As peace talks kick off, right wing intensifies efforts to influence their outcome

Israeli settler leader Dani Dayan has made it his mission over the years to warn members of Congress, particularly Republicans, of the perils of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Dayan has been a regular visitor to Washington, his trips often coinciding with developments in the peace process. During the Annapolis talks in 2007-08, Dayan would watch Israeli officials as they met with the media in the lobby of the venerable Mayflower Hotel, just blocks from the White House, and then move in to offer his own spin.

In June, Dayan met with GOP House leaders in a meeting organized with help from the Zionist Organization of America. The meeting was followed by a Washington Jewish Week report that another settler leader, Gershon Mesika, met with 20 Congress members just days before the relaunch of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The intensive cultivation of relationships on Capitol Hill appears to be bearing fruit.

Within days of talks kicking off in Washington last week, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a freshman who attended the June meeting with Dayan, drafted a letter asking the U.S. attorney general to hinder the release of Palestinian prisoners — a move approved by Israel to help kick-start negotiations.

Dayan didn’t ask Salmon to write the letter. That request was made by the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a conservative lobby funded in part by gaming billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

But the congressional measures now being undertaken to impact the trajectory of peace talks have their roots in the warm relations that settlers and their American friends have forged in Congress over the past two decades.

“It was important to meet with the Yesha people,” a GOP official said of the June meeting, using the Hebrew acronym for the settlers’ council, “to find out who the settlers are, what they feel obstacles to peace are, what Judea and Samaria means from a historical perspective.”

In addition to Salmon’s letter, a perennial effort to tighten a 1995 law requiring the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem reappeared just as talks resumed. The strengthened law would remove a presidential waiver that has enabled successive presidents to delay the move on the grounds of national security.

Members of Congress behind both initiatives deny that the measures — neither in timing nor in substance — are intended to scuttle the peace talks. On the contrary, the lawmakers say they are intended to improve the chances of success for the talks by strengthening Israel’s bargaining position and making American parameters clear to the Palestinians.

“There will never be clear sailing as long as there are people who do not recognize Israel as a Jewish nation,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), one of the sponsors of the new Jerusalem bill.

But the settler leaders and the right-wing pro-Israel groups that support them are more blunt about their objectives.

“I told the congresspersons that the strategic choice that John Kerry made to go on with the conventional peace process to try to renew negotiations … will have catastrophic consequences for the American national interests,” Dayan said. “Because when he fails — and he will fail — the fact that the secretary of state of the United States failed will be noticed very clearly in Tehran and in Damascus and in Moscow and in Pyongyang.”

Daniel Mandel, the director of ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy, said his group was gearing up to push back against talks it believes are doomed because the Palestinians remain unwilling to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

“Our strategy now that negotiations have resumed is to unblinkingly focus on the unregenerative nature of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority,” Mandel said, referring to Mahmoud Abbas, the P.A. president.

Efforts to exert congressional pressure to affect the outcome of peace talks are not new.

Following the launch of the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s, right-wing Israelis and their allies helped pass a congressional bill that would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move that would buttress Israeli claims to the city whose ultimate fate was to be determined by Israelis and Palestinians.

A separate bill sought to prevent U.S. troops from patroling the Golan Heights to help cement a peace deal with Syria. Yitzhak Rabin, then the Israeli prime minister, expressed his frustration at both moves.

Back then, the right-wingers had mainstream allies; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for the Jerusalem law. AIPAC did not respond to requests for comment on the new Jerusalem bill, which is backed by the ZOA.

Republican House officials say their members are deeply skeptical about the renewed talks, which were launched after an intensive round of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry. Sensitive to Republican mistrust of President Obama’s foreign policy agenda, Dayan said he attempted to persuade House leaders that the peace process would harm U.S. interests.

“I would like Congress to explain to the State Department that this is a morally improper way to conduct diplomacy,” Dayan in an interview this week.

Sarah Stern, the director of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, said her primary concern was for the families of those killed by the released prisoners, but she acknowledged there was a dividend in alerting Americans to the dangers of the peace process.

“I can’t petition the Israeli government as an American citizen, I can only petition our officials,” Stern said. “But as a sidebar, it’s painful to see Israel has to go through so much just to get the Palestinians to sit down, and it’s a very sad thing that Israel has been subject to so much pressure by Kerry.”

Political realities may doom Olmert’s peace push

With his Kadima Party just weeks away from electing a new leader, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making a concerted last-ditch effort to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Olmert has drawn up a detailed peace offer and presented it to U.S. and Palestinian leaders. After being shown the plan last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described it as “very generous.”

Although the Palestinians say wide gaps remain, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert reportedly agreed in talks Sunday to make every effort to wrap up a full-fledged peace agreement by the end of the year.

But both sides are skeptical.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who are involved in a parallel negotiation that is conducting line-by-line drafting of a final-status agreement, estimate that the process could go on well into 2009 and beyond. They say the effort must be given all the time it needs.

Warning against the danger of rushing things, Livni said artificial deadlines could lead to frustration on the Palestinian side and spark a third intifada. Alternatively, time pressure could lead Israel to compromise on vital interests.

Right-wing opposition to the Olmert-Abbas talks go even further. Opposition leaders have questioned the very legitimacy of Olmert’s conducting a vigorous peace drive so close to the end of his term. Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu described Olmert’s peace plan as “morally and substantially flawed” and warned that it would strengthen Hamas.

There are problems on the Palestinian side, too.

Abbas’ term could end early next year, leaving the Palestinians with a more radical leadership before an agreement is finally wrapped up.

What’s worse is that as long as Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, the chances of implementing any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are virtually zero.

Olmert’s latest proposal deals with four core issues: territory, security, refugees and Jerusalem.

On territory, he offers the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank, with Israel retaining large Jewish settlement blocs in the remaining 7 percent. As compensation, the Palestinians would get an area equivalent to 5.5 percent of the West Bank in Israeli land close to the Gaza Strip, and a land corridor connecting Gaza and the West Bank, linking the two in a single Palestinian state.

On security, Olmert proposes that the future Palestinian state would be demilitarized and barred from building military alliances. Israel would have early warning stations on the Samarian hills in the West Bank, a temporary army presence in the Jordan Valley, a presence at border crossings, control of airspace over Gaza and the West Bank, and access to the main east-west corridors in the West Bank.

On refugees, Olmert categorically rejects the so-called Palestinian right of return: Palestinian refugees would be entitled to return to the Palestinian state in unlimited numbers, but not to Israel proper. Still, there is a small concessionary loophole in the Olmert proposal: 1,500 to 2,000 Palestinians would be allowed to “return” to Israel proper every year for 10 years for “humanitarian reasons.” In other words Israel could, at its discretion, allow the immigration during 10 years of 15,000 to 20,000 Palestinians.

Although Olmert insists that Jerusalem has not been on the negotiating agenda — the Orthodox Shas Party has threatened to topple the government if Jerusalem is so much as discussed — the prime minister does include a temporary solution for the city in his proposal.

The final Israeli-Palestinian document would include reference to “a joint mechanism with a fixed timetable” for resolving the dispute over Jerusalem. Olmert aides refuse to elaborate but say there would be elements in the joint mechanism “attractive to the Palestinians.”

This apparently refers partly to an offer by Olmert to involve other Arab and international parties — including Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, the Vatican and the international Quartet grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — in seeking a permanent solution for Jerusalem and its holy places.

The Palestinians, however, argue that Olmert’s proposals do not go far enough, and they insist that the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions remain wide.

Some analysts suggest that the only realistic way forward would be through American bridging proposals. But the Americans are unlikely to be forthcoming: During a visit in June, when Rice asked for a paper highlighting key points of agreement and disagreement, both sides refused on the grounds that that kind of hands-on American intervention would not be helpful at this stage.

“We and the Israelis told Dr. Rice that the decisions are required from Palestinians and Israelis,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told JTA. “I am sure the Americans, the Arabs and the Europeans will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in order to implement whatever we agree. But the decisions are for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Officials close to Olmert argue that even if it can’t immediately be implemented, a joint Israeli-Palestinian document on permanent-status issues would constitute a historic breakthrough.

“We believe it would become a galvanizing point for all the moderates and offer an alternative to the Hamas-Hezbollah-Tehran paradigm,” Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.

Regev believes that not only would the deal win wide international support and boost the moderates in the Arab world, it also would help resolve the problem of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

“If we are successful in delineating to a great degree of specificity where the final borders will be, then obviously we will continue to build in the settlements on our side and not in those on the Palestinian side,” he said.

In other words, immediately upon signing the deal, Israel would regard settlements on its side of the border as part of Israel proper, with no extrinsic restrictions on development and growth. Those on the Palestinian side, by contrast, would be seen as living on borrowed time and slated for evacuation.

For any agreement to stand a chance of implementation, its advocates would have to find a way around Palestinian rejectionists — including Hamas in Gaza — and around Israeli opponents. In both cases, opponents may press for new elections, which would serve as a referendum on the peace deal.

That does not bode well for a peace deal. Hamas is unlikely to allow elections in Gaza unless it is sure of winning. On the Israeli side, polls suggest the right-wing opposition will win the next general election.

Should either of these likely scenarios occur, the “shelf agreement” the Olmert administration is working on probably would be shelved indefinitely. That would leave Olmert’s 11th-hour effort to set a new peace agenda, like many others before it, dead in the water of Middle Eastern realities.

Demonization — or peace talks?

Throughout Jewish history, it has been necessary, time and again, to fight prejudice and false accusations. To mention just one notorious example, there is the blood libel of Pesach, which accuses the Jews of using the blood of Christian children for the baking of matzot — a blood libel that is again being disseminated, in our days, in Arab countries and even in Russia.

As a matter of fact, many more false accusations are being circulated nowadays: Israel stands accused of ethnic cleansing, of the purposeful killing of innocent people, and especially children, and of endless atrocities in the “illegally occupied” territories.

Jews all over the world are trying in every possible way to refute these terrible accusations. Lately, however, one often has the feeling that Israel’s leaders are not taking the active part they might be expected to take in the struggle against the demonization of the Jewish state. What is behind this strange silence? Is there no concern in Israel that the steady repetition of blood libels and false accusations against Israel that remain unanswered will gradually change the world’s attitude toward the Jewish state? Is it not alarming that 52 percent of respondents in a recent worldwide poll declared that Israel has “a mainly negative influence in the world” (edged out only by Iran!)

Here are some examples of incidents in which the leaders of Israel failed to stand up in defense of Israel’s moral integrity:

1. Moral Equivalence at Annapolis

In Annapolis a mutually signed agreement was released which declares that “both sides” — Israel and the Palestinians — should end terror and incitement. Thus it is officially documented that Israel and the Palestinians are equally guilty of these inhuman activities. So now we know: Israel declares, in a statement published worldwide, that it conducts incitement and terror against the Palestinian Authority — a singular success for Abu Mazen. How could Israel sign such a statement?

All the official organs of the Palestinian Authority, including schoolbooks, TV programs (including children’s programs), and newspapers disseminate the most heinous lies about Jews and Israel, poisoning the hearts and minds of a new generation which should become part of a peace process. Yet none of this is exposed in Israel’s state media or education programs. So again we must ask: How could Israel put its signature on a document that, in effect, nullifies all our efforts to explain the difference between Palestinian incitement against the Jews and Israel’s continuing efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding?

2. The “Illegal Occupation” Myth

During his recent visit in Israel, President Bush declared in a public appearance that Israel has to end “the harmful occupation.” Nobody got up at that point to state that the areas administered by Israel since the 1967 war are in no way part of an “occupation” (with all the negative connotations of the word). On the contrary, these areas, which were promised by the League of Nations to be the basis for Jewish settlement of the land, were taken in 1967, in a defensive war, from Egypt and Jordan. There never had been a Palestinian entity there.

It may well be that, for the sake of a peace treaty with the Palestinian Arabs, Israel will have to agree to a territorial compromise. But when there is talk of “occupation,” there can be nothing to discuss: All areas that have been in Israel’s possession since 1967 (including half of Jerusalem and settlement block like Gush Etzion) will have to be handed over to the Arabs.

Why, we must ask, did Israel’s leaders keep silent and let the world media accept this definition by President Bush, according to which even large parts of Jerusalem, which were forcefully taken from the Jews by the Jordanians in 1948, must today be considered “occupied territory”?

Why did the eloquent prime minister of Israel not utilize this auspicious opportunity to explain the situation in the light of Israel’s moral, historical and legal rights?

And when Condoleezza Rice, the powerful foreign minister of the United States, in an emotional statement, compared the miserable condition of the Palestinian Arabs with the past condition of the blacks in America’s South, thus implying that Israel is a racist entity, did anyone get up to reject this absurd comparison?

3. Abu Mazen’s Lies

Worst of all the lies and the deliberately false accusations uttered by Abu Mazen and his colleagues, Israel’s “partners: in the so-called peace talks.

How could Abu Mazen speak, as he did some time ago in Damascus, about Israel pursuing ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem?

How could Abu Mazen say explicitly that “the time may come: when he will return to the track of terrorism?

How could Abu Mazen speak about “the Holocaust” allegedly committed by Israel in Gaza, in response to the endless rocket attacks on Sderot?

Above all, how could Abu Mazen and his colleagues allow the official teaching materials in the school and the media outlets of the Palestinian Authority to spread lies and incitement to violence, and to describe the worst terrorists as heroes and role models?

Again, no one in Israel’s government denounces theses demonizations of Israel in strong terms. And we ask: How can Israel engage with these “moderate” leaders in peace talks without reacting strongly to what is said and published by its “partners”?

If it is felt that Abu Mazen has to accuse Israel of all these atrocities in order to survive as a leader, he surely cannot be a partner in peace talks. An agreement with the Palestinian Arabs (and with the Arab states of the region) is not merely a question of geopolitical issues. Mainly, it is a question of mutual acceptance and understanding. Only people who are ready to give up outright lies and false slogans will be able to engage in a fruitful dialogue and serve as true partners in a peace process.

Israel must reject, in the clearest terms, all the blood libels and demonizations against the Jewish state. Israel must demand that the established facts pertaining to Israel’s past — from the Kingdom of David in Jerusalem to the horrors of the Holocaust — are accepted. Israel’s leaders must put on record, on every possible occasion, that Israel’s fight for survival is based on a solid ethical foundation of historical and moral rights.

Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.

Chanukah — the pink elephant of Annapolis

I spent the last week of November in Israel and watched the Annapolis show unfold through the lens of Israeli TV. As expected, everyone in Israel watched that show with both nervous curiosity and cynical dismissal.

But the event that truly captured the public imagination and managed to elevate people’s spirit above the mundane was one that occurred 200 miles away from Annapolis, in a place called Lake Success, and it took place 60 years ago, Nov. 29, 1947.

This year, Israel celebrated with royal fanfare the historical U.N. partition vote that paved the way for her creation. Ambassadors of the 33 countries that voted in favor of the 1947 partition were invited to a widely televised event in Rishon LeTzion, as were family members of the U.N. ambassadors from those nations, and the country immersed itself in a sober, yet inspiring historic reflection of its past, present and future.

As one who was privileged to personally experience the outburst of joy that seized world Jewry on Nov. 29, 1947, I was somewhat dismayed to discover, upon returning to Los Angeles last week, that this event passed virtually unnoticed in our community, including in the pages of this paper. Laboring to understand, I realized that another historical event, perhaps of no less impact, was also forgotten by the pages of this Journal — the Balfour declaration, whose 90-year anniversary fell on Nov. 2, 2007.

World Jewry, so I concluded, must be splitting before our own eyes into two camps, the history-minded and the history-mindless, and for some strange reason the former tends to concentrate in Israel, the latter in the United States. Thank God, I consoled myself, that we still have Chanukah to unite us — how forward-thinking it was for those rabbis who canonized a chunk of Jewish history as a religious holiday, and thus protected it from our collective amnesia.

But upon reading the Journal’s Holiday issue (Nov. 30) I realized that Chanukah, too, was splitting before our eyes, and while Israelis were singing in one voice, “We fought the Greeks and the victory is ours,” and their kindergartens were re-enacting the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty, American Jews were agonizing over Christopher Hitchens’ discovery that the Maccabees were a gang of Jewish Taliban. One essay even suggested that Chanukah should be cleansed from its historical contaminants and focus on the spiritual, the miracle, the Temple, the candles, the latkes, the dreidel, anything but history, anything but freedom and sovereignty.

Indeed, history is ugly and dreidels are beautiful.

Continuing this sterilization of the Jewish experience one can further argue that the notion of Jewish sovereignty, because it risks violence, civil wars and other public embarrassments, is foreign to the Jewish spirit, so, the only true carriers of “Judaism’s spiritual values” are Neturai Karta and Noam Chomsky’s followers, for they are the only Jews who openly object to the ugly notion of a Jewish State. All the rest of us, historical Jews, having been praying for 2,000 years for regaining sovereignty in the birthplace of our history, are not really truthful to those immaculately conceived “Judaism’s spiritual values.”

I, for one, do not buy this sterile notion of Jewishness and of Chanukah. True, history itself can be ugly, but historical narratives and holidays are defined not by their embryonic origins, but by what they mean and how they motivate people in this day and age.

Regardless of whether Chanukah started as a war of liberation against the Greeks, a war of zeal against the assimilated or a supernatural miracle in the Temple, the meaning of Chanukah lies in the new consciousness created when H.N. Bialik wrote (after the Kishinev pogrom in 1903) “Are these the sons of the Maccabees?” It came in the energies inspired when the pre-1948 Zionist pioneers sang:

“A miracle did not happen to us;

We have not found a vessel of oil;

We carved the rock till we bled;

And there was light!”

And it comes, of course, in the spirit of family warmth and people-hood that we Jews feel today when we light the candles and tell our children about that mischievous oil vessel.

Two weeks ago, my wife Ruth and I were invited to the White House, where President Bush used our family menorah to usher in the holiday. I was relieved to discover that President Bush had no problem whatsoever explaining to fellow Americans what the meaning of Chanukah is all about.

“During Chanukah,” he said, “we remember an ancient struggle for freedom.”

Plain and simple, free of Jewish hang-ups. He then narrated the story of the Maccabees: “A band of brothers came together to fight this oppression. And against incredible odds, they liberated the capital city of Jerusalem.”

Again, Bush talked as if fighting oppression and liberating one’s capital is as natural as American apple pie and, more importantly, he took it as self-evident that people who call themselves “a people” would find pride and inspiration in celebrating pivotal events from their collective past; in other words, he took it as self-evident that Judaism and Jewish history and Jewish nationhood are inextricable.

This brings me back to the Annapolis Summit meeting. As President Bush was recounting the story of the Maccabees’ struggle for freedom and self-determination, his words rang as faithful reminders of one delicate issue that was conspicuously missing from the Annapolis agenda, but which nevertheless continues to hold the key to any progress toward a two-state solution: Arabs denial of the indigenous historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of the Maccabees.

This historical connection, bluntly denied by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, adamantly refuted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, uniformly ridiculed by Arab intellectuals, meticulously purged from textbooks in the entire Muslim world, deceptively minimized by anti-coexistence professors in the West and skillfully avoided by post-Zionist Jewish writers in America, more than any other point of contention, has the power of unleashing the confidence-building energy that the “peace process” requires to gain traction.

That is why I see Chanukah as the pink elephant of Annapolis. The obvious historical connection of Jews to the Holy Land, so clearly symbolized by Chanukah and the president’s Chanukah speech, was hush-hushed in Annapolis — while everyone knew that only by agreeing on this connection can the post-Annapolis process move toward a compromised two-state solution.

It’s time to act on Saudis’ support of terror

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was stunned at the hostile reception he received during a recent visit to London. It seems our British friends are much more attuned than we are to the nefarious role the Saudis continue to play in financing and fomenting terror.

As Middle East policymakers and experts focus their efforts on Iraq, Iran and now the Annapolis gathering, the nation that is best described as the epicenter for terror continues to fly under the radar screen, at least in the United States.

Saudi Arabia has deftly played its oil trump card while putting on its payroll an army of former U.S. diplomats who shamelessly patrol the corridors of power, trying to convince us that the king is our most reliable ally in the war on terror. Rendered virtually irrelevant is a nasty bill of particulars:

  • Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001, mass murderers were products of the kingdom and funded with Saudi money.
  • More than half of the forgein terrorists attacking and killing our troops in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia.
  • Saudi textbooks still preach anti-West and anti-Semitic hatred, trumpeting as gospel the blasphemous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
  • The Saudis relentlessly finance mosques and schools the world over that bellow deadly extremist ideology.
  • U.S. law enforcement officials have publicly aired their frustration at the continued financing of terrorist groups, despite repeated requests to the Saudis to put the enablers out of business.
  • The Saudis’ failure to prosecute known sponsors and benefactors of terrorism.

The U.S. Treasury Department has been extremely frustrated at our supposed ally, noting with contempt the great divide between Saudi promises and Saudi action. The terms most used to describe Saudi efforts in the war on terror: “passive,” “disengaged,” “little or no progress” and “foot-dragging.”

While certain baby steps have been taken, they amount to no more than a drop in the bucket compared to what the Saudis have been implored to do. While the Bush administration will in no way hold Saudi feet to the fire, some on Capitol Hill are fed up. Enter U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who have introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2007 in their respective chambers.

The legislation demands that Saudi Arabia close any entity engaged in funding or facilitating terror and to cooperate with American efforts. Failure to do so will trigger a series of sanctions, including restrictions on arms sales.

The Saudi initiative is one of the most important pieces of legislation pending on the Hill. It should be high not only on the pro-Israel agenda but on America’s national security agenda, as well. Indeed, one can make a strong case that it deserves to be the legislative centerpiece of the war on terror.

Let’s not lose sight that terrorist attacks need not be of Sept. 11 magnitude to have a devastating and deadly impact. The less-sophisticated operations carried out by home-grown fanatics are just as capable of wreaking havoc. Just ask the Brits and Spaniards. Both have felt the wrath of bombings perpetrated by young Islamic terrorists who were inspired by the poison spewing from Saudi-supported mosques and schools.

The White House and State Department, of course, will never endorse this initiative, trotting out the disingenuous mantra that the Saudis are needed in our fight against the bad guys. Never mind that the kingdom and their American hired guns all along have been assuring us that the Saudis will stand shoulder to shoulder with us — the empirical evidence proves the contrary.

While the Saudis talk a good game, it would be the height of naiveté to expect that they will undertake any of the serious measures we have been urging for years.

Odds are the legislation proffered by Specter, Widen and Weiner will die on the vine, never making it out of committee; I’m afraid the Saudi lobby will win this battle easily. Indeed, similar legislation in recent years has gone nowhere, even when there was the hardest of evidence proving that the Saudi government was paying the families of suicide murderers and directly supporting Hamas.

One reason for the past failure was the lack of a concerted, unified push by the legendary pro-Israel lobby. The silence sent a clear message to Congress: This was not a matter of importance to the Jewish community.

This time, only the Zionist Organization of America has endorsed and will lobby for the Saudi accountability measure. Unfortunately, it probably will be virtually alone in this fight. Jewish organizations would do well to remember that it was a losing battle — over the sale of AWACS to the Saudis 25 years ago — that for all practical purposes put it on the map. Some battles must be fought because it simply is the right thing to do. Taking the Saudis to task for being the hub of terrorism is one of those battles.

Unless and until sinister activities engaged in, tolerated and effectively endorsed by Saudi Arabia are challenged head on, the war on terror is not much more than an exercise of putting our heads in the sand. The sources of financing must be dried up, and the ideology of hatred must be destroyed. The Saudis have the power and the ability to make this happen. Until now, they have demonstrated a decisive lack of will.

The question is whether the pro-Israel community has the guts to take on this vital battle in an effort to make the Saudis see the light. Regrettably, if past is prologue, don’t bet on it.

Neal Sher, a New York attorney, previously served as director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations and as executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He can be reached at

Annapolis, Chanukah, Jerusalem, Not So Weird

Annapolis and Jerusalem

Last month, Rob Eshman wrote, “Many of us are willing to let half of Jerusalem go so that the idea of Jerusalem can be saved” (“Annapolis and Chanukah,” Nov. 30). I’d like to respond with two points:

First, if, God forbid, East Jerusalem were handed over to the Palestinians, it wouldn’t be “ideas” they’d be firing onto the homes and institutions of West Jerusalem.

Second, no portion of Israel, especially Jerusalem, is the sole possession of the prime minister, to be traded for even a legitimate promise of peace. The state may be sovereign, but the land upon which the Israeli government presides is unique and distinct from any other parcel of land on earth.

Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, everywhere: those of us who pray every day for its safety, teenagers visiting for the first time through Taglit-birthright israel, grandparents who buy Israel Bonds for their grandchildren, Israel Defense Forces soldiers who fought to protect and reunify the city and their families and friends who grieved when they paid the ultimate price.

Although we’ve been scattered around the world for the past 2,000 years, our hearts were always in Jerusalem. Seeing the city divided now would break our hearts.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

I want to thank Rob Eshman for his insightful and honest piece about Annapolis. I am heartened that the parties met and that the Arab world seems ready to move in the direction of making peace with Israel. The hard work is yet to come.

And it is so true that the story of Chanukah, the spiritual side, which the rabbis highlighted through the haftarah of Zecharia, can inform us in how we go forward in this new round of talks. We must all be truthful, hopeful and courageous of spirit in our desire for peace.

Jerusalem can be shared, as it is already, and the holy sites will be open to all people.

The naysayers are out in force, but I am choosing to stand with those who believe in hope and a future of peace. The realities will be hard to swallow, but with a healthy dose of spirituality, a belief that tomorrow can be different from today, we can be the generation that makes peace a reality. Not by might but by spirit.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center,
Brit Tzedek V’Shalom National Secretary

‘New Kind of Mikveh’

There are many beautifully designed mikvehs throughout California (“New Kind of Mikveh Washes Off Ritual’s Negative Image,” Dec. 7). This new trend started some 30 years ago with the Long Beach Mikveh. Its establishment was prompted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Since then, mikvehs have taken on a new approach to design and sensitivity to femininity. For instance, the recently constructed mikveh in Agoura is a prime example of this trend.

In our community of Yorba Linda, the Orange County mikveh is slated to open in just a few weeks. The mikveh was constructed with great attention to detail. It is a haven of holiness and purity. Many in the community will benefit from it.

For more on mikvehs around the community, visit

Rabbi David Eliezrie
North County Chabad Center

‘Wandering Minyan’

I must confess that it was with special delight and pleasure I read David Suissa’s Pearl Harbor Day column titled, “Wandering Minyan” (Dec. 7).

There are three reasons I was thrilled by your explication. First, the dynamic writing style offered a cerebral joy associated with pleasure of experiencing fine craftsmanship. Secondly and more importantly I shared an experience with Young Israel of Santa Monica, and your words were true and familiar. What reverberated deeply was your prophetic call to act as a true guardian and trustee of community assets, to act benevolently and righteously, to act as a brother to a brother.

My encounter with this little congregation was similar to yours. My wife and I sauntered into the Levin Center and encountered an eclectic group, unified in their respect and warmth toward guests and each other.

I wish I could share your optimism that with a new voice in The Federation, there can be exhibited a breath of kindness to engage Young Israel.

I ask all like-minded folk, especially Young Israel congregants, to make a small amendment to their annual gifts to The Federation. Make their checks payable to Young Israel of Santa Monica Rent Trust (Negotiable when Young Israel resumes residency at the Levin Center).

If enough dollars are earmarked for Young Israel of Santa Monica, The Federation will yield to economy, if not brotherhood.

David [Suissa] keep up the good work in keeping our community leaders accountable and humane.

David Stauber
Santa Monica


If Phillip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, is “trying to keep young Jews from cults,” then why is he discouraging them from taking pride in their Judaism (“Not So Weird,” Dec. 7)?

In his review of Jody Myers’ book and his own visit to the centre, Rob Eshman states that the Kabbalah Centre denies that it is Jewish (except when doing so would benefit its coffers). He also explains how centre regulars abhor the idea of converting to Judaism or even using the term Jewish.

If the centre and its adherents are so ashamed of being Jewish or being associated with something Jewish, then why did they steal the name of an ancient Jewish practice? Is it any wonder that the centre rubs many Jews the wrong way?

Real Jews take pride in their Judaism. They don’t try to appeal to the masses or blend in with non-Jews, and they certainly don’t try to coddle spoiled movie stars and pop singers like Madonna, who are made sick by the very idea of being Jewish.

Briefs: Court nixes Neuwirth suit, Pearl family menorah at White House

Court Rules Against Neuwirth

A Superior Court judge in Santa Monica has dismissed a defamation suit, which threw into sharp relief the emotional tension between hawkish and dovish supporters of Israel.

Judge John Reed ruled Nov. 27 against plaintiff Rachel Neuwirth, a right-wing commentator on Israeli issues, and in favor of Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin and Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein, who had described Neuwirth as a “Kahanist swine” on his blog.

Both defendants are on the opposite political pole to the plaintiff.

Neuwirth may be best known for being at the center of a widely publicized case four years ago, when she was kicked and scratched by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the UCLA Hillel director, following a heated political exchange.

In that case, Neuwirth sued, resulting in Seidler-Feller being ordered to take an anger management course. Early this year he sent a full apology to Neuwirth, taking full responsibility for the incident.

In the current case, according to Neuwirth’s attorney Charles L. Fonarow, Silverstein not only called his client a “Kahanist swine” (referring to a supporter of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane), but also the “hell’s angel of the pro-Israel crowd” and “Jewish trash,” who “spews hate” and is engaged in “cyber bullying.”

The charge against Beinin rested on Neuwirth’s claim that the Stanford professor had falsely accused her of leaving a death threat on his answering machine, which is a crime in California.

The case was filed five months ago and, according to interviews with three involved attorneys, Dean Hansell of Dewey & LeBoeuf for Silverstein, Steven Freeburg for Beinin, and Fonarow for Neuwirth, the judge considered one key legal issue: whether Neuwirth was a public figure and whether the name-calling occurred in a public forum, in which case it fell under First Amendment protection of free speech.

Although Neuwirth argued that she was a private real estate broker, Reid ruled that her journalistic articles made her a public figure, and that Silverstein’s blog, which runs thousands of outside comments a year, constituted a public forum.

Neuwirth will have to pay the considerable attorneys’ fees for Freeburg and Hansell. The latter defended Silverstein pro bono, or free of charge, because, he said, “Being Jewish myself, I felt this was the right thing to do and in the best Jewish tradition.”

Fonarow denounced the court’s decision and charged that the judge ignored evidence that Silverstein and Beinin had been “motivated by actual malice.”

The attorney promised to appeal the ruling to a State Court of Appeal within 60 days and, if necessary, “take it to the Supreme Court.”

–Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Dershowitz at UCI, Post-Annapolis: Peace Within Reach

On a campus that has seen its share of anti-Israel activity, on Nov. 29, on the heels of the Annapolis summit, Alan Dershowitz made the case for Middle East peace to a crowd of more than 1,000 students and community members who packed the UC Irvine Student Center.

The Harvard Law School professor and best-selling author of “The Case for Israel” and “The Case for Peace” was cautiously optimistic that peace might be within reach, even with Hamas in control of Gaza.

“I’m hopeful that for the first time, the Palestinian leadership finally wants an Arab state more than they want the destruction of the Jewish state,” an obstacle that has repeatedly prevented Palestinians from gaining independence, he said.

In defending the case for a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, Dershowitz attempted to mollify anti-Israel extremists in the audience who oppose a Jewish state.

“If [students] are anti-Israel, in the end they’re anti-Palestinian, because there will never be a Palestinian state without Israel,” he said.

StandWithUs arranged Dershowitz’s visit to Southern California last week, and his appearance on the Orange County campus was sponsored by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, Anteaters for Israel and other Jewish student and communal groups and made possible through a grant from the Jewish Federation Orange County.

Organizers intended Dershowitz’s appearance as a direct response to former President Jimmy Carter’s May speech at UCI, in which he discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Dershowitz has been a vocal critic of the book, which decries Israel’s alleged colonization of Palestinian territories as the primary obstacle to peace.

The event was also meant to counter inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric that has polarized Muslims and Jews at UCI. The campus has played host to several anti-Israel speakers including Oakland-based Muslim cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali and Ayatollah Khomeini admirer Muhammad al-Asi.

“One of the things that’s important to us is presenting a balanced approach,” Hillel Foundation of Orange County Executive Director Jeffrey T. Rips said. “We wanted to show a different side to students.”

Members of the Muslim Student Association attended the event. Although the audience adhered to event organizers’ requests to maintain decorum, anti-Israel hostility brewed during the Q-and-A session. One student, wearing a black T-shirt with Arabic writing, referred to a statement supportive of torture that has been falsely attributed to Dershowitz in an obvious attempt to discomfit the speaker. Another challenged him to debate Holocaust denier and Israel detractor Norman Finkelstein.

Jewish students in attendance were relieved that tempers didn’t flare as they have in the past.

“I was expecting things to be harsher,” said Isaac Yerushalmi, a junior from Santa Monica and president of Anteaters for Israel. “I’m happy to see that everything is very civil. Our events aren’t always that way. I think it was very successful.”

Dershowitz urged moderate Jewish and Muslim students to engage in dialogue and marginalize extremists in order to reduce tension on campus.

“Most Jewish student leaders agree with Dershowitz, and we’re hoping to find those Muslim or Palestinians who want a two-state solution and want to work with us,” said Hillel Jewish Student Union Co-President Michelle Eshaghian. “Hopefully, his comments will bring them out.”

— Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer

Pearl Family Menorah at White House

Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, will light the family menorah at the White House Chanukah reception on Dec. 10, at the invitation of President and Mrs. Bush.

Annapolis is over — now it’s bargaining time

After the pomp and circumstance of Annapolis, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are gearing up for tough bargaining over the minutiae of a two-state settlement.

Not only will they have to agree on core issues like borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, but they’ll also have to find common ground on a host of lesser concerns regulating relations between the two states, ranging from shared sewage systems to allocations on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The peacemaking, which officially is to begin Dec. 12, will proceed on three tracks: politics, economics and security.

While they negotiate a final deal for a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, the two sides also will have to meet their obligations under the internationally sponsored “road map” peace plan.

For Israel, this means freezing construction of Jewish settlements and removing Jewish outposts from the West Bank. For the Palestinians, this means dismantling terrorist groups. The United States will arbitrate on fulfillment.

At Annapolis, the two sides agreed to set up a joint steering committee to monitor and oversee the negotiating process. Its first task will be to develop a joint work plan.

Israel will propose setting up as many as 14 working committees, one on each of the six core issues of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water, security arrangements and Jewish settlements, and the others on secondary issues. Those will include such matters as continued Israeli use of airspace over the West Bank and Gaza, allocation of radio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum — which has important implications for intelligence gathering — joint sewage and waste systems, tax and customs regulations, economic cooperation, border crossing procedures and coordination of the legal systems.

Israel plans to set up a peace administration similar to the one that operated during the Camp David process in 2000. It will have 14 teams of experts for the 14 working committees.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will have to decide soon whether the peace administration falls under his jurisdiction or that of Israel’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Livni probably will retain her position as chief negotiator, though Olmert could decide on a personnel change.

The Palestinian chief negotiator is former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who also headed the Palestinian team in the initial phase of the Oslo process.

The economic track is meant to serve as a catalyst for political progress, with foreign investment giving Palestinians the incentive to create a peaceful state and the capacity to run it.

Thus, a massive influx of international investment should serve both as a carrot for Palestinian peacemaking and as a means to help the Palestinians create functioning institutions and a viable economy.

On Dec. 17, France will host a major donor conference as the economic follow-up piece to Annapolis. In Paris, the Palestinian Authority is expected to ask for a whopping $5.5 billion during three years for budgetary support and development. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, fund new infrastructure construction and pay for government reforms.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special envoy of the Quartet group of peace sponsors — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — is the main mover and shaker.

Blair already has identified four special projects: a Gaza sewage treatment plan, an industrial park sponsored by Turkey, a Japanese funded agro-industrial park and a plan to revive tourism, especially in Bethlehem. Blair emphasizes the huge job-creating potential of all these labor-intensive projects.

Israel has agreed to allow a shipment of 25 Russian-made armored vehicles, 1,000 rifles and 2 million rounds of ammunition for Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank. The idea is to provide short-term support for forces loyal to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas terrorists active in the Nablus area and, in the longer term, to give Abbas the wherewithal to carry out his principal road map commitment to disarm all terrorist groups.

Already in November, 300 Palestinian special police troops, trained by U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton, started operating in the Nablus area.

Israeli and Palestinian forces also have resumed coordination on the ground, including intelligence exchanges. If the Nablus experiment and the coordination on the ground prove successful, Israel will hand over more West Bank cities to Palestinian Authority forces.

The first of the road map’s three stages requires Israel to dismantle unauthorized West Bank outposts and freeze settlement building, and the Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel and dismantle terrorist groups.

Israel’s Defense Ministry hopes to persuade settler leaders to agree to voluntary evacuation of the outposts, possibly in return for commitments on settlements Israel will retain in any final-status agreement.

The United States will monitor implementation of road map commitments, with former NATO commander Lt. Gen. Jim Jones playing the lead role. Jones also will monitor development of the Palestinian security forces and their coordination with the Israel Defense Forces.

In a bid to strengthen Abbas on the Palestinian street, Israel will continue releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing checkpoints.

Together with the planned economic upturn, this is meant to create a feel-good factor on the Palestinian street that will help Abbas move forward toward a peace treaty and win any referendum on a final deal if such a deal is reached.

On Monday, Israel released 429 Palestinian prisoners as part of this confidence-building approach.

Another post-Annapolis development could be talks with Syria. Russia reportedly is planning a follow-up conference in Moscow focusing on the Syrian track, and a high-level Russian emissary reportedly has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus.

However, it is not clear to what extent Israel and the United States are interested in opening a parallel Syrian track at this point. Last week, Olmert said he was not aware of any plans for a conference in Moscow focusing on Israeli-Arab peacemaking.

Syria aside, all the trappings of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking soon will be in place, and while the structuring of the process is impressive, the substance — so far — has been less so.

The big question remains the same as it was before Annapolis – and the same it has been for the last decade and a half: Can Israelis and Palestinians find a way to truly confront and resolve the core differences between them?

New summit produces nothing new — as usual

Whenever the Arab League gets together for its biannual meetings, journalists in Cairo—where the pan-Arab body is based—joke that they can write the final communiqué themselves, as they wait for the officials to come out of their meetings and talk to the media. Seven years might have passed since the last major Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but the same things are always said at these summits, so we might as well have played the Cairo press packs’ game of inking the final statement ourselves.

Being in the region—I was in Cairo at the beginning of November, and I’m writing this from Tel Aviv—it’s easy to see why Annapolis produced nothing new: Both Arab and Israeli politics have failed to produce anything new for years now.

I was a correspondent for Reuters News Agency in Jerusalem in 1998. I came back for the first time in nine years so that I could speak at a Tel Aviv University conference marking the 30th anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s surprise visit to Israel, which I wrote about in a column. To this day, I am still in trouble with Egyptian State Security for living in Israel.

Surveying the Israeli political scene since my return, it was as if the major players have spent the past nine years engaged in a bizarre game of musical chairs. The same names are still on the scene—they’re just sitting in different chairs.

On the Palestinian political scene, resist the temptation to confuse combustibility with change or new ideas. Just as they were back in the 1990s, Fatah and Hamas are still fighting it out—only more overtly now. New and alternative voices are pushed aside, discouraged and marginalized.

In Egypt, it’s just the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood on the political stage at the moment, and it looks like our republic will give birth to dynastic politics that will install the president’s son into the presidency. It’s no wonder that with the same man ruling for the past 26 years, Egypt—long considered the leader of the Arab world—has run out of ideas.

And so on and so forth.

Old and stale ideas are natural outcomes of old and stale politicians. Just because President Bush—14 months away from the end of his presidency—has suddenly realized he’s done nothing substantial to push along peace, that doesn’t mean that his invitations to the White House alone are sufficient.

On the political level in the Middle East, I am resolutely pessimistic. Annapolis didn’t change that.

Where it did help, though, was to provide a poignant backdrop for the Tel Aviv University conference on Nov. 28 and 29. As Dr. Mira Tzoreff, an Egypt expert at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, was planning the conference this summer, Bush gave her quite a gift by saying he’d host the Annapolis talks sometime in November.

So as we meet for the conference to discuss Israeli-Egyptian relations 30 years after that historic visit, there are lessons to be learned from the Camp David peace treaty that are useful for all peace talks.

The young Egyptians I interviewed for my conference presentation embodied those lessons. They were all born after Sadat’s visit. In other words, for their entire lives, Egypt has been at peace with Israel. And yet although those young people disagreed on support for Sadat’s peace initiative, they all shared a negative attitude toward Israel. Unless Israel made peace with the Palestinians and ended its occupation, they said they would never accept it.

Hostility toward Israel can also be traced to the Egyptian regime’s continued scapegoating of Israel over the years—made easier by Israel’s continued settlement expansion and its heavy-handed attacks on Lebanon last summer.

Thirty years after making peace, Israeli journalists who visit Egypt are often snubbed, and Egyptians refuse to visit Israel altogether.

Even so, Tzoreff insists that she will never lose her optimism. It takes nerves of steel to be an Israeli academic organizing a conference to mark the 30th anniversary of an Egyptian leader’s visit. The Egyptian ambassador didn’t take part in the opening night’s proceedings, sending his number two, instead.

I am the only Egyptian invited who agreed to come. I know there aren’t any Egyptian academics who organized similar conferences to which they invited Israelis. And yet those young Egyptians who were uniformly negative in their attitudes toward Israel were still curious to hear how Israelis viewed them and reacted to their comments at the Tel Aviv University conference.

Many co-existence efforts go unnoticed, but it is these nonpolitical actors who are coming up with the new ideas. The leaders at Annapolis have run out of them.