Olmert appeals conviction, sentence in Talansky Affair

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed his conviction and prison sentence for accepting cash-filled envelopes from an American-Jewish businessman in the so-called Talansky Affair.

Olmert asked Israel’s Supreme Court to delay the start of his eight-month prison term pending his appeal, according to reports.

He also is currently in the midst of an appeal of his conviction for accepting bribes in the Holyland Affair, for which he was fined and sentenced to six years in prison. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that he could delay the start of his prison sentence pending all appeals.

In a second trial in March, Olmert was found guilty of accepting envelopes filled with money from American Jewish businessman Morris “Moshe” Talansky and using it for personal — not political — expenses.

Olmert is the first Israeli prime minister to be sentenced to prison.

Brooklyn man, extradited from Israel, arraigned in ’08 beating death

NEW YORK (JTA) — A former Hasidic community watch group member in Brooklyn was arraigned in New York in a 2008 beating death after being extradited from Israel.

Yitzchak Schuchat, 31, was arraigned Friday in state Supreme Court in the death of Andrew Charles, according to New York 1. U.S. marshals returned him to New York last week.

Schuchat is facing charges of second- and third-degree assault as a hate crime; Charles was black.

An Israeli court decided to extradite Schuchat in 2011, but he remained in Israel pending appeal.

Schuchat, a member of the Shmira community watch group at the time of the assault, is being held on $300,000 bail and is scheduled to return to court on Aug. 18.

Baseball star Ryan Braun wins appeal

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun won his appeal of his earlier positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.

The decision, announced on Thursday, means that Braun—the reigning National League most valuable player and the first Jew to earn that distinction in nearly five decades—will avoid a 50-game suspension.

Braun’s suspension was overturned by an an arbitrator in what is believed to be the first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related grievance. No reasoning for the ruling was given.

In December, it was reported that Braun, the son of an Israeli-born father and Catholic mother, had tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. Braun denied using performance-enhacing drugs.

“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision,” Braun said in a statement reported by news agencies. “It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s vice president for labor relations, said his organization “vehemently disagrees with the decision.”

‘Irvine 11’ attorneys appeal conviction

Attorneys for 10 Muslim students convicted of disrupting a speech given by Israeli ambassador at UC Irvine last year, filed a notice of appeal Wednesday, arguing that the law used to convict the students was “vague and unconstitutional.”

The students — three from UC Riverside and seven from UCI — were found guilty of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Feb. 8, 2010.

The high-profile case garnered national debate over free speech rights and has divided Jews and Muslims as well as some within the Jewish community for more than a year.

On Sept. 23, Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson handed down his sentence of three years probation, which would be cut to a year if the students complete 56 hours of community service by Jan. 31 and pay $270 in fines. Charges against an 11th co-defendant have been tentatively dropped.

In the courtroom, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that Oren was “shut down” and “censored.” But the defendants’ six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law and were exercising their right to free speech

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Wagner, said the notice of appeal was expected.

“They were defiant of the jury’s verdict from the start and said they would be filing an appeal,” she said. “We will for sure file an objection. We believe the defendants got more than a fair trial.”

Katsav appeals rape conviction

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav has appealed his conviction on rape and sexual assault charges and requested a delay of his prison sentence.

Katsav is scheduled to enter prison next week to serve a seven-year sentence.

His appeal was filed Monday with the Israeli Supreme Court; his attorneys requested that the former Israeli president’s imprisonment be delayed pending a final decision on the appeal. The conviction and sentence was handed down in the Tel Aviv District Court.

Katsav also was ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. He will serve two years of probation after he is released from prison.

The 300-page appeal suggests that it would be undignified for Katsav to show up at the Supreme Court for his appeal in handcuffs, according to reports. The appeal also asks that “weighty consideration should be given to the fact that Katsav served as the president of the State and Israel’s official representative at home and abroad.”

The yearlong trial, which was closed to the public, ended with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years before the verdict was handed down, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset of Shimon Peres. In 2007, Peres assumed the post following Katsav’s resignation in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term.

Australian government appeals Zentai ruling

The Australian government is appealing a court ruling that spared an alleged Nazi war criminal from being extradited to Hungary.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor approved the extradition of Charles Zentai in 2009, but a Federal Court judge overturned the decision last year.

The government on Tuesday appealed the ruling that said Zentai, 89, of Perth, was not eligible for extradition.

Zentai, a former soldier in the Hungarian army, is wanted for questioning in the murder of an 18-year-old Jewish man in Nazi-occupied Budapest in 1944.

He has vehemently denied the claims since they surfaced in 2005 following a campaign mounted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Zentai says he left Budapest on Nov. 7, 1944—the day before Peter Balazs was murdered.

The Wiesenthal Center’s spokesman, Efraim Zuroff, said the appeal “is the correct response by the Australian Government, which should be commended for its perseverance in this case. His fate should be decided in a court in Hungary.”

The government’s appeal is expected to be heard by the full bench of the Federal Court.

Sarah Palin and Chabad share the same appeal

I’m getting a hunch the Republicans just might win for one reason alone, and it makes no sense, just like Chabad makes no sense to the Jewish elite.

That one reason is Sarah Palin. She reminds me of about a thousand different Chabad shluchot (the rebbe’s women representatives). She’s seems friendly, sexy (forgive me) in an Orthodox way, with that magnetism, optimism and accessibility that has made Chabad shluchot successful in 5,000 different locales, even though they are almost always considerably more right wing — religiously and politically — than their congregants and financial supporters.

Reform, Conservative and other Orthodox Jews don’t get it. How is Chabad so successful in places where there are no Chasidim? Why do liberal Jews on New York’s Upper West Side want to send their kids to Chabad preschools? Why do many hundreds of non-Chasidic, even non-Orthodox students at Harvard and State University of New York Binghamton, want to spend Friday night meals with these Chabad Sarah Palins, rather than the more mainstream, liberal Jews down the road? It makes no sense.

Don’t get it, do you?

Who would you rather have a cup of coffee with on a bungalow porch — a cup that can turn into a three-hour conversation — Palin or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?

Pelosi and Sen. Hillary Clinton come across like the Queen of Spades of a nanny state — school marms of a school you don’t want to go to. Pelosi, in particular, seems like one of those sisterhood program chairs from a suburban temple whose calls you don’t want to answer.

Palin seems like one of those Chabad women who don’t have enough chairs at her table for all the non-Chabad women who’d take a plane or a subway to attend the next shluchot convention in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights.

Something’s happening, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Nancy Pelosi?

And another thing: There are plenty of logical, rational reasons to abort America’s relationship with Israel, the far left tells us, but Chabad doesn’t abort and evangelicals (such as Palin) don’t, either.

Rabbis who can’t stop quoting Heschel or Soloveitchik don’t get it.

Americans and Jews don’t need another genius. We don’t need another Herr Rabbi Doctor. We have enough “scholars,” believe it or not.

We don’t have enough human beings who’d rather rock a Down syndrome baby to sleep than abort it; human beings who can relate to a flunking child or the stuffiness of the sophisticates, parents who don’t give a damn who’s in the top shiur or who made law review.

We have too many of the best and the brightest, the wise and the brilliant, who can’t communicate (and who, in the end, maybe aren’t really the best or all that brilliant.)

The genius of Chabad is delivering their message in a down-home way, much as Palin did at the convention.

There are others outside of Chabad who know how to do it, too. Blu Greenberg, for one, the godmother of Orthodox feminism, is as smart and wise as anyone I’ve ever met, but like a Chabad woman, she doesn’t enter a room like she wants you to know what she got on her SATs (or BJEs).

Her voice and manner are gentle; her visions for Judaism are prophetic and compelling, all the more so because her Judaism is poetic (she’s a published poet, after all), not like Judaism’s angry left, whose religion has all the appeal of a term paper, all about “J,” “P,” Deutero-Isaiah; the kind who can’t look at any biblical verse with being “troubled” by it.

Chabad women know what really troubles people, and it ain’t Deutero-Isaiah.

In 1950, all American Jews heard of liberal Judaism (that’s Conservatives, too) but almost no one heard of Chabad. Chabad seemed a relic of history. Liberal Judaism was ascendant, inevitable. The rebbe’s Chabad was as fringe religiously as Palin’s conservative ancestors were then on the fringe politically.

Who would have figured that in 2008, liberal pews in most of America would be emptier than their rabbis would like, while everyone has now heard of Chabad? Men and women from Chabad are all over the continent, all over the planet, raising fortunes (without charging shul membership fees), getting men to put on tefillin, getting women to go to mikvah — men and women who, if not for Chabad, wouldn’t. It makes no sense.

Chabad women, like Palin, don’t look at Judaism or the United States and then look at the world to worry, “Why do they hate us?” They don’t blame Judaism or America first.

They are happy warriors. They don’t think “bitterness” is what motivates religious people, as Sen. Barack Obama said with condescension. You come away feeling that these kind of women understand religion, they love America and religion like they love their kids, troubles and all, feeling blessed every step of the way.

The high-salaried great scholars of the other denominations, none of whom went to the University of Idaho, are very good at conducting studies, at going on high-priced retreats, at developing goalposts that can be moved to allow past failures to score.

Chabad women don’t conduct studies. They cook a chicken (or Palin a moose) and invite you over on Friday night. And college students, middle-class families, international businessmen want to be there.

At the beginning of these successful relationships between Chabad and their guests, theology and politics have little or nothing to do with it. A lot of Palin’s appeal has nothing to do with her theology or politics, either.

The other party and denominations are trying to figure it out. Maybe if they could get a grant. Maybe if they could find someone with whom they can dialogue.

Chabad women and Palin don’t dialogue. They talk. And they don’t talk down.

They win. Makes no sense, does it?

Jonathan Marks is associate editor of The Jewish Week in New York.

Bone marrow match still sought for rabbinical student — can you help?

The urgent search for a suitable bone marrow transplant donor for University of Judaism rabbinical student Joel Shickman, 37, stricken with AML, a form of leukemia in early February, continues.

Shickman’s family is encouraging people to register with the National Bone Marrow Program, especially those of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) descent who have a greater likelihood of providing a match.

Information regarding testing, which involves providing a small blood sample or swab of cheek cells, is available at www.marrow.org or by calling 800-627-7692.

In the Los Angeles area, bone marrow drives are scheduled for February 27 and March 3. In addition, testing is being done in Culver City on March 10 and in North Hills on March 11.

Shickman has just completed a second round of chemotherapy and doctors are keeping him comfortable while they watch for infections and other side effects. In a few weeks, a biopsy will be done to determine if the leukemia has gone into remission. Once that occurs, a bone marrow transport will be performed, pending the discovery of a suitable donor.

In the meantime, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, where Shickman teaches and leads services, has established a fund to help with healthcare and related expenses. Additionally, the University of Judaism community, under the direction of Rabbis Cheryl Peretz and Shawn Fields-Meyer, has initiated a Mishnah study in honor of Shickman’s health.

Shickman’s wife, Heather, writing on a Cedars-Sinai CarePages blog, has expressed thanks for the community’s involvement: “I cannot express the gratitude I feel for everyone who has been helping me and for everyone who is signed up to continue helping. Joel and I are awed by God’s miracles and blessings that we receive daily from each of you.”In addition, Shickman, who is married and the father of threesons, is regularly receiving blood and platelet transfusions. Those wishing tohelp can schedule an appointment at the Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Facility to givea directed donation by calling 310-423-5326.Shomrei Torah Synagogue inWest Hills, where Shickman teaches and leads services, has established a fundto help with healthcare and related expenses. Additionally, the University ofJudaism community, under the direction of Rabbis Cheryl Peretz and ShawnFields-Meyer, has initiated a Mishnah study in honor of Shickman’s health.— Jane Ulman, Contributing WriterToread about Joel Shickman on the Cedars-Sinai CarePages blog “HereForJoel,”click: http://www.carepages.com/ServeCarePage?cpn=HereForJoel&seed=883673&ClusterNodeID=jb03&tlcx1=defaultInaddition, a webpage has been set up on www.lotsahelpinghands.comfor people to assist the Shickman family with childcare, meals, cleaningservices and other care.To participate in prayer and study groups, remotelyor on-site at University of Judaism, contact Rabbi Cheryl Peretz at cperetz@uj.edu or Rabbi ShawnFields-Meyer at shawn@fields-meyer.comTo donate to the Shickman Health Fund, pleasemake your checks payable to Shomrei Torah Synagogue and put Shickman HealthFund on the memo line. Mail to Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd.,West Hills, CA 91304 (Attn: Shickman Health Fund).

Q and A With Floyd Abrams

New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail this week for refusing to reveal confidential sources. The attorney for Miller and the Times is Floyd Abrams, who spoke with The Journal about the case, about his career, and also about his new book, “Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment.”

Miller faced imprisonment after the U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to hear her appeal and also an appeal by another reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine. A judge had held both reporters in contempt for not talking to the grand jury probing an alleged leak by someone in the Bush administration. The investigation centers on who may have violated federal law by disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent. The leak of the agent’s name, Valerie Plame, could have been retaliation, because it occurred shortly after Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, became a public critic of the Bush administration.

Cooper avoided jail time after agreeing to testify. He said his confidential source had, at the last moment, given him clearance to answer questions. Miller could remain in custody for as long as four months – until the grand jury completes its term.

In the interview, Abrams also talked of the Jewish perspective in his legal work, and about his role this year as an adviser to a Columbia University committee assembled following high-profile allegations of campus anti-Semitism.

Abrams, 68, emerged as a leading First Amendment attorney through his role in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, which he discusses at length in his book. Over the past 35 years, his career has been a virtual textbook in the development of First Amendment case law.

Jewish Journal: What’s at stake in the decision of Judith Miller and The New York Times to keep secret the names of confidential sources?

Floyd Abrams: Something that is a staple of Washington reporting and much used outside of Washington, as well. In Washington, a journalist literally cannot find anyone to speak to in the Defense Department, in the CIA, in Homeland Security, except on an off-the-record basis – on a promised basis not to reveal the name of the person who gives the information.

So what is really at issue here is whether journalists are going to be able to continue to function in certain types of reporting. They can do other sorts or reporting. There’s a lot of reporting where you don’t need confidential sources.

But if you want reporting that deals with national security-related matters, you have to give some sort of allowance for confidential sources to be used and protected. And if the word goes out either that journalists break their word or journalists can’t give their word, I think there’ll be a significant loss.

JJ: Your client and another reporter, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, face jail time because they won’t reveal information about their sources to a grand jury. But it was conservative columnist Robert Novak who actually used the information from the Bush administration source.

FA: Judy Miller did not even write a story about this. Matt Cooper, after Novak, wrote an article criticizing the unnamed leakers. The irony here is that a critic of the leaking and someone who didn’t even use the fruits of the leak are now sentenced to jail.

JJ: How is it that Novak doesn’t seem to be in the same hot seat as Miller and Cooper?

FA: If this investigation were being carried out by someone other than the special prosecutor, Pat Fitzgerald, who seems to me a straight shooter, I’d be very suspicious. How come Novak, a fellow who is pro-administration, is let loose, and my clients are in the dock? But no, I don’t think it’s that. Either he’s talked or he’s taken the Fifth Amendment [against self-incrimination]. Some people have suggested maybe the government does think it will indict Novak; that maybe he did do something illegal.

If something legally happens to Novak, that would raise very grave First Amendment problems, notwithstanding that he’s not the most appetizing victim, as far as the liberal community is concerned.

JJ: The coverage has tended to focus on Miller and Cooper.

FA: I don’t understand why Mr. Novak is not constantly barraged with questions from other journalists. If he has testified, he’d be free to say, ‘They asked me this. They asked me that. I protected my source. Or I didn’t protect my source.’

All of this is relevant to my side of the case, too. Because if I knew he had testified, I would be saying with a lot more confidence in court: “What are we doing here? Why are my clients here in the dock?” And if I knew that he had said something in particular, I might be able to say, “Why do you need my people? You’ve already heard from Novak.”

But the government and the courts will not let us see even the written submission of the Special Counsel in which he set forth what he has done, the theory being: It’s Grand Jury material; therefore it’s secret; therefore I can’t see it. Now that’s the general rule, but I’m representing people who are very close to being imprisoned, and I’m not entitled to see the documents submitted by the government in support of imprisoning them. That seems to us to be another violation of the Constitution, and that’s the due-process clause — that you shouldn’t just be able to lock someone up on the basis of secret information, period.

JJ: Earlier this year, you had a hand in addressing a politically charged issue at Columbia University. You served as an adviser to a faculty committee investigating allegations made by Jewish students against professors regarded as pro-Palestinian.

FA: We were asked to look into charges by some Jewish students that they were mistreated in class and that certain classes were biased against Israel. Some students were saying that they were marginalized in these classes and made to feel as if their views were condemned.

JJ: According to The New York Times, the most credible allegation involved professor Joseph Massad. A student said she asked if it was true that Israel sometimes gave a warning before a bombing, so that people would not be hurt. She accused the professor of getting angry, and responding, ‘If you’re going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!’ The professor denied that the incident occurred.

FA: The student’s articulation of what happened was credible. The committee concluded that there were a few instances in which a particular professor had acted inappropriately or potentially so.

The broad issue here is this: Do students have academic freedom rights also? I think they do. They do not have to be humiliated, attacked, disdained. And what should a university do about charges of bias? For this was a matter more of alleged bias than intimidation.

You have to be careful not to sit in constant judgment of the bias or lack of bias of faculty members. That said, if a course becomes a political harangue, its pedagogic value is limited.

JJ: Where do you draw the line?

FA: You’d get rid of a professor who taught the flat-earth view simply on a basis that he’s wrong. It’s very hard, however, when a professor is talking about deeply politicized subjects.

The committee focused on what it was asked to focus on: incidents of alleged harassment of students by faculty. The broader questions it was not asked to look into. The usual First Amendment answer is to get some more faculty members so that students are exposed to a range of viewpoints – unless what a professor is doing is so far outside the realm of what can properly be offered in a great institution of learning.

JJ: You have not been a supporter of many of the campaign-reform laws, in particular McCain-Feingold.

FA: I wound up with a most unlikely client, Mitch McConnell, in challenging the McCain-Feingold law.

JJ: McConnell is one of the more conservative senators.

FA: Indeed. No one has ever said that Sen. McConnell is not consistently conservative. But on this issue I thought he was right, at least on the part of the case that interested me the most.

What bothered me and still does is the part of the law that makes it a crime for any union or corporation to put an ad on radio and television that mentions the name of a candidate for federal public office within 60 days of the election, or within 30 days of a nominating convention.

When I was called by Lions Gate Films, Michael Moore’s distributor of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ which is a very strong anti-Bush movie, I had to tell them they could not put on television their ads with a picture of Bush within 60 days of the general election, so no ads in September and October of 2004. They couldn’t do it within 30 days of the Republican convention, so nothing in August of 2004. And they could do nothing in a state that had a primary within 30 days of that state’s primary.

Beyond that, the AFL [American Federation of Labor] had to cancel ads that it routinely used, where they would, for example, say congressman so-and-so should vote in favor of raising the minimum wage. And the chamber of commerce, the pro-business group, couldn’t put on similar ads for, say, tort reform, focused on vulnerable members of Congress who were up for election.

JJ: You lost that case in the Supreme Court.

FA: We lost narrowly and definitively. A 5-4 vote, with the three most conservative members, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, voting for us. And Justice Kennedy voting for us, too. Kennedy is probably the most consistently protective of the First Amendment. And we lost all the justices traditionally viewed as more liberal.

JJ: What do you see as the actual solution to curbing the influence of money in politics?

FA: I don’t think there’s ever going to be a great solution…. I think that the optimum solution was the one advocated by the ACLU, that there ought to be public financing of political campaigns without limiting what private people can contribute. In New York City, for example, we have such a system. Michael Bloomberg last time spent $75 million running for mayor. At least the Democratic candidate had $16 million of city funding. So at least he could be heard, albeit by no means evenly. The other is to require instant disclosure over the Internet of every gift, or every gift over a certain amount made by anyone or anything. So it can become an issue if anybody thinks that too much corporate money goes one way or too much union money goes the other.

JJ: Does your heritage as a Jew give you a particular affinity as a lawyer for the First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech and establishes the separation of church and state?

FA: Jews are amongst the first victims in countries that don’t recognize First Amendment rights or their equivalent. And it seems to me that Jews, in particular, have generally borne that in mind, and that is one reason why Jews have been drawn, out of interest and necessity, to the legal profession.

Many Jews have taken the broad view that it’s necessary for them and for all groups of potential dissenters to have these freedoms legally protected. Freedom of speech and equality under the law are such essential values to Jewish people that it has been well said that freedom is always spoken with a Hebrew accent. We carry those notions and principles with us.

JJ: Has post-9/11 America proved to be an especially chilly time for the First Amendment?

FA: During a time in which people are afraid, there is always more of a tendency to suppress speech or to limit it.

The flap about Newsweek, I think, is one example. There were flaws in the Newsweek article, but the notion that the press secretary to the president is now holding press conferences purporting to instruct the press on how to do journalism — and blaming the press for deaths in Afghanistan — is suggestive of what happens in times of war, in times of crisis and the like. It’s very easy to blame the press, to come down hard on the press, especially at a time when the press does have a lot to answer for. It is also very tempting to try to score political points off the press at such a time.

JJ: Your new book makes clear that the push and pull of competing interests lies at the heart of our legal system. You describe how the government sought to prevent the New York Times and other newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers, which were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg and contained critical accounts of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The government claimed that national security was at stake, and ultimately, the government lost. That ruling is now enshrined in legal lore, but it was a very close call at the time, was it not?

FA: It was a very close call. After a case is over, decided — and somebody wins and somebody loses — it becomes the received wisdom. As in: That is the way it had to be. But that was a case that could have been lost

If Dan Ellsberg had gotten up in Central Park and started reading the Pentagon Papers, or indeed, if the Village Voice had published just what the New York Times did, I always thought the First Amendment side’s chances before the Supreme Court would have been greatly diminished. Only because the establishment press stood up and took this position did we finally eke out a victory.

What would have happened if we’d lost the Pentagon Papers case? I believe we really would live in a different sort of country. It would not necessarily be un-free, but it would be a lot less free than we are now.

Every president has grievances with the press, especially post-Sept. 11, with fears of war, fears of terrorism. And anyone who is in power has grievances with the press, but doesn’t even think about going to court and trying to stop the press from printing. That it is off the table is the big result, at the end of the day, of the Pentagon Papers case. The cultural lesson of the case is that presidents don’t have the weapon of a judicial injunction against the press, even when the press publishes material that the president believes is harmful to the country, not to mention the president himself.

JJ: You can still beat up the press afterward if it didn’t do its job properly.

FA: Correct.

JJ: Will the Pentagon Papers precedent survive a new Supreme Court? Or, for that matter, are other landmark decisions on the free press likely to be at stake?

FA: I don’t think that the central approach of the Pentagon Papers case is likely to be put back in play.

In lots of other areas, the battles go on and who’s on the court is absolutely essential. A lot of people think as many as three justices might leave during this term. Then you really start to cut into the core of the court and you have potential for vast changes in judicial rulings.


Pollard Lawyers Get Day in Federal Court

Sept. 2 is going to be a big day for Jonathan Pollard: The American Jewish spy is going to get another day in court.

Pollard’s lawyers will have 40 minutes in a federal courtroom to explain why they should be permitted to continue efforts to rescind the life sentence he received 18 years ago for committing espionage for Israel.

Years of tenacious motions by attorneys Jacques Semmelman and Eliot Lauer either have been vigorously opposed by government attorneys or allowed to languish in the court.

Now U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan has granted a hearing to Pollard and his attorneys — who are working on the case pro bono. Semmelman and Lauer will get 30 minutes to argue why they should be permitted to appeal, the government can take a half hour to respond and then Pollard’s attorneys will be granted 10 minutes for the last word.

So pivotal is the hearing that the judge has ordered federal prison officials in Butner, N.C., to shuttle Pollard to the U.S. District Court in Washington for the event. Prison officials said they are uncertain whether U.S. marshals would fly Pollard to the nation’s capital or drive.

"Normally, we drive them for a mere six-hour trip," a prison representative said, "but a high-profile prisoner like Pollard might be flown."

He added that arrangements would be made for Pollard’s kosher meals.

Despite mounds of legal briefs and well-researched citations, Pollard’s hearing boils down to two issues:

  • Was the ex-naval intelligence officer convicted in March 1987 on the basis of a misleading secret 46-page affidavit?

  • Was he denied due process by a defense attorney who declined to file a routine appeal after Judge Aubrey Robinson stunned Pollard and threw a crowded courtroom into pandemonium with an unexpected life sentence? The life sentence violated the prosecutor’s plea agreement to not ask for life in exchange for Pollard’s cooperation.

Then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted the secret affidavit at virtually the last minute at Robinson’s personal request. In the affidavit, Weinberger wrote: "It is difficult for me, in the so-called ‘year of the spy’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security."

The message, backed up with some 20 classified documents, was clear: Give Pollard a life sentence — regardless of the written plea agreement.

Fifteen years later, Weinberger conceded that "the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance." Pressed on why this was so, Weinberger replied, "I don’t know why — it just was."

Attorneys Semmelman and Lauer have been filing motion after motion to see the supposedly secret documents so they can adequately appeal. But their efforts have been denied on the grounds of national security, even though they have been granted the necessary security clearances. Semmelman is a former U.S. attorney. The documents concern sources and methods used two decades ago, before the proliferation of personal computers.

The second question asks whether Pollard was denied due process on account of "ineffective assistance of counsel," according to the motion.

Pollard’s attorney at the time, Richard Hibey, has been widely criticized for inaction. He failed to object when prosecutors violated the plea agreement and asked for life, failed to call for an evidentiary hearing on Weinberger’s secret affidavit and then — to the surprise of most observers — declined to file the routine notice of appeal in the 10 days allotted.

For years, Hibey has dodged all questions on his representation of Pollard.

Despite the hearing, there are few prospects for a Pollard release in the immediate future.

Even if Semmelman and Lauer were granted the opportunity to appeal — consistently denied because Hibey failed to file the 10-day notice — it might take another year or two for any decision.

Pollard already has served far longer than the average for people convicting of spying either for enemies of the United States or it allies.

Center Construction Moves Ahead Despite Shortfall

Though Irvine’s Samueli Jewish Campus is $2 million short of $20 million required to finish a community building, the project’s supporters are moving ahead to avoid the potential costs of delay.

Permits for the 123,000-square-foot building adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School were issued in March.

"We’re moving ahead as originally scheduled," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who is leading fundraising. In a communitywide appeal in May 2002, he promised a fiscally conservative stance: construction would start when financial goals were met.

"If it weren’t for potentially inflationary pressure, we wouldn’t have started," he said last month.

Waiting for the till to fill would incur extra costs from disbanding the building’s construction team, an expected hike in steel prices and bid escalation due to a predicted surge of postwar construction, Stern said. Known costs alone amounted to $500,000, said Irving M. Chase, of Irvine, a member of the capital campaign committee.

"This is one way to protect the bids we had," Stern said.

Adequate funds have been pledged for the $6.5 million first phase, which includes grading, utilities, a foundation and steel-support structure. Stern hopes to raise the remainder by July, as the initial construction nears completion.

An anonymous donor and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli provided two-thirds of the project’s total $60 million cost. Jewish agencies now in Costa Mesa anticipate relocating next spring.

Ambulatory Assistance

In six weeks, Irvine’s University Synagogue this summer raised $60,000, enough to purchase an ambulance for the American

Red Magen David of Israel (ARMDI), the equivalent of America’s Red Cross.

The appeal was prompted by congregant Eleanor Kahn, 78, a 25-year member of ARMDI who made her pitch to the congregation in May at the urging of Rabbi Arnold Rachlis. "It surprised me he would take money from our congregation, that he would ask for such a large thing at a time when the temple is trying to build itself up," she says from her vacation home in Incline Village, Nev.

"This is the first time it’s been done in Orange County," says Eileen Smulson, western region director for ARMDI in Los Angeles.

Prompted by violence in Israel and ARMDI’s own advertising, the nonprofit group is awash in donations. Eighty ambulances are in production for ARMDI in Pennsylvania, 50 percent more than are needed, says Smulson.

"We don’t have enough drivers," she says. Funds are instead buying other needed supplies, such as bullet-proof vests, defibrillators and a $3.2 million blood-separation system, says she.

The Trials of Ted Deutsch

Auschwitz survivor Tibor (Ted) Deutsch will never forget the dark day in 1944 that forever shaped his life. Deutsch was only 16 when he and his older brother, Georg, were among the 1,000 Jews assigned to slave labor at a Trzebinia subcamp assigned to the service the venerable German construction company Hochtief.

A Hochtief employee prone to terrorizing the Deutsch brothers with physical violence ended Georg’s life with one final, brutal, unprovoked assault, before his brother’s eyes. Georg was only 18.

"I can still see his face," Deutsch said as he recalled his brother’s murderer. "I still hear his voice. It rings in my ears."

Deutsch, now a 74-year-old retired jewelry manufacturer residing in Studio City, has waged a lawsuit against Hochtief, a company established in 1875 and still thriving in Germany today. Deutsch filed a reply brief with the Court of Appeals on March 13. If he wins the appeal, the case will go to trial.

Unlike many Holocaust reparation class-action lawsuits against banks, insurance companies and countries, the Duetsch case targets a privately owned corporation.

The protracted legal saga began back in 1999, when Deutsch’s longtime companion, Judy, received a book in the mail from friends in Israel: the 1989 volume, "The Auschwitz Chronicles" by Danuta Czech. When Judy opened the book, she stumbled onto something that made her scream: a photo detail of a Holocaust-era Hochtief document listing slave labor employees. On that list were the names of Tibor and Georg Deutsch. Georg had downplayed his age by two years so that he would not be separated from his younger brother. Unfortunately, he paid for this gesture with his life.

The list provided the solid evidence Deutsch needed to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against Hochtief, which recently merged with an American company called Turner Construction. (Deutch filed a lawsuit once previously, but was unsatisfied with his settlement.)

It was while attending services at Congregation Beth Meir of Studio City, that Deutsch met a woman whose brother is Nate Kraut, a Los Angeles-based attorney who is a certified appellate specialist with nearly 20 years of experience.

For Kraut, Deutsch’s story resonated on a personal level for the appellate attorney.

"My father was in Auschwitz," Kraut said, "and a slave laborer as well."

Kraut took on Deutsch’s case because of his "admiration for Ted’s insistence for what was morally right. The challenge for me is to make sure that what’s legally right fits in with what’s morally right. He’s very driven in wanting to expose what Hochtief did to him. These corporations are being allowed to hide. [They say,] ‘Here we’ll toss him some money and no one will know the difference.’"

In the summer of 1999, Hochtief successfully moved the case from state court to federal court, where the federal court judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, based on the conclusion that the case presented a "nonjusticable political question."

Initially, the German government and German corporations refused to allow distribution of any of the money until all lawsuits had been dismissed. Hochtief accused the Deutsch lawsuit of holding up the reparations process, but Kraut said that this accusation is false.

"The other side managed to convince the courts that this involved a political question and therefore the court stayed out of it," Kraut said. "But the matter is Deutsch directly filed a claim against Hochtief, a German corporation, not the German government."

Moreover, the District Court’s ruling effectively declared California’s statute on the subject to be unconstitutional.

After the District Court dismissed Deutsch’s case, the German government, bowing to international pressure, was forced to pass the necessary legislation to release compensation funds anyway.

"Part of the silliness," Kraut said, "is that they aren’t denying that this went on. They’re saying that ‘you can’t pursue this. This can’t touch us.’ It is clear that a company like Hochtief will only respond by money. That’s all they understand."

Lawsuits notwithstanding, the rage and sadness over his brother’s death has been balled up inside Deutsch for years. His pain has not only taken a toll on his health — he recently underwent open-heart surgery — but on the emotional health of Judy, his companion of three decades, he said.

"Through the years Ted became narrowed by this," said Judy. "Day and night, he cannot sleep, and we’re at the breaking point. Especially me."

"What they did," Deutsch said, "couldn’t be done 50 years ago, and it can’t be done today. Murder has no statute of limitations."

Message of Hope

Prospects are favorable that some of the prison senten-ces imposed on 10 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel will be reduced and that others will be set free, according to the Jewish community’s official representative in the Iranian parliament.

Maurice Motamed predicted that appeals of the initial verdicts, which imposed prison sentences of up to 13 years, will be generally successful. Reuters reported that the jury panel hearing the appeals of the ‘Shiraz 10’ were to announce their decisions on Wednesday or Thursday.

Motamed addressed some 400 Iranian Americans at the Eretz Cultural Center in Reseda during Saturday morning services. In careful words, he weighed the disabilities imposed on Jews in Iran against hope for a better future and painted a generally sympathetic picture of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

Speaking in Farsi, Motamed, a tall, elegant man of 55 years, described the spy trial as a catastrophe that had shattered the dignity and respect of the 25,000-strong Jewish community in Iran.

“In our presence of 2,700 years in Iran, Jews have never betrayed Iran, and our roots are so deep that they cannot be cut off,” he said.

Jewish emigration from Iran has been accelerated by the spy trial, as well as by the government’s refusal to employ Jews and other religious minorities, Motamed said.

Motamed himself continues to work for the government as a civil engineer and urban planner, “but not everyone is as lucky as I am,” he said.

A second emotional case revolves around 11 Jewish teenage boys, who were arrested six years ago while trying to cross the border into Pakistan.

Quiet efforts are underway to determine their fate, but Motamed said that he had asked Jewish officials in New York not to agitate on this case until the appeals to the spy charge verdicts are resolved.

After meeting with Khatami, the Jewish community in Iran has been successful in regaining controls over Jewish schools, Motamed said, and there are hopes that property confiscated from the Jewish community and individuals eventually will be restored.

Motamed also said he was trying to facilitate travel to Iran for Iranian Jews now living abroad, but the suggestion was received coolly by Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, which sponsored Motamed’s appearance at the Saturday service.

“I do not think we should encourage travel as long as Iran opposes Israel and the Middle East peace process,” he said.

After services, various congregants commented that they found Motamed personable and even “cool,” while acknowledging that he represented the Iranian Jewish community effectively, they doubted that he was able to express himself freely about conditions in Iran.

During his 10-day visit, Motamed was reunited with his mother and four sisters, who live in Los Angeles, and also met with leaders of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.

From private conversations between Motamed and various sources, it appeared clear that a major objective of his visit was to find ways to persuade the American government to lift the remaining economic sanctions against Iran, particularly in the development of the country’s oil resources.

The lifting of such sanctions would benefit Iran and by exten-sion the Jewish community, Motamed indicated.

Tehran’s reasoning goes that if the Iranian Jewish community could be persuaded to lobby for the lifting of sanctions, it would persuade the general American Jewish community to do likewise, which in turn would persuade the White House and Congress.

While the scenario may appear simplistic and unrealis-tic, the Iranian government’s belief that Jews have unlimited clout in Washington may prove helpful to the Jewish community in Iran, one source commented.Lending some credence to Tehran’s perceptions is the report that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is to visit Los Angeles and was expected to meet privately on Thursday with local Jewish leaders in the Iranian-American community.

One such leader said that he hoped to raise issues beyond the imprisonment of the 10 Jews to general concerns, such as Iran’s support of terrorism and its opposition to the Middle East peace process.Motamed declined requests for press interviews during his Los Angeles visit, indicating that he did not want to say anything that might adversely affect the current appeals of the 10 imprisoned Jews.

Demonstrating Support

After an appeal by Iran’s chief rabbi, the Iranian judiciary has announced it will allow 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel and America to hire their own lawyers, said an American Jewish leader.

The 13 will also get a few extra days to prepare their case, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Previously, the “Iran 13” — who could be sentenced to death — had been represented by lawyers appointed by the Islamic fundamentalist-controlled judiciary. The trial had been scheduled for April 13, but now will likely be held April 18, Hoenlein said Wednesday.

Yet despite the Iranian concessions, Hoenlein said, American Jewish organizations will go ahead with a flurry of high-profile activities aimed at both highlighting the plight of the prisoners and pressuring Tehran to end the entire yearlong ordeal.

“Our goal is their freedom, not just a solution to the lawyer question,” Hoenlein said.

Iranian officials have indicated that the trial will be a one-day affair. If that’s the case, the Jewish advocates will press Iran to release the prisoners on bail, regardless of the verdict, so they can return to their homes for Passover, which begins the evening of April 19.

It’s unclear what prompted Tehran’s change of mind.

Aside from the international outcry the arrests have provoked, some in the United States suspect that Iran did not want the trial to coincide with the beginning of the Islamic month of Moharram. The month commemorates the martyrdom of the prophets Hossein and Hassan.

Some Shi’ites, to express their grief, take to the streets with chains, knives and machetes, publicly inflicting harm on themselves. Out of respect, Iranian Jews and Christians generally stay indoors. Observers suggest the government may have found it in its best interests not to inflame passions on the streets with the trial of alleged “Zionist spies.”

Both Israel and the United States vehemently deny the charges against the Iranian Jews, most of them communal or religious leaders from the southern cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.

Now, even with their own lawyers, the prospects for a fair trial seem more remote than ever. The hard-line clerics who control Iran’s courts appear likely to renege on earlier promises to permit media and foreign observers to monitor the court proceedings.

Until now, U.S. advocates have pursued quiet diplomacy, marshaling support from many governments and human rights groups to release the detainees — or at least to ensure a fair trial.

But having seen little progress, the advocates are now taking a more high-profile approach.

On the diplomatic front, Hoenlein said he expects the U.S. Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution that will denounce Iran for its detention of the Jews.

Governments around the world are being asked to pass similar resolutions, he added, while various leaders — including some from Arab and Muslim countries — have indicated they will step up efforts to pressure Tehran.

At the grass-roots level, vigils, but not street demonstrations, are being planned at various locations in the United States, said Hoenlein,.

Nationwide, rabbis across the religious spectrum have agreed to recite special prayers this weekend. In Los Angeles, the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations will hold a special commemoration on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrests of 10 of the Iran 13.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, chastised the Iranian government. “None of the aspects of this case are being handled in accordance with Iranian law, let alone international standards,” he said. “This is not an issue we can compromise on.” On Wednesday, Kermanian joined officials at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in urging Jews around the world to offer a misheberakh, or blessing of healing, for the imprisoned Jews as they go to trial.

The Jews were reportedly arrested along with eight Muslim men. But none of the 21 has been formally charged, which also violates Iranian law, says Pooya Dayanim, the council’s spokesman and himself a lawyer.

“Basically, these Jews are hostages,” said Dayanim. “Iran may feel the longer it delays the trial, the less it will be internationalized and hurt them. Our job is to remind them that the world community still cares about these people.”

The Jews are all community or religious leaders — except for a 16-year- old boy who is one of three now out on bail.

Their arrest was believed to be part of a political battle between Iran’s hard-line revolutionaries and reformists behind Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

American observers had hoped that the resounding victory of Iran’s reformists in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections would bode well for the Jewish prisoners.

If anything, however, their situation has worsened, said Hoenlein.

“All the things we’d been promised and thought would come true, just the opposite has happened,” he said.

“The mythology of Khatami being a reformer is just that — mythology. So far, he has not shown himself to be any different from the others. If he’s in control, the buck stops with him and he’s responsible for this situation. If he’s not in control, why are we dealing with him and making concessions?”

A Call for Justice and Freedom

A dramatic appearance by the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Los Angeles last week helped kick into high gear an international campaign to free 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iranian authorities for alleged espionage, and who face possible execution.

In a news conference at Leo Baeck Temple last Friday, Jackson said that he is ready to fly to Tehran, if granted a visa by Iran, joined by members of the same ecumenical team that in May obtained the freedom of three American soldiers in Yugoslavia.

In related developments, political leaders in the United States, Israel, Germany and France sought to mobilize world opinion on behalf of the threatened prisoners. Efforts are also underway to enlist the support of Italy, Spain, Britain, Holland and other European Union countries, as well as the Vatican, Japan and Canada, and the United Nations.

In Washington, resolutions have been introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate that call on the Clinton administration and foreign governments to seek the release of the 13 prisoners and condemn Iran’s treatment of its religious minorities.

The high-profile public actions follow months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, during which Jewish organizations sought to influence Tehran through quiet diplomacy.

The first arrests, of five, occurred in January, according to Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, who has been monitoring the situation from day one. In the second wave of arrests, Iranian security forces took another eight Jews into custody in late March, shortly before Passover.

The 13 range in age from 16 to 49 and were mainly residents of the southern city of Shiraz, while others were arrested in Tehran and Isfahan, said Kermanian.

During the first months of imprisonment, the Jews were not charged with any crimes, and some signals from Tehran indicated that they might be set free. Then early last week, in a confusing series of announcements and retractions, Iranian officials accused the 13 of spying for Israel and the United States, which “at certain instances provide for capital punishment,” the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The espionage charges are ridiculous on the face of it, said Kermanian. “No one would recruit spies among a group [of Jews], who have high visibility and are constantly watched by the authorities,” he said. In a country riddled with corruption, any nation hostile to Iran could have its pick of spies at $1,000 a month, he observed.

The 13 prisoners, including a 16-year-old boy arrested in his classroom, are mainly religious Jews, said Kermanian. They incurred the government’s displeasure for such “crimes” as teaching Hebrew, printing the weekly Torah portion, holding religious classes, or requesting permission to close their businesses on Saturdays.

Following the March arrests, an informal consortium of American Jewish organizations began a quiet effort to mobilize their most influential contacts. Members included the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

Last week, after Iran announced the spy charges, consortium members decided to go public. Foxman contacted Jackson, who agreed to meet with the ADL leader and relatives of some of the prisoners in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 10. Foxman stressed the seriousness of the situation by noting that at least 17 Iranian Jews, including community leaders, have been executed in Iran since 1979.

At his news conference the following day, Jackson described the meeting with the relatives as “a deeply moving experience…as I watched bitter tears roll down their faces in anguish and pain and fear for their loved ones.”

Jackson said that his first move would be to appeal to the religious authorities in Iran “to allow us to visit and gain the release of the 13 prisoners, and to appeal fervently that their lives be spared.”

“I have seen some evidence that Iran is trying to rejoin the world. One expression would be to set the 13 Jews free,” Jackson said.

“We as Americans and Jews believe it is imperative that Iran heed Jesse Jackson’s plea,” said ADL Western Regional Director David Lehrer.

Flanking Jackson during the news conference were two men who had accompanied him on the earlier mission to Belgrade — Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and Dr. Nazir U. Khaja, national president of the American Muslim Council.

Khaja said that he has been in contact with Rabbi David Saperstein, a Reform leader, and after receiving a full briefing, he intended to take up the fate of the 13 prisoners with the Iranian government.

One of the relatives who met with Jackson was Nasrin Javaherian of San Jose, whose 49-year-old brother, Nasser Levihaim, is the oldest among the prisoners. Javaherian said that her brother’s family, with whom she talks daily by phone, was at first reluctant to even acknowledge that Levihaim had been arrested.

“I called them in Shiraz and asked to speak to Nasser, and his wife told me that he had gone to Tehran and would be back next week,” said Javaherian. Only after the news of the arrests became public, did the wife confirm that Levihaim was in prison.

Again, last week, when the spy charges were announced, Javaherian called her family five times in one night.

“I was so scared, I was crying all the time,” she said in a phone interview, trying hard to control her emotions.

She described her brother as the father of three sons, the youngest 18 months old, and manager of an electricity company in Shiraz. She speculated that the Iranian authorities might have gone after him because he frequently volunteered as a Sunday-school Hebrew teacher.

Levihaim’s wife has not been allowed to see her husband since his arrest in March, but she can bring kosher food to the prison once a week, a process that involves signing four different papers. “We have no idea whether he’s getting the food,” said Javaherian.

Taking the lead in urging congressional action has been Sherman Oaks Democrat Brad Sherman, whose House resolution has now also been introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y).

Sherman said in a phone interview that one purpose of the resolution was to warn Iran that it would have to pay a price for its persecution of Jews, which would set back any attempts by Tehran to improve its ties with the West.

Since neither the United States nor Israel has diplomatic ties with Iran, it is particularly important that France, Germany and Japan, all major Iranian trading partners, exert pressure on the regime, Sherman noted.

He said that he was watching closely in which court the 13 Jews would be tried. “It could be a regular civilian court, a military court, or a Revolutionary Council court…but, unfortunately, the options here range from bad to awful.”

Sherman has been inundated for months by letters and personal calls from Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community, which is 30,000 strong. Most of the pressure has come from part of the community affiliated with the International Judea Foundation — Siamak and the Eretz Cultural Center. These groups believe that the more establishment Iranian American Jewish Federation had been too cautious in its quiet diplomacy until last week.

Federation leader Kermanian acknowledged that there had been differences on tactics within the community, but that it was united in the goal of freeing the prisoners.

There remains some puzzlement among observers why Iran would arrest the Jews on trumped-up charges at a time when the government of President Mohammad Khatami has signaled a desire to improve relations with the West.

Kermanian and Sherman agreed that the seeming paradox lies in an internal power struggle between Iranian “moderates,” led by Khatami, and fundamentalist hard-liners.

“There are conservative groups in Iran which advocate strict Orthodox Islamic values and see any contact with the West as threatening these values, and they try to sabotage Khatami’s policies,” Kermanian said.

It is the hard-liners who control the security apparatus, which arrested the Jews, as well as the judiciary, he noted.

In Tehran, the official radio charged that the 13 Jews were part of a “Zionist espionage ring” and accused the United States and Israel of trying to “sensationalize the scandal” and of interfering with Iran’s internal affairs.

Get Involved

To get involved in helping the arrested Jews in Iran:

Contact the Committee for the Defense of Jewish Detainees in Iran, (310) 535-6610; or The Committee of Religious Minority Rights in Iran, at (818) 325-3848.

To register your concern on the situation, direct letters to His Excellency Kofi Anan, United Nations Secretariat, New York, NY 10017, or fax (212) 963-4879. Letters of support can be sent to the Iranian American Jewish Federation, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069.

In L.A., Cause for Alarm

By Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Among Los Angeles’ estimated 30,000-strong Persian Jewish community, the arrest of 13 Jews in Iran is topic number one. “Everybody, everybody, is worried,” says Frank Nikbakht, a local activist.

“People I know are quite shocked,” says Elham Gheytanchi, a UCLA sociology doctorate candidate active with the Center for Iranian-Jewish Oral History (CIJOH). “My first reaction was that espionage is really bad because it leaves no ground to defend them no matter what the real charge is.”

Homa Sarshar, CIJOH’s founder and president, is also wary of the Iranian government’s claim and motives.

“We have seen different tricks within the last year, and this is one of them,” she says. She believes that the espionage charges are an excuse to condemn the captured to execution.

A member of the Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran — a small organization supported by the Council of Iran Jewish Organizations in California — Nikbakht has been actively tracking the government-sponsored anti-Semitism that has intensified in Iran since 1998. In March, he detailed the extent of the tensions in an issue of Chashm Amdaaz, a local Iranian-Jewish publication. In his article, Nikbakht stated that the tactics employed not only approximate but incorporate 1930s Nazi propaganda.

Nikbakht has compiled virulent anti-Semitic writings and cartoons that have appeared regularly in the bimonthly Tehran journal, Sabh.

The Committee for Religious Minority Rights recently pushed for a resolution — which Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., has introduced in the House — condemning the arrests and demanding the Iranian-Jewish prisoners’ release. Nikbakht is pleased with the State Department’s response to the crisis so far and says that plans to address the situation are currently in the works. Sherman is scheduled to speak during Shabbat services at alocal Iranian synagogue.

Meanwhile, the Iranian-Jewish community is waiting to see the outcome of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s efforts.

“It’s a tough call,” says Gheytanchi. “Jesse Jackson had success in Yugoslavia in having those three [American soldiers] released, but Iran is a different matter.”

Nevertheless, Nikbakht and Sarshar praise Jackson’s efforts.

“Any action in this way is positive action. It would be welcome from my side. I hope he would be successful,” says Sarshar, who adds, ominously, “I’m not very optimistic.”

The Meaning of Religious Freedom in Utah

Much of the school was outraged. All spring, Bauchman was subjected to ridicule and abuse from students — and, allegedly, from the music teacher. Graduation day became an impromptu anti-Bauchman protest. Parents and students joined hands to sing the forbidden song and shouted abuse at the principal when he tried to stop them. The salutatorian, another Jewish student, was hooted off the stage in tears.

The Meaning of Religious Freedom in Utah

If you’re like me, you probably read news reports about religious freedom the way you read the latest news on global warming: plowing dutifully through, eyes half-glazed over, certain it concerns you but not quite sure how.

If so, there’s one case you should watch for in the coming weeks. Early this month, the Supreme Court is supposed to decide whether to hear an appeal in a case from Utah. It has the Jews there tied up in knots.

From a constitutional point of view, the Utah case is piddling stuff, especially after a month like we’ve just had. This was the month that Wisconsin’s top court cleared the way for our nation’s first legal parochial school aid program. Just days earlier, a school-prayer amendment won a majority in the House of Representatives, though not the two-thirds required to doctor the Constitution. In Idaho, a federal appeals court upheld a high-school graduation ceremony that lets students lead their fellows in prayer. On every front, America’s basic understanding of the First Amendment seems up for grabs this summer, more than it’s been in decades.

The Utah case, by contrast, will turn on a technicality. The justices are being asked to rule on a question of courtroom procedure. And, yet, the story is worth recounting. It reminds us why those other cases matter.

The case involves Rachel Bauchman, a young Jew from Salt Lake City who once hoped to major in music. Entering her sophomore year at West High School in 1994, she found that the choir class, required of music majors, seemed to specialize in Christian devotional music. She protested, but nobody listened. Then she got a court order, barring a particularly pointed Christian anthem that was to be performed at the school’s 1995 graduation ceremony.

Much of the school was outraged. All spring, Bauchman was subjected to ridicule and abuse from students — and, allegedly, from the music teacher. Graduation day became an impromptu anti-Bauchman protest. Parents and students joined hands to sing the forbidden song and shouted abuse at the principal when he tried to stop them. The salutatorian, another Jewish student, was hooted off the stage in tears.

The ugliness won national headlines. Afterward, though, nothing happened. Bauchman asked the court to take action, but the judge ruled that the school had done its part when it banned the song. The rest, it seems, was just private unpleasantness.

That fall, Bauchman transferred to a private school. She still couldn’t major in music, since the state required her to go through the same music teacher. Over the next two years, her attorneys gathered evidence that the 1995 graduation dispute was part of a pattern of religious intolerance fostered by the music teacher. The court ruled the new evidence inadmissible. Bauchman took it to federal appeals court and lost.

Last April, as a college freshman in Washington, Bauchman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices are expected to decide this month whether to hear her appeal. If they do, then next year, they will decide whether she can go back to Utah and take on the music teacher again.

You might think Jews in Salt Lake City are raring to go at it again. You’d be wrong. Bauchman’s protest split the community down the middle.

“Most of the synagogue was against it,” says Sherry Rosenblatt, whose daughter, Erin, was in choir with Bauchman. “They wanted to keep it quiet. They didn’t want us to make a big stink.”

The reasons aren’t hard to guess. Jews in Salt Lake City number only 3,500 or so in a city of 160,000. Their neighbors are mostly Mormons, who see Utah somewhat the way Jews see Israel: theirs. Religious minorities try not to get in the middle of it.

“We do the church-state thing in Salt Lake City every day when we wake up,” says Nano Podolsky, past president of the local Jewish federation. Her daughter, Laura, was in West High’s 1995 graduating class.

Relations between Jews and Mormons, curiously, are traditionally excellent. That’s partly because Mormons consider themselves part of the Ten Lost Tribes, making Jews their “brothers.” “Basically, the Jews in this state work very well with the Mormon community and the Mormon church,” says Roberta Grunauer, who was executive director of the city’s Jewish Federation in 1995.

The Bauchman case disrupted all that. How badly depends on your perspective. To Grunauer, the case is “ancient history.” She believes that the community would have been better off without it.

Others hope that Rachel comes back for Round 2. “I say the bigger stink, the better, so people are aware of it, for God’s sake,” says Sherry Rosenblatt.

For the rest of us, there’s a lesson in Salt Lake City, but it’s not a simple one. We like to think we’ve come a long way in America. It was scant decades ago that the Lord’s Prayer was standard fare in America’s classrooms. Today, we take it for granted that Jews and Judaism stand on an equal footing with every other religion. The big debates now are over how to protect that equality — whether to stand firm on strict church-state separation, or bend a bit when other needs arise.

What happened in Salt Lake City reminds us that many Americans haven’t gotten there yet, and don’t want to. Much of America between the coasts is a patchwork of monochromatic communities that take majority rule very seriously, and expect minorities to adapt.

For small Jewish communities from Utah to Alabama, the question isn’t how to defend equality but how to achieve it. The Bauchman case is a reminder that achieving equality isn’t a simple matter of demanding your rights. It also involves convincing the majority to grant those rights.

Did Rachel Bauchman’s fight improve things in Salt Lake City? Maybe. “We received no commencement complaints this year from local school districts,” says Rabbi Frederick Wenger of Congregation Kol Ami, the towns’ main synagogue. “That means either the school districts have learned something, or there aren’t any Jewish kids as gutsy as Rachel.”

Some families aren’t betting on change. Of Nano Podolsky’s three children, two are unlikely to.