJ but the weight of the American Jewish community," said one participant in the Oct. 23 meeting. "That’s a sea change. That was not the case before this meeting."

Earlier this year, several U.S. congressmen admonished Poraz on the issue, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

When 4,000 Falash Mura were brought to Israel in 1998, many officials thought they constituted the last group of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and a board member of the Jewish Agency and the JDC. Eckstein attended the Oct. 23 meeting. However, another 14,000 people turned up at the compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar, and the Jewish relief operations in Ethiopia continued.

In 1999, government surveyors counted 26,000 people served by the compounds, but a few thousand have since emigrated to Israel. Estimates of the number of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia range from 15,000 to 24,000, with about 19,000 at the compounds.

February’s Cabinet decision followed rulings by leading Israeli rabbis that the Falash Mura are Jewish. It called for bringing the Falash Mura to Israel not under the Law of Return — which grants automatic citizenship to Jews, their children and grandchildren — but under the seldom-used Law of Entry, which has been used to grant citizenship to foreigners for humanitarian reasons and family reunification. That move enabled Israel to impose a requirement on the would-be immigrants to prove maternal linkage to Jewish ancestry; hence the need to verify their claims of Jewishness.

The Finance Ministry estimated that it costs $100,000 to absorb each Ethiopian immigrant, meaning that it would cost more than $2 billion to absorb all the Falash Mura currently at the compounds in Ethiopia. Shlomo Molla, a Jewish Agency consultant on Ethiopian immigration, said the estimated costs are highly inflated. Others say the figure is closer to $25,000 per immigrant.

In any case, advocates said, the cost would be borne over many years, U.S. Jewish groups would offer assistance and Israel has enough money, even with its current recession, to absorb the immigrants.

"It’s not a question of money," Eckstein said. "If these people are brought, the government certainly is going to look to groups like the UJC and the worldwide Jewish community for assistance."

Irwin Cotler, a member of Canada’s Parliament and a long-time legal adviser to Ethiopian Jews, was at the Oct. 23 meeting. He said the question at stake is, "Will it happen through an agreement now to bring them with all deliberate speed, or only after another series of court cases, and more people die and more kids are undernourished. That is the moral choice before us."

Changing the Climate of Hatred

Over the weekend Prime Minister Ehud Barak came to New York seeking stronger American Jewish support for the accelerating Mideast peace process, and by and large he will get it.

But two recent incidents point to the obstacles he faces in settling the lingering qualms of a significant proportion of the Jews who care about Israel’s future in a changing region — qualms that could eventually undercut the support he desires.

Suha Arafat’s claim that Israel is using toxic gas in the West Bank points to a continuing level of animus among Palestinian leaders that is not consistent with the peace process now underway. And charges in the Egyptian press about the recent EgyptAir tragedy suggest that treaties alone are not enough to end the paranoia and hatred that has driven Israel’s adversaries over the years.

During his visit to New York, Barak called for a moratorium on incendiary rhetoric.

“Peace making must be a two-way street,” he told leaders of the Israel Policy Forum on Saturday. “Each side must take into consideration the concerns and sensitivities of the other.”

American Jews understand that message, but apparently Palestinian leaders do not. Unless they begin to change the culture of rejection, the seeds of doubt among American Jews — and the ability of groups that reject any peace process to exploit that doubt — will grow.

The media frenzy triggered by the Suha Arafat incident focused on First Lady Hillary Clinton’s delay in responding to Ms. Arafat’s libelous charge.

But the more important story was that Ms. Arafat — the educated, intelligent wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — was echoing views that are as common among the Palestinian leadership as they are on the mean streets of Gaza and Ramallah.

Even those leaders who seem sincere in their desire to make peace with Israel have not challenged the anti-Israel rhetoric of their comrades, or done anything to root out the anti-Jewish content that pervades their educational system and their media.

Ms. Arafat’s comments are hardly an aberration; they demonstrate how far behind the Palestinians are lagging in the effort to fundamentally change the culture of the Middle East.

The controversy over EgyptAir Flight 990 speaks to how that problem can play out over the long term.

Last week, the bumbling National Transportation Safety Board leaked information about the contents of the doomed flight’s cockpit voice reporter supporting the theory that the crash may have been caused by a suicidal co-pilot.

Later, NTSB officials backed away from their initial assessment after strong pressure from the Egyptians.

The jury is still out on the question of whether that pressure had any merit; the NTSB’s performance after other air disasters does not inspire confidence.

But what was incontestable was the outrageousness of the charges that surfaced in Egypt’s less-than-free press.

Some commentators blamed Israel for the anti-Egyptian “slur.” Others said the NTSB investigation was part of a government conspiracy designed to protect the American manufacturer of the aircraft.

Many even blamed Israel for the crash itself, prompting an indignant response from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. The government of President Hosni Mubarak did nothing to counter the anti-Israel rumors.

Israel has officially been at peace with Egypt for two decades, but that peace has not resulted in a fundamental change in attitudes among rank-and-file Egyptians or their leaders.

There are disturbing indications that the same process could be at work in Jordan, where anti-Israel conspiracy theories have proliferated since the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace agreement.

None of this proves that Barak’s current peace drive is flawed.

Like the late Yitzhak Rabin, he believes an expanding web of treaties and economic relations can create a climate in which attitudes will then start to change, however slowly.

But that vision does little to quell the uneasiness many American Jews feel each time they read about anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks, or hear another libelous claim by a Palestinian official.

Barak wants continued American Jewish backing for his efforts. To keep it, he needs to address himself directly to this question: why is the current peace process in Israel’s interests DESPITE what seems like a wall of hostility that even successful treaties do not seem to breach?

He has not adequately explained to Israel’s supporters how it can all work when his Palestinian partners tolerate and even foster a climate of continuing hatred.

There may be good answers, but Barak has yet to convey them to American Jews who WANT to believe what he is doing will bring Israel lasting peace and security — but whose belief is challenged every day by the likes of Suha Arafat.

It’s also hard to avoid the conclusion that both Barak and President Bill Clinton have not made it clear enough to Arafat that his failure to exercise leadership in undoing the pervasive culture of hatred — admittedly, a process that could take generations to finish — will undercut the negotiations at precisely the time when Israel’s people are being asked to take the biggest risks for peace.

His Summer Vacation

Brad Sherman easily remembers what was the most enjoyable time hespent during his week-long visit to Israel. “It was,” he says, “thehour I slept.”

The first-term congressman from the 24th District spent the restof his time in briefings with Israeli and Palestinian officials,touring sites of strategic importance to both sides, and listening tothe opinions of settlers, peaceniks, soldiers and terrorism’svictims. In other words, there were “no perks, no lollygagging” andnot a lot of fun — unless your idea of fun is a public confrontationwith Yasser Arafat.

The purpose of the trip, organized by the American JewishCommittee’s Project Interchange, was to reacquaint Sherman with thefacts on the ground, and to provide him an opportunity to see forhimself the principal players and issues. As a member of the HouseInternational Relations Committee, he is “just steeped in” thepolitics of the Middle East.

For most of Sherman’s constituents, Israel is hardly some vagueforeign policy objective. His district, which runs from Sherman Oaksto Thousand Oaks and from Malibu to Northridge, includes what isprobably the largest expatriate Israeli population in the UnitedStates, as well as tens of thousands of American Jews. Whether theyare twentysomething or eightysomething, they take a keen, knowinginterest in Israel.

So Sherman marched. He visited with Binyamin Netanyahu; Cabinetministers; Hebron settlers; Esther Waxman, the mother of murderedsoldier Nachum Waxman; and Yasser Arafat, whom he had met previouslyin Washington. This time, when Arafat protested against an anti-Arabcartoon distributed in Hebron by a fanatic Jewish settler, Shermantalked back. “He wanted sympathy over the actions of one racistwoman,” said Sherman, “when Syrian textbooks still containanti-Jewish caricatures and statements.”

Sherman also extracted a promise from the Palestinian leader thatthe murderer of Waxman, if ever found in areas under Palestiniancontrol, would be arrested. Sherman said that he intends to readArafat’s promise into the Congressional Record and hold him to it.

After a week, Sherman, a 42-year-old Monterey Park nativeand UCLA grad, returned to Washington, then to his field office inWoodland Hills. His take: Israelis, Palestinians, the U.S. governmentand American Jews have a “hidden consensus” on most of the thornyissues, except Jerusalem. The trick, of course, is getting from hereto there. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor“Classic on Collins,” by Alan S. Maltz, from his newbook, “Miami: City of Dreams.”

Miami Nice

The last book I read about Miami was called “The Corpse Had aFamiliar Face.” It’s by Edna Buchanan, the legendary former policereporter of The Miami Herald, and it features true tales of gore (andcrooks such as “Murph the Surf”) in the drug capital of the world.

You won’t find any gore, or criminals, or anything even remotelyunpleasant in Alan S. Maltz’s new, gorgeous and slick coffee-tablebook, “Miami: City of Dreams” (Light Flight Publications, $60).

You won’t find much that is Jewish either, although South Floridahas roughly 645,000 Jews, 64 synagogues and 14 Jewish day schools(Maltz does throw in the occasional image of the local Holocaustmuseum or Orthodox Jews debating at Miami Beach).

What you will find is lots of rosy sunsets, translucent,turquoise seas, and vast, downtown cityscapes. You’ll see thecolorful, bustling streets of Little Havana; the fancifulfaçades of Miami Beach’s art deco district (onepink-white-and-yellow building towers like a wedding cake); and thegarishly cheerful storefront of Wolfie’s coffee shop. Thelily-covered reflecting pool at the Holocaust museum shimmers like aMonet.

For 16 months, Maltz rose before dawn to wander the area with his35mm Nikon, snapping images from dawn to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m.until after dark. It’s no wonder the quality of his light is subtle,ethereal, perfect.

But Maltz, who won the 1995 award for best coffee-table book fromthe National Association of Independent Publishers, makes noapologies for his persistently pretty, upbeat vision of Miami. As hetold The Miami Herald, “I feel there’s enough negativity out there inthe world…that’s not my focus.”

To order “Miami: City of Dreams,” call (800)329-7297. — Naomi Pfefferman, Senior WriterThomas Elias and Mary Jo Siegel

Defending the Good Doctor

Out of Jewish holiday workshops come many wonderful things:challah and charoset recipes, knowledge of Jewish history, lastingfriendships. But an investigative book about “the century’s mostpromising cancer treatment, and the government’s campaign to squelchit”? Not usually.

However, the topic, which is the subtitle of a fascinating andextremely readable new book from General Publishing Group, “TheBurzynski Breakthrough,” was suggested by a woman the author, ThomasElias, had first met 18 years ago in a workshop he took at hissynagogue, Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades.

When Mary Jo Siegel first brought the idea to him two years ago,Elias was busy covering the O.J. Simpson criminal trial for ScrippsHoward News Service and loath to take on what appeared to be adubious story about a miracle cancer cure.

Still, since he knew Siegel, he decided to look into her claimthat the government was trying to jail the doctor who Siegel said hadsaved her life, and those of many others, through the infusion of anunusual mixture of enzymes and peptides called antineoplastins.

The procedure had led to the disappearance of a huge tumor on herneck, Siegel said, and her apparent victory against non-Hodgkin’slymphoma, a slow-growing but almost always fatal type of cancer.

But Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, the Polish-born, Houston-basednon-Jewish doctor who had discovered the medicine, was likely to losethe ability to treat his many patients, and he faced the prospect ofspending the rest of his life in prison.

Elias, who co-authored a highly praised book on the Simpsoncriminal trial, began to lose his skepticism after he talked toofficials with the major cancer organizations and the Food and DrugAdministration. None said that Burzynski was a quack or that hisanti-cancer regimen didn’t work. “All said simply that it was anexperimental, unproven treatment,” Elias writes. And when the authorinterviewed Burzynski’s patients and the relatives of some who haddied, he heard “not a single negative word.”

Ironically, while in the process of commuting to Houston to coverBurzynski’s grand jury trial, Elias’ ongoing problem with kidneydisease worsened, leaving him in need of a transplant. He was touchedwhen many members of the chavurah to which he and his wife, Marilyn,belong, as well as Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, his wife, Didi, andCantor Chayim Frenkel of Kehillat Israel volunteered to donatekidneys.

Elias has since found a donor and is awaiting surgery. The book,just published in the last month, chronicles Burzynski’s David-andGoliath fight to gain approval for his drug, and offers severalheart-wrenching case histories, including Siegel’s.

The dynamic mother of three college-age children, who now saysthat she’s cancer-free, founded an organization with her husband,Steve, that has raised $600,000 for Burzynski’s legal defense andthat is seeking FDA approval for the anti-cancer therapy.

“I am very sure that without [Burzynski] and his drug,” Siegelsays in the book, “I would be dead right now, like the people I knewwho were diagnosed with the same disease at the same time I was.”— Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer