September 21, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Shelley Berman Celebrated, Spotlighting Mizrahi Jews

From left: Actor Cheryl Hines; writer and actor Larry David; Shelley Berman’s widow, Sarah; comedian David Steinberg; and Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center, celebrate the National Comedy Center’s acquisition of late comedian Shelley Berman’s archive of material. Photo by Mike Carano

Comedy stars Larry David, Cheryl Hines, David Steinberg, Lewis Black and Fred Willard gathered on Jan. 30 at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach to celebrate the National Comedy Center’s acquisition of the archive of late comedian Shelley Berman.

Additional attendees included radio broadcaster Dr. Demento (Barret Eugene “Barry” Hansen), comedian Laraine Newman, producer Alan Zweibel and National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson.

Sarah Berman, Shelley’s wife of more than 70 years, also attended. She expressed appreciation to the National Comedy Center for preserving her late husband’s legacy.

“No longer the stepchild to the arts, comedy and those who make us laugh are about to have their own place in the world,” Sarah Berman said. “When I found myself surrounded by all of Shelley’s writings, I wondered what to do with all of it. Do I give it to some museum where they let it gather dust before they throw it away? Along came the National Comedy Center, driven by people who have the vision to know that this material and the material of other comedians has a value.”

Shelley Berman died in 2017 at the age of 92. His archive, which spans from the 1940s to the 2010s, includes photographs, contracts, scripts and rare footage chronicling his career in stand-up comedy, improv, television, comedy writing, film and theater.

The National Comedy Center is a nonprofit cultural institution and visitor experience dedicated to the art of comedy. A ribbon-cutting for the center, which is located in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, N.Y., is scheduled for Aug. 1-4.

From left: Angel and Susan, two Iranian-Jewish participants of the 30 Years After Legacy Project, attend the launch event for the initiative. 30 Years After requested their last names be omitted for their safety. Photo courtesy of 30 Years After

About 300 people gathered at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills on Jan. 30 to celebrate the launch of 30 Years After’s new initiative, the Legacy Project, an archive of video testimonies of Persian Jews who fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution.

The Legacy Project aims to professionally record and collect testimonies as a way to link the second, third and future generations of Iranian-American Jews to their history.

During the event, Legacy Project Chair Megan Nemandoust, Iranian American Jewish Federation President Susan Azizzadeh, American Jewish Committee Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs Saba Soomekh, 30 Years After President Sam Yebri and 30 Years After community member Liora Simozar shared their reasons for supporting the project.

“With an eye to the future, it is imperative that an easily accessible, professional digital archive exists, capturing the stories and experiences of my family, your family and countless others,” Nemandoust said in her speech at the event. “We are the heirs to Iranian-Jewish history, and through the Legacy Project we’re committed to preserving it for generations to come.”

The Legacy Project is supported by individual donors and families, and 30 Years After is seeking sustained funding from, and partnerships with, institutions and foundations as well as broader community support.

The project also is seeking additional testimonies.

“This project not only preserves these powerful stories and memories for posterity and academia but uses them to connect new generations of Jews of Iranian descent to their rich heritage, traditions and values,” Yebri said. “As we learn from Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”), no hurricane can uproot a tree with more roots than branches. It is imperative that our entire community join us in nurturing our roots in order for our community’s branches to flourish.”

The event began with a reception featuring nontraditional Iranian food, dessert and tea. The screening of the recently recorded interviews followed.

Since 30 Years After was founded in 2007, it has served to promote and engage Iranian-American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life, as well as connect local community organizations with the large Los Angeles community of Persian Jews.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Cantor Jack Mendelson (far right) is joined by Temple Judea Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Yonah Kliger in “The Cantors Couch,” Mendelson’s one-man show at Temple Judea in Tarzana. Photo courtesy of Temple Judea

Temple Judea in Tarzana held a journey through Cantor Jack Mendelson’s real-life stories based on growing up in 1950s Brooklyn in “The Cantor’s Couch,” which was staged at the synagogue on Jan. 21.

More than 400 people attended to listen to Mendelson paint a picture of a bygone day in Jewish America when Jews would flock to hear cantors at synagogues as if they were performing in a concert hall.

The one-man show wed a relatable story of childhood with joyous memories of music and celebration. Mendelson’s collaborator and accompanist, Cantor Jonathan Comisar, wrote original music for the production. Additional participants included Temple Judea Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Yonah Kliger.

Proceeds benefited the music program at Temple Judea.

Los Angeles Jewish Home honorees Michael Heslov (left) and Dana Roberts. Photo courtesy of L.A. Jewish Home

The Los Angeles Jewish Home’s annual gala on Jan. 23, “Celebration of Life: Reflections 2018,” honored Michael Heslov, a member of the Jewish Home’s board of directors and co-partner at Soboroff Partners, and Dana Roberts, chief executive officer at C.W. Driver, a contracting company that has worked with the L.A. Jewish Home.

The event at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel kicked off with cocktails, followed by dinner and the awards program. Actor and director Mike Burstyn emceed. The Skye Michaels Orchestra performed.

Co-chairs were Lenore and Fred Kayne, Karl Kreutziger, Pam and Mark Rubin, and Steve Soboroff.

“This was a great opportunity for people from the Home and the community to come together and celebrate philanthropy and what they’ve accomplished,” said Kathy Gutstein, senior marketing associate for the L.A. Jewish Home. “We’re always looking toward the future.”

The L.A. Jewish Home is one of the leading senior health care systems in the U.S., serving 6,000 seniors a year.

Rabbi Naomi Levy presents her husband, former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, with the Americans for Peace Now (APN) Press for Peace award at the APN gala. Photo courtesy of Americans for Peace Now

Americans for Peace Now (APN) honored former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Israeli music icon and peace activist David Broza during its Jan. 29 Vision of Peace Celebration at Paper or Plastik Café/Mimoda Studio.

On behalf of the organization, event co-chair Rabbi Naomi Levy presented Eshman, her husband, with the APN Press for Peace Award. Also presenting Eshman with the award was APN founder Mark Rosenblum, who hired and worked with Eshman at APN, Eshman’s first job in the Jewish world.

In his acceptance remarks, Eshman said he was “very honored to receive this award from the organization where I started my journey in the community, and I still believe what I learned three decades ago: Sometimes dissent is more important than unity, and we must never, ever, ever lose hope.”

APN President and CEO Debra DeLee presented Broza with the Cine-Peace Award.

Following the awards program, Broza treated the audience — veteran and newer supporters of APN, members of the board of directors, executive staff and friends, and family and fans of the honorees — to a short musical performance, closing with “Yihiye Tov” (Things Will Get
Better), a song written in 1977 that became the anthem for the Israeli
peace movement.

APN, the sister organization of Shalom Achshav, was established in 1981 to mobilize support for the Israeli peace movement. It has since advocated for positions that include the evacuation of Israeli settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state.

From left: Odin Ozdil, Los Angeles program coordinator at JIMENA; Iraqi-Jewish activist Joe Samuels; CUFI National Outreach Coordinator Dumisani Washington; Journal contributing writer Karmel Melamed; and Mizrahi Project filmmaker Raj Nair. Photo courtesy of Karmel Melamed

More than 50 local Jewish and Christian pro-Israel activists gathered at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles on Dec. 3 for a viewing of the “Mizrahi Project,” a film hosted by the San Antonio-based Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, and the nonprofit Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

The documentary is a collection of short, personal accounts from nearly a dozen Jews from Arab countries and Iran explaining the persecutions they faced in their home countries and their miraculous stories of escape.

“For almost 70 years, the stories of the nearly 850,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were forced out of the homes in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948 have been forgotten,” said Dumisani Washington, national outreach coordinator for CUFI. “With this film, we are hoping to educate pro-Israel Christian activists and others about these refugees who went on to become nearly 50 percent of Israel’s population and helped grow Israel into the thriving country it has become today.”

CUFI launched the “Mizrahi Project” in July 2016, recording video interviews of Jews living in the United States and Israel who left Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Turkey and Morocco.

Washington said CUFI has shown the film to large groups in St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco, and will continue to have screenings across the country. Likewise, CUFI staff members involved with the project said they will continue to record more interviews with Mizrahi Jews in the coming year to aid the project’s growth and to help their organization’s Israel advocacy efforts. Individual interviews from the film are available on YouTube and have garnered thousands of views to date.

After the film’s screening, a panel of Mizrahi refugees featured in the film spoke to attendees. The panelists included Joe Samuels, a local Iraqi Jewish activist, and Karmel Melamed, a Jewish Journal contributing writer and local Iranian-Jewish activist.

“We do not see ourselves as refugees or a victim because remaining a victim is a miserable way to live life,” Samuels said. “We picked ourselves up after fleeing the Arab lands and rebuilt our new lives in Israel and America — and, thank God, we’re very successful.”

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

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

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

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.

When the Knesset tries to muzzle free speech

I am a product of the '60's. I demonstrated against the Viet Nam war, marched for civil rights and against racism. I have boycotted lettuce and grapes, in support of the United Farmworkers; Dow, for manufacturing napalm during the Viet Nam war; Coors, for discriminatory hiring practices against people of color and gays; Nestlé, for its aggressive campaign to sell breast milk substitute to young mothers in developing countries; Target, for its significant contributions to Tom Emmer, the rightwing candidate for Minnesota Governor whose agenda included positions I abhorred on everything; and Walmart, for its poor labor practices (except when my mother Ruth Epstein, who turns 100 this August, insists on going there “for the bargains”).

You get the picture. And while I don't support the boycott of Israel or Israeli-made products, I do support boycotting products made in settlements – and I urge others to do the same. In taking this position, I stand with friends, colleagues, and loved ones in Israel – including Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), the veteran Israeli peace movement. I seek out Israeli wine at my local stores, but only buy it if it comes from one of the vineyards inside the Green Line.

I boycott settlements – and urge others who care about Israel to do likewise – because settlements and their expansion is the greatest obstacle to achieving a two-state solution for Israel and her Palestinian neighbors, and thus the greatest threat to an Israeli future that is Jewish, secure, and democratic.

My position on settlement boycott is consistent with my life-long tradition of fighting the sense of helplessness that comes from seeing policies that are antithetical to my values and my Jewish tradition of trying to “heal the world.” I am, in word and deed, standing up against settlements and standing up for the values I hold dear, including my love for Israel.

That is why I was shocked when Israel’s Supreme Court – a court that historically has been “a light unto the nations” – ruled to uphold a law that makes the mere statement, “I support the boycott of settlement products and urge others to do the same,” illegal.

It is also why, as the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish, Zionist US organization, I am determined to scrutinize the new Israeli government's policies on peace and democracy, and why I will not hesitate to call it on policies that I believe are disastrous for Israel's future.

I am often asked how, after working so long for Israeli-Palestinian peace, I haven’t given in to despondency and hopelessness. I am asked this particularly following events like the collapse of the peace process, or the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the guidelines of which don’t even mention the Palestinian issue.

How can it be that Israel’s Knesset will soon be introducing a new version of a bill to muzzle left-wing NGOs? 

How can it be, that Israel’s prime minister has made Ayelet Shaked the new justice minister: That the next government of Israel has placed in such a pivotal position a woman best known for driving efforts to weaken Israel’s courts, and who proposed the bill that would limit funding to progressive NGOs.

What keeps me going, I think, is my rage. That same rage I felt (and feel) against misguided war, racism, discrimination, and injustice of all kinds. And, as I have done all my life, I channel my rage over Israeli settlement policies into action. I am not helpless: I can stand up and take action, and I can urge others to do the same. I can educate others to understand and share my rage over policies that threaten to destroy Israel and deprive its citizens of the secure future they deserve. And I can help them see that channeling our rage into pro-Israel, pro-peace action is the best – the only – antidote to the despair that comes from feeling helpless in the face of self-destructive, morally intolerable Israeli government settlement policies.

I will call on fellow Americans who care about Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state to vociferously oppose a Knesset bill to muzzle progressive Israeli NGOs or bills that strive to further disenfranchise Israel’s Arab citizens

As the most reactionary government in Israel’s history is sworn in this week, I am determined to stand for what I believe is necessary for Israel to survive as a democracy and a Jewish state. I hope others will come to understand that supporting Israel means standing against the policies that members of this government espouse. As a dear friend of mine often says, it's not about Right vs. Left, it's about right vs. wrong.

——
Debra DeLee is the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now

Leonard Fein, progressive activist and writer, dead at 80

Leonard Fein, a towering figure in Jewish progressive thought and action, died Aug. 14. He was 80.

 “Leibel” as he was universally addressed, was a prolific writer, a professor at Brandeis University and the creator of organizations and institutions that have left a lasting imprint on Jewish and general community life.

He and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom founded MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger in 1987, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, The two men were friends for 40 years, and Schulweis recalled “many happy moments” with the man he knew as “a genuine idealist, a man of prophetic vision and integrity, who never calculated whether any of his actions would benefit him personally.”

Abby Leibman, the present CEO and president of MAZON, characterized Fein as “a true visionary, who turned his visions into reality…His commitment to social justice extended to all, regardless of faith and nationality.”

In 1981, Fein was one of the founding members of Americans for Peace Now and continued as an active board member throughout his life. A statement released by APN lauded Fein as “a combination of philosopher and reformer, organizer and agitator, truth-teller and joke-teller, irrepressible idealist and hard-boiled realist and one of the finest men we have had the honor to know.”

Among his many other contributions and accomplishments, Fein, together with Elie Wiesel, founded Moment Magazine in 1975 and set up the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy in 1997.

A companion in many of these endeavors, particularly MAZON and Americans for Peace Now, was Prof. Gerald Bubis, a colleague of 50 years standing.

“Leibel was not afraid to speak up, challenge authority or confront the establishment, while relishing his role as a curmudgeon,” Bubis said. Despite personal family tragedies, Fein pursued his heavy schedule as speaker, writer and organizer, Bubis added.

Fein’s influence and impact on thought leaders was multiplied through his frequent columns in The Forward, New York Times, New Republic, Los Angeles Times and The Nation.

The crusader of Israel-Palestinian peace

Last Monday night after dinner, after the dishes were cleared, I sat in my dining room with Mark Rosenblum and asked him the question I’d long been meaning to ask: Why don’t you just give up?

In 1978, a group of former Israeli army officers and activists formed Shalom Achshav — Peace Now — to persuade their government that Israel could never have true security without negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians.  

Mark, then a young Queens College professor, threw himself into organizing a stateside support system for Shalom Achshav.

In 1984, just after I moved back from two years in Israel and was looking to stay involved in the country’s future, Mark hired me to organize a Los Angeles office of Americans for Peace Now (APN).  

He was tireless, driven and caring. He introduced me to his heroes — decorated warriors like Gen. Yehoshafat Harkabi, who called for direct negotiations with the Palestinians. When Mark escorted Harkabi to a Beverly Hills synagogue, local armchair warriors tried to shout the general down. Mark argued back, but he never shouted, never called names. 

“What convinces people to listen to you,” he said, “is when you listen to them.”

The illogic of occupation, he was certain, would ultimately vindicate Peace Now.

I left activism for journalism — I still find it more fulfilling to convey differing stories and points of view than promote my own. Over the years, many others also left. Two intifadas, several bad-faith peace negotiations, the duplicitous Yasser Arafat, Israel’s relentless settlement expansion — in the face of all that, the Israeli left withered. Fighting for peace is still fighting, and the warriors grew tired, battle-scarred. Many, like Aaron David Miller, made public their disillusion: “Good riddance, ‘peace process,’ ” Miller wrote two years ago in the Los Angeles Times.

But Mark won’t quit.

He stepped down from running APN full time. But he still travels, speaks and raises money for the organization — 30 hours each week, if not the 80 he used to put in. He juggles Middle East peace with running the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College and its Center for Ethnic Racial & Religious Understanding. He still looks tireless, shlepping into town in his loose dark suit, thick glasses, his hair somewhat thin and graying, a worn, paper-stuffed Nader-esque black satchel by his side.

“Why,” I asked, “don’t you just give up?”

Mark took a sip of the tea I’d made, then answered.

His mother, father and siblings had moved in 1997 to Kibbutz Hatzor, near Gaza. 

“When the rockets hit,” he said, “you can feel the earth shaking.”

They’re still there. He stayed in Larchmont, N.Y.

Language was a large part of the reason, he said — revealing something I never knew. As a child, Mark suffered from such a traumatic stutter that he didn’t speak until the age of 8. The person who has given countless lectures and participated in as many debates on Israel and Palestine told me he has to concentrate hard just to get his words out right. The idea of mastering a new language, Hebrew, was too daunting.

So Mark focused his energies on Israel in a different way.

 “I feel loyalty and connection, and that makes me feel like I can’t join the ‘exes,’ those who have given up. I’m still haunted by the fact that I feel close, but I’m doing advocacy from the outside,” he said.

Mark has seen four generations of peace activists, Palestinians and Israelis, come and go. But, he said, the voice he represents is more important than ever. The right has given up on the two-state solution; the left is giving up on Israel. A few weeks ago, he publicly debated the anti-Zionist Israeli Ilan Pappé in Seattle. 

Mark explained to the crowd that Peace Now was first a general’s movement — people like Harkabi, who died in 1994, saw peace as the best way to achieve security.

“He was my mentor,” Mark said. “He was a security dove, a Machiavellian dove.”

Peace isn’t just morally right; it is in the security interests of all sides. If that’s the left, Mark said, it is, “in the center right” of the left.   

His is also an idea that has, in a way, won. Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and now Benjamin Netanyahu all eventually came around to seeing the two-state solution and negotiations with the Palestinians — ideas that once got Mark shouted down in synagogues — as the best way to secure Israel.

“The left makes the ideas,” Mark said. “The right makes the peace.”

So, I asked Mark, is the most recent peace process by Secretary of State John Kerry going to do the trick?

“Nine months isn’t serious,” Mark said. “There’s huge heavy lifting to be done in the midst of incredible turmoil.”

The way Mark sees it, there are two Palestines — Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. There are also two Israels — inside the 1967 borders and what he called a “runaway settler movement” outside the 1967 borders. The Palestinians will have to find a formula to accept Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu may be able to make peace, but his current government can’t. Perhaps Kerry can establish enough incremental agreements to construct larger compromises — but that’s not an uphill battle, Mark said, “it’s up-mountain.”

In the meantime, Mark will keep pushing the cause. 

“None of it’s impossible,” he said. “It’s just a bit fanciful.”


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

More than 400 Jewish clergy press Netanyahu on E1

More than 400 American Jewish clergy asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to go ahead with new construction in a corridor connecting eastern Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.

“We fear that building settlements in E1 would be the final blow to a peaceful solution,” read the letter released Monday and organized by J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. “If Israel builds in E1, it will cut East Jerusalem off from its West Bank surroundings and effectively bifurcate the West Bank. In doing so, E1 will literally represent an obstacle to a two-state solution.”

Successive American governments have opposed development in E1, concerned that it would interrupt the contiguity of any future Palestinian state. Israeli officials have argued that its development does not necessarily prevent a contiguous Palestinian state.

“As American rabbis and cantors, we also fear that construction in E1 damages the critical relationship between Israel and the United States,” the letter states. “Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments to the United States, dating back to 1994, not to build settlements in the area.”

The signatories are rabbis, rabbinical students, cantors and cantorial students from across the United States, including large representations from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Denver, Boston, Florida, Chicago, the Washington DC-area, and New York.

Americans for Peace Now backs Palestinian U.N. bid

Americans for Peace Now called on President Obama to support the Palestinians’ bid to upgrade their status in the United Nations to non-member observer state.

The stance by the left-wing group issued in a statement Tuesday places it at odds with others in the pro-Israel community. The statement by the group's president and CEO, Debra DeLee, was issued two days ahead of the anticipated vote in the U.N. General Assembly on the Palestinians' application for enhanced status.

“In the wake of the latest Gaza War, we believe the international community, led by the Obama administration, must take urgent action to restore faith in a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” DeLee wrote.

A number of major Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith International, oppose the bid and are lobbying against it among U.N. member nations.

Some leading lawmakers in Congress have threatened to cut assistance to the Palestinian Authority should its affiliated Palestine Liberation Organization press ahead with the bid.

J Street, also a left-wing pro-Israel group, released a position paper that did not take a position on the bid but pledged to oppose any effort to penalize the Palestinians for making it.

DeLee called on “all nations, including the United States and Israel,” to endorse the Palestinians’ request and “should likewise refrain from and reject punitive measures against the Palestinians in the wake of this initiative, including efforts by Israel or any other party to exploit this initiative as a pretext for actions that further erode the possibility of peace.”

APN's Israeli sister group, Peace Now, expressed similar support for the bid in a letter to Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman.

The PLO was rebuffed last year in its bid to have the U.N. Security Council recognize Palestine as a state; the United States successfully lobbied against the move, threatening to use its veto.

There is no such veto in the General Assembly, where the Palestinians have an assured majority. Observer state status does not carry with it the privileges of full membership; observers must still apply to become members of U.N. constituent groups. The PLO is currently a non-member observer entity.

Americans for Peace Now opens campus unit

Americans for Peace Now is establishing a presence on college campuses aimed at reaching students and faculty.

The left-leaning group is working “in full coordination” with J Street U to provide information and speakers that can be used on campuses across the country, said APN spokesman Ori  Nir. Campuses in the Washington area have been sent information kits, and other universities will be receiving them as well, he said.

The aim of the program is “to counter opposition from the growing voices calling for a one-state scenario,” said Nir, whose group supports a two-state solution.

APN on Campus also will work with the American Task Force on Palestine, “a pro-Palestinian group which in very broad terms shares our two-state solution,” he said.

Nir said it's not just right-wing groups that favor a one-state solution. “That is now the mantra of the left,” he said.

Aaron Mann, the outreach and research associate for APN, will be coordinating the campus program as its co-manager. In a statement, Mann said he is “a Jew and a Zionist. I’m pro-Israel and pro-peace. I want security for Israel. I want rights for Palestinians.”

He added, “The pursuit of a balanced and fact-based education for college students is the foundation of APN on Campus. We want to create more space at colleges and universities for moderate voices on Israel.”

APN on Campus includes an academic resource program designed to aid faculty members to “enrich and diversify the conversation about Israel in classrooms and beyond,” the program said in a statement.

The program will offer expert speakers and add an interactive online resource page by the spring semester. A student advocacy initiative will aim “to bolster and broaden” events held by students.

Who doesn’t want a two-state solution?

For an unreconstructed Trekkie, it was an irresistible hook.

Leonard Nimoy, whose Spockian pointy ears and hyperlogical thinking thrilled me as a youth, sent me a letter on behalf of Americans for Peace Now. And it was, if I may say so, “fascinating,” although not as Nimoy intended. Rather, it exemplified the fundamental error of the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel peace camp.”

In his letter Nimoy “is troubled to see the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continue apparently without an end in sight.” Ah, but there is an end—the two-state solution, which he defines as “a secure, democratic Israel as the Jewish State alongside an independent Palestinian state.”

Nimoy continues: “APN is not afraid to warn that not only is Israel losing in the court of world opinion through its continuing settlement expansion and inability to find its way forward in peace negotiations; it is also losing some of its strategic value to the United States, whose support is vital to Israel’s security. . . . We need strong American leadership now to pivot from the zero-sum mentality of violence to an attitude that focuses on the parties’ shared interests: security and prosperity. . . . There is a sizable number of influential voices in Israel saying the same thing. . . . Their plan includes a Palestinian state alongside Israel with agreed-upon land swaps. The Palestinian-populated areas of Jerusalem would become the capital of Palestine; the Jewish-populated areas the capital of Israel.”

I personally am a two-stater, so I don’t quarrel with that part of APN’s premise. Here’s the problem, though: you would never find out from Leonard Nimoy or Americans for Peace Now that in fact Israel has accepted the two-state solution, while the Palestinians have rejected it.

As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently pointed out, he explicitly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state back in 2009. This reflects the majority opinion of Israelis (albeit conditioned on Palestinian reciprocity). Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution goes back to the yishuv’s 1947 approval of the U.N. partition plan.

On the other hand, Palestinian Authority Chair Mahmoud Abbas has said that he does not accept a “Jewish state,” and publicly rejects the Jewishness of Israel. Earlier this month Nabil Sha’th, Fatah’s international relations commissioner, said: “We do not recognize anything called the state of the Jewish people. We are prepared to recognize the State of Israel, if they say that the Israeli people includes those Muslim and Christian residents who are the true owners of the land. But we do not agree to [two states] for two peoples, which means that Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”

That’s just the Palestinian Authority. Then there’s Hamas, which barely tries to hide its genocidal anti-Semitism. The union of Hamas and the PA, if it sticks, means peace through a two-state solution is impossible.

There’s a frustrating, through-the-looking-glass quality to much of the coverage and commentary on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Distorting the positions of the parties, to make the Palestinians seem willing and Israel averse, is so widespread as to be conventional wisdom. But it’s the opposite of the truth.

There is a possible explanation for this misrepresentation. The story goes that a man, walking home late at night, notices another man on hands and knees under a lamppost. He asks, “Lose something?” “Yeah, my keys,” the other replies. “Did you drop them here?” “No,” says the searcher, gesturing into the gloom, “over there.” Puzzled, the man asks, “Then why don’t you look over there?” “Because the light’s better here.”

The “peace camp” realizes that it cannot pull peace out of the Palestinian darkness, so it insists that Israel somehow bring peace to light. This is as futile as looking for the keys where the light’s better, instead of where the keys actually lie.

This attitude of “it’s up to Israel” (because the Palestinians are unable or unwilling) is reinforced by the Zionist credo of self-reliance.  This “can do-ism” was invaluable for building and defending the Jewish state. But it’s self-defeatingly delusional for negotiating a peace treaty with the Palestinians. The simple reason is that both sides must want peace; signing a “peace treaty” with a party that doesn’t recognize your legitimacy is madness.

If you ask the wrong question, you cannot get the right answer. And APN’s question, “How can we pressure Israel to do more to make peace with the Palestinians?” is the wrong question, and makes peace less likely, not more. When the “peace camp” starts to make serious demands of the Palestinians, it will be logical to take it seriously.

Paul Kujawsky writes a column on the Middle East for Examiner.com.

Will Congress listen to liberal pro-Israel groups’ criticism of Gaza operation?

WASHINGTON (JTA)—In the first sign of a post-election struggle to set the American Jewish community’s Middle East agenda, a quartet of liberal pro-Israel groups is criticizing Jerusalem’s decision to launch retaliatory attacks against Gaza.

J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum all issued statements defending Israel’s right to strike Hamas installations in Gaza but saying, with varying degrees of forcefulness, that such actions will be counterproductive and damage Israel’s security in the long run. In their statements, they called for intervention by the United States and the international community to restore a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

In addition to issuing a statement, J Street organized a petition that calls for “immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza.” The organization’s online director, Isaac Luria, sent out a message Tuesday saying that J Street was already citing the 14,000 signatures collected as of Tuesday in conversations with President-elect Obama’s transition team and Congress.

Despite such efforts, representatives of J Street and the other three groups say it is difficult to gauge how much resonance their message is having in Washington circles, because Congress is in recess and the new administration is still three weeks away from taking office . But, according to J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, even if the groups fail to influence U.S. decision-making this time around, speaking out is a “really important first step” in sparking a discussion in the Jewish community and the wider political world.

“Part of our role in this is to create that space” and “say right up front this is an action we’re going to stand up and question,” Ben-Ami told JTA. “We’re going to question whether this is the right strategy.”

“This is a test to see whether there is a need and support” for that viewpoint, he added.

In his statement over the weekend, Ben-Ami said that ” real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability.”

Ben-Ami will have a chance to take his message directly to Jewish communal activists from across the country when they gather in Baltimore at the end of February for the annual policy plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The JCPA, an umbrella organization that brings together national Jewish organizations, the synagogue movements and dozens of local Jewish communities to formulate policy positions, has invited Ben-Ami to participate in a panel discussion on Israel advocacy.

The JCPA and the community’s other main umbrella organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as several other groups, issued statements offering unabashed support for Israel’s Gaza operation.

Brit Tzedek’s executive director, Diane Balser, said that she saw the statements as a “step” in forging “greater momentum” for a stronger alternative Jewish voice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My hope would be to coordinate more and more,” she said, particularly with an Obama administration that is seen as more sympathetic to their viewpoint than the Bush administration was.

Ben-Ami, though, said he didn’t think J Street and other like-minded groups would have much impact on any kind of congressional reaction to the Hamas operation when the House and Senate return to work next week. “I would be shocked if what came out of Congress was anything but a ringing endorsement of Israel,” he said, noting that in the immediate early days of a military operation the typical and understandable reaction is strong backing of the Jewish state.

Indeed, one of the most prominent of the 41 candidates endorsed this fall by J Street’s political action committee, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), released a statement strongly backing Israel’s decision and making no mention of American intervention.

“It is unconscionable for anyone to expect that the Israeli government or any other government for that matter, to sit idly as thousands of deadly rockets rain down on their cities and threaten the well-being and security of their citizens,” Wexler said. “I urge the international community to join the United States in denouncing the daily terrorist acts carried out by Hamas and support Israel’s right to self-defense and security.”

Instead, Ben-Ami said, J Street hopes to have an impact on the Middle East debate six to 12 months down the road, via congressional and administration action that focuses on achieving a political settlement.

The director of the Israel Policy Forum’s Washington office, M.J. Rosenberg, said the emergence of J Street could add a new dynamic to the work of dovish pro-Israel groups.

“Because they raised money for people’s campaigns, they have a different position vis-a-vis members of Congress,” he said, compared to a organization like IPF, which focuses on providing information and lobbying.

But Rosenberg said that while seeing four groups issue somewhat similar statements draws additional attention to their viewpoint, he downplayed a suggestion that it represented the first salvo of a more forceful effort to spread that message. “What we’ve been doing is the same,” he said. “The difference is the situation is worse” and “efforts might intensify because this is so bad.”

Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir agreed with Rosenberg that the recent statements did not mark the launch of a formal campaign, adding that the Gaza operation was not a particularly good vehicle to start such an effort. “We don’t view the issue of the Israeli operation as a black-and-white, clear-cut issue,” Nir said. “It wouldn’t serve as a strong rallying cause because it is so nuanced.”

But Nir said that Americans for Peace Now was strategizing with like-minded organizations on possible joint congressional action; he added that the group sent out an action alert to more than 10,000 activists urging them to write to President Bush and President-elect Obama on the issue. “We’re reminding people that since the objective here is political, military force alone cannot achieve” the desired outcome, Nir said. “There needs to be a diplomatic component.”

A top communal Jewish leader questioned the dovish groups’ positions. The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wondered why IPF’s statement first called for an end to hostilities before commenting on the situation and defending Israel’s right to strike. “I find that skewed,” he said, because Hamas didn’t listen to calls to halt its rocket fire in recent weeks.

Foxman rejected J Street’s statement that “there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict,” saying it “does a disservice” by lumping Hamas into the general Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“They’re not interested in negotiating,” Foxman said. “They’re a terrorist organization. Why should they be treated by our community as a legitimate partner to negotiations?”

Shutting Jewish Mouths

Twenty years ago at a park in Beverly Hills, actor Richard Dreyfuss, feminist Betty Friedan and Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late Israeli leader Moshe Dayan, stoodbefore a crowd of some 300 people and called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Many in the crowd booed and hissed the speakers. Eventually they shouted Dreyfuss down. He had to be escorted offstage, past Jews who spat at him and called him names.

I know, because, as the local head of Americans for Peace Now back then, I organized the rally. I helped form a human ring around Dreyfuss as he raced for the safety of his car.

And I was there when a screaming protestor broke through our linked arms, called Dreyfuss a traitor, then said, “Hey, Richard, you think I could get your autograph?”

To follow the controversy over members of the Jewish mainstream accusing Jewish liberals of fomenting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred by criticizing the Jewish state is to relive that afternoon in Roxbury Park, and all its attendant stupidity.

Back then, at the height of the first intifada, the Jewish establishment charged that Jews who spoke out publicly against the “Iron Fist” policies of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were aiding the enemies of Israel. If Friedan or any other Jew wasn’t going to serve in the Israeli army, the argument went, they had no right to criticize Israel. At a time when American support for Israel was crucial, for Jews to break ranks from the party line could only give Israel’s foes in Congress fuel for dissent.

But those Jews would not be silent. Their ranks grew. Eventually their far-left ideas — for a two-state solution and negotiations with the Palestinians — became Israeli government policy; Rabin was shot dead at a rally in Tel Aviv, organized by Peace Now.

The moral of the story: Today’s dissenters might justbe on to something.

I have no idea whether the vision of today’s leftist outliers like Tony Judt and Tony Kushner will become tomorrow’s reality. I’m not going to defend them, because those men, criticized harshly in a report by Alvin H. Rosenfeld funded by the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee), are more than capable of defending their own views.

But I will defend the importance of Jewish self-criticism.

To read Jewish history is to see that crucial dynamic at work: From the biblical prophets down through modern times, we are a people who have canonized those who scold and chastise the established order, who envision a different world. Some of the sharpest criticism leveled by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was at Jews who were too comfortable in a Europe he sensed would one day turn on them. Some of the most virulent criticism he received was from Jews who believed a Jewish state would endanger the security of Diaspora Jews.

The tradition of sharp criticism turned on one’s own people still lives — in Hebrew. The Israeli press has always been far more contentious toward Israel than American Jewry. Nothing Judt or Kushner has proposed hasn’t already been written in Israel.

Similarly, the two-state solution and dealing with Yasser Arafat was old news in Israel by the time the American Jewish left picked up the cause. The party-line-discipline organizations like the AJCommittee often seek to enforce delays but don’t derail good ideas.

The rule that American Jews don’t have the right to speak out since they don’t live in Israel and won’t suffer the consequences of their ideas has visceral appeal but has proved, thankfully, unenforceable.

The American Jewish establishment’s ideal Israel-Diaspora relationship — we give our money, you give your sons — has always co-existed with strong expressions of dissent. Just as the left protested for an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, many on the American Jewish right publicly spoke out against then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza (an idea the Israeli and American Jewish left had argued for years earlier).

What’s more, the basic premise is just wrong. Speaking at a meeting on terrorism in Los Angeles last November, former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter noted than Iran’s two attacks on Jewish civilian targets in Argentina in the early 1990s followed Israel’s targeted assassinations on leaders of the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah movement: 114 people were killed in those attacks, mostly Jews.

Jews in the Diaspora don’t bear the brunt of living in Israel, but they may still pay a price for decisions made in Jerusalem.

By squashing left-wing criticism, the mainstream makes the world safe for opinions far to the right. Has the AJCommittee taken a stand against Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli minister who has called for the forced expulsion of Israeli Arabs from their towns? No, it has not; though one could argue Lieberman’s opinions endanger a democratic Jewish state at least as much as Kushner’s.

But from where I sit, the most insidious effect of the AJCommittee is the message it sends to the majority of Jews, and non-Jews, who support Israel but don’t always agree with its policies. That message is: there’s only one way to show you care for the Jewish state — our way.

Given that choice, the silent majority of Jews drift away, and the mainstream organizations then bemoan the fact that most Jews, especially Jewish youth, aren’t involved on behalf of Israel.

It’s very hard to sell smart people on the idea that the best way to support the strongest democracy in the Middle East is to shut up.

Father of the Leftist Guard

Stanley Sheinbaum is in his element. As 40 members of Americans for Peace Now and their allies sip white wine, nibble brie and heatedly discuss the economic and moral injustices of Israel’s occupation, the éminence grise of liberalism watches and listens with the rapt attention of the Stanford University graduate student he once was. When guest speaker Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) says that the “ethical aspiration of Judaism is to stand up for the downtrodden,” including African Americans, homosexuals and Palestinians, Sheinbaum nods his head in agreement.

During the two-hour gathering held at his Brentwood estate in late August, Sheinbaum says little. But don’t mistake Sheinbaum’s diffidence for indifference. At 84, he might have slowed down some, but his concern for the fate of humanity burns as brightly as ever. His legendary “salons” are still vibrant, intellectual gatherings. Sheinbaum continues to support an array of liberal groups, ranging from Peace Now to Human Rights Watch to the American Civil Liberties Union, whose local affiliate will present an award named in his honor at a Sept. 12 fundraiser.

“He is truly one of the leaders of the progressive Jewish movement,” said Luis Lainer, Americans for Peace Now’s board chair.

A wealthy money man for liberal Democrats seeking office, private counselor to kings, presidents and diplomats, and the glue that helped build the Westside’s powerful, mostly Jewish bloc of left-wing liberals, Sheinbaum has led several lives in eight decades on the planet.

Like a modern-day Forrest Gump — albeit one with a Phi Beta Kappa key — Sheinbaum has witnessed history up close and personal, leaving his thumbprints all over some of the defining moments of the past half-century. Whether acting as the police commissioner who led the successful fight to oust former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates in the early 1990s; heading a controversial delegation of American Jews to the Middle East in the late 1980s to convince Yasser Arafat to publicly renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist; fighting for divestment from South Africa as a University of California regent; or raising nearly $1 million for the successful defense of Pentagon Papers principal Daniel Ellsberg, Sheinbaum has made a difference.

Sheinbaum said the upcoming election is the most important in recent memory and that helping John F. Kerry become the next president is his major priority.

“Sheinbaum keeps the New Deal torch alive in an age when it’s not fashionable to do so,” said former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, a longtime friend. “He’s a voice of conscience.”

That voice is a little less robust these days. Sheinbaum must take 10 medications daily and a nap or two to recharge his tired body. Doctors have grounded the former globetrotter for the past three years because of health concerns. Sheinbaum walks with a slight limp and jokes about visiting a “cardiologist, a neurologist, a sexologist and a pissologist.”

But his mind remains razor sharp. Surrounded by colorful paintings and sculptures in his comfortable home, he proudly points to framed photos with Fidel Castro, King Hussein, Barbra Streisand and other world leaders and A-list celebrities. Dressed in a red-and-white striped jacket, blue vest and khakis, Sheinbaum’s firm handshake, direct gaze and measured words reveal a man at ease with himself and confident about the future.

And why not? For more than 30 years, luminaries such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Queen Noor of Jordan and former Sen. Hart, among others, have made the pilgrimage to his Westside salons in search of intellectual stimulation and money for their pet causes — sometimes their own political campaigns.

“I am addicted to famous people,” Sheinbaum quipped.

The salons, Sheinbaum added, are more than just a forum for rich liberals to pat each other on the back and pass around the collection plate. Sometimes, the gatherings spawn new groups that try to shape public opinion, fight for human rights or help the needy. To cite but one recent example, activists including U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter and 1960s counter-culture icon Tom Hayden met at his home in October 2002 and conducted a teach-in that helped lead to the formation of Artists United Against the War.

Even Nice to Republicans

Despite Sheinbaum’s progressive politics, he has occasionally opened his meetings up to critics and conservatives — even Republicans.

One detractor, Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Southern California, said Sheinbaum belongs to the “old leftist guard” that has failed politically. Greenfield also blasted the octogenarian for befriending the “terrorist” Arafat, an unworthy peace partner.

But a couple months ago, Sheinbaum pleasantly surprised the local Republican leader by inviting him to an event at his house featuring the pro-Israel Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, which translates the sometimes anti-Semitic Arab press into English and other languages.

Similarly, Sheinbaum has won over Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center and formerly one of his fiercest critics. Just two years ago, Cooper wrote in Ft. Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper that “peace activist” Sheinbaum blamed the Israeli government rather the Palestinians for suicide bombings. Today, Cooper calls his ex-nemesis a “mensch.”

That’s because Sheinbaum, at Cooper’s request, recently contacted Arab leaders, including Arafat, to ascertain the fate of Israeli soldiers missing in action. Sheinbaum’s willingness to risk alienating his contacts for the benefit of concerned Israelis impressed Cooper, who later received an invitation from Sheinbaum to a luncheon that featured high-ranking Syrian government officials.

Sheinbaum’s “somebody operating with his eyes open, with an open mind, and, in the case with the Israeli MIAs, an open heart,” Cooper said.

Still, Sheinbaum’s activism, especially his embrace of Arafat, has stirred strong passions on both sides of the political divide.

To his supporters, the man whom the Los Angeles Times once dubbed “the Kingmaker” has fought the good fight on behalf of the dispossessed, downtrodden and disenfranchised. Where other rich men might have contented themselves playing golf at country clubs and summering at Malibu beach homes, Sheinbaum has put his reputation and fortune on the line to help make the world a better place.

“I think he’s addicted to fairness and justice,” said television producer Norman Lear of “All in the Family” fame. “All of us start off as the proverbial grain of sand on the beach of life. In that context, Stanley Sheinbaum has moved mountains.”

To his critics, Sheinbaum is a relic of a bygone radical era. His politics, in sync with the Southland’s Jews in the 1960s, have become anachronistic as area Jews have drifted to the center, said Joel Kotkin, senior fellow with the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. Sheinbaum, he said, is the quintessential limousine liberal railing against the world’s injustices from the comfort of his gated, multimillion-dollar home.

“I don’t want to be lectured about social justice by people who have an income ten or hundred times mine,” Kotkin said. “Money buys access. Money buys power. Money buys influence. If you took away his money, I don’t think he’d be a major force.”

Not true, said Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, a friend of Sheinbaum’s since the pair collaborated on a series of anti-war articles for Ramparts magazine in the mid-1960s and unsuccessfully ran for Congress together on an anti-Vietnam ticket.

Handsome, charming and bright, Sheinbaum made a name for himself well before his 1964 marriage to Betty Warner, daughter of movie mogul and Warner Bros. co-founder Harry Warner, Scheer said.

After graduating from Stanford with highest honors and enrolling in a doctoral program there, Sheinbaum moved to Paris as a Fulbright scholar. Although he never completed his dissertation, Michigan State University (MSU) hired him as an economics professor.

At MSU, the young academic found himself unwittingly caught up in America’s growing involvement in Vietnam, a conflict he would come to despise. In the late 1950s, Sheinbaum directed MSU’s Vietnam Project, which helped train South Vietnam’s police force, among other responsibilities.

After souring on the war and learning that several men he hired for the MSU program were really CIA operatives, in 1960 Sheinbaum joined an elite Santa Barbara think tank named the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Headed by former University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins, it attracted intellectual heavyweights such as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, economist Paul Samuelson and Harvard professor John Kenneth Galbraith. In this rarefied environment, Sheinbaum stood out for his formidable debating skills and supple mind, Scheer said.

“Stanley was one of the best and brightest,” said Scheer, who helped finance a new documentary about Sheinbaum called “Citizen Stanley.” Time magazine co-founder “Henry Luce liked Stanley. Everybody liked him. He could have easily gone off and worked for Time or at the White House.”

But he didn’t. After marrying into money, Sheinbaum embraced full-time political activism as his career, becoming one of the most influential liberal powerbroker in the country. Some years, he and his wife contributed up to $750,000 to causes and candidates in which they believed, cutting back only after they began dipping into their principal.

All that money — which Sheinbaum nearly doubled in the early 1970s by betting the U.S. dollar would go off the gold standard — undoubtedly bought access and influence. But Sheinbaum has done more in the past 40 years than simply sign fat checks, observers say. Like an entrepreneur, he has made investments in people and organizations that fire his imagination. And he has taken a hands-on approach to ensure their success.

Sheinbaum and his wife “have a fearless activism, are genuinely honest and humble students of what is going on and are smart as hell,” said actor Warren Beatty, a friend for 35 years.

Making Things Happen

As head of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California from 1973 to 1982, Sheinbaum headed up the outfit’s fundraising and helped increase contributions by tenfold. More important, Sheinbaum — who continues to serve on the ACLU National Advisory Council — urged the local ACLU affiliate to increase its visibility, membership and relevance by educating the public on major civil rights issues. Partly because of his prodding, the ACLU of Southern California now has a public policy specialist to galvanize support for such initiatives as making the three-strikes law less punitive, local Executive Director Ramona Ripston said.

Sheinbaum’s brand of outreach has helped fuel a 65 percent jump in membership over the past decade to 38,000, she said.

“He’s made the organization stronger by being actively involved,” said Ripston, who first met Sheinbaum more than 30 years ago during the Ellsberg trial.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said Sheinbaum has served several important roles in her life: stalwart friend, mentor and an important connection who first introduced her to such politicians as former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Sheinbaum, a strong proponent of divestment from apartheid-era South Africa during his 12 years as a UC regent, advised her on the subject while she served as a state assemblywoman. Through Sheinbaum, Waters said she learned much about the workings of the investment community and how public pension funds could remain profitable without holdings in South Africa. Armed with that knowledge, she successfully sponsored legislation that called for the divestment of state pension funds.

“I’ve used him as a sounding board for years,” the congresswoman said. “He has been influencing progressive politics in this country, really the world, for a long time.”

Sheinbaum’s early years in New York City hardly foreshadowed his later renown. He was a mediocre student who grew up poor. The Depression wiped out his family financially, plunging his father in and out of bankruptcy for years. After graduating from high school, Sheinbaum bounced from job to job, eventually moving to Houston to work in a printing plant. His hardscrabble youth, he said, gave him empathy for the poor and less fortunate that marks him to this day.

After spending most of World War II in the service making maps, he returned home with the expectation of going to college on the GI Bill — unfortunately the 33 schools to which he applied failed to share his enthusiasm. Devastated but not defeated, he re-enrolled at his high school to take college prep courses and get his grades up. “I was sitting here at this place where I had gone 10 years earlier,” he said. “My legs were too big for the desk.”

That tenacity paid off. Accepted at Oklahoma A&M, he did well enough to transfer to Stanford the following year. He went on to do graduate work in economics but never completed his thesis, which burned in a freak fire years later.

Sheinbaum’s move to the far left occurred in the 1960s as his disgust with the Vietnam War mounted. He led teach-ins, participated in demonstrations and served as a California delegate for peacenik Eugene McCarthy and twice unsuccessfully ran for Congress on an anti-war platform. That anti-war activism led Sheinbaum to help assemble a team of attorneys for Ellsberg, which successfully fought charges against the former Pentagon official who leaked classified material to the press.

Controversial Moves

Not all of Sheinbaum’s activism had such unambiguous outcomes. Some of his highest profile adventures produced decidedly mixed results.

As president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Sheinbaum led the fight to force Gates from office after the videotaped beating of African American motorist and paroled armed robber Rodney King by a group white police officers. With the LAPD’s reputation in tatters, Gates, under growing pressure from Sheinbaum and fellow commissioners, reluctantly resigned.

But Sheinbaum’s reputation took a hit when the ACLU, an organization closely associated with him, published a newspaper ad in the early 1990s comparing the Police Department to a street gang. And his unstinting support for Willie L. Williams — whom Sheinbaum called “the best” at the time of his appointment as Gates’ successor — could be seen, in retrospect, as misguided. The LAPD’s first black police chief proved so ineffective that he lasted slightly more than five years, although Sheinbaum blamed departmental racism and hostility from the rank-and-file officers for Williams’ difficulties.

If Sheinbaum overestimated Williams’ ability to reform and lead the LAPD, then he vastly underestimated Arafat’s willingness to transform himself from a terrorist into an agent of peace, critics say.

In their view, Sheinbaum naively rehabilitated the president of the Palestinian Authority by leading in 1988 a delegation of American Jews that “persuaded” Arafat to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce terror. Arafat’s promises, which many now think were insincere in light of the failed Oslo peace accords and the proliferation of suicide bombers affiliated with his Fatah group, helped earn him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, said Sheinbaum’s delegation exhibited poor judgment by thinking Arafat wanted anything less than Israel’s destruction.

“How desperate these fools were to have the wool pulled over their eyes,” Pipes said. “They begged Arafat to trump them and take advantage of them, and he did.”

Even television producer Lear, Sheinbaum’s close friend, said he thought Arafat had failed Sheinbaum.

But Sheinbaum hasn’t given up on Arafat, whom he still calls a friend. He said he doesn’t think Arafat is a terrorist, although a few Palestinians are. Sheinbaum said Arafat was a man of peace when they first met 16 years ago, but ran into opposition from all sides — the Americans, Israelis and the Palestinians. He said Israeli and Palestinian intransigence derailed the process, and that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin buried it.

The failure of real peace to break out in the region has devastated Sheinbaum. With Arafat and his nemesis Ariel Sharon locked in a never-ending battle of words and wills, the outlook remains dim, he said.

Sheinbaum makes no apologies for trying to broker a peace, even if his efforts have largely come to naught. He said he paid a high price for his activism, including being shunned for years by some in the local community and having a skinned pig tossed onto his driveway. Still, he said he would continue to hope, pray and fight for peace in the Middle East. As a Jew, it’s his duty.

“These are my people,” he said. “I’m not going to walk away.”