Why Jews should care about the rights of Israeli Arabs


About a year and half ago, I participated in a fact-finding mission to Israel sponsored by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arabs (IATF). Established in 2006 as a consortium of some of the major organizations in American Jewish life—including the Joint Distribution Committee, the Conference of Presidents, Jewish Federations of North America, the ADL and the American Jewish Committee—the IATF is committed to raising awareness of the circumstances of the 20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are Arab.

The issue was not new to me. A large part of my rabbinate has been devoted to advancing human and civil rights at home and abroad. Because I love Israel deeply, I was long concerned that issues of human and civil rights were raised only by progressive organizations, both in Israel and abroad. It was long overdue for the Jewish communal establishment to understand why the rights of Israeli Arabs should be a priority for anyone concerned with Israel’s future.

Upon my return from the mission we established the first local affiliate of the IATF in the country in Washington, D.C. The Greater Washington Forum on Israeli Arab Issues (GWFIA) was dedicated to educating the local Jewish community about Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, including the economic, educational and social challenges faced by Israel’s Arab citizens.

The test of any democracy is how it treats it minorities. It is all the more challenging in Israel because it was founded as a Jewish state. However, there have always been non-Jewish citizens living in Israel and the country’s Declaration of Independence guarantees them full equality.

Arabs today make up 20 percent of Israel’s population yet they represent only 1 percent of the gross domestic product. There are vast inequalities between Jews and Arabs in Israel in terms of the schools they attend, the municipal services they receive and the employment opportunities available to them. Israel’s own government admits that they have a long way to go to create true parity for Israeli Arabs.

It is worth noting that the in forming the GWFIA, we were committed to having the representation of the full range of our Jewish community. Our steering committee now includes the Israeli Embassy, the Washington Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council. At our first Community Education Day last January, 300 people showed up for a four-hour program on a Sunday afternoon.

We succeeded in drawing many younger Jews who are thirsty for a conversation about Israel that is rigorous and honest but who, for the most part, have absented themselves from the Israel conversation sponsored by Jewish communal groups. Even more importantly, we were able to attract to our event both those who would identify with the political right as well as with the political left. Nonetheless, the conversation at our event last year was both civil and respectful.

I am well aware that there are those in the community who would deem this effort to be misguided. They will offer a list of reasons why Israel is still a country at risk. They are not wrong about that sad reality, but their disdain for efforts that might help Israeli Arabs enjoy full equality is shortsighted.

There are dangerous trends in Israel today that threaten the country’s democratic character. Racist attitudes are on the rise and the Knesset is now considering several pieces of legislation that are overtly discriminatory. It is clear that Israel is not immune from the religious extremism that has poisoned Islam in recent years.

Jews who care about Israel should pay as much heed to the Jewish state’s democratic character as they do about its security. This position was eloquently framed at last year’s program by Noam Katz, the Israeli Embassy’s minister for public diplomacy.

He said: “The Israeli-Arab and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are full of bitterness, bad blood and mistrust. The self identity of Arabs in Israel is strongly linked and connected to the Arab nation and the Palestinian people. It makes the effort more difficult. However, it doesn’t exempt us, as a nation, as society and as a government, from trying to make it work … These relations are a test of our national vision and morals, and a vital issue to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state and democratic society.”

Democracy is not a right/left issue. At the core of democracy is a respect for the infinite value of every human being, a central premise of the Jewish teaching that every person is made b’tzelem elohim, “in the image of God.”

In its brief history, Israel can boast many great achievements. If Israel could successfully meet the aspirations of its Declaration of Independence and accord its Arab minority the same opportunities and rights enjoyed by its Jewish citizens, it will have accomplished something that few other countries in the world have done—and under the most challenging of circumstances.

This is a cause worth rallying around.

(Rabbi Sid Schwarz is the founder of the PANIM Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values and the co-chair of the Greater Washington Forum on Israeli Arab Issues. He is the author of “Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World.”)

Safed rabbi refuses police summons over anti-Arab letter


The Chief Rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, said he would refuse to respond to a police summons for questioning on suspicion of incitement to racism.

Eliyahu reportedly did not present himself to Jerusalem police on Sunday, as ordered, over a letter signed by nearly 50 municipal rabbis calling on the Jewish public not to rent or sell homes to non-Jews, specifically Arabs.

The official reason given for not answering the summons was time restrictions, the Jerusalem Post reported. But Eliyahu reportedly said, according to the Jerusalem Post that he “asked whether David Grossman, Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni, who demonstrated against Jewish presence in the Shimon Hatzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood, were also summoned for questioning. Were there summonses for the heads of the Jewish National Fund, whose constitution prohibits selling apartments to non- Jews? If not, double standards are being applied here, and I don’t intend on playing into the hands of a legal system that acts in a non-egalitarian manner.”

Meanwhile, a letter from Israeli intellectuals, politicians and artists released over the weekend calls on the government to fire the rabbis who signed the original letter.

“There is an immediate need to fire these rabbis, who are inciting and threatening to turn Judaism into racism, and see to it that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the intellectuals’ letter read. “There are only two options: a proper, equal, free and normal country or a violent, racist dictatorship that will destroy Israel. Those who choose the first option must act immediately.”

Israel’s legal establishment to examine rabbis’ letter forbidding rental of homes to Arabs


The attorney general’s office stated on Thursday that it would look into possible criminal aspects of a religious ruling to forbid renting homes to gentiles signed by a number of leading rabbis.

Dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis signed on to the letter, which came just months after the chief rabbi of Safed initiated a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.

In an official response to a petition submitted by Meretz MK Ilan Ghilon against the signatories of the rabbis’ letter, an assistant of attorney general Yehuda Weinstein said that Weinstein would order the examination of possible criminal and disciplinary aspects of the rabbis’ letter.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Roger Cohen’s Dialogue with the Iran Jewish Community


For video footage of the dialogue, click here.

There was no clean knockout when New York Times columnist Roger Cohen faced off against some 400 members of the local Iranian Jewish and Bahai communities last week, but spectators were treated to some vigorous rhetorical sparring and nimble footwork.

Last month, Cohen, a British-born Jewish journalist, returned from a reportorial visit to Iran and wrote a column for the Times headlined “What Iran’s Jews Say.”

In the city of Esfahan, in central Iran, Cohen talked to a handful of Jews, who are among the 25,000 remaining in Iran out of a one-time community of 100,000. Cohen reported that the Jews were “living, working and worshipping in relative tranquility.”

Despite the Holocaust denials and rants by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the map, “as a Jew, I have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran,” Cohen wrote.

To some 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles who had uprooted themselves from their ancient homeland, Cohen’s evaluation was dangerously naïve at best and a mockery of their own experiences at worst.

They inundated Cohen and the New York Times with letters and e-mails, and the columnist agreed to fly to Los Angeles to address his critics at Sinai Temple, which has a large proportion of Iranian congregants.

What could have been a highly emotional face-off went well, thanks largely to the audience’s restraint during Cohen’s lengthy presentation and Rabbi David Wolpe’s insistence on decorum during the more emotional question-and-answer period.

Cohen started by expanding on the main points of his earlier column:

* Labeling Iran a totalitarian regime ready to destroy Israel and then the West’s infidels is a “grotesque caricature.”
* Iranians are a proud people, but pay little attention to the regime’s propaganda and incitements. To compare the situation in Iran to an impending holocaust “dishonors the memory of six million victims.”
* Iran’s leadership is mainly pragmatic and primarily concerned with assuring its own survival.
* Iran is the most democratic state in the Middle East, outside Israel, and is against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
* An attack on Iran by Israel or the United States would be a global disaster. “Force is the unthinkable option,” Cohen said, and mutually respectful negotiations are the only answer.
* Although he counts himself as “a strong supporter of Israel,” Cohen believes that Israel “overplayed its hand in Lebanon and Gaza” and that Hamas and Hizbollah are “established political forces,” that cannot be eliminated by military means.

The audience politely applauded Cohen at the end of the talk, but when Wolpe opened the dialogue, some sparks – leavened by humor – were ignited.

Wolpe to Cohen: “You draw a distinction between the Iranian people and their rulers, but Iran has a long history of anti-Semitism…the Iranian government has republished the notorious anti-Semitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and your New York Times column ran in the Teheran Post.

Cohen: “Then they stole my column.”

Wolpe: “That shows that it was worth stealing.”

Finally, it was the audience’s turn to confront Cohen directly, and the questions ranged from thoughtful to bitter.

“Were you paid by the Iranian government for your trip?” asked one audience member. “No,” said Cohen, though he paid an Iranian “agency” $150 a day for the services of a translator, who acknowledged that he would have to file a report on Cohen’s doings with the authorities.

Wolpe interjected that Cohen had paid for his own trip to speak at Sinai Temple.

Several questioners wondered how Cohen could take the answers of fearful Iranian Jews at face value, especially with a government translator at his side.

Cohen responded that he recognized the possibility of self-censorship by those he talked to, “but that doesn’t mean that nothing they said is of any value.”

Some of the sharpest questions came from the Bahai community, seven of whose leaders in Iran were recently imprisoned as alleged Israeli spies.

Cohen said he had not spoken to the Bahais, but was aware of their plight.

Despite his stout defense, it became obvious that Cohen was affected by the direct or implied criticism of his views by a knowledgeable audience.

“I feel your anger, indignation and pain,” he said. “I think that at some level you retain a love of country [Iran]. But I hope you will give some thought to what I have said.”

A sampling of audience reactions after the talk revealed little indication that Cohen’s request was acceptable.

“He didn’t understand the geopolitical situation, and he doesn’t know what he is talking about,” commented Jasmin Niku, a 22-year old law student.

Two veteran community leaders, who rarely see eye-to-eye but have excellent contacts inside Iran, also expressed strong reservations.

“In Iran, Jews are pawns of the regime, which will go to great lengths to persuade outsiders, like Cohen, who know little about the history of the Jewish community, that everything is just fine,” said George Haroonian.

Sam Kermanian was particularly disappointed, after spending two hours one-on-one with Cohen earlier in the day, trying to explain the real situation in Iran.

Kermanian, who is active in the Center for the Promotion of Democracy, based in Iran, said that the Teheran government is adamantly anti-American, whatever the sentiments of its people.

“If Cohen has come to a different conclusion, after talking to four or five Jews through an interpreter,” added Kermanian, “then he has been deceived.”

Related Stories:
Video from the Dialogue
Roger and Me
Roger Cohen speaks with Iranian Jews at Sinai Temple
Roger Cohen’s Reaction

Through the looking glass with Friends of Sabeel


Covering a meeting of Friends of Sabeel is a strange experience. “Strange” as in walking through the looking glass and encountering a reverse universe on the other side.

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, they are mourning six decades of the nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

Where we see resolute defenders of the Jewish people, they see cruel persecutors of a downtrodden minority.

We quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his support of Israel and friendship for the Jewish people. They cite him as saying that the oppressed must take their rights back from the oppressor.

A recent meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena was hosted by the Southern California chapter of Friends of Sabeel, which supports the work and aims of the Nazareth-based Sabeel movement and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

According to the organization’s brochure, “Sabeel is an Arabic word which means ‘the way’ and recalls the Christians of first-century Palestine, who were called ‘the people of the way.'”

Founded by Palestinian Christian church leaders 18 years ago, Sabeel draws its support from predominantly Protestant churches and their congregants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Scandinavian countries.

Sabeel is hardly a mass movement. According to Darrel Meyers, a retired Van Nuys Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Southern California chapter, there are no dues-paying members, but about 300 names on his mailing list in Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 75 people, predominantly white and middle-aged Christians, with a smattering of Jews, attended the meeting in Pasadena.

Sabeel’s influence, however, seems to exceed its small number, partly through cooperation with some 50 like-minded organizations listed in its brochure, and partly through its persistent push for boycotts and divestment measures against Israel by mainline churches.

The primary speakers were two Jewish women, who addressed the audience with the passion and conviction of those who first had to throw off the shackles of ancestral beliefs before discovering the truth through long, painful struggle.

Judging from audience questions and suggestions, the speakers were preaching to the choir. As in most ideology-based groups, there seemed to be a considerable gap between the rather moderately phrased goals of the mission statement and the more militant attitudes of its followers.

Officially, Sabeel describes itself as a nonviolent “international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seek a just peace based on two states — Palestine and Israel, as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.”

However, the two speakers, both self-avowed “anti-Zionists,” moved well beyond the two-state solution to advocate a single “democratic” country of Arabs and Jews, which would welcome back all “Palestinian refugees” who wish to return.

Anna Baltzer, the first speaker, is an animated, 28-year old woman, author of “Witness in Palestine — A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” and granddaughter of a refugee from the Holocaust.

She noted that American Christians may fear that their criticism of Israel would be labeled as anti-Semitism and urged her listeners to define themselves not as pro-Palestinian, but as pro-human rights.

In a mighty semantic leap, she told her Christian listeners that “Jesus lived under Roman occupation and now Palestinians still live under occupation.”

The second speaker, Marcy Winograd, is a public school teacher and co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, which claims a server list of about 100 names.

She explained her advocacy for a single Arab-Jewish state by saying, “We are not talking about ‘destroying’ Israel, but about a transformation to a one-state solution.”

Among Winograd’s targets is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and she urged pressure on school boards to stop transporting students there on educational trips.

She claimed that the museum’s Holocaust exhibits are used for pro-Israel lobbying and demanded exhibit space for the Palestinian nakba.

The windup speaker was the Rev. Monica Styron, a Presbyterian minister from Sonoma, who announced plans for the upcoming seventh International Sabeel Conference, from Nov. 12 to 19, in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Nazareth, with side trips to “decimated Arab villages.”

The theme of the conference is “Beyond Remembrance: Facing Challenges of the Future Sixty Years After the Nakba,” and Styron promised dialogues with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Audience comments and suggestions were perhaps more revealing than the speeches, including the following sampling:

  • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Holy Land, on the model of post-apartheid South Africa.
  • Bring empty suitcases to work in support of an alleged plan by Palestinians in Lebanon to march on the Israeli border carrying suitcases.
  • “Israel and the Zionists don’t care what we say here. But they scream if we can apply political and economic pressure.”
  • “Tell the Israelis to choose peace over war and light over power.”
  • “I’m Jewish and have been an anti-Zionist for 40 years. There is increasing anti-Zionism in the Jewish community, especially in Southern California … Jewish youth, in particular, is open to enlightenment.”

The only exception to the litany of anti-Israel charges came from an elderly gentleman, born in Korea, who suggested that if people wanted to see what a real occupation was all about they should try living under Japanese domination.

When the man was gently upbraided for his heresy, he responded plaintively, “But I like the Jewish people.”

After the meeting, Baltzer, the initial speaker, sat down for a brief interview. On her business card, she lists herself as a “Teacher, Writer, Activist,” and her resume includes graduation from Columbia University, linguistic research in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow and the Web site www.AnnaintheMiddleEast.com.

An intelligent, outgoing young woman, she said she had evolved over the past five years from protesting the “occupation” to anti-Zionism, shocked by Israeli human-rights violations.

She is busy as a full-time speaker at churches and on college campuses, and her May 1-14 calendar listed 13 speaking engagements, from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to UCLA. Being Jewish is a definite advantage in her line of work, Baltzer said, making her a much more credible anti-Zionist than Palestinian speakers.

She has experienced little harassment for her controversial views, she said, though plenty of “offensive” e-mail, while mainstream Jews tend to label her as “naïve” or “brainwashed.”

At least while speaking to a Jewish reporter, she allowed that she could understand the “other” point of view, such as the Israeli fear of terrorism.

For expressing such soft-hearted sentiments, she said, “I have received criticism from the left.”

In Tunisia, Jews enjoy stability, but not democracy


To the east is Libya, a vast desert nation, where not a single Jew remains from the forced exodus that followed Israel’s founding in 1948.

To the west is Algeria, a bloodstained country that once boasted 140,000 Jews and today is home to barely 100.

Squeezed between these two oil-rich giants is Tunisia, a Wisconsin-sized oasis of tranquility that safeguards its 1,500 Jews, foots the bill to restore old synagogues and even welcomes Israeli tourists — despite the lack of diplomatic relations between Tunis and Jerusalem and Tunisia’s history as PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s home during the 1980s.

In many ways, Tunisia is distinct in the Arab world.

The country is home to the Arab world’s only Jewish legislator, an 81-year-old senator who also is president of Tunisia’s Jewish community. In November, World ORT returned to the country after a 35-year absence, inaugurating a computer laboratory and IT center at the Chabad School of Tunis at a ceremony attended by Education Ministry officials.

And despite the absence of diplomatic ties with Israel, in 2005 an Israeli delegation that came to a U.N.-sponsored telecommunications conference in Tunis was headed by Tunisian-born Silvan Shalom, at the time Israel’s foreign minister.

But stability in Tunisia — for its Jews and for the country as a whole — has come at a price, analysts say: democratic rights.

“Unfortunately, Tunisia is a long way from democracy,” said Nejib Ayachi, founder and president of the Maghreb Center, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on North Africa. “They keep saying they’re working on it, but I personally believe that institutions and the rule of law should come first, before establishing a democratic system that works effectively.”

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been in power since ousting the ailing Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless coup in 1987.

Though Tunisia has held several presidential elections, few take them seriously. In 1999, Ben Ali’s party won 99.66 percent of the vote. In 2004 he officially won 94.48 percent of the vote after a constitutional change two years earlier enabled him to seek re-election.

But supporters point out that under Ben Ali’s rule, Tunisia has been able to develop one of the highest levels of literacy in the Arab world, as well as one of its lowest rates of infant mortality and unemployment.

Roger Bismuth, the Jewish member of Tunisia’s Chamber of Deputies, credits the 71-year-old president for keeping Tunisia on a moderate course, promoting education and protecting Tunisian Jews from the chaos and religious extremism enveloping much of North Africa.

“The president is good to us,” Bismuth said, adding, “We are very careful. Our security is very tight, even if you don’t see it.”

“There is a national consensus around Ben Ali,” Mohamed Nejib Hachana, Tunisia’s ambassador to the United States said in an interview. “He is the savior of Tunisia, and he’s putting our country on the right track in this very risky and difficult moment. He is deadly serious about democracy and pluralism.”

The threat of Islamic terrorists groups like Al Qaeda has given Arab dictatorships a handy excuse to crack down on civil liberties, even in monarchies where there’s been some nominal movement toward democracy, such as Jordan and Morocco, says Abdeslam Maghraoui, a North Africa expert and visiting associate professor at Duke University.

“The regimes are dealing with this threat in a very efficient way,” said Maghraoui, who is also the former director of the Muslim World Initiative at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “However, they’re clamping down on civil liberties, freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Democracy may actually be suffering because of this.”

Experts say terrorist activity is on the rise throughout North Africa’s Maghreb, a region that encompasses Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.

Last month, twin car bombs in Algeria devastated a government building and the U.N. headquarters in the capital city, Algiers, killing more than 50. Also last month, a French family of four vacationing in Mauritania was gunned down.

Both attacks are believed to be the work of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group increasingly active in North Africa.

The last serious attack in Tunisia took place in 2002, when Al Qaeda agents attempted to bomb North Africa’s oldest shul, Djerba’s Ghriba Synagogue. The truck bombing didn’t damage the synagogue, but it killed 21, most of them German tourists, and scared away visitors for several years.

“They wanted to shut down the tourist industry, and in fact they did,” Bismuth said. “And in December 2006 we had some more incidents, which were definitely traced to Al Qaeda.”

Bismuth visited Washington in November to meet with Jewish members of Congress and to lobby for U.S. help in Tunisia’s battle against extremists.

Although it is far removed from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Tunisia commands respect in the region both for having hosted both the Arab League — after the organization pulled out of Cairo following Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel — and the PLO, which operated out of Tunis from 1982 to 1993.

Hachana said Tunisia was instrumental in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, despite an Israeli attack on the PLO’s Tunis headquarters in 1985.

“Tunisia played a very constructive and positive role in the Middle East peace process,” the ambassador said. “The first dialogue between the Palestinians and Americans was in Tunis. This was followed by the first official dialogue between the PLO and Israel.”

Those two dialogues, he said, gave birth to the Oslo peace agreement and the historic 1993 summit between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Yet unlike Egypt and Jordan, Tunisia has not formally recognized the State of Israel.

“It all depends on the peace process,” Hachana said. “Tunisia has said very clearly that when there’s progress on this issue, Tunisia will react favorably on the normalization of relations with Israel.

“But we must see tangible progress on the Palestinian-Israeli track: a sovereign state of Palestine living side by side with Israel. The main issue is still not solved.”

‘Dumb Jews’ react, more politics, more Israel


Dumb Jews

Your issue focusing on Jews’ Jewish literacy (“Dumb Jews,” Oct. 20) could not have been more appropriate. The key to building strong Jewish communities is creating knowledgeable Jews, aware of the meaning, significance and holiness of their tradition.

Your issue came out just as our synagogue began a program, started by a young rabbinical student at the University of Judaism, Laurence Rosenthal, called the Conservative Kollel. The program meets twice a month, it is free and offers intimate study sessions on a series of topics drawn from traditional Jewish literature.

I hope that it is through programs like this one that we will deepen and strengthen Jews’ commitment to their beautiful tradition.

Rabbi Aaron D. Benson
Congregation Beth Meier
Studio City

You often print obnoxious and anti-Jewish materials, but the front-page cartoon titled, “Dumb Jews” (Oct. 20), depicting a young Jew in a dunce cap, insults Jews as being stupid.

Jews with little knowledge of Judaism may indeed be uneducated in that important area of knowledge but describing them as “dumb” and “dunce” is nasty and misuses those words.

Webster’s dictionary defines “dumb” as lacking intelligence or not having the capability to process data. “Dunce” is defined as a slow-witted or stupid person.

Jews are often cited as among the most intelligent group of people on earth. Nevertheless, there is certainly a lack of good education about Judaism among American Jews. That is worth discussion that will lead to the desire for better Jewish education.

Show respect for the Jewish community and for the English language. Berating and abusing the former while misusing the latter does nothing for your credibility.

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

Your Page 1 heading, “Dumb Jews,” is wrong, stupid and written by a dumb Jew. The correct word to have been used is “ignorant.” If you don’t know the difference between “dumb” and “ignorant,” I suggest you use a dictionary. None of all those Jewish laureates of whom we are so proud were dumb but will readily admit that they are ignorant of matters not within their range of specialty.

Albert M. Goldberg
via e-mail

I was disappointed in your education issue this month. We have been listening to the same bromide answers for the last 50 years.

As someone who makes an effort to study Jewish texts on a daily basis and who loves Jewish learning, I find myself in the odd position of having to say that Jewish literacy is, in and of itself, not the answer.

We all know from life experience that there is an inextricable bond between belief and conditioning. The clarity and quality of what we believe engenders the clarity and quality our commitments in support of those beliefs. These commitments, such as regular Jewish learning, as well as some level of commitment to Jewish law, represent the conditioning side of classical Judaism’s belief – conditioning dynamic.

For example, how many parents who have been brought up to believe that the Torah is an inspiring “myth” will be motivated to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on even one child’s 12 years of Jewish education?

Beyond financial considerations, how many of these parents would want their child to spend half of each school day during those 12 years studying that “myth?” Why would those same parents decide to spend their Sunday mornings in temple pouring over arcane Jewish texts, when they could be on the golf course?

The real reason most adults and their children do not receive a real Jewish education is that, by and large, our leadership has failed to give them compelling reasons to bother to become knowledgeable Jews. A serious conversation about what we believe and what we are willing to do in support of those beliefs is the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room that no one will talk about.

No, its not about more user-friendly courses or cutting-edge pedagogical theories. Until we can engage in a serious communal conversation about Jewish beliefs and understand that that conversation is both necessary and possible, even for sophisticated, 21st century American Jews, we will continue the downward spiral and pretend that Jewish literacy is the answer to all our ills.

Rafael Guber
New York

Are Jews “dumb” or are their educators a bit primitive?Jewish educators need to think out of the box, otherwise it’ll be the same old story for dumb Jews.

Classical Jewish education in day or after-school programs prepares people for b’nai mitzvahs but does not have the sophistication to engage Jews from high school ages through young professional ages. Educators even tout this point, but are they doing enough to change the way they convey Jewish concepts to teens and young adults looking for more sophisticated answers and more 21st century learning modes?

We need only look at the abundance of educational products in the Christian market – Internet, audiovisual, music – that has led to great strides in engaging their audiences to learn about their religion. FOX now even has a FOX Faith branch of film development projects geared at Christian audiences.

Jewish education must adapt and be more innovative in its approaches. I’m not saying today’s teens and young adults suffer from a Jewish attention deficit; educators are just not reaching us.

Dan Witzling
Business Director
The J-Flicks Project
Los Angeles

I was terribly upset when I picked up The Jewish Journal just outside of my driveway, face up with the headline, “Dumb Jews.” I thought for a moment that it was perhaps an anti-Semitic publication but was shocked to see that it was indeed The Jewish Journal.

Don’t we have enough people around town, around the country, across the globe bashing us? Is it necessary for you to get your point across in such a demeaning way with the exposure to many who may not understand the significance behind the headline ?

I think you wonderful writers at The Journal could have come up with a better choice for your headline so as not to create more disharmony – not only amongst ourselves but fuel our critics as well.

Al Qaeda urges Israel attacks; Israeli Arab lawmakers represent Hamas in court


Al Qaeda Urges Israel Attacks
 

At Save Darfur Rally: ‘Never Again, Again’


Some, like Seattle resident Julie Margulies, 50, flew thousands of miles to the nation’s capital to attend. Others, like high school student Adam Zuckerman, 18, from Portland, Maine, raised money to help bring friends — both Darfuri and Jewish — to Washington for the big day.

Toting signs of “Never again, again” and “Not on our watch,” Jews representing Hillel groups and day schools, synagogues and youth groups, community centers, Hadassah chapters and all denominations came from around the country to the National Mall in Washington for Sunday’s Save Darfur rally. (Please also see page 11, for one person’s experience of the rally.)

Participants included a delegation of more than 100 from Los Angeles. Another group of Angelenos attended a Darfur rally in San Francisco.

With the genocide in Darfur topping the Jewish community’s national agenda, an unmistakable Jewish presence ran through Sunday’s rally. Organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, a collection of 150 faith-based advocacy and humanitarian aid organizations initiated by two Jewish agencies, the roster of speakers included Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS); and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Other speakers included political heavyweights such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.); celebrities such as actor-director George Clooney, Olympic skater Joey Cheek and the Rev. Al Sharpton; and Sudanese representatives like Simon Deng, who recently walked from New York City to Washington to call attention to the situation in his homeland.

Their voices joined to oppose the genocide being waged by Arab militias against black Africans in a poor, desert-ridden region of Sudan known as Darfur. Since 2003, the government-backed militias have been decimating towns and raping, torturing and killing hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, leaving behind scorched earth.

Famine and disease are now endemic in the region, where refugees subsist in makeshift displaced persons camps. Officials in Chad nervously monitor the conflict, which they worry will spill over to their country. The situation in Darfur, which some estimate has claimed more than 400,000 lives, constitutes the first time the United States government has recognized genocide while it is still occurring.

Those behind the Save Darfur Coalition say Sunday’s rally aimed to galvanize a multinational peacekeeping force to stop the attacks and ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered.

David Rubenstein, a coordinator of the coalition, elaborated on these goals in a memo to the White House that called for guaranteed access to food and medical aid in the region, a beefed-up force on the ground from the African Union, a more effective United Nations peacekeeping mission and a presidential envoy focused on Darfur.

Addressing the sea of faces in Washington, Saperstein challenged listeners to realize these goals.

“An ‘A’ for effort doesn’t do it,” he said. “Your legacies and ours will be measured not by efforts alone but by whether, in the end, we stop or fail to stop this genocide.”

Jewish participants like Joseph Milgrom, 92, a wheelchair-bound Holocaust survivor from suburban Maryland, found the message particularly salient because of the Holocaust.

“I was standing in line and they were sending people right, left, right, left,” he said of his experiences in the Holocaust, the tears rolling down his cheeks. “I was sent to work. Everybody else in my family died.”

For these reasons and others, Jewish participants turned up in droves Sunday under hot and sunny skies. Rally organizers reported Jewish representation from all major cities along the Eastern seaboard and from as far away as Wisconsin, Oregon and California.

At least 100 traveled from Los Angeles for the rally through the joint efforts of the locally based Jewish World Watch (JWW) and the Jewish Community Relations Committee, among other participating organizations and congregations. Those on the trip included Rabbi Karen Bender and Saundra Mandel of Temple Judea and Peter Marcus, chair of JWW’s Community Action and Response Committee and a member of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“We delivered 15,000 postcards and 1,000 petition signatures to the AJWS as part of its Million Voices campaign,” said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, co-founder and president of JWW.

Rally Director Chuck Thies estimated the day’s turnout at roughly 75,000 people.

Activism on Darfur has been a rallying cry among socially conscious Jews for months. In February, the issue topped the agenda of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ annual plenum, which sets national priorities for local Jewish community relations councils.

The AJWS also has taken a lead role, with Messinger making two trips to Darfur. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a genocide alert for Darfur even before the government did. The AJWS and the museum formed the Save Darfur Coalition in 2004.

The weekend’s pre-rally lineup included a smattering of Jewish-led Darfur events. Last Friday morning, Messinger and JCPA’s executive director, Steve Gutow, along with a slew of others, succeeded in getting arrested while protesting on the steps of the Sudanese Embassy.

That night, the DC Reform Chavurah and Tikkun Leil Shabbat hosted a Shabbat service on Darfur. This was followed by three Havdalah services Saturday night, including one at the Jefferson Memorial; and a Sunday morning pre-rally brunch at the George Washington University Hillel, among other events.

Meanwhile, the Million Voices for Darfur campaign, also launched by the Save Darfur Coalition, deluged the White House on Sunday with 1 million handwritten and electronic postcards.

The extent of Jewish involvement has caused some to ask how much other faith communities have done.

“I don’t know on what basis we can quantify what someone else can or should do,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, commented at a recent Darfur event outside the United Nations. “But it would be shameful if we cannot get faith communities in our country to say this is one of the most important issues of our day.”

Even Sudanese participants noticed a disproportionate Jewish presence at the rally and in relief efforts in general.

“The people in Darfur know very well and welcome the support of the American Jewish community,” said Iessa Dahia, a Darfuri now living in Portland, Maine.

Karlo Okoy, a Sudanese pastor living in Lakewood, Colo., echoed the sentiment.

“The present Sudanese killing is exactly the picture of Jewish killing in Germany. They feel the same pain, that’s why they came heavily to help out the Sudanese community,” he said.

Other rallies were staged in Portland and Eugene, Ore.; St. Paul, Minn.; Austin, Texas; Tucson and Prescott, Ariz.; Boca Raton, Fla.; San Francisco; Seattle; Somerville, N.J.; Toronto; and Boulder, Colo.

Some 50 to 100 people from Los Angeles journeyed to the San Francisco rally, under the leadership of Rabbis Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea and Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple, in a trip organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the Union of Reform Judaism and JWW.

 

Letters


The Poverty Answer

Kudos to you for publishing “A Chance to Make Poverty History” (July 1). This op-ed clearly demonstrates the need for strong U.S. leadership and intervention to alleviate global poverty. As a supporter of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), I applaud their work and add to their argument presented that in addition to debt relief for the poorest countries in the world, the U.S. government must also make good on its pledge to increase developmental aid for these countries.

Most Americans are surprised to learn that only 0.16 percent of 1 percent of our gross national product is spent on nonmilitary, humanitarian aid. Prime Minister Tony Blair, economist Jeffrey Sachs, as well as AJWS and others are urging an increase in the budgets of the wealthiest nations to 0.7 percent. International debt relief, an increase in humanitarian aid and fair trade policies that do not impact negatively on the medical needs and livelihoods of the most vulnerable are not only policy positions being taken by AJWS, but what we Jews must support as a people committed to tikkun olam and to social justice.

Richard Gunther
Los Angeles

Culture Clash

Judea Pearl’s article in your July 15 issue was perhaps the most important one ever printed in The Jewish Journal (“Clash of Ideas Should Be Addressed”). Its importance lies in the fact that it makes obvious the fact that the “peace process” and the “two-state solution” are only fantasies believed in by Peace Now and other self-deluding liberals. Unfortunately, Pearl’s solution to the problem seems to be more conferences and “educational programs” to reach “common goals.” It seems that, no matter how much Arabs and Muslims repeat that they want to destroy Israel and slaughter Jews, most liberals believe they’re just too shy to say they really love us.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Judea Pearl’s article points out the continuing objections in the Arab world to a Jewish state. Millions of people may be taught from birth to hate Jews, but I believe that the world knows that Israel cannot be destroyed militarily. Not calling Israel a “Jewish State” may be a small sacrifice in the cause of world peace. It is no secret that Israel is 80 percent Jewish, but Ireland is 88 percent Roman Catholic and is not referred to as the Roman Catholic State of Ireland. The United States is 80 percent Christian, but we are not known as the Christian United States (even if evangelicals would like it.)

All eyes are now focused on the Palestinians. If they are sincere about a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they must make the Gaza Strip a viable, peaceful ministate. If the opportunity is missed and the Arabs persist in the intention to destroy Israel, then the world must face the reality that Israel, and the other modern Western democracies, are the “good guys” in the Middle East.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Matter of Ritual

Rabbi Debra Orenstein’s column on Parshat Chukat in your July 8 issue was one of the most meaningful pieces on the Torah I have ever read in the pages of The Jewish Journal (“Ritual’s Mysteries”). Her rational for a Jew to do the chukim, those laws God requires of us which are not based on logic, as a way of showing our love for God, was beautifully articulated. Her reasoning also struck a chord for me as a religious Jew. Orenstein makes, by logical extension of her perceptive insights, a compelling argument that one could lead the most fulfilling spiritual life by following all of God’s laws, whether we understand them or not. God has created numerous opportunities for us to exhibit our love for and commitment to Him. By doing what is asked from us we can experience the remarkable nature of the relationship with God to which Orenstein alludes.

Avi Engel
Los Angeles

Carry On

Millions worldwide stopped what they were doing for two minutes in respectful silence for the innocent victims of the Islamist suicide bombers in London (“London’s Jews Carry On After Blast,” July 15). Hundreds of blameless have been murdered by the same breed of Islamic extremists in Israel, Russia , Iraq, Pakistan, etc.

During the past five years, there have been a multitude of such bus bombings in Israel where hundreds have been killed and maimed for life. Why has the world never shown this respectful two-minute silence for the guiltless mothers, fathers and children who lost their lives to the indoctrinated terrorists of Islam? I do not scapegoat the Muslim religion, I blame the agglomeration of terrorist Islamists that have unrestricted entry into western democracies to spew forth their dogmas and to indoctrinate the vulnerable.

To paraphrase Ernst Klein, ” If we sleep in democracy, we wake up in tyranny.”

It is difficult to believe that the general Muslim population wants integration in the West as they demand from their host countries the allowance of their own Sharia laws. Towns exist, in such countries as Denmark, where the populations are run by such Sharia law. The law enforcement agencies in Denmark are daunted by the prospect of entering these towns.

Many in the world community have been critical of the fence that Israel is building to avoid suicide bombers. However, since its inception, there has been a drastic reduction in these incidents. Is it too late in the game to improve the dykes holding back the flow of insurgency into the Western democracies? At present, Western democracies revere life and those with the revolutionary Islamist dogmas seem to revere death.

Harry Grunstein
Hampstead Que, Canada

 

When Jews Wax Anti-Semitic


 

The expectation that a commentator’s views must be in lockstep with his or her ethnic, religious or sexual identity is always distasteful — particularly when blacks, women, gays or Jews are labeled “self-hating” when they refuse to toe the perceived party line.

Then again, maybe the “self-hating” label is justified on occasion. That’s what I found myself thinking when I read a stunning recent commentary by author and pundit Eric Alterman on the British Muslim Council’s decision to boycott the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The reason given for the boycott was that the commemoration of Nazi death camp victims did not include the Palestinian victims of Israeli “genocide.”

On his blog at msnbc.com, Alterman sneered at critics of the boycott.

“I’m a Jew, but I don’t expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people’s suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters — and in this I include myself — are causing much of theirs,” he wrote, suggesting that one might as well expect gays to honor “the suffering of gay-bashing bigots.”

Alterman noted that “the Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world — in the form of the United Nations — reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists…. To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic.”

One hardly knows where to begin. There is, for instance, the way Alterman not-so-deftly conflates Muslims with Arabs and Arabs with dispossessed Palestinians, and then declares Jews responsible for “much” of the suffering of Muslims everywhere. Not the brutal theocracies such as the Taliban, which have tried to impose a medieval form of Islam through terror; not the equally brutal secular dictators of the Arab world, such as Iraq’s now-deposed Saddam Hussein or the corrupt monarchies. No, it’s the Jews — all lumped together, including long-dead Holocaust victims.

By Alterman’s logic, every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy. Alterman frets that his words will be “twisted beyond recognition,” but it’s hard to see how they can be twisted into something more indecent than they already are. (While he counts himself among Israel’s supporters, he seems to regard the creation of Israel itself — not just the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — as an Arab “catastrophe.”)

Call it self-hatred or something less psychoanalytic; the bottom line is that this is the kind of rhetoric that, coming from a non-Jew, would be clearly seen as anti-Semitic. This is not exclusively a phenomenon of the pro-Palestinian left. Ironically, in the same blog item, Alterman castigates a conservative Jewish commentator for giving aid and comfort to anti-Semitism — and, ironically, he’s right.

The commentator is Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of a group called Toward Tradition, who has been in the forefront of the alliance between conservative Jews and the Christian right. Lapin recently unleashed a bizarre tirade in The Jewish Press against “the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture.”

His target is the movie, “Meet the Fockers,” in which Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand play a sex-obsessed Jewish couple, as well as radio sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, “shock jock” Howard Stern and trashy daytime talk show host Jerry Springer.

Rather shockingly, Lapin quotes Adolf Hitler, who accused Jews of spreading “literary filth, artistic trash and theatrical idiocy” in pre-World War II Germany. His ostensible point is that the Jewish community should confront and criticize Jewish perpetrators of cultural degeneracy to avoid giving ammunition to Jew-haters. But he provides such ammunition himself, when he misleadingly singles out Jewish entertainers for blame — as if Jewish contributions to art and culture were limited to the “coarsening” kind.

Such tactics are not new for Lapin. During the controversy over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” he wrote that it was hypocritical for Jewish groups to protest what many saw as the film’s anti-Semitic themes, given that Jewish Hollywood executives had been involved with allegedly anti-Christian fare such as the 1988 film, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Never mind that “The Last Temptation” was directed and scripted by non-Jews.

We live in a time when anti-Semitic rhetoric is creeping into the respectable mainstream: on the left, in the form of Israel-bashing; on the right, in assertions that Christians own this country and should “take it back.” I’m not sure whether such rhetoric is any more reprehensible when it comes from Jews. But it is certainly no better.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a Boston Globe columnist.

 

The Right of Return Goes Both Ways


With the growing worldwide focus on displaced Palestinians, Jewish groups are suddenly raising the issue of a different kind of refugee: the almost 1 million Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The timing is no accident. While the effort by groups such as the World Jewish Congress (WJC) points to a genuine injustice, it is also intended to neutralize the ongoing effort by the Palestinians and their supporters to insist on an Arab right of return to Israel as part of any peace deal. However, there are important differences between the two refugee situations that will make that a hard sell to a skeptical world community.

Last week, a group called Justice for Jews from Arab Countries published a report documenting the human rights crisis facing Jews in that part of the world following the creation of Israel. The report concludes that the persecution achieved its primary aim — forcing more than 850,000 Jews to flee, roughly comparable to the number of Arabs who fled the new state of Israel.

There was a big difference, though, in how the refugee populations were treated. More than two-thirds of the Jewish refugees quickly found their way to Israel, where they and their descendants now comprise the majority of the Jewish population.

In fact, the Jewish State did too good of a job. Despite some conflict with the European Jewish elite, the refugees were absorbed with little fanfare, and as a result, most of the world has no inkling that these people were once forced to abandon their homes and property. Thousands also came to the United States, laying the base for a vibrant and increasingly influential Sephardi community.

The Palestinian refugees were treated differently.

With the collusion of the United Nations, they were confined mostly in squalid refugee camps in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank. No effort was made to absorb the refugees. On the contrary, they were kept isolated, living under horrific conditions, to serve as living pawns in the effort to disparage and pressure Israel.

Arab governments professed deep concern for the Palestinian people, but they treated the refugees in their own countries as lepers, refusing to give them citizenship, limiting their civil rights, providing little or no economic aid. Palestinian refugees weren’t absorbed, they were exploited mercilessly.

The international community contributed to this exploitation by failing to challenge the Arab nations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1950 to help displaced Palestinians, became the only international agency devoted to keeping refugees in camps, rather than resettling them, in effect creating a permanent refugee population.

Since the disastrous Camp David peace talks in 2000, Palestinian leaders have put the right of return at the top of their list of negotiating priorities. That concept, as they define it, involves the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their original homes — including in Israel.

Israelis have a wide range of views about what their country should give up as part of any comprehensive peace agreement, but on one issue, they speak with a unified voice: granting an unlimited right of return would be national suicide for the Jewish state.

Jewish groups that are raising the issue of Jewish refugees today say it’s a matter of fundamental justice, and that’s true. But the real motive here is political — trying to deflate the Palestinian demand for an unlimited right of return by pointing out, accurately, that Palestinians weren’t the only ones to be wrenched out of their lives and their homes when Israel was created.

Avi Beker, WJC secretary general, recently said that the campaign — which included congressional hearings on the subject — is an effort to bring "balance" to the refugee issue and thereby affect the quest for Middle East peace.

Both sides have legitimate claims, the Jewish groups argue. The most appropriate solution doesn’t involve massive shifts of population, but humanitarian efforts to resettle refugees where they are or in the newly created state of Palestine, or — in the case of Jewish refugees — to provide fair restitution for the property that was stolen from them when they were forced to flee.

The new Jewish strategy for bringing some balance to the refugee debate makes sense, but it is unlikely to sway Israel’s enemies or its many detractors in Europe and elsewhere. The reason is simple: much of the world doesn’t want a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis.

To the Arab nations and to many in Europe, perpetuating a suffering Palestinian refugee population — impoverished, bitter pariahs — is a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state.

Israel did the humanitarian thing by quickly absorbing Jewish refugees. The Arab nations that profess such sympathy for Palestinian refugees have done the opposite, thereby revealing their real motives in the refugee debate.

Terrorists in Old City


Since the intifada began two years ago, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert had boasted that Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem had opted to stay out of the violence for fear of losing Israeli social service benefits.

With the recent arrest of an East Jerusalem terrorist cell deemed responsible for several recent attacks — including the July 31 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria that killed nine people — Israelis have been asking: Arabs in East Jerusalem, too?

The discovery of the cell nearly coincided with a survey by the prestigious Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies that reported alarming figures concerning the standard of living in Jerusalem’s Old City and raised questions about 35 years of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem.

Unlike Israeli Arabs, most Arab residents of East Jerusalem who came under Israeli rule following the 1967 Six-Day War do not carry Israeli citizenship. They are not entitled to Israeli passports, are not entitled to vote and cannot be elected to national bodies. They are eligible to vote in municipal elections, though most of them choose — with help from Palestinian groups — not to, so as not to legitimize Israeli rule in the city.

Still, they do have Israeli identity cards, which allow them free movement throughout Israel and relatively free movement in and out of the West Bank — freedom that the terrorist gang allegedly put to bloody use.

Most important, Arabs in East Jerusalem are entitled to the range of social benefits available to all Israelis, such as national health insurance, unemployment payments, minimum wage benefits, child allowances and other social security benefits.

It was access to such services that Olmert figured would deter residents of East Jerusalem from joining the Palestinian campaign of terror — a calculation that authorities now say was tragically wrong.

True, the level of terrorism emanating from East Jerusalem has been low, in comparison with terrorism from the adjacent West Bank. Far fewer Israelis and tourists visit the Old City today than in past years, and very few hostile acts have been carried out against them.

But the hatred is still there.

The merchants in front of their empty souvenir stalls on David Street look at the few Israelis who dare to enter the Old City walls — mostly religious Jews on their way to the Western Wall or other sites in the Jewish Quarter — with sad and angry eyes.

"Why don’t you understand? We don’t want you here," said tour guide Ali Jadda, who spent 17 years in Israeli jails for throwing a grenade in the western part of the city, wounding nine Israelis. "You are welcome as tourists, but as occupiers, you are not wanted here."

That is the story in a nutshell: Many Jerusalem Arabs see the Jews as occupiers.

In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Arab soldiers forced the Jews from the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, ending a presence dating back centuries. In the ensuing 20 years of Jordanian occupation, evidence of Jewish history was systematically destroyed.

In 1967, Israel, after being attacked by Jordan, conquered the Jewish Quarter and the other parts of East Jerusalem. The conquered parts were annexed to Israel, but — fearful of changing the country’s demographic balance — the inhabitants were not offered citizenship.

Thus, just as the Arabs do not want the Jews in Jerusalem, many would say that the Israeli authorities do not regard the city’s 220,000 Arabs as equal partners.

The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies report showed the poor living conditions in the Old City. With some 280 people per acre, it is one of the most crowded places on earth. The population has grown rapidly since the unification of the city in 1967, due both to natural growth and the illegal immigration of Arabs from the West Bank who wanted to enjoy Israeli social service benefits.

Israeli authorities could not cope with the phenomenon: They lacked the space, budget and tools to provide the Arab population with modern housing inside the Old City walls.

Providing alternative housing would be too costly — and would go against the Palestinians’ nationalist credo. The result: burgeoning illegal construction, with rooms crowding on top of each other and basements turned into living quarters. Some 25 percent of the apartments in the Muslim Quarter have no shower, and a number of families often will share the same toilet.

Some Jewish families also are moving into the Muslim Quarter, living in homes purchased from Arab owners in roundabout ways. Under the guidance of the Ateret Cohanim settlers’ organization, these Jews hope one day to outnumber Arabs in the Old City.

The Jewish families live under heavy protection: Surveillance cameras transmit images of people approaching the Jewish residences to Old City police headquarters, and armed guards respond to knocks on the doors.

Some 6,000 families, or about 35,000 people, live in the Old City. Of these, 68 percent are Muslims; 24 percent, Christians; and 8 percent, Jews.

Umm Raed, who lives in a shabby apartment in the Old City and suffers from diabetes, receives a regular unemployment allowance from the Israeli government. That’s enough of an incentive to make sure none of her nine children join Hamas.

But, given the heavily politicized atmosphere and the incitement by Palestinian Authority agents, economic incentives aren’t enough to win Israel much loyalty from Jerusalem’s Arabs.

Hawks like Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and his deputy, Gideon Ezra, say the cell’s capture shows that anti-Israel feelings are endemic in the Palestinian population, regardless of their social and economic condition. The fact that the cell members received Israeli social benefits and worked in Israel proves it is not poverty that causes terrorism, they say.

Some are looking beyond last week’s news to possible political solutions. The Jerusalem Institute study offers at eight alternative solutions to the conflict.

Ruth Lapidot, a law professor who chaired the report team, prefers one of them: Both Israel and the Palestinians relinquish sovereignty claims in the Old City and try to reach a functional agreement on running the holy area.

Israel has been open to various compromise proposals, but the Palestinian Authority insists on full sovereignty over all Arab neighborhoods and denies that the Jews have any connection to the Temple Mount, the Old City’s crown jewel and the holiest site in Judaism.

The Irrelevance of Arab Hatred


The consensus view of the intifada among Israelis, Diaspora Jews and American conservatives — that it’s caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel — is nothing but a lousy excuse. An excuse to say Israel is wholly blameless in this affair, and there’s nothing Israel can do except plod on, dying and killing. It’s an excuse to block out any doubt, and to go on with this bleak worldview that does, at least, offer the comfort of certainty.

So let’s introduce a little doubt. If all this terror is caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel, how do we explain Egypt? Egypt’s armed forces haven’t fired a single shot at Israel in over 25 years. Does Egypt hate Israel any less than the Palestinians do? Are its newspapers and bookstores and general public discourse any less loaded with anti-Semitism? Does it have any less abhorrence for the idea of a Zionist state across its border?

Egypt is the biggest, strongest country in the Arab world, an incomparably greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could be. Its society is rampant with Islamic and Arab nationalist militancy, and hatred of all things Jewish. Yet even though the Egyptian "street" erupts in war cries, the Egyptian leadership resists.

If Arab hatred and rejection of Israel is the reason for Palestinian violence, why has Egypt been so thoroughly nonviolent toward Israel for so long?

The same question could be asked about Jordan. Jordan hasn’t touched Israel in 35 years. As a matter of fact, most Jordanians are themselves of Palestinian origin; do they hate or reject Israel any less than do their brethren in the West Bank or Gaza? So why hasn’t Jordan joined the intifada?

Remarkably, we can even raise this issue regarding Syria. Except for when Israel went galumphing through Lebanon in the early 1980s, Syria hasn’t mixed with Israel since the last of the Yom Kippur War.

Which leaves, among Arab nations on Israel’s borders, Lebanon. Here we have to place an asterisk. Hezbollah is without question fighting Israel. But another unquestionable fact is that since the Israeli army pulled out of southern Lebanon over two years ago, Hezbollah has fought Israel with only a small fraction of its previous intensity.

Israel shares borders with five different hateful Arab nations. It has formal peace with two of them: Egypt and Jordan. It has de facto nonbelligerency with a third, Syria. With a fourth, Lebanon, it has a limited border clash. Only with the fifth and smallest neighboring Arab nation, the Palestinians, does Israel find itself in an agonizing war with no end in sight.

What’s special about the Palestinians? Not their hatred of Israel, not their rejection, not their fearlessness and certainly not their strength. What’s special is that they are the one Arab nation whose rightful country — the West Bank and Gaza Strip — has been usurped by Israel.

Every other neighboring Arab nation can tend to its own affairs without any Israelis around, but the Palestinians have 220,000 Israeli settlers, and many thousands of Israeli soldiers, staring them in the face, lording it over them.

This is the way it’s been since 1967. Even in the "good old days" of the Oslo accord, when the "peace camp" was running Israel, the West Bank settlers kept taking more and more Palestinian land. Palestinians still had to pass through Israeli army and border police checkpoints on their way through the West Bank, and the more candid Israeli soldiers, not to mention human rights organizations, can tell about the frequent brutalities and humiliations that went on there.

It’s true the Palestinians turned down a good-faith Israeli offer of land-for-peace at Camp David to launch the intifada, which puts most of the blame for the current bloodshed on them. But not all the blame. For three and a half years, between the bus bombings of 1996 to the outbreak of the intifada, the Palestinian Authority effectively put down Hamas and provided the Israelis with pretty good security. But in return for delivering three and a half years of a decent approximation of peace, the Palestinians didn’t get much more land — only 13 percent more of the West Bank in that fairly quiet period. Meanwhile Israeli settlements and bypass roads kept eating away at what Palestinians and the rest of the world thought was supposed to become their state. So while the Palestinians are guilty of starting the intifada, Israelis can’t say they were innocent of any prior provocation.

It’s also true the Palestinians killed the chance for peace with their demand for the right of return, and for exclusive Islamic rule over the Temple Mount. They’re going to have to drop these demands if the fighting is ever to end. But why is it unimaginable that the Palestinians might change? Egypt provoked the Six Day War, and later joined Syria to attack Israeli forces on Yom Kippur 1973, killing 2,600 of our soldiers. Who would have thought that four years later Egypt’s leader Anwar Sadat would be cheered wildly on the streets of Jerusalem, and that one-quarter century of peace would ensue? A cold peace, even freezing — the important thing is that no one gets hurt.

The Egyptians would love to be rid of Israel. So would the Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. But they don’t dare try it, because they’re afraid of Israel’s superior power. As long as Israel leaves them alone, the Arabs, with the minor exception of Hezbollah, don’t do anything more than mutter. And if Israel leaves the Palestinians alone — if it gets the settlers and soldiers out of the West Bank and Gaza — there’s no inherent reason why the Palestinians shouldn’t eventually come around and join the other neighboring Arabs to hate and reject Israel, but to leave them in peace.

Durban, the Sequel


Geneva and Ann Arbor, Mich., may be a world apart, but they now have something in common: both are settings for a reinvigorated effort to undercut the very legitimacy of Israel.

The same folks responsible for turning this summer’s Durban conference on racism into an anti-Israel free-for-all are getting set for an encore performance in Geneva next week. And in college towns like Ann Arbor, Arab and Muslim student groups are using spurious comparisons with South Africa to discredit Israel.

Neither effort alone will succeed, but cumulatively, the campaign, which also includes the movement to charge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with war crimes, can only make it harder to reach the goal many boosters of these efforts claim to support — genuine peace.

The central theme in both efforts is this: Israel is the new apartheid state, as illegitimate in its existence as the South African government whose blatantly racist policies produced revulsion around the world and, ultimately, economic sanctions that helped bring about its demise.

That was the message promoted by the hijackers of this summer’s United Nations-sponsored racism conference in Durban. The target wasn’t Israeli policy; it was an attack on the idea of a Jewish State, and on the Jews who support it — portrayed as every bit as contemptible as the racists who supported the old South African regime. The fact that the conference was held in Durban added resonance to the charge, exactly as protest planners had intended.

Durban was a failure for Arab and Islamic nations in some key respects. The final conference document ducked the "Zionism as racism" charge, and Washington, recognizing it for the farce it was, boycotted the meeting.

But the meeting garnered enormous media attention; the anti-Israel slurs were repeated endlessly around the world. Respected international groups raised few objections. That was enough to encourage anti-Israel forces to move on to Geneva, where a meeting of the Fourth Geneva Convention on Rules of War will take place Dec. 5.

The convention, who signed the rules on Aug. 12, 1949, has met only once before; that meeting, too, was convened solely to take political swipes at Israel.

Countless wars have taken place in those 52 years, countless atrocities against civilians, but only Israel has been singled out for censure by having a special session called to consider its actions.

The anti-Israel coalition will also bring many of the same nongovernmental groups that sullied this summer’s racism conference to Geneva. Their overall goal: a formal acknowledgment by the international body that Israel is in violation of the convention, and, outside the official meeting, another anti-Israel feeding frenzy.

There’s nothing new in efforts to use international organizations to discredit Israel, as a long series of unbalanced U.N. resolutions demonstrates. But there is a new vehemence in the effort and a new sophistication. Themes have been updated to appeal to Third-World nations and a European bloc that is susceptible to the anti-colonialism pitch. International human rights groups have been drawn in.

In the case of Durban, U.N. human rights officials played a facilitating role in the anti-Israel ambush; it was Switzerland that gave in to Arab and Muslim importuning and called next week’s Geneva conference, and it’s the E.U., again defying a U.S. boycott, that is lending it international credibility.

Geneva has the potential to be much more damaging than Durban; even a watered-down resolution passed by the signatory nations will create the impression — patently absurd, but gratifying to anti-Zionists — that Israel alone is guilty of violating a widely recognized, important human rights treaty. There’s also an expanding domestic front to the new anti-Israel campaign.

Earlier this year, Islamic and Arab groups on campuses across the country called for a "divestment" campaign against Israel similar to the successful effort in the 1970s and 1980s in which colleges and city governments were pressed to get rid of their investments in racist South Africa. Palestinian students’ groups had scheduled a national conference on the subject for October, but it was postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, there are signs the campaign is resuming, especially in traditionally liberal college towns such as Berkeley and Ann Arbor. It is being supported even by some Israeli human rights activists.

Realistically, this effort is unlikely to produce any significant economic pressure on Israel. Overall, support for Israel is at record levels; Ann Arbor and Berkeley are hardly Main-Street America.

But that’s not the point; promoters of the effort hope to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy in small but important increments.

Stopped Talks


The headlines in the Los Angeles Times track the fever chart of relations between the city’s large Jewish and Muslim communities:

“Arabs, Jews [in L.A.] Hoping Peace Will Blossom” (Jan. 22, 1988).

“Terrorism in Israel Strains Muslim-Jewish Ties in L.A.” (March 25, 1996).

“Jews, Muslims Agree About Disagreeing” (Nov. 30, 1988).

“Muslims, Jews Set to Unveil Code for Debate” (December, 6 1999).

And currently:

“Muslim-Jewish Group Breaks Off Dialogue” (June 6, 2001).

“Jewish-Muslim Group to Resume Dialogue” (June 19, 2001).

These days, the dialogue is on hold — though once again organizers are trying to revive what’s left of years of intermittent effort.

Attempts at creating a viable relationship between representatives of some 600,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims in Southern California go back almost as far as the 1948-49 war between Israelis and Arabs, and, as the headlines show, have reflected the fortunes of peace and war in the Middle East.

The parallel is not as self-evident as it seems. Time and time again, Jewish and Muslim/Arab leaders here have vowed to concentrate on such local issues as ethnic discrimination and interreligious ties, and to ignore the intractable and divisive conflicts of the Middle East.

Even now, as local leaders seek to repair the break in the dialogue, the talk is again about emphasizing educational and youth programs and fighting hate crimes.

The domestic-issues approach has its defenders and successes, if only in preventing a complete breakdown in communications between the two communities, or even outright confrontations.

But looking at the record over decades, Jewish and Muslim Angelenos have not been able to escape the impact of events in the Middle East.

“Originally, we tried to concentrate on concerns close to home, but we soon realized that we couldn’t ignore the elephant in the living room,” says Rabbi Allen Freehling of University Synagogue, spokesman for a group of progressive colleagues who have been a mainstay of the various dialogues.

Rabbi James Rudin, for decades the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) national point man for interreligious affairs, observed in a 1996 interview: “The state of encounter [in the United States] is almost in direct proportion to the situation in the Middle East.

“If there is real movement on both sides [in the Middle East], the fever drops and there is movement here. When you have a terrorist bombing or a Jew shooting Muslims at prayer … there is a cessation of contact, or strained and awkward contact.”

Even Rabbi Alfred Wolf, considered the progenitor of Jewish-Muslim relations in Los Angeles, acknowledges the problem.

“In the early 1970s,” he recalled in a later interview, “we had a very good dialogue going, which was terminated by the 1973 Yom Kippur War.”

Wolf was the first in a continuing line of Wilshire Boulevard Temple rabbis to initiate contacts with Muslim religious leaders. Largely at his initiative, Muslims were invited in the late 1940s to join Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy in the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California.

The following years and decades were marked by a succession of often bewildering groupings, working for Jewish-Muslim understanding.

In the 1960s and ’70s, they included such established organizations as the AJC, American Jewish Congress, National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the American Friends Service Committee.

The 1980s were a particularly fruitful decade, with the establishment of such groups as the Foundation for Middle East Communication, catalyzed by Beverly Hills attorney Michael Lame and the late TV producer Zev Putterman.

A successor group was the Middle East Cousins Club of America, which, in one well-publicized event, planted two olive trees adjacent to City Hall.

“Side by side we plant these trees, and side by side our peoples will flourish,” intoned the master of ceremonies, radio and television host Casey Kasem, for years an active Arab member of various dialogues.

By 1987, a Los Angeles Times report estimated that some 60 dialogue groups were operating throughout the United States.

Another period of cooperation occurred, somewhat ironically, during the 1990-91 Gulf War, when The Jewish Federation, Anti-Defamation League and AJC publicly protested government harassment of Arab Americans.

The famous 1993 handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn triggered another spurt in Muslim-Jewish joint talks and ventures.

One was Builders for Peace, a high-level effort to mobilize Jewish and Arab capital and know-how in the United States to build up the economy of the West Bank and Gaza, but which foundered after a couple of years.

The most recent incarnation has been the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue, which in December 1999, forged a well-publicized code of ethics. It bound some 80 signatories to denounce all terrorism and hate crimes, promote civil dialogue, and avoid mutual stereotyping and incitement.

In the last 50 years, an impressive array of men and women have devoted themselves to bettering Muslim-Jewish relations. Some have stayed the course, while others became burned out or moved on to other causes.

On the Muslim/Arab side, the senior representative and one of the two key players has been Dr. Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California. The Egyptian-born physician has devoted himself to relations with the Jewish community, from almost the moment he arrived in Los Angeles in 1971. His partner is Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Born in Iraq, Al-Marayati is media-savvy, the focus of frequent controversies and the most visible Arab figure in Los Angeles.

Don Bustany was a leading Arab spokesman in the 1980s and early ’90s. He helped form the Arab-Jewish Speakers Bureau, whose mixed teams spoke frequently at synagogues and, to a lesser extent, at churches and mosques.

On the Jewish side, following in Wolf’s footsteps, has been a group of predominantly liberal and Reform rabbis, including Freehling, Leonard Beerman of Leo Baeck Temple, Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Chaim Seidler-Feller of the UCLA Hillel Council, Harvey J. Fields and Steven Z. Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah.

An early lay voice was that of Susan Weissman, an attorney and mediator, who in the early 1980s formed her own dialogue group, consisting initially of 15 Jews and two or three Arabs.

Gradually, more Arabs joined, while Jews dropped out, because “they had come thinking they would set the Arabs straight, but they didn’t get that,” Weissman observes.

Like some other activists, she discontinued her intensive involvement after the 1993 Rabin-Arafat handshake, mainly in the optimistic belief that her mission had been accomplished.

A recent effort off the beaten track is the Open Tent Middle East Coalition, which sponsors joint Arab-Jewish cultural events and discussions. It was founded by Jordan Elgrably, a Sephardi community activist who faults the Jewish community for lack of self-criticism and failure to acknowledge Arab grievances.

Elgrably, sounding a not-uncommon note of frustration, likens the job of dialogue facilitator to that of King Sisyphus of Greek mythology, who was condemned to forever roll a heavy stone uphill, only to see it tumble down again as soon as it reached the peak.

One of the main current activists is Arthur Stern, a Holocaust survivor who after a brilliant engineering and business career in the United States, has turned his considerable talent and energy to Jewish community causes.

The role of The Jewish Federation, the official voice of organized L.A. Jewry, has been generally cautious and somewhat ambivalent.

Its rabbinical arm, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has maintained a hands-off policy vis-a-vis Jewish-Arab dialogues.

“We have members on the far left and far right,” notes Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, the board’s former president and acting director. “We could not function if we had to deal with controversial issues that could cause us to implode.”

The Federation’s main arm in working with other ethnic and religious groups is its Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). During his 1985-1995 tenure as JCRC director, there were “sporadic moments of engagement,” recalls Dr. Steven Windmueller.

A few years later, the JCRC formally joined the ongoing Jewish-Muslim Dialogue in December 1999, after the latter had promulgated its code of ethics.

Elaine Albert, now the JCRC’s associate director, attended monthly meetings of the group until March of this year, when JCRC withdrew.

The reasons given for the withdrawal by Albert and JCRC Executive Director Michael Hirschfeld were an internal restructuring of the JCRC, escalating terrorism in the Middle East, and the imbalance of Jewish to Muslim representation at meetings and retreats.

The latter point is frequently mentioned by critics of the dialogue, where Jewish participants not uncommonly outnumber Muslims and Arabs by a ratio of 6 to 1 or 10 to 1.

One prominent mainstream Jewish community leader, who asked not to be identified, said: “We are constantly meeting with the same two or three Arab professionals, always Hathout and Al-Marayati, who say one thing to us and another when they talk to their own groups.

“Where are the Arab lay or religious leaders? Are these two men really leaders in their community? When The Jewish Federation speaks, it represents 50,000 Jews. But who do they represent?”

The most outspoken mainstream critic of the dialogue is Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the AJC.

Greenebaum says he worked with the Islam Center and the Muslim Public Affairs Council between 1990 and 1995, but then concluded that neither organization “has been operating in an open, honest way since the Oslo accords. At some point, their MO changed from interest in interreligious work to political activism.”

Greenebaum believes that in the last few years, the local Muslim community has become more fundamentalist, with accompanying intimidation of middle-of-the-road groups.

Al-Marayati responds to one point of the criticism by saying that the Jewish leaders themselves have failed to reach out to other organizations within the Muslim community.

He adds, “We are much less organized and structured than the Jewish community, to begin with. The few leaders who are willing and able to devote the time and effort to dialogues — including Aslam Abdullah, editor of the Minaret, and Muzzammil Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Society of North America and its Orange County chapter — are overwhelmed by demands on their time.”

Other members of the Arab community, as well as Jewish dialogue participants, warmly defend the two men.

“Dr. Hathout and Salam are best equipped to speak for the Arab and Muslim communities,” says Kasem. “They are both very honest and able.”

Another point of contention, this one mainly intra-Arab, is whether a dialogue with the Jews should be led by a Muslim or specifically Arab organization.

The point is important because, for one, the local Arab population is about evenly split between Christians and Muslims. For another, Arabs represent only a minority within the Muslim community, being outnumbered by immigrants from Southeast Asia and by African American converts.

“The conflict in the Middle East is at the center of our dialogue; without it there would be no friction and need to dialogue with the Jewish community,” says Bustany.

“But the conflict is not a religious one, it’s a matter of real estate,” he adds. “What do Muslims from Indonesia and the Philippines care about Palestine?”

Al-Marayati rebuts Bustany’s point by arguing that the status and future of Jerusalem “is a central concern of all Muslims everywhere.”

The Muslim-Jewish Dialogue is now on hold, at least temporarily, after the Arab side called for a time-out in early June. “After the F-16 raids, we needed a cooling-off period to deal with our own community,” says Hathout. “It had nothing to do with the Jewish community.” At a subsequent meeting between the two Arab leaders with a group of rabbis and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), it was noted that most of the principal players would be away for part of the summer and that regular meetings should resume in the fall.

On the JCRC side, Chairman Ozzie Goren convened a meeting of five former chairs of the organization, who were asked to submit suggestions at a future date on the format and content of a resumed dialogue.

With all the ups and downs of dialogues past and present, there remains a vital core of supporters on both sides who believe in the intrinsic value of their efforts and hope devoutly that they might eventually serve as role model for the combatants in the Middle East.

Douglas Mirell, president of the PJA, says: “In the dialogues with Muslims, as in similar dialogues with African Americans and Latinos, what is critically important is not so much what is said, but that they take place at all. There is great value in the dialogue qua dialogue.”

Arthur Stern, who steps nimbly between his roles as JCRC vice chairman, PJA vice president and private citizen, observes:

“Some people may label me as naive, but I believe we should never stop talking. As long as we talk, there is a chance of understanding. When we stop talking, we fall back on rumors and stereotypes.”

They’re Heeeeere


According to a recently released Shaw University study, there are now between 6 and 7 million Muslims living in America. The study’s figures may be a bit inflated, but few doubt their larger meaning: either Muslims now outnumber Jews in America, or they soon will.

The Journal featured a cover story Jan. 12, 2001 on this subject, so the news shouldn’t come as a shock to our readers. In fact, it shouldn’t necessarily alarming at all. Why? Well, there are Muslims and there are Muslims. According to the study, 33 percent of mosque members are of South Asian origin, 30 percent are black and 25 percent are of Arab descent. "The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans," one analyst noted, "spend more of their time thinking about local issues that affect their lives — schooling for children, housing, employment — than about the Middle East."

That means there are plenty of areas where American Jews can find common ground and common cause with Muslims. And then there’s the Middle East.

How to deal with our inevitable conflicts over Israel and the Palestinians? One unique approach originated in this community in Dec. 1999, when a group of 80 Muslim and Jewish leaders drafted a code of ethics, pledging to denounce all terrorism and hate crimes, promote civil dialogue, and avoid mutual stereotyping and incitement. Many Jewish leaders opted out, wary of joining with Arab Americans whom they believed were two-faced in their statements on Israel. Since then, dialogue between mainstream leaders has slowed considerably. That’s a mistake. If Israeli officials are still speaking to the Palestinian Authority — and they are — Jewish leaders here could at least tolerate local Muslims whose opinions they dispute.

In Detroit lately, Jewish and Arab schoolchildren have been slinging ethnic slurs at one another. It shouldn’t get to that point here, and one way to prevent it is for our leaders to demonstrate the advantages of dialogue.

Defining Arab Issues in Israel


"Don’t call us Israeli Arabs. We are not the Arabs of anyone. We are not Arab Israelis. We are not Palestinian Israelis. We are not Israeli Palestinians. We are not really Israelis. Israel doesn’t see us as Israelis. We are Palestinians living in Israel."

The fluency and literary quality of their spoken Hebrew was no indication of their nationality. It was the language of their reality.

This has been my third trip to Israel in the last several months on behalf of the Ford Foundation, gathering information for the building of a marketing institute which will service grantees in Israel, mainly Jewish organizations.

During this trip, I interviewed Arab grantees with Debra London-Ben Ami, my Israeli partner in this effort. Since August, we have spoken with Jewish grantees all over the country, as well as the advertising and media industry in Tel Aviv, research firms, public relations firms, lobbyists, corporations and professors. We have also met with the committed, visionary and influential leaders of Israel’s emerging nonprofit industry.

None of them presented the challenges of this week’s interviews.

The situation, as Israelis refer to the current crisis, has greatly altered the perceptions and identities of the Arabs who live in Israel, as well as the Jews. The debate over what to call themselves is a direct reflection of the confusion and tension inside their own heads. While they may be in a quandary over who they want to be, they are certainly clear about who they are not.

"Don’t bring us your marketing models for this institute, Gary, and ask us to comment. It is not about two Jews deciding for the Arabs and asking for our input and approval. You need to work with us from the beginning, as separate and equal partners. We need to create the models with you," said Aida Touma-Soliman, the executive director of Women Against Violence and a resident of Nazareth. Touma-Soliman, along with her colleagues, have requested that I facilitate a marketing seminar exclusively with Arab nonprofit leadership in Israel, to concentrate solely upon their issues.

While matters among Jews in Israel are now in flux and chaos, the Arabs in Israel appear to be finding their path. The people we interviewed were educated, highly experienced, professional, strategic in their thinking, committed to their goals and energized over their actions. I may not feel comfortable with all their desires and thoughts, but I realize Arabs are part of the fabric of the state and will no longer be a quiet, docile population. If Israel is to thrive, they need to be considered seriously as an equal population. They aren’t going away. And neither are their ambitions. No matter how iron-fisted the Sharon government may prove to be, the Palestinians in Israel will never return to being "Israeli Arabs."

"Any solution to the Palestinian issue must take us into consideration. That is what is meant by a comprehensive solution. We are Palestinians, too," said Ameer Mahoul, the director of Itiijah in Haifa, a capacity-building organization for Arab nonprofits and one of the more radical ideologues among the Palestinians. He continued, "There are 250,000 displaced Palestinians living within Israel. There must be a solution for them as well."

I didn’t ask him what exactly he meant by that statement. I simply wanted to hear the thinking. At this point it was not my place to challenge, but to listen. As the plans for the marketing institute move ahead, there will be countless opportunities for challenge, clarification and reality checks.

"If Ford alone is funding this institute, we have no problem," said Mahoul. "However, if there will be other funders, we must take into consideration their views regarding our population….We are moving away from dependencies upon Israeli and Jewish organizations for our funding. We are working to establish funding and cooperative relationships within the European Union and with other Arab countries."

The purpose of this, he explained, is to build their own identities independent of Israeli influence. "Once we are certain who we are and what we want, then we can return to work with Israelis," Mahoul said.

Leaders of different Jewish nonprofits in Israel, even far left ones, listened well to what I repeated, but cautioned that the reality Mahoul projects is far away from that of other Arab organizational leaders. "No Arab organization has yet to cut themselves off from Jewish funding," said Rahel Liel of Shatil, an organization founded by the New Israel Fund. "Yet his opinion is significant and must be taken into consideration."

An alarm seemed to go off for Israeli Jews when I mentioned the displaced persons issue. "What do they mean by 250,000 displaced persons?" asked Amiram Goldblum, head of Settlement Watch for Peace Now. "Are they talking about the original Arab population of Jaffa? Baram and Ikrit [two villages in the Galilee where there are now kibbutzim]? What are they proposing we do about it?" People at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University did tell me that their estimates are closer to 180,000, confirming that there are displaced Palestinians in Israel — though no one was able to define what constitutes a displaced Palestinian.

Mahoul did ask me if I would be comfortable working with them. "As a Jew and supporter of Israel, I have to admit I am threatened by some of what you have said," I replied. "But let’s move forward. I’m not closing any doors, and, apparently, neither are you at this point."

Mideast


A Divided Land

By Eric Silver, Mideast Correspondent

Recent murders in Hebron indicate a new trend in extremism

What the Israeli right likes to call “the battle for the Land of Israel” is in danger of turning into a war of the ultras, Arab extremists vs. Jewish extremists.

The murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, the 63-year-old grandson of the legendary Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, on the night of Aug. 20 in the Hebron Jewish enclave of Tel Rumeida confirmed a new, provocative trend in the strategy of Palestinian terror.

Like the shooting two weeks earlier of Shlomo Liebman and Harel Bin Nun while guarding the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, it was a pinpoint operation, meticulously planned and executed.

Vulnerable, and Zealous Targets

The targets were vulnerable — two young men patrolling at night on the fringe of their isolated community, a veteran rabbi staying behind when most of his neighbors had gone to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Their anonymous assailants knew when and where to hit them, how to get away undetected.

Yitzhar in the north and Tel Rumeida in the south are separated by 50 miles of West Bank rocks and olive groves. What they have in common is that they are both inhabited by disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement was outlawed as racist. These are the zealots who erected a shrine to Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers, and who publicly rejoiced at the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

To the Palestinian Authority, they are fair game. Yasser Arafat rejected all Israeli demands to condemn the killings. His West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, told the settlers that if they didn’t want to be murdered, they’d better get out of Hebron. The Palestinian police are not exactly falling over themselves to catch the perpetrators.

Different Victims

Unlike Hamas bombers blowing themselves up in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, these new-style killers know their society will not suffer Israeli collective punishment. Hebron was sealed for a few days, but tens of thousands of Arab laborers from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were free to work inside the old green-line border. Business flowed as usual.

The killings seem designed to goad the most fanatical foes of the five-year-old Oslo peace process into a terminal cycle of violence.

“The longer this pattern of attack goes on,” warned Zvi Singer, who covers the settlements for the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot, “the greater the prospect of retaliatory attacks… The security forces must prepare themselves for the worst possible scenario, in which a new Baruch Goldstein might execute his own private act of revenge.”

Harsh Words

Rabbi Ra’anan’s neighbors among the seven families living in mobile homes at Tel Rumeida don’t need much goading. Baruch Marzel, Kahane’s self-proclaimed heir, harangued the Likud Defense Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, as a “murderer” when he visited the site the day after the killing.

When another old warrior, President Ezer Weizman, came to comfort Rabbi Ra’anan’s widow, Marzel branded him an Arab agent. “You are a spy,” he yelled. “You are a danger to the public. You should be locked up in a prison or a hospital.”

This assault on the president was condemned across the political spectrum, from Yossi Sarid of Meretz on the left to the settler Rabbi Benny Elon of Moledet on the right. The Cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, denounced it as “contemptible.”

Labour spokesmen were not alone in detecting echoes of the “Rabin is a traitor” incitement that ended with Yigal Amir pulling the trigger in a Tel-Aviv square on Nov. 4, 1995.

The Settlers’ Isolation

Marzel’s histrionics highlighted the increasing isolation of the settlers from the Israeli mainstream. Eitan Haber, a veteran military reporter who served as Rabin’s spokesman and adviser, sparked a national debate earlier this month with a Yediot column that began: “A terrible thing has happened to Israeli society in the past decade. The reaction to the death of Israeli citizens in terrorist attacks is a function of political leanings. There’s ‘our’ dead and ‘their’ dead.”

The funeral of the two Yitzhar settlers, he argued, was like a meeting of a secret cult. Even representatives of the right-wing parties stayed away. Half the nation, maybe more, shrugged their shoulders. Their eyes remained dry.

“The reason,” Haber suggested, “is the patronizing air that the settlers have been putting on for years, the arrogant look in their eyes even when they don’t say a word. The way the settlers have projected ‘I’m a better Zionist, a better Jew, than you are’ and “You don’t know anything’ has caused the settlers never to be accepted in people’s hearts… They bury their dead among family only.”

None the less, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government responded to the Ra’anan murder by allocating $10 million shekels ($2.7 million) to replace the Tel Rumeida mobile homes with permanent housing, though it will be many months, if ever, before they are built. The legal process is a minefield, and there is no spare land. Tel Rumeida is in the heart of an Arab suburb.

Yet the prime minister did not yield to settler demands and suspend negotiations with the Palestinians. If media leaks, from Jerusalem and Washington, are to be believed, agreement on the elusive next stage of West Bank withdrawal may even be imminent. The ultras have not won, yet.

50th Anniversary of ‘Calamity’


Palestinians have an official term for whathappened to them when Israel gained its independence 50 years ago:”Nakba,” or, in English, “Calamity.” In the failed Arab attack on theJews in 1948, some 600,000 Arabs fled the land or, in tens ofthousands of cases, were expelled.

The Nakba is an event burned into the memory ofall Palestinians. In a low-key way, with lectures and exhibits, theyare commemorating it in some cities of Gaza and the West Bank. It isa somber, bitter commemoration, in starkest contrast to thecelebrations Israel has in mind.

The 600,000 Palestinian refugees of 1948 leftabout 100,000 Arabs behind — those who did not flee. These 100,000have grown to nearly 1 million today — Israel’s Arab citizens, who,ever since the intifada, have become more open and defiant abouttheir identification with their former countrymen — in many casestheir blood relatives — now living in the territories. As AmericanJews say of their relationship with Israelis, so Israeli Arabs say oftheir relationship with the Palestinians: “We are one.”

That leaves the question: When Israel’s Jews arecelebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of their country,what will Israel’s Arabs be doing?

Mourning the displacement of their Palestinianbrethren and protesting the 50 years of discrimination they’vesuffered themselves, say Arab members of the Knesset and otherleaders of the community.

As Israel has its committee to plan theanniversary celebrations, Israeli Arab leaders have set up apreparations committee of their own. During the panel’s meeting thisweek, members considered declaring Israel’s Independence Day, May 15,as “The 50th Anniversary of the Palestinian Calamity.” Proposals weremade to treat it as a day of mourning, and to publish a “Black Book”that listed the Arab villages which emptied out and vanished duringthe war.

No coordinated plan has been adopted, but,clearly, Israeli Arabs see their country’s 50th anniversary as a dayof anger and grief. “What exactly does Israel want me to celebrate?”said Knesset Member Taleb a-Sanaa, who recommended that Israeli Arabsmark the day with “a minute of silence in memory of all thePalestinians killed between 1948 and today.”

MK Toufik Khatib said: “On Independence Day, we’llstay home because it’s a holiday. But we definitely won’t becelebrating. No Arab will be joyful. We have no part whatsoever inthis whole thing.”

During its celebrations, Israel will not beaddressing the alienation of its Arab citizens. “Our job is to planthe events, not to try to solve the Arab-Jewish conflict,” said NavaInbar, spokeswoman for the 50th anniversary coordinatingcommittee.

For the most part, the events will not make anydistinctions between Jews, Arabs or any other national group. “Thefestivities are for all Israelis,” Inbar said.

However, there will be parades for Druze andCircassian Arabs — who serve in the army, unlike the Moslem andChristian majority among Israeli Arabs. A special event for Bedouinsin the Negev, many of whom also serve in the army, will be held aswell.

One “encounter” between Israeli Jews and Arabs isscheduled to “give expression to the culture and social influence ofArabs in Israel, and to mark the achievements, contributions,problems and dilemmas of Arab citizens,” according to theprogram.

But, overall, said a source close to thepreparations, “there won’t be any ‘affirmative action’ — not forIsraeli Arabs or any other particular group.”

At the Israeli Arab committee’s meeting, it wasnoted that there will be massive protests in Arab countries tocoincide with Israel’s Independence Day. A “Million Man March” iseven being discussed among Arabs abroad.

Some Israeli Arab leaders said that they fullyunderstood why Jews should be celebrating the founding of Israel.They just expected Jews to understand why Israeli Arabs would not bewaving flags and cheering.

“The Jews are celebrating the 50th anniversary ofthe state? Mabruk [congratulations], I hope they have a great time,”said MK Abed al-Malik Dahamshe, leader of the country’s MoslemBrotherhood. “But as members of the Palestinian people, we would belying if we said [Israel’s] 50th-anniversary celebrations apply tous.”

The theme of the holiday is “Together in pride,together in hope.” It is meant, above all, to be a unifying event.But it appears that this 50th Independence Day will not unifyIsrael’s nearly 1 million Arabs with its nearly 5 million Jews; itwill instead divide them all the more deeply. It will remind theArabs that the Jews’ victory was their loss, their Nakba. And nothingcan be done to soften that memory. No Jewish-Arab dialogues, nospecial holiday events can change history.


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The View from


On Salah a-Din Street, the main street on the Arab side of thecapital, the spirit was very different. People kept their heads down,aware that they were being watched, aware that the Jews weren’t toofond of them these days. But if they were expected to feel remorsefulabout Mahane Yehuda, some did, while others felt roughly theopposite.

“Most Palestinians are not sad about these things,” said Ibrahim,a 26-year-old electrician, sitting outside a cafe. “On a personallevel, they’re afraid it will hurt them, make their lives harder,make it harder for them to work in Israel.”

He added that Palestinians are also afraid of revenge attacks byJewish terrorists. (A Palestinian man was shot to death on Sundaynear a settlement south of Hebron. A Palestinian eyewitness said thatthe killer was wearing a yarmulke.)

“But, on the other hand,” Ibrahim said, “Palestinians think thisis the only way to fight against the Netanyahu government. They feellike they have nothing to lose. So, in the end, they support thiskind of action.”

Ibrahim himself didn’t think it was right to blow up civilians,saying, “If you want to fight, you should fight soldiers.” But hesaid that most of his friends supported the bombing of Mahane Yehuda.

Standing near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, William, 32, ahospital employee, said: “This is not the right way to build ourstate. These were innocent people — they have nothing to do with thegovernment’s actions. It wasn’t right, and this is not the way toachieve peace.”

A couple of high school students, who didn’t give their names,voiced the same opinion.

Mohammed, the owner of a hummus restaurant on Salah a-Din, said:”It was right and wrong at the same time. I’m against bloodshed ingeneral, but the Palestinians are still under occupation, and theyhave the right to fight against it anyway they see fit.”

Danny Rubinstein, perhaps Israel’s leading journalist onPalestinian affairs, wrote in Ha’aretz: “It’s doubtful that any otherterror attack has brought out such feelings of sympathy among peoplein the territories. The reason for this is undoubtedly the buildup ofbitterness and rage among all sectors of the Palestinian populationtoward what they see as the Netanyahu government’s destruction of anyhope in the peace process.”

Rubinstein wrote that a few hours after the bombing, “onlyexpressions of satisfaction” were heard on the streets of Arab EastJerusalem. The local newspaper, Al Kuds, printed condemnations andexpressions of sympathy from Yasser Arafat, Hanan Ashrawi and otherPalestinian leaders, but Al Kuds editors privately derided theseremarks as “false, put-on, lip service,” he wrote.

Yet Dr. Khalil Shkaki, widely considered the most reliable trackerof Palestinian public opinion, said that he believes mostPalestinians are uncomfortable with the Mahane Yehuda attack, even ifit expressed the political disillusionment they feel.

“It’s one thing to say you ‘understand’ the act, that youunderstand people’s frustration and despair, but it’s another thingto say you actually support that act,” said Shkaki, director of theCenter for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus.

When the center conducts its next survey of Palestinian publicopinion next week, Shkaki said that he expects to find that theMahane Yehuda bombing has reversed a rise in popular support forterror.

It went down to about 20 percent when Netanyahu took office, butclimbed up to about 40 percent after the Hasmonean tunnel riots latelast year and stayed at that level after construction began on HarHoma.

“It’s easier for people to say they support violence in theorythan it is for them to say it after they see the faces, the blood,the death,” he said.

Asked how he reacted when he saw such images from Mahane Yehuda,Ibrahim said: “It’s difficult. It’s difficult to see such painfulthings. But if you see pictures from the intifada, it is moredifficult. Israelis did things to us that were even worse. I had afriend who was killed in the intifada. We Palestinians have adifficult past too, and we don’t forget it.”

Shkaki went on to predict that the bombing would not translateinto political gains for Hamas or Islamic Jihad. “Despite the factthat people are frustrated, Hamas can’t mobilize popular support;they can’t capture people’s imagination,” he said.

Palestinians are primarily concerned with improving their economicwelfare and with ending the corruption and abuse of their humanrights by the Palestinian Authority, but “Hamas isn’t dealing withany of these issues,” he said.

The impression from Palestinians on Salah a-Din Street was offluidity of opinion, of contradiction. Ibrahim, who said that “itwasn’t right to carry out such an explosion among people,” also saidthat when he first heard of the bombing, he was “happy.”

“Yes, I was happy,” he said, “because it showed that while thegovernment of Israel is doing everything it can to stop such actions,it cannot succeed.”

Mohammed, who insisted on the Palestinians’ right to fight theoccupation “anyway they see fit,” also said that when he first heardof the Mahane Yehuda attack, he felt “very bad. It showed that thingsare starting up all over again. It ought to stop. There should besome peace so that we can all just try to live.”

All rights reserved by author.

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