U.S. forensic pathologist: Nisman case more likely a homicide

A U.S. forensic pathologist believes that the late Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman likely was murdered.

“The evidence argues strongly and scientifically against it being a suicide,” Cyril Wecht said in an interview aired by Argentina television’s Channel 13 on Sunday night. “It is much more likely that this was a homicide than a suicide.”

[RELATED: The 86th victim of the Buenos Aires bombing]

Wecht has been president of the American Academy of Forensic Science and the American College of Legal Medicine, and has performed about 17,000 autopsies. He has consulted on several high-profile cases, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

At the request of the Argentine current events show “Periodismo para todos,” hosted by the eminent Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata, Wecht analyzed Nisman’s case photos, videos, studies and forensic reports. Interviewed from Pittsburgh, Wecht said that the position of the gun would have made it difficult for Nisman to shoot himself.

Forensic experts have differed on the cause of death. Many have said it will be difficult to establish one unified version of how Nisman died, with some experts believing it was suicide and others murder.

Prosecutor Viviana Fein has not yet released a final ruling.

“I cannot determine for the moment whether it was a suicide or a homicide,” she said on March 6, when she convened the authors of the independent forensic report to examine their evidence.

On Monday, the New Yorker published a Reporter-At-Large piece about Nisman’s death by Dexter Filkins, who interviewed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner last week.

“During my interview with Kirchner, she seemed unnerved by talking about Nisman’s death,” Filkins wrote. “When I raised the question of whether she’d had him killed, she blurted, “No!,” and then handed me a printout of the statement that she’d written for her website. She seemed mostly disturbed by the damage that Nisman’s death was doing to her reputation.”

Kirchner published a transcript of the interview on her personal blog a day before the interview was posted by the New Yorker.

Filkins concludes: “By Jewish tradition, people who kill themselves are sometimes denied a proper burial; in the cemetery in La Tablada, suicides have been relegated to a far corner. After some discussion, Nisman’s body was buried not with those who killed themselves but with the victims of the AMIA attack.”

Nisman was found shot to death in January in his Buenos Aires apartment hours before he was to present his evidence on an alleged government cover-up that included Kirchner into Iran’s role in the deadly 1994 attack on the Buenos Aires Jewish center. Argentine courts dismissed Nisman’s complaint.

Israeli president at memorial praises Rabin’s leadership

Yitzhak Rabin left a legacy of leadership, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at a memorial for the slain prime minister.

“For me, the legacy of Rabin is not only a legacy of war and peace but also the legacy of his leadership – one that does not simply lead the camp but also walks within out of a concern not just for our safety but also our image as a society – more just and more equal,” Rivlin said Tuesday at a ceremony at the president’s residence marking 19 years since Rabin’s murder.

Nov. 4 is the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir.

Rabin’s was “a defining, molding leadership which courageously stands up to difficult decisions,” Rivlin said.

Rivlin said he respected Rabin even though the two men had opposite political views.

Rabin’s daughter Dalia condemned the recent photoshopped picture that went viral on social media in Israel of Rivlin with an Arab kaffiyeh on his head, which she compared to the doctored photos of Rabin wearing a Nazi SS uniform that circulated after the Oslo Accords. She praised Rivlin for condemning racism and incitement.

“I always heard from you warm words of memories you shared with my father,” Dalia Rabin said. “It is true you did not come from the same backgrounds, and we do not share the same political views, but we have always been members of the same sect, for whom the rules of democracy are sacred and from which we may not deviate under any circumstances.”

An official memorial for Rabin and his wife, Leah, will be held Wednesday at Har Herzl.

Meeting John F. Kennedy

I was tutoring a student. We were reading about Colonial America. Every facet of life in that distant era seemed so bizarre to her 21st century sensibilities. She winced when we read that roasted squirrel was considered a tasty treat. She was visibly disturbed to learn that children got whipped for whispering in church. And she was shocked that even though most families had at least six children, they frequently lived in a one-room house. She kept saying “That’s not normal!”

I explained to her that what’s considered normal changes with the times. What was normal then may no longer be called normal now. She got me thinking. I didn’t have to go all the way back to Colonial Times to see a different normal. Within the span of my generation, so much has changed, …

My father was pounding the table for emphasis. He wanted to ensure that his in-laws realized the error of their ways. He bellowed: “How could you vote for Eisenhower?” It was not a question. It was an accusation. But his father-in-law, mother-in-law, mothers’ sisters and fathers’ brothers didn’t take the bait. They just stared, shrugged and  explained: “We Like Ike!” My mother drew her hands to her heart, as if in prayer, and quietly affirmed, “Adlai Stevenson was our choice.”

I was just a kid. Even though politics was not yet my cup of tea, my parents took their civic responsibilities seriously.

Four years later, their commitment was rewarded. This time, their man won. John F. Kennedy beat Richard M Nixon. Now, it was time for the young, handsome man to occupy the White House. Even a knucklehead kid like me could sense a new excitement in the air. I wondered what the fuss was about. I asked my parents, “Why does everyone like President Kennedy so much?”

My mother paused, got a twinkle in her eye and, as if reciting, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” she said, “We like the Kennedys because they live life to the fullest! They do things like water ski.” She was trying to put it in terms that I would understand. My father put in his two cents. “They’re like us. They don’t sit around the house, in rocking chairs, looking at antiques. They go out and have fun!” 

Fun was important to my parents. I didn’t realize it then, but now, looking back, I see that they were reacting against their own parents. Frequently, my father would explain to anyone who would listen, “With my parents, everything had to be educational. I don’t want educational for my kids. I want them to have fun.”

While my parents enthusiastically pursued “fun,” both sets of grandparents regarded it with suspicion. My maternal grandparents would get tense and anxious if the fun meter dared to exceed “peaceful.” My father’s parents were born in Eastern Europe, a place so dark and dreary that it was never discussed. After fleeing the Old Country, they didn’t care about fun; they were content just to be alive. 

But my parents had a more ambitious agenda. And the Kennedys fit right in with that worldview. A vote for the Kennedys was a vote for a certain lifestyle.

Every Sunday, my parents would take my brother, sister and me out for a drive. The Sunday Drive was our adventure. And it was a real adventure, not the thin gruel of virtual experience. We explored all aspects of our home city of Washington, D.C. We could hike along Great Falls, which flowed into the Potomac River. Or my parents might skim the real estate section of The Washington Post. With those leads in hand, we’d drive down to Embassy Row to check out the mansions that were for sale. Occasionally, we would tour downtown to visit the national monuments. I always got a thrill seeing the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool on the Mall.

One Sunday, we were driving around the Ellipse, which is another term for the Presidents Park on the south side of the White House. Dad was in the driver’s seat, where he liked to be, literally and figuratively. Mom was by his side, scouting the terrain. Dad said Mom had eyes like a hawk, and she did. 

She spotted President Kennedy taking an afternoon stroll on the sidewalk, outside of the black wrought iron fence that encircled the White House grounds. He was dressed in an elegant suit, walking with a cane. The cane seemed to be more for style than for support. His thick chestnut brown hair caught the rays of a mild winter sun. Spotting him was like spotting a rare bird. He seemed to be walking alone. There was nothing between our family and our president. No obstacles. Looking back on that day, I’m sure the Secret Service men were nearby. But for the life of me, I don’t recall their presence at all.

Dad rolled down the window of our little VW Bug and stuck his arm out and waved, “Hello Mr. President!” President Kennedy walked over to our car.  He extended his hand inside our car for my father to grasp. Dad said, “How do you do, Mr. President.?”

How did my father know to call him Mr. President, instead of Mr. Kennedy?  Probably because Dad just knew stuff like that. President Kennedy responded by saying, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

I was in the back seat. I was 9 years old and so excited that I thought I’d burst. I blurted out, “We voted for you!” My parents and JFK had a chuckle over that one. I just glowed. President Kennedy continued on his walk. And we drove home.

When I look back on that Sunday afternoon, I realize it’s a snapshot from a bygone era. There is no way in today’s political climate that an American family could have a chance encounter with their president. All that spontaneity has been drained dry. Every presidential moment is scripted. Every exchange is planned and choreographed.   

It’s a bit like going to the zoo. You see the animals and you have fun, but think how much more exciting it would be to glimpse the animals in the wild. That afternoon, I saw the president in the wild, not caged in a zoo. He was radiant, and it was thrilling. And that thrill is something that we’ve lost. Meet the president of the United States by accident? That’s not normal.

Loughner’s parents acted on signs of danger before Giffords attack

The parents of Jared Loughner, concerned by his erratic behavior, confiscated a gun and disabled his car in the months before the killing spree that critically wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Documents released Wednesday by the Pima County Sheriff's office in Arizona and reported in the media detail measures taken by Randy and Amy Loughner in the months after their son was asked to leave a community college because of his behavior.

They confiscated Jared Loughner's shotgun, counseled him to receive psychological treatment and had him tested for drugs. Randy Loughner would surreptitiously disable his son's Chevy Nova each evening to keep him from going out.

The morning of the Jan. 8, 2011 attack in a Tucson strip mall, Loughner came home after purchasing ammunition for another gun.

When Randy Loughner asked his son what was in his backpack, Jared Loughner ran into the woods. Within hours he had killed six people and wounded 13 at a constituent meeting in the mall parking lot held by Giffords, then a freshly reelected Democratic congresswoman from the area.

Loughner, 24, a diagnosed schizophrenic, confessed to the shootings and is serving life without the possibility of parole.

Giffords, the first Jewish woman elected to federal office from Arizona, retired a year later and remains in recovery while she leads a gun control initiative with her husband, the former astronaut Mark Kelly.

Gaza rocket hits city near Tel Aviv, no damage or casualties

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck an Israeli city on the outskirts of Tel Aviv on Thursday, exploding in an open area within the municipal limits of Rishon Lezion, the army said.

Air raid sirens sounded in Rishon Lezion, a city some 12 km (seven miles) south of Tel Aviv, and an explosion was heard. A military spokeswoman said the rocket hit an uninhabited area. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

Israeli media reports said the rocket came down near an amusement park in sand dunes on the edge of Rishon Lezion, a city of 300,000 people. It was the northernmost point struck by a rocket since Israel's Gaza offensive began on Wednesday.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Crispian Balmer

Iran arrests alleged assassins of nuclear scientists

Iranian security forces have arrested the alleged assassins of thee nuclear scientists, an official state news agency reported.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced the arrests in a statement Thursday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran’s official news agency. The arrests were made “in various regions and through timely and blitz operations,” the statement said.

Details of the arrest would be made public, the statement said, “after lapse of security precaution.”

At least five nuclear scientists have been assassinated in the last two years. Iranian officials have said they believe that Israel and its Mossad intelligence agency were behind the killings.

In May, Iran executed a man convicted of spying for Israel and assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist. Majid Jamali Fashi, 24, was sentenced to death in August 2010 for the murder of Ali Mohammadi, a particle physics professor at Tehran University killed by a remote-controlled bomb in a January 2010 attack.

In April, more than 15 Iranian and foreign nationals reportedly were arrested for carrying out alleged terrorist missions for Israel in Iran, according to IRNA. The group was accused of spying for Israel, the attempted assassination of an Iranian expert and sabotage.

Rabin assassin’s brother set to leave prison

Hagai Amir, the brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir, is scheduled to be released from an Israeli prison after more than 16 years in solitary confinement.

Hagai Amir has served most of his sentence in solitary confinement out of fear that other prisoners would harm him, Ynet reported. Amir, 43, had requested to serve his sentence in a cell with his brother, who also is in solitary confinement, but the request was denied.

In 2006, Hagai Amir was sentenced to an additional year in prison for threatening to kill then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

He was not offered early release since he did not express regret for his part in the crime.

Yigal Amir shot then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995 at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Hagai Amir was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and possession of a firearm.

Singapore police deny report of assassination plot against Barak

Singapore police denied a Kuwaiti newspaper’s report of a thwarted assassination plot against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

“The report is untrue. No such incident occurred in Singapore,” the police said in a statement emailed to AFP.

Kuwait’s Al-Jarida newspaper reported Thursday that the Mossad, in cooperation with local authorities in Singapore, prevented an attempt on Barak’s life during a visit this week to the Asian city. The Kuwaiti newspaper reported that three members of a Hezbollah-Iranian cell had been arrested by Singapore authorities.

The newspaper cited what it called high-ranking Israeli defense officials.

Plot reportedly uncovered to kill Jews in Azerbaijan

At least two citizens of Azerbaijan reportedly have been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill two Jewish educators and the Israeli ambassador in Baku.

The arrests last week were reported in local media in the Azerbaijani capital. Three men reportedly were charged with weapons smuggling as part of a plot to kill a teacher and a rabbi at the Chabad Or Avner Jewish school in Baku, as well as the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan, Michael Lotem. Two of those charged are reported to be in custody; one is still at large.

It is alleged that Iranian intelligence agencies promised to pay the three men $150,000 to commit the murders.

Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued a travel warning for Azerbaijan.

Approximately 6,400 Jews live in Azerbaijan, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, which bases its figures on the American Jewish Committee’s American Jewish Year Book.

The Or Avner school in Baku, which also houses a Jewish community center, opened in 2010. It has about 400 students.

Obama assassination column raises question: Why do some Jews see Obama as so sinister?

When news outlets began reporting last Friday that the owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times had published an opinion column seemingly suggesting that Israel might be wise to assassinate President Obama, the response from prominent American Jews was fast and furious.

Here was a Jewish newspaper publisher providing fodder for something the Anti-Defamation League regularly deplores as a pernicious anti-Semitic canard: that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States.

In his Jan. 13 column, Andrew Adler outlined what he said were three possible responses by Israel to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon: a pre-emptive strike against Hamas and Hezbollah, a direct strike on Iran, or “three, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”

He continued, “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?”

Condemnations rained from every corner, and Adler quickly apologized. By Monday, the publisher announced that he was resigning his position and putting up his newspaper for sale.

“I very much regret it, I wish I hadn’t made reference to it at all,” Adler told JTA last Friday. On Monday he said he was “relinquishing all day-to-day activities effective immediately.”

As wacky as Adler’s column was, it was an extreme expression of a viewpoint that carries great currency among Obama’s Jewish critics: that the president represents a serious danger to Jews and to Israel.

While few of those critics might go as far as Adler, it doesn’t take much discussion in certain Jewish circles to find those who see something far more sinister in Obama than a president whose policies are bad for the Jews and Israel.

“I think Obama’s overriding goal is to have Israel destroyed,” said Randy Silver, a businessman from Glenview, Ill. “He puts steps in motion to bring about the destruction of the State of Israel.”

One New Yorker who insisted on anonymity said, “He’s not a Hitler in the sense that he’s anti-Semitic and wants to put every Jew into a concentration camp—at least not as we see things right now.”

He also said he believes that if Obama hangs on for a second term, he’ll find a way to stay in the White House beyond that, even though the Constitution bars a president from serving a third term.

Noah, a physician from the New York’s Westchester County suburb who asked that his full name be withheld, told JTA: “I will admit to serious questions about whether he’s a Muslim and whether he hates Jews. It’s a possibility. I’m very uncomfortable with him.”

To be sure, such views constitute a minority viewpoint even among Obama’s Jewish detractors, and the American Jewish community has been—and largely remains—a stronghold of support for Obama. In 2008, Obama won an estimated 78 percent of the Jewish vote, and even though his popularity in the Jewish community has dwindled during his Oval Office tenure, it has declined far less among Jews than among the general U.S. population. A Gallup poll released four months ago showed Obama with a 55 percent approval rating among Jews, though an American Jewish Committee poll released at approximately the same time showed the president with a 45 percent approval rating. Still, the AJC poll showed that Obama would win the Jewish vote against any hypothetical Republican candidate by at least 18 percentage points.

Obama is hardly the first president to be called an anti-Semite or hostile to Israel. In 1991, George H.W. Bush found himself the subject of withering Jewish criticism when he sought to delay $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel unless Jerusalem agreed to a settlement freeze in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said he remembers holding a news conference to denounce Jewish characterizations of Bush as Satan and evil.

But the rhetoric and conspiracy theories against Obama seem to constitute an unprecedented level of vitriol, say many longtime observers of the Jewish political scene.

“I’ve never seen as much enmity toward a president by American Jews as I do toward Obama,” said Morton Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America. “I’ve never heard people say, as they say to me, ‘I hate him.’ ”

Klein, who called on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to disinvite Obama from its annual policy conference last year and thinks AIPAC should bar Obama from this year’s conference, lays the blame on the president.

“Among those who care about Israel, he surely is to blame for it,” Klein said. “Every chance he gets he blames Israel.”

Foxman says that extreme hatred of Obama is not so much about the president’s policies as it is about America’s economic troubles, the sense that Israel faces greater existential threats today than at any time in the last 30 to 40 years, and the Internet, which amplifies and spreads radical voices and conspiracy theories.

“All of these add an anxiety element that intensifies fear and anxiety,” Foxman told JTA. “Attitudes have intensified.”

Then there’s Obama himself—a black president with the middle name Hussein who has been accused even by some Jewish Democrats of not being able to show sympathy for Israel in his kishkes.

“Here’s a president who doesn’t show emotion on anything, and the Jewish community is used to emotion,” Foxman said.

Democrats blame the Republicans for the vitriol; Republicans say Democrats are practicing divisive politics.

Obama’s most vehement Jewish critics are not the only ones who accuse Obama of being a secret Muslim, a socialist and a threat to America. Many Tea Party activists have sounded similar themes, with some going so far as to decry his adminsitration as pursuing Nazi-like policies.

But Obama’s most extreme Jewish critics also accuse him of seeking to erase the Jewish character of the Jewish state and plotting to wage war against Israel or the Jews. They see anti-Semitic overtones even in Obama’s hiring of Jewish advisers.

“A Jacob Lew or a Rahm Emanuel is a danger to the Jewish people because they make treif look kosher,” Silver, the Illinois businessman, said of the current and former Obama chiefs of staff. “I think these are anti-Jewish Jews. They make Obama look like he’s not a threat, but he’s a clear and present danger to Israel.”

A Jewish New Yorker named Clive said of Lew’s hire, “We know that Pharaoh hired Joseph because it suited him, but down the road when it didn’t suit him he made his family slaves.”

Pamela Geller, a Jewish writer whose blog, Atlas Shrugs, is a popular source of information for anti-Obama conspiracy theorists, says Obama is trying to stir up Muslim enmity toward Jews.

“The President of the United States is advancing jihad against the oath of office that he took,” Geller wrote in April 2010. “If he is agitating Muslims against Jews, will he declare war on Israel?”

Obama administration officials repeatedly have denounced these sorts of accusations as patently false and waged a campaign in the Jewish community to highlight the president’s record on issues of Jewish concern, ranging from domestic issues to Obama’s pushes for Iran sanctions and endorsement of unprecedented U.S.-Israel military cooperation.

But ultimately, for that subset of the Jewish community that sees ominous signs in Obama’s record, the concern isn’t so much what Obama has done so far in his three years in office as it is what he might do in the future.

“He takes baby steps and is slowly putting things in play to do Israel damage in the long run,” Silver said. “There’s a strategy behind this.”

Atlanta Jewish Times publisher resigns over Obama assassination column

The owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times has resigned and is seeking a buyer in the wake of a column he wrote speculating that Israel would consider assassinating President Obama.

Andrew Adler, in an email obtained by JTA, announced Monday that he is “relinquishing all day-to-day activities effective immediately” following the publishing of his opinion piece saying that Obama’s assassination was among Israel’s options in heading off a nuclear Iran.

Adler named staff writer John McCurdy as interim managing editor until a replacement can be found. Adler said he would publish an apology in his next edition and that reaction from readers had been overwhelmingly negative.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta said earlier Monday that it would suspend its relationship with the Atlanta Jewish Times until Adler removed himself from the newspaper’s operations. The federation also called on Adler to sell the weekly.

[RELATED: A mindless week]

“While we acknowledge his public apology and remorse, the damage done to the people of Israel, the global Jewish people, and especially the Jewish Community of Atlanta is irreparable,” the Atlanta federation said in a statement issued Monday to constituent groups.

In a Jan. 13 column, Adler outlined what he said were three possible responses by Israel to Iran’s acquiring a nuclear weapon: a pre-emptive strike against Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist groups that he said would be emboldened by a nuclear Iran; a direct strike on Iran; and “three, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”

He continued, “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?

The Anti-Defamation League and the National Jewish Democratic Council also condemned Adler for his column. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also called on Adler to resign from the newspaper.

CNN reported that the Secret Service is investigating Adler over the column.

Amir’s minyan request rejected

An Israeli court has rejected a request by Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, to allow him to pray with a minyan.

The Petach Tikvah district court ruled Thursday that the Israel Prison Service can prevent Amir from praying with a quorum of 10 men, but that it should make an attempt to find places for Amir to pray with other inmates if it does not disrupt security.

Amir was given permission recently to study with another inmate for one hour a week. He currently meets with three different inmates at three different hours each week.

The court said that the prison service’s decision to prevent Amir from gathering with other prisoners is “not unreasonable.” But the court also said that Amir should be allowed to have more religious books from which to study, as long as they are approved by the prison rabbi.

Amir has been in prison since 1995, and is serving a life sentence for the Tel Aviv murder of Rabin on Nov. 5 that year. He has been in solitary confinement the entire time because of fears that he will spread his ideology to other prisoners and that his life could be in danger from other prisoners.

Man with ‘Israel’ tattoo charged with attempting to assassinate Obama

A man arrested in an alleged shooting near the White House who has “Israel” tattooed on his neck was charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama.

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 21, was charged Thursday during a hearing before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh. He will be taken to Washington D.C. for trial.

In a Nov. 12 web posting, the U.S. Park Police said they were seeking Ortega-Hernandez, in the Nov. 11 shooting in the 1600 block of Constitution Avenue in Washington, between the White House and the Washington Monument.

Pennsylvania State police on Wednesday arrested Ortega-Hernandez, whom they said may be mentally ill, according to an ABC news report.

The Park Police, the authority in the area of the National Mall, found evidence, including a gun and spent shells, in a vehicle abandoned several blocks away that led to Ortega’s arrest warrant.

The web posting described Ortega-Hernandez, who is from Idaho, as 5 feet, 11 inches and 160 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair and with the following marks: “His right hand has a tattoo of three dots, he has a tattoo stating ‘Ortega’ on his upper back, a tattoo on his right chest of rosary beads and hands clasped in prayer, a tattoo of folded hands on left chest, and the words ‘Israel’ tattooed on left side of neck.”

Photos of a bearded Ortega pictured outdoors and smiling, and showing his “Israel” tattoo in a flowery script, appear on the web posting. It is not clear how the police obtained the photos.

Police reportedly asked demonstrators with the Occupy Wall Street movement encamped nearby if they had seen Ortega among them.

The U.S. Secret Service on Tuesday discovered two bullets that hit the White House. One was lodged in a protected glass window on the residential level.

Iran observers: Assassination bid underscores nuclear threat

Iran watchers say the revelation of an alleged plot to hire Mexican contract killers to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington signals the Iranian regime’s deepening radicalization.

It also underscores the urgency of the threat posed by Tehran’s nuclear plans, they say.

“We need to be reminded that if Iran poses a threat without nuclear weapons, a nuclear-armed Iran would be a dramatically more dangerous threat,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a longtime advocate of Iran sanctions legislation, told JTA.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged last week that Iranian-American businessman Mansour Arbabsiar and a cousin who works for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were caught planning to have a Mexican drug cartel kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir. Demonstrating the seriousness of the plot, the men allegedly arranged for a $100,000 down payment to be deposited into what turned out to be an FBI bank account.

Iranian-backed attacks outside the Middle East once were routine news events. The years that followed the Islamic Revolution of the late 1970s brought a flurry of assassinations of Iranian exiles in foreign capitals, including Washington and Paris. In the 1990s, separate massive bombing attacks on a Jewish community building and the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires also have been pinned to Iran.

Iranian-sponsored attacks abroad receded in the later 1990s as the Islamic Republic under then-President Mohammad Khatami sought international legitimacy. At the same time, however, Tehran aggressively stepped up its nuclear program, which is widely believed to be aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons.

The alleged plan to kill the Saudi envoy is a signal that the regime’s conservatives are ascendant, said Roya Hakakian, who recently authored “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace,” an account of Iran’s assassination of Kurdish leaders in Berlin in 1992.

Conservatives consolidated power after the mass protests following elections in the summer of 2009 that were widely perceived as being rigged, she noted.

“The 2009 elections in Iran increasingly solidified the hold of the conservatives on power in Iran,” she said. “They see it less and less necessary to try and do what Khatami was doing in the 1990s, to bring Iran into the fold of Western civilization and community. It’s a sign of further polarization inside Iran between the nation and the regime, but also outside of Iran between Iran and the international community.”

The plot also is a sign of a regime driven increasingly desperate by its mounting isolation, said Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network, a liberal Washington foreign policy group.

The Obama administration has drawn traditional Iranian partners Russia and China into the sanctions regime, she said, and Iran’s nuclear program apparently has been sabotaged at least once. Moreover, the Iranian regime is attempting to respond to a burgeoning regional pro-democracy wave that it fears could spread to Iran.

“What you’re seeing in these plot allegations and in the region is an Iran that perceives its interests to be at risk because of the Arab Spring,” Hurlburt said. “You see an Iranian government exploring all avenues—they couldn’t come up with a better plot than a crazy guy trying to hire druglords.”

The plot underscores the need for a heightened awareness by the West of a regime that is ready to take extraordinary measures, said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“This regime will continue to target its enemies,” Dubowitz said. “They will not let up until there’s a success.”

Outreach to a drug cartel is typical of a regime that has cultivated rogue actors throughout the Middle East, in Europe and in Latin America, Hakakian said.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards “has been smart,” she said. “They have been solidifying relations with Venezuelans, with the Cubans, and now they have been moved into Mexican territory.”

Working through interlocutors as unlikely as murderous drug dealers makes sense, Dubowitz said, because the regime has always sought plausible deniability in plotting such attacks.

The immediate response to the plot, said Dubowitz, should be to further isolate the Iranian regime by enforcing existing sanctions and enacting new ones, as well as reinforcing backing for Iran’s democracy movement. He suggested, among other measures, a strike fund to assist Iranian oil workers and others.

Deutch, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the Obama administration should enhance financial sanctions to include Iran’s central bank, which would cut off the country from financial markets, and toughen laws on businesses that deal with Iran.

“We need to shine a light on those companies that violate sanctions laws,” he said.

New evidence reportedly links Hezbollah to Hariri killing

New evidence links Hezbollah to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report.

The evidence of Hezbollah’s link to the 2005 assassination, unearthed by United Nations investigators and a Lebanese police officer, was published Sunday by the CBC following a months-long investigation.

The report accuses the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission of having important information on the case that it did not pursue, specifically phone records showing Hezbollah officials were in contact with the owners of the cell phones used to coordinate the bomb that killed Hariri.

The Lebanese officer who helped crack the case was killed by a car bomb after his assistance became known.

Syria and pro-Syrian officials have been implicated in the assassination. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claims Israel killed Hariri.

The mandate of the U.N. commission has expired, but a special tribunal was named to carry out prosecutions. Indictments are expected by the end of the year, according to The Washington Post.

Israeli military admits killing of Gaza terrorist

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that it assassinated a senior Palestinian terrorist in the Gaza Strip.

Muhammad Namnam, 25, was killed Wednesday when his car exploded outside police headquarters in Gaza City. 

Several hours after the explosion, the IDF admitted that it killed Namnam in a joint operation with the Shin Bet security service. The car he was driving reportedly arrived recently in Gaza from Israel as part of the relaxation of the blockade against the Hamas-run strip.

Namnam was a senior field commander of the Army of Islam terrorist organization, which is connected with al-Qaida, according to the IDF.

The IDF said Namnam was “personally involved” in directing several terror attacks against Israeli targets in recent years and was involved recently in directing a terror attack against American and Israeli targets in the Sinai Peninsula in cooperation with Hamas elements in Gaza.

The Army of Islam kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnson in March 2007, releasing him four months later.

Israel marking Rabin assassination

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin “must not be forgiven or forgotten,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said at a candlelighting ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.

On Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of the Hebrew date of the anniversary of the prime minister’s death, Peres spoke about the man with whom he was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Rabin family members, public figures, youth movement members and students attended the ceremony.

“We are holding a memorial evening because we must fight forgetfulness,” Peres said. “Such forgetfulness is the enemy of man. It’s also puts democracy in danger.”

Also Tuesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised Rabin during a speech at a conference.

“Yitzhak Rabin was a real fighter and a man of peace,” Barak said at a kibbutz in Shefayim, 15 miles north of Tel Aviv. “We have not forgotten him for a single moment, but we must all do more to make sure today’s youth know about Rabin and the influence he had on Israel.”

A ceremony on Monday morning at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv marked the coming anniversary.

“Yitzhak Rabin is not with us today, but his spirit and legacy continue to guide us, and with that his hope that there will be an equal, united and inventive society here,” said the army’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

A national memorial ceremony is scheduled for Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, where the prime minister was gunned down on Nov. 4, 1995 by Yigal Amir, for later in October.

New Dubai assassination suspects identified

Five more suspects have been identified in the investigation into the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai, The Wall Street Journal reported.

One of the suspects, identified as Zev Barkan, also is being sought in New Zealand in connection with passport fraud there, an unnamed source told the newspaper.

In 2004, two Israeli citizens were convicted of illegally attempting to obtain New Zealand passports; they were widely believed to be agents of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Their conviction led to the suspension of high-level diplomatic contacts for one year and the closure of Israel’s embassy. The embassy recently was reopened.

The new suspects bring to 32 the number of people accused by Dubai police of assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel room in January. The Mossad has been blamed for the slaying, in which Mabhouh apparently was suffocated after being drugged.

In March, an investigation by Britain’s Serious and Organized Crime Squad found that the Mossad provided members of an assassination team with forged British passports.

The assassins used forged passports from Britain, Ireland, Australia and Germany to enter and leave Dubai. One of the newly identified assassins used a French passport.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in Mabhouh’s assassination.

Meanwhile, Britain this week refused to allow the Mossad to send a new representative to Israel’s embassy in London since the Foreign Ministry has refused to sign a commitment not to forge British passports in future operations. Britain expelled an embassy official, believed to be a Mossad representative, in March, following the completion of its investigation into the affair.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

The tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will engulf Pakistan in grief and turmoil. Her death symbolizes the wider calamity that envelops us all — throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the United States.

The real significance of this latest killing — and the others that are sure to follow — is not their surprise but rather how common, almost inevitable, this sort of event has become in my part of the world. If we wish to end this horror show engulfing more Arab-Asian regions and increasingly sucking in American and other Western armies, we should start getting serious about what it means and why it happens.

We should largely dismiss the many exhortations we will now hear about democracy, stability, restraint, terrorism and patience in the face of extremism. These are increasingly vacuous appeals by leaders who willfully ignore a central, miserable reality in which they participate: Much of the vast region from North Africa and the Middle East to South Asia is now routinely defined by political violence as an everyday fact of life.

A telltale sign in Pakistan today, as it has been in Lebanon for years and in many other similarly scarred countries, is that we can identify multiple plausible culprits, because so many political people — good guys and bad guys alike — kill on the job.

Bhutto, her father and brother have all been assassinated, as have been successive generations of other political families in Arab and Asian countries. The lack of novelty is another telling sign that should clarify for us the wider meaning of this crime beyond Pakistan.

After grieving for one family and one country, we must react to the chronic nature of political violence by trying to understand the entire phenomenon, rather than its isolated, episodic manifestations.

An honest beginning in this direction would be to acknowledge that political violence does not occur in a historical vacuum. Lone gunmen, local militias, suicide terrorists, state armies and even democratically elected leaders in dozens of countries have all become players in an extensive global drama.

On this stage, the use of force is an everyday event — the threat of force is never off the table. It makes little difference if this is the work of democratic or dictatorial leaders: Dead children and war-ravaged societies do not value such distinctions.

When the military and political violence of democrats and dictators goes on for several generations, social values are distorted, and human values are disjointed. It does not matter if this occurs in Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland or pre-democratic Southern Europe.

The absence of credible governance systems based on the rule of law and the equal rights of all citizens slowly pushes citizens and rulers alike to rely on the law of the jungle. They use death and intimidation, rather than electoral or accountable legitimacy, to make their point, to perpetuate their incumbency and to eliminate their opponents.

When everyone uses violence and intimidation as a routine, daily expression of their political aims, when terrorists and presidents use firepower to lay down the law, the circle of culpability widens like the ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond. It is becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between gunmen, gangs and governments — in Asia, the Middle East and parts of the West — when the chronic use of violence and lawlessness makes death and assassinations routine and subsequently inevitable.

We will continue to hear passionate appeals about courage, democracy and terror from presidents, kings and warlords alike. These emperors appear increasingly naked as they exhort us to higher values. It is hard to take them seriously — these Asians, Arabs, Americans, Israelis, Iranians, Turks, Europeans, Africans and anyone else who wishes to stand up and be recognized.

These pontificating presidents, kings and warlords who preach about life and democracy have spent the last generation sending their armies to war, overthrowing regimes, authorizing covert assassinations, arming gangs and militias, trading weapons for political favors, buying protection from thugs, cozying up to terrorists, lauding autocrats, making deals with dictators, imprisoning tens of thousands of foes, torturing at will, thumbing their nose at the U.N. Charter, buying and bullying judges, ignoring true democrats and blindly refusing even to hear the simple demands of their own citizens for minimum decency and dignity.

I have spent my entire adult life in the Middle East — since the 1970s — watching leaders being assassinated, foreign armies topple governments, local colonels seize power, foreign occupations persist for decades, the rule of law get thrown in the garbage, constitutions being ignored and, in the end, ordinary people finally deciding that they will not remain outside of history or invisible in their own societies. Instead, they decide to write themselves into the violent and criminal scripts. They kill as they have been killed. Having been dehumanized in turn, they will embrace inhumanity and brutality.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto? We all killed her, in East and West, Orient and Occident, North and South. We of the globalized beastly generation that transformed political violence from an occasional crime to an ideology and an addiction.

Article reprinted with permission

Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

Rocket attacks pose huge policy dilemma for Israel

More than a week of unabated Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot has created a huge policy dilemma for the Israeli government: What should it do to stop radical Gaza-based terrorists from firing missiles on Israeli civilians and causing pandemonium in the border town of 22,000.

Should it target radical Hamas leaders and operatives from the air or move large ground forces into Gaza to push the missile launchers out of range? Involve the international community or go it alone? Declare Gaza an enemy state or keep open options for early accommodation? Try to smash the Hamas-led Palestinian government or negotiate with it?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, heavily criticized for taking precipitate action against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer, so far has committed only limited air power. But other voices inside and outside his government are calling for more radical action, and the prime minister is under growing pressure to make a major move.

Last Sunday, after a sustained six-day barrage in which Palestinian gunmen fired approximately 150 rockets at Israeli civilians in the Gaza area, the government decided to step up its air attacks on Hamas and Islamic Jihad but not to authorize any major ground operation.

Anyone actively involved in terror — Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists and senior officials who give them orders — would be potential targets for assassination from the air. The air force also would be free to strike at Hamas and Islamic Jihad bases, weapons stores and Qassam-manufacturing shops. At the same time, the government would continue to prepare international opinion for a wide ground operation.

But this might not be enough for the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu Party. On Sunday, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to pull Yisrael Beiteinu from the coalition, unless the government took serious steps to crush Hamas.
“Either the government dismantles Hamas or the government will be dismantled,” he warned.

Few political observers are taking Lieberman’s threat seriously, for now. However, if the crisis escalates and he does withdraw from the coalition, that probably would be enough to trigger a process leading to new elections.

Most military experts agree that the only way to stop the Qassams is through a major ground operation. They acknowledge, however, that it would come at great cost in terms of Israeli military casualties, Palestinian humanitarian suffering, international opinion and economic losses.

Moreover, the Israeli army would be deflected from the intensive rehabilitation program for its ground forces that was instituted after last summer’s Lebanon War. It also would mean the final collapse of what is left of the cease-fire and redoubled Palestinian attempts to launch a new round of suicide bombings.

Worse, the fighting could get out of hand and lead to a wider war involving Lebanon and possibly Syria.

Still, many strategic thinkers believe the government needs to radically alter its thinking on Gaza. Former National Security Adviser Giora Eiland, for example, argues that Israel should define Gaza as an enemy state with which it is at war.

That would mean no movement of goods or people across the borders. All Gaza state institutions and personnel would become targets. Israel could announce deadlines for stopping the flow of electricity, water and fuel into Gaza, giving the Gazans time to make other arrangements, and reserve the right for Israel to reoccupy parts of Gaza, like the Philadelphi route to stop the flow of weapons from Egypt into Gaza and Beit Hanun to push the Qassams out of range.

As much as the government is worried about the Qassams, it is even more concerned about the flow of arms through tunnels under the Philadelphi route along the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Senior Israeli officers predict that unless something is done to stop the flow of weaponry into Gaza, Hamas as the main recipient will be able to field a formidable military machine within a year. Tons of arms, including anti-tank weapons, Grad ground-to-ground rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and high explosives are said to be pouring into Gaza on a daily basis.

The Israeli military is concerned as well by increasing numbers of Hamas terrorists slipping across the border into Egypt and making their way to Iran for training. The Israel Defense Forces estimates that unless the arms flow is staunched, it won’t be long before Hamas is able to strike at Israeli civilian targets as far away as Beersheba, 30 miles from Gaza.

It is this buildup and the potential future threat that is leading people like Eiland to think in terms of a pre-emptive strike and/or other far-reaching moves that change the rules of the game.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is pressing for the deployment of an international force on the Palestinian side of the border to stop the smuggling. In a break from Israel’s traditional opposition to any international presence in Palestinian territory, she envisages a force modeled along the lines of the 11,000-strong UNIFIL contingent patrolling the Lebanese border with Israel, with a similarly “robust” mandate to stop arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.

In a mid-May meeting with foreign ambassadors in Jerusalem, Livni actually put the ball in the international community’s court.

“We are ready to consider such a force, but will you be ready to provide it?” she challenged the assembled dignitaries.

Israeli officials acknowledge that getting the international community to intervene in this way will be a hard sell. But they maintain that if the community doesn’t move to stop the arms smuggling, it won’t be in a position to point fingers if and when Israel does.

Much of the debate in Israel suggests impending escalation. But there are voices, including some in the Labor Party, saying that Israel ought to rethink its diplomatic boycott of Hamas and agree to talk to them. They argue that unilateral moves have proved a failure and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the more moderate Fatah movement has shown he cannot deliver, whereas Hamas would be able to make a deal with Israel stick.

What would there be to talk about?

A long-term cease-fire — 10 or even 20 years — in return for Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

With the Qassams still whistling across the border, however, that seems a long way away.

With Us — Always

The communitywide memorial rally held in Los Angeles just days after the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was heart-wrenching, tearful, agonizing and awful.

But it was also good.

The police cordoned off Wilshire Boulevard between La Cienega and San Vicente boulevards in front of the Israeli Consulate, and an impromptu congregation gathered — one that was almost as diverse as L.A. Jewry itself. Some 10,000 people came together to mark not just one man’s death, but to mourn a loss of promise, of hope, of innocence.

I don’t recall a single word that was spoken, but I do remember standing beside people I had never seen before, singing “Hatikvah,” and feeling like such an event could be, might be, the beginning of the end to the internecine madness and hate that led, inexorably, to Rabin’s murder.

That’s what was so good about it.

A decade later, the entire community marked Rabin’s death with…bupkis.

No organization, no school and no synagogue held a special event to recall and reflect.

Ten years ago, the Wilshire Boulevard rally was just one of several gatherings. Some 3,000 people packed Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Encino, 2,000 more attended a ceremony at the Museum of Tolerance and hundreds more poured into Temple Beth Am.

As the Hebrew date of his murder approaches (Nov. 14), there is still no large-scale event scheduled. The welcome exceptions are a memorial service that day being held by UCLA Hillel at Spiegel Auditorium, which holds 300 people (www.uclahillel.org), and a to-be-announced event organized by the Council of Israel Communities.

In New York, a massive community-wide event was held last week. In Philadelphia, the Jewish Federation held a “Tribute to Yitzhak Rabin” at the National Liberty Museum, with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendel and the consulate general of Israel. There were also communitywide events in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The purpose of these events is not emotional as much as educational. The raw emotions of Nov. 4, 1995 have healed, but the meaning and lessons of that day still resonate.

In Israel, a 1997 law requires official commemorations of Rabin’s death. Schools work it into their curriculums and ceremonies.

Across Israel, the murder is marked by days of ceremonies, debate and soul-searching. This year, the 10th anniversary will culminate in a state-sponsored graveside memorial, which former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton will attend.

Here, too, such commemorations can serve a similar purpose.

At a time when a generation of Jewish youth grow up surrounded by negative images of Israel, Rabin’s legacy, even unadorned and unvarnished, is powerful and positive:

It Is a Lesson in the Importance of Words.

As Rabin pursued compromise, fanatics in Israel demonized him as a terrorist, an apostate and a Nazi. His more moderate political opponents often did nothing to suppress or denounce the extremists. Hateful words inexorably led to hateful deeds.

“Yitzhak did not die because of the sole lunacy of a lone madman,” Rabbi Harold Schulweis said at VBS’s 1995 memorial. “The assassin breathes poison air…. Yitzhak died because when people burned his effigy, when people dressed him in a Nazi uniform, when people in high places called him ‘traitor’ and ‘murderer,’ too few raised their voice, too few were moved by moral outrage to cry out to everyone. We are fragile human beings, and we are killed by words.”

It Is a Lesson About the Limits of Power.

Rabin, a general who fought and led Israel through some of its most dire battles, realized that ultimately, a nation cannot survive in constant conflict with its neighbors. As our correspondent Leslie Susser wrote last week, Rabin shared with another Israeli leader an understanding that Israel needed strong diplomatic ties, it needed to address realistic issues of demography and democracy, and it needed to achieve a state of non-belligerency, if not peace, with its neighbors. How ironic is it, Susser wrote, that he shared this strategic outlook with his political opponent, current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

It is a Lesson About the Power of Pragmatism.

The miracle of Israel’s existence is its ability to be practical. Rabin would have preferred to hang on to territory; he would have preferred not to shake Arafat’s blood-soaked hand. But he believed the Oslo peace process gave Israel its best chance for long-term security.

“He wasn’t a visionary or a prophet,” Rabin’s longtime aide Eitan Haber told the Los Angeles Times. “He was the most pragmatic and analytical man I ever met in my life.”

A few months after the assassination, I met Rabin’s granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi-Pelosoff, in the atrium of a Beverly Hills hotel. She had come to Los Angeles to promote her memoir about her grandfather, written after her simple graveside eulogy had captivated the world.

She was 19, on leave from military service. We spoke for a half-hour. She was removed, on book-tour autopilot.

That’s when I decided to ask her whether she saw him.

She put down her third or fourth cigarette and looked at me for the first time.

I told her that someone I loved had also died recently before his time, and I kept seeing him, over and over, wherever I went.

“Not in your dreams, right?” she said.

“No,” I confided. “At the snack stand by the beach, walking on Melrose….”

“Yes,” she said. “Everywhere.” Her eyes welled up: “I just see him, or feel him, around me.”

“It’s not weird, is it?” I said, knowing the answer.

She said it wasn’t strange or frightening, but in a way very comforting, a sign that she would be OK.

Everything may be OK, or not. But it will certainly be better if we keep the memory and lessons of Yitzhak Rabin’s life and death close to us.

Next year on Wilshire Boulevard….



Katrina Efforts

Since my return from Mississippi, I have been told that as a community we have done all there is to be done by offering new beginnings to evacuees who have left their homes in New Orleans (“Going in After Katrina,” Sept. 16). We have sent lots of money to the ravaged communities and to charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, that are engaged in providing first responders. We have sent funds to the Jewish federations in the affected communities. In doing all of that we have discharged our responsibilities, or have we?

Have we truly discharged our duties by sending monies? What about offering to send some of our Hebrew School teachers to take over the classes for the teachers who need to reconstruct their lives? How about offering to restock the libraries of the synagogues, Hebrew schools and Jewish centers that have lost everything? How about encouraging our bar and bat mitzvah students to twin with their peers in the affected communities? How about sending volunteers to help the nursing home residents?

Gila Katz
Executive Director
Klein Chaplaincy Service

Where’s Rabin?

As I entered synagogue last Shabbat morning, several of my friends commented to me on the extensive Page 1 article, complete with color picture, in that morning’s Los Angeles Times on the 10th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and its implication for Israeli society. Most of us agreed that the Rabin assassination was surely one of the most important moments in Jewish history in our lifetime.

Imagine my surprise when I returned home after services and looked at The Jewish Journal that had arrived. The cover was about the upcoming California elections (Cover, Nov. 4).

I am an avid consumer of much of news available in the general media and look to The Jewish Journal for news on the Jewish world. Increasingly the Journal is not providing that.

Perhaps you should reexamine your editorial policies.

Mara Levy
Santa Monica

Rabbinical Commentary

I would also love to see a haftarah commentary in addition to the Torah commentary (Letters, Nov. 4). However, I do not think having commentary from the three major movements would be beneficial. I like the way that you have different rabbis write the commentaries, and in this way you can give us the perspectives of the different movements.

Thank you for all you do to produce this wonderful newspaper!

Cathy O’Krent
Via e-mail

Making History

Mazel tov to Steven Spielberg and to USC for creating a permanent home for the Shoah Visual History Foundation (“Shoah Foundation Makes USC Its Home,” Oct. 28). Spielberg’s 10 years dedicated to creating a lasting tribute to those who survived the Holocaust will help ensure that the world will never forget. We all share responsibility to play a role in this effort.

To that end, Beth Chayim Chadashim (www.bcc-la.org) is proud to host a communitywide commemoration of Kristallnacht, the infamous Nights of Broken Glass, precursor of the Shoah. We will honor Holocaust survivor Olga Grilli, born in Chotebor, Czechoslovakia, who gave her testimony to the Shoah Foundation several years ago. Grilli was rescued on a Kindertransport at age 11 and survived the war in England, ultimately immigrating to the United States.

Our discovery of that testimony at the Shoah Foundation set in motion a series of events that will culminate Friday, Nov. 11, in reuniting Grilli with a Torah scroll from her hometown — a Torah that her uncle and grandfather once held.

We are grateful to Spielberg, the Shoah Foundation and USC for preserving and helping us to bring to life this important part of Jewish and world history.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards
Beth Chayim Chadashim
Stephen Sass
Sylvia Sukop
Event co-chairs

Shul Attraction

David Suissa’s opinion piece, suggesting that cantors surprise congregants by mixing up melodies is a wonderful idea and, though not new, is a suggestion that I, and no doubt most my colleagues, have been doing week in and week out, for many years (“A Surprise Might Attract More to Shuls,” Nov. 4). There are two questions, however, that I would ask regarding this suggestion: a) is this what our members want and b) would this, in fact, draw more people to synagogue?

The answer to the first question is maybe. In a recent survey of my congregation, over half the respondents stated that they prefer when the chazzan, “sings the traditional melodies.” While what is traditional for one Jew is not necessarily traditional for another, clearly when people do come to synagogue, they like to participate in the liturgy, singing a prayer to a musical setting to which they are familiar.

The second question is one that cannot be answered in one Jewish Journal article, or even 100. Suissa is correct — liberal synagogues today compete with Starbucks to attract attendees. We also compete with soccer games, a sale at the mall and general Jewish apathy. Some Jews are attracted to synagogues that offer a niche service on a monthly basis; no doubt participation at these services would drop precipitously if they occurred each and every Shabbat.

When the celebration of Shabbat on a weekly basis becomes a priority for members of the non-Orthodox Jewish community (the community to which I proudly belong) the struggle to attract more people to synagogue will finally conclude.

Chazzan Keith Miller
Kehillat Ma’arav-The Westside Congregation
Santa Monica

Still Smarting

Don’t despair, Amy (“Still Smarting,” Nov. 4). There are men, such as myself, who prefer strong, intelligent women.

David Wincelberg
Beverly Hills

Still Silent

I, too, lament the changes on Fairfax Avenue (“Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze,” Oct. 21). But I’ve heard nothing about the famed Silent Movie Theatre, as prominent a landmark on Fairfax Avenue since 1942 as Canter’s and the Farmers Market, and the only theater of its kind in America!

Eddie Cress

Wrong Conclusion

I fail to see the logical link in Leonard Fein’s “Rosa Parks’ Message for Today” (Nov. 4). Parks and Southern blacks of her time faced massive injustice of all types based on racist laws and customs. From this undeniable fact Fein jumps to the “persistent, grinding poverty that still exists in our country….” Is he suggesting that poverty is state sanctioned, or that “ignoring” poverty is the same as the official discrimination, the lynchings, denial of education, segregation and disenfranchisement that were characteristic of the pre-civil rights era?

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Too Far Left?

I was just wondering if you ever got tired of (or actually, had even noticed) that reading The Jewish Journal is like reading the talking points of the Democratic National Committee. You and others who write in these pages are always lamenting the low affiliation rates among American Jews and are brainstorming about how to increase it. I’d like to suggest you consider taking the politics out of Judaism.

It is a fundamental reality of modern American Jewish life that becoming involved in any Jewish organization is tantamount to joining the left-wing of the Democrat Party. I challenge anyone who seriously disagrees with this statement to come up with even one issue on which any major Jewish organization and the Democrat Party disagree. Furthermore, the vast majority of liberal Jews who are actually proud of these positions (of which, I freely concede, there are many) are, at heart, secular humanists, who truly believe religion is the opiate of the masses and that it is the root of much evil in the world. It should not surprise anyone that recruiting people from this group to join religious organizations is difficult at best. Judaism does not equal the Democrat Party, and I’d like to provide two brief examples to illustrate my point.

1) Tzedakah. While we can all agree that tzedakah is a prime Jewish value, everyone reading this letter should be aware that Maimonides elucidated eight levels of tzedakah. The lowest form is a handout (welfare, food stamps) while the highest form is teaching someone a trade so that they don’t need tzedakah. This approach is exemplified by (Women’s American) ORT, which raises money to build schools to teach people a trade.

2) Abortion. The halacha is clear that abortion is permissible to save the life or health of the mother. A valid halachic argument can even be made that psychological distress counts as harm. But how in the heck did we get from the halacha to being against parental notification when a minor child wants an abortion? I would like to suggest that the entire point of knowing that a minor child is having high-risk unprotected sex is precisely so that the grown-ups can intervene and change the behavior, not keep it secret. The tiresome argument about rape or incest is a red herring; I am a practicing pediatrician who has to deal with far-too-many teen and preteen pregnancies (and sexually transmitted diseases), and I can literally count on one hand the number of times rape or incest were involved. Besides, if we even suspect the minor is being abused or will be abused, we immediately notify the police and the Department of Child and Family Services who intervene and, in loco parentis, represent and protect the child.

In conclusion, perhaps if Jewish clergy and Jewish organizations returned to teaching Jewish values and left how best to live those values in daily life up to individual Jews, perhaps you’d see an increase in affiliation rates and in your paper’s circulation.

Dr. Rabbi Andrew L. Teperson


The Nation and The World


Bin Laden Points The Finger

Al-Qaeda denied involvement in the assassination of Lebanon�(tm)s former prime minister, saying Israel could be the culprit. An Internet statement signed by a previously unknown group, the Al-Qaeda Organization of the Levant, rejected a claim of responsibility for Monday�(tm)s car bombing of Rafik Hariri�(tm)s cavalcade in Beirut. Israeli officials backed international assessments that Hariri was targeted for opposing the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

Farewell, Femme Fatale

Mossad�(tm)s most famous hit woman has died. Sylvia Rafael, who was jailed in Norway for her part in a botched 1973 assassination, died of leukemia in her native South Africa over the weekend. She was 67. Rafael immigrated to Israel as a young woman and was recruited by Mossad while working on a kibbutz, soon becoming one of the spy agency�(tm)s most accomplished field agents. Operating under cover as a Canadian freelance photographer, she led the hunt for the Palestinian masterminds of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A year later, her team shot dead a Moroccan waiter in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer, mistaking him for the chief of the Black September terror group. Rafael was sentenced for five years. Her prison term was shortened because of her poor health, and she eventually married her defense attorney and resettled in South Africa. Her body is to be brought to Israel for burial.

Chirac Says No on Hezbollah

French President Jacques Chirac refused to add Hezbollah to the E.U.�(tm)s list of terrorist organizations. Chirac reportedly rejected the request about the Shi�(tm)ite fundamentalist group during a meeting Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The European Union is expected to hold an initial discussion Wednesday on the Israeli request, but France�(tm)s position is considered crucial in the matter.

ADL Raps Divestment Plan

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized the Presbyterian Church (USA) for continuing to consider divesting from companies that do business in Israel. ADL officials said such consideration shows the movement has chosen the Palestinian side in the Arab-Israeli dispute, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. The criticism was leveled this weekend after the Rev. Jay Rock, the denomination�(tm)s coordinator for interfaith relations, spoke to 150 members of the ADL�(tm)s national executive committee meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

Members of the church voted last summer to use its $8 million portfolio to try to force Israel to withdraw from territories the Palestinians want for a future state. A church committee is expected to deliver a report next year suggesting specific companies as divestment targets.

Jewish Group Backs Judicial Filibuster

The American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) reaffirmed its support for the U.S. Senate�(tm)s right to filibuster judicial nominations.

“The Senate�(tm)s centuries-old rule providing for the use of the filibuster gives voice to minority viewpoints and encourages consensus on appointments to the judiciary,” the AJCommittee�(tm)s board said in its resolution. Changing Senate rules “would eliminate this incentive for bipartisan cooperation, eroding our system of checks and balances and diluting the Senate�(tm)s role to provide ‘advice and consent�(tm) on the president�(tm)s judicial nominees.”

The Senate is considering changing the rules to force all judicial nominations to face a straight vote and not be subject to filibuster. The majority party now requires 60 votes to block a filibuster.

DNC Picks Jewish Vice Chairwoman

A Jewish activist was elected vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Susan Turnbull, who serves on the board of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has worked with Hillel and was the DNC�(tm)s deputy chair before her election Saturday. The Republican National Committee elected Ken Mehlman, the Jewish campaign manager of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, as its national chairman last month.

Convicted Rabbi Gets One Count Dropped

A court dismissed one of the counts against a U.S. rabbi who had been convicted of molesting two teenage girls at a New Jersey yeshiva. On Feb. 10, an appeals court in New Jersey threw out one of the charges against Baruch Lanner for endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1996, when he was the principal of a New Jersey yeshiva. Despite the ruling, Lanner still faces sentencing Feb. 23 for his conviction for endangering the welfare of another girl and for one count each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct and criminal sexual conduct. The case rocked the Modern Orthodox world because Lanner was a longtime leader of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox youth group.

No Hope for the Lovelorn?

The most popular Jewish singles site on the Internet was down most of Valentine�(tm)s Day. Visitors to JDate received a message saying the site was down and apologizing for the inconvenience.

London Mayor: No Sorry Forthcoming

London�(tm)s mayor refused to apologize for comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Politicians and Jewish groups had asked Ken Livingstone to apologize for comments last week to Oliver Finegold of the London Evening Standard. In refusing, Livingstone said he had been subjected to a 24-year hate campaign by the Standard and its sister paper, the Daily Mail.

Cough, Cough

Israel’s smoking rate dropped to its lowest point ever, according to a new survey.

Only 23 percent of Israeli adults smoke, compared with 42 percent in the 1970s, 37 percent in the early 1980s and 29 percent in the 1990s, the Jerusalem Post reported. The smoking rate in Israel is slightly higher than in the United States, but lower than in Europe.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


The Blood of Arafat


There are reports that Yasser Arafat died from a blood disorder. His death, and in particular these reports, reminds me of a strange photograph that flew across the wires a couple days after Sept. 11. In it, Arafat was giving blood at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, arm outstretched and primed with a green tourniquet, needle in vein, blood flowing into a vial that would soon be en route to New York City. His donation would become part of what was quickly becoming a vast stockpile of blood for survivors who were thought and hoped to be clinging to life under the collapsed towers. I was in New York that day, and I remember studying the image and wondering about all the buckets of blood he himself had spilled. The more I looked at the photo, the more it seemed as if he was wondering about the same thing.

At the time, we knew his body was wracked with shakes, although in the frozen image he was still. We also knew — and the photo showed this — that he was a modern warrior dying before us, broken into a thousand pieces, his skin a flimsy parchment, a flicker of fear crossing his eyes. He was a man whose blood had already drained away. Did the leeching begin long ago, his blood receding little by little as he witnessed horror upon horror, or did it begin to recoil when his brother in peace, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated, or did it retreat quickly — perhaps on Sept. 11 — as he saw the grotesque blow that felled both lower Manhattan and his dream of a Palestinian state?

A man awash in his own blood might see certain images flash before him. Yasser Arafat was involved for much of his life in the fight for Palestinian liberation. He has been linked to two of the late 20th century’s most iconic acts of terrorism, both committed by factions of his Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 1972, a group of Arab gunmen calling themselves Black September kidnapped the Israeli Olympic team from their apartment in Munich and demanded the release of Arab prisoners. No deal was made and the gunmen massacred the athletes. In 1985, a group of Arab gunmen calling themselves the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took over the Achille Lauro cruise ship in the Mediterranean, hoping to draw attention to their plight. They shot the wheelchair-bound Jewish stroke victim Leon Klinghoffer in the head and then threw him overboard. The man in charge of this operation now lives in Gaza City.

Who would receive Yasser Arafat’s blood? I considered this as I pondered the meaning of the old warrior giving blood. Who would want it? Who, near death, would not want it? The act of the donation — blood coming from the Middle East — echoed of the rousing call to holy war: blood of the martyrs; blood of my brothers; blood on their hands; we will water this soil with the blood of your sons….

Blood has been coursing through the region ever since Cain slew Abel, pitting brother against brother in a murder spree without end, the river of life now running red right into the 21st century, from Arafat’s veins into — whose? Would it save the life of a Jewish banker? A janitor from the Dominican Republic? A tourist from Japan?

What secrets were in Arafat’s blood? What messages did it carry? Did it thunder or whisper? Was there comfort in its currents? If there is such a thing as “bad blood,” would that be the blood of an assassin? If said assassin has had a change of heart, would his blood now pulse with forgiveness?

Of course, blood is blood and that’s why the Red Cross labels blood only in terms of type, not who gave it. In that respect, Yasser Arafat of all people was now a universal donor, however his blood was typed and whatever markers of his own life that it conveyed.

But there would be no special flights from Gaza arriving at JFK. As it happened, Arafat’s blood was among the hundreds of pints of blood that would not be needed. Among those mired in the twisted and flaming wreckage of the World Trade Center, there were few survivors: even as he gave his blood, there was nowhere for it to go — no lifelines to be pierced, no arteries to flood, for thousands had been instantly incinerated and as I watched Arafat give the gift of life, I realized that we were all breathing their ashes.

My guess is that Arafat knew his blood would not find its way to the United States, never to mingle with the blood of Americans who had died for their jobs. He was making an empty gesture; given the events that came hours before, he knew that it would be obliterated, reclaimed by the shifting sands.

So now, as Arafat himself walks off into the Sahara and joins Pharaoh in the tomb, what are we to make of his legacy? In many ways, it is marked by big, empty gestures all along. Consider the images: Yasser Arafat flashing the peace sign; Yasser Arafat giving flight to a dove; Yasser Arafat kissing babies; Yasser Arafat receiving the Nobel Prize; Yasser Arafat shaking hands with Yitzhak Rabin. In the end, all we are left with is the truth behind the pictures. To that degree, the picture of Arafat giving blood is the most honest of them all. Skip the PR part and in spite of himself, we learn all about the man: the photo is still about Yasser Arafat’s blood, which we now hear was running with disease.


Your Letters

From a Soldier

About a month ago, my aunt purchased a subscription of The Jewish Journal for me as a gift while I am in basic training at Ft. Sill, Okla. The Jewish Journal has allowed me to keep up-to-date on world events especially those important to the Jewish community. The articles on arts, entertainment and literature have provided me with a much-needed diversion from my demanding training schedule.

I wanted to pass on my thanks to your fine publication for helping one Jewish soldier stay connected with the Jewish community. Of course, my Aunt Lynn and Uncle David deserve equal thanks.

When I leave training, I intend to transfer my subscription to this post’s one Jewish chaplain so he can add this newspaper to the list of materials he provides to Jewish soldiers.

For those readers who don’t know, the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council is a nonprofit organization charged with oversight and accreditation of Jewish chaplains in our armed forces. These rabbis do a tremendous job in providing a wide range of services and resources to the Jewish community within our military. I urge your readers to consider the JWB when it’s time to write those checks to their favorite Jewish organizations. Their address is: 15 East 26th St. New York, N.Y. 10010-1579.

Pfc. Brian Singer, Ft. Sill, Okla U.S. Army

Killing Yassin

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s statement that the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin was unjustified will go down in history like Neville Chamberlain who tried to appease Adolf Hitler.

Rabbi Shimon Paskow, Thousand Oaks

Mixed on ‘Code’

In reading Wendy Madnick’s article, “Cracking a Controversial ‘Code'” (April 9), we ask ourselves whether we should be elated that, unlike Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” here is a book written by a Christian, about Christianity, which does not blame the Jews for all of their ills. Or [should we] be disturbed that the book misrepresents Jewish history by claiming that Jews during Jesus’ time practiced pagan ritualistic sex acts inside the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? One can only assume that if such pagan ritualistic ceremonies did take place, Jews would have learned about the specifics through sources such as the Talmud, which openly touches upon the life of Jesus.

Danny Bental, Tarzana

Kirby Left Out

Tom Teicholz’ description of the influence of Jewish escape artists in comic book history contains a stunning omission (“The Escapist,” April 9). Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzenburg) escaped the slums of Hell’s Kitchen and survived the battlefields of World War II to become the undisputed king of superhero cartoonists. He was the dominant creative force behind Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, the Silver Surfer and hundreds of others. At DC Comics, acting as his own editor, Kirby created an entire new pantheon of superheroes and villains called the New Gods, engaged in a cosmic war between the planets of New Genesis and Apokolips. The Torah echoes and the evocation of totalitarian society on the dark planet Apokolips is as resonant for Jewish history as anything in mainstream comics.

The war is triggered by the escape from Apokolips of a young character, Scott Free, who grows up to become he superhero, Mr. Miracle: Super Escape Artist. Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon read these comics as a child. At the back of his novel of escape and comics, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” he dedicates a final acknowledgement to Kirby, for his influence on “everything I have ever written.”

Have I made my case?

Aaron Noble, Altadena

Bush on Israel

James Besser’s article makes a false assumption (“Speaking Truth to Power — Not,” April 2). Jewish criticism of President Bush’s domestic policies are muted for fear that he will stop supporting Israel? This assumes that Bush supports Israel because the Jews support Bush. Oh, I forgot that Bush owes the Jews for their unabashed support he got in the 2000 landslide victory over Gore. I doubt that Bush is counting on winning this election with the Jewish vote.

The real reason that Bush is supportive of Israel is based upon a strong religious belief in morality and justice. Bush sees the Middle East conflict as a fight of good against evil, and that same fight was brought home on Sept. 11. Has Besser heard of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi? Real pro-Bush yentas? Domestic issues are meaningless to the victims of Sept. 11 and to the thousands of Israelis that have been murdered. Bush supports Israel because it is morally right and just — not because Jews vote for his domestic agenda.

I will support President Bush 100 percent as he fights to protect Americans and Israelis fight terrorism. Oh, and if my taxes go up or down by a few percentage points, well that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

Joel Bertet, Los Angeles

Slaying Raises U.S. Peace Plan Concern

The death of Sheik Ahmad Yassin will pave the way to Palestinian moderation, Israel and its friends in Washington say.

But others, including Bush administration officials, are worried that the road just got a lot bumpier.

The United States scrambled Monday to reassure the world — and particularly Hamas — that it had no foreknowledge of Israel’s predawn assassination of the Hamas leader in Gaza.

“The consequences of this action, in terms of raising tension and making it harder to pursue peace efforts — those are things of concern to us,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, calling the killing “deeply troubling.”

The White House ultimately concurred, after initially affirming Israel’s right to defend itself.

The law of unintended consequences, which has dogged other recent major Israeli initiatives, had struck again: An attempt to stem terrorism instead had sparked in Washington and European capitals a fear of revenge attacks.

Administration insiders described Monday as a day in which Boucher started by contemplating a mild rebuke, then toughening it as European and Arab countries expressed alarm and concern that the attack would strengthen Hamas and not weaken it.

“It’s like a starfish: You cut off one leg, another grows in,” one administration official said. “We’re expecting alerts to go up everywhere.”

By Tuesday, CNN was quoting an Iraqi cleric as calling on Muslims to “unite against Israel,” raising the prospect that Yassin’s killing could hinder U.S. efforts to disengage from Iraq by sparking more violence there.

After Hamas reportedly threatened to broaden its attacks beyond Israeli targets, European Union foreign ministers said in a statement that the killing “has inflamed the situation.”

Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary general, “strongly condemned” the killing and said he was worried that “such an action would lead to further bloodshed and death and acts of revenge and retaliation.”

The U.N. Security Council called a meeting to discuss the assassination.

Especially aggravating, U.S. officials said, was the prospect that the assassination would scuttle the possibility of a new peace initiative from next week’s Arab League summit.

American officials also were frustrated because they see the attack as undermining support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, which they support.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom had planned to spend Monday in Washington describing plans for the withdrawal and probing U.S. proposals to contain Syria and Iran. Instead, much of his time was spent explaining the Yassin killing.

A senior Israeli official traveling with Shalom said the concerns about destabilization in the region were unfounded. The Palestinian Authority is well equipped to deal with Hamas, the official said, noting that the authority has 22,000 men under arms in the Gaza Strip, as opposed to about 1,000 loyal to Hamas.

“Whatever the pictures show you — the protests, the riots — it won’t influence what’s happening in Gaza,” he said.

Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill agreed. Democrats, mindful of election-year pressure to outflank President Bush on support for Israel, took the initiative.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was on vacation, but a spokesman said Yassin’s history couldn’t be ignored. “It’s important to remember that Sheik Yassin was responsible for organizing dozens of deadly terror attacks in Israel,” Mark Kornblau said.

Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel and Anthony Weiner of New York and Shelley Berkley of Nevada issued statements supporting the strike on Yassin. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) told a United Jewish Communities gathering Tuesday in Washington that Americans should stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself, “including going after those who direct” terrorism.

Officials at pro-Israel groups minimized the administration criticism and said they didn’t expect it to last.

“The administration is even more concerned than the Israelis that the disengagement go through and that Hamas not take control of Gaza, and any action the Israelis take to prevent that happening, they support,” said one pro-Israel official based in Washington.

“The more the leaders of Hamas are running for cover,” the official said, “the less likely they are to be undermining someone like Mohammed Dahlan,” a former P.A. security official and a relative moderate in Gaza.

Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said moderate Arab nations might suffer unrest in the short run but also would benefit down the road.

“The less leaders there are who support and who champion violence as a method of pushing policy, the more the chance there will be more moderation in the region,” Halevy told reporters Tuesday in a conference call.

Halevy also said concerns that Hamas would now aim attacks at U.S. targets were unfounded, because such attacks would open the group up to direct U.S. retaliation. “It would expose Hamas to the kind of pressures it has not had until now,” he said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he expected the criticism to dissipate, especially given U.S. actions to pursue Al Qaeda leaders.

“It should not be troubling that we go after Yassin,” he said. “Then we would have to be troubled by the effort on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to go after Osama bin Laden.”

Some analysts wondered if Sharon was losing control of events.

“Is Sharon once again being the great tactician and the terrible strategist?” asked David Mack, a vice president at the Middle East Institute and former assistant deputy secretary of state for Near East affairs.

It’s a charge that Sharon has fought for decades. Fairly or not, he is known as the general whose tactical brilliance won crucial battles in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the defense minister who plunged Israel into a strategic morass in Lebanon in 1982.

Whatever Sharon’s intentions when he announced his plan to uproot settlements and leave Gaza and parts of the West Bank, they have been overtaken by the intentions and actions of others.

The United States is pressing Israel hard for far-reaching concessions in the West Bank, as well as Gaza; the Palestinian Authority is seeking to build bridges to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, terrorist organizations that Israel reviles, and Egypt wants to rewrite the 1978 Camp David peace accords, a precedent Israel wants to avoid at all costs.

Part of Sharon’s problem, associates said, is his penchant for playing his cards so close to his chest. Only three or four officials are privy to what shape the withdrawal will take. Members of Sharon’s Cabinet who have been kept in the dark say such steps are far-reaching and require consultation.

“It’s very unusual that the prime minister is pushing forward a plan in Washington that the prime minister did not bring to Cabinet, to the coalition,” Housing Minister Effi Eitam said in an interview last week in Washington, where he was lobbying against the withdrawal. “It is totally improper as far as how a democratic country should be handled.”

A similar secretiveness by Sharon in plotting Israel’s security barrier last year led to a breakdown in U.S.-Israel communications. The resulting friction was behind the U.S. refusal to appear on Israel’s behalf when Palestinians brought the fence issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in February.

Sharon has promised a finalized withdrawal plan in time for an April 14 summit with Bush. Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, is in Washington this week for another round of talks with U.S. officials, discussions that have been shuttling back and forth between Washington and Jerusalem since early February.

It’s an open question whether Sharon will meet the deadline. American officials and others have expressed frustration with the vagueness of the proposals so far.

“What are the parameters?” David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said at the Israel Policy Forum recently. “Not just for Gaza, but for the West Bank, for the separation barrier. What’s out there?”

Will Sheik’s Assassination Bring Stability?

No one believes Israel is a safer place just after the assassination of Sheik Ahmad Yassin, leader of the terrorist group Hamas.

The question is whether the assassination and continued Israeli pressure on Hamas will contribute to stability over time.

In targeting Yassin, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had clear political goals. Sharon said he intends to crush Hamas so that when Israel withdraws from Gaza as he plans, it will not seem to be forced out by terrorism. As such, Yassin’s boast that Hamas would make Israel leave under fire may have cost him his life.

Sharon also hopes to tilt the balance of power in Gaza dramatically in favor of the more moderate Palestinian Authority, so that when Israel pulls out, the Palestinian Authority will be strong enough to maintain law and order.

But will Monday’s attack really help achieve such objectives?

In the short term, few doubted that there will be more terrorist attacks and that more young Palestinians will swell Hamas ranks.

The uncertainty is about the longer term. Advocates of the assassination said relentless pressure will eventually wear down Hamas and help the Palestinian Authority take control of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s planned withdrawal.

These advocates pointed to the unilateral cease-fire declared by Hamas last summer after intense military pressure by Israel.

Opponents maintained that the pressure will backfire and that Hamas, with the “martyred” Yassin attracting more recruits than ever, will become stronger and even more radicalized. If so, it could forge alliances with major players in the international terrorist network, such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, endangering not only Israel but Jews and possibly Westerners everywhere.

The immediate fear is that Hamas will redouble its efforts to carry out a so-called megaterror attack to retaliate for Yassin’s death. Palestinian terrorists have attempted such megaterror acts before.

The decision to kill Yassin came after terrorists earlier this month attempted a megaterror attack to blow up deadly stores of chemicals and gases at the Ashdod port. They failed, however, but killed 10 Israelis in a double suicide bombing at the port.

There are several precedents for strong terrorist reaction when Israel kills terrorist leaders. A similar assassination 12 years ago of Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi resulted in a retaliatory attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people.

Likewise, the killing of Hamas master bomb maker Yehiya Ayash in 1996 was followed by a wave of bus bombings that killed dozens of Israelis. The August 2001 targeting of Abu Ali Mustapha, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was followed by the assassination of Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi.

With the terrorist organizations constantly trying to attack Israel, many regard their claims of specific retribution with skepticism. But some analysts warned that Sharon’s pressure on Hamas is likely to backfire.

Reuven Paz, an expert on fundamentalist movements at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, argued that it could trigger such widespread Palestinian support for Hamas that P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei’s days in office could be numbered.

Pressure on Hamas also could undermine local strongman Mohammed Dahlan, whom Israel eventually would like to see imposing order for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

Other analysts suggested that chaos after the assassination could adversely affect Sharon’s projected withdrawal from Gaza. That might make it necessary to leave Israeli troops there, deferring plans for a full withdrawal indefinitely.

But Sharon appears determined to smash Hamas and avert the kind of disorder the analysts fear. Beyond the political tactics surrounding the withdrawal, the government has defined Hamas as a strategic threat that must be destroyed. That’s because Hamas rules out any compromise with Israel, advocates the destruction of the Jewish State and its replacement with an Islamic theocracy and is ready to use any means to achieve its goals.

Government spokesmen said Sharon in effect has declared war on Hamas. The assassination of Yassin, whom Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called Israel’s Osama bin Laden, was only the opening shot. From now on, the officials said, the Israel Defense Forces will focus almost solely on Hamas, targeting its leaders, militiamen and funding.

“No Hamas leader will be immune,” Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared.

The Israelis believe they have a green light from Washington for all-out war against Hamas. Unlike the Europeans, who condemned Yassin’s assassination as contrary to international law, U.S. officials at first expressed tacit understanding for Israel’s position, drawing parallels to the U.S. war against global terrorism. Later in the day, however, a U.S. spokesman called the attack “deeply troubling.”

Since the eruption of the violent Palestinian uprising three and a half years ago, Hamas has committed 425 terrorist attacks, leaving 377 Israelis dead and 2,076 wounded. It has been responsible for 52 suicide bombings that claimed 288 Israeli lives.

According to Lt. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi, the Israel Defense Forces intelligence chief, Yassin was directly involved in planning and approving military operations.

Some pundits, like Ha’aretz’s Danny Rubinstein, claimed that Yassin was a relative moderate within Hamas. Unlike some of his potential successors, Rubinstein maintained, that Yassin could have agreed to a temporary cease-fire with Israel and made it stick.

Also writing in Ha’aretz, Zvi Barel noted that Yassin insisted that the war against Israel not transcend Israeli-Palestinian borders, but his successors might not be similarly restrained.

Barel said new Hamas leaders will lack Yassin’s authority, and that Hamas could break up into small splinter groups, some of which may ally themselves with global terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Hamas, Barel suggested, now could decide “to turn its back on years of strategy and begin operations outside the country, striking at Israeli, Jewish or American targets overseas.”

Abdel Aziz Rantissi, named Tuesday as Hamas’ new chief for the Gaza Strip, vowed that the group would attack Israelis everywhere.

“We will fight them everywhere,” Rantissi told thousands of mourners gathered in Gaza’s main soccer stadium on Tuesday. “We will chase them everywhere. We will teach them lessons in confrontation.”

It’s too early to say to what extent targeting an Islamic symbol like Yassin may have opened up a wider front for Israel with the Muslim world. Al Qaeda, at any rate, has vowed to avenge Yassin’s assassination.

Israeli army officers described the Yassin assassination as heralding “a new era in the fight against terror,” which Israel has entered with its eyes wide open. But as the struggle with Hamas escalates, it could take on new forms, raising the stakes for both sides.

If that happens, will the Palestinian Authority and its main Fatah movement stand aside, happy to watch Israel create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority’s political hegemony? Or will they feel forced by Palestinian public opinion to join Hamas in fighting Israel?

The answers to those questions could determine whether Sharon’s bold attempt to single out Hamas succeeds or fails — in other words, whether new violence leads only to more carnage or to some sort of political accommodation.

World Briefs

U.S. to Reduce Sinai Presence

The United States has convinced Israel and Egypt to accept an immediate cut in the American presence in the Sinai, JTA has learned. According to an Israeli official, the United States will continue to lead the Multinational Force and Observers — established under the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt — but the American presence will be significantly reduced. Israel and Egypt rejected an earlier idea proposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reduce the U.S. presence to as few as 26 men. Under U.S. pressure, the two countries submitted a joint counterproposal in which the American presence will be more than “nominal,” but significantly fewer than the current 900 men, the Israeli official said. The plan, which has not yet been made public, received U.S. government approval Tuesday.

Presidents Conference Rejects

Meretz USA’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was rejected. Tuesday’s vote at a meeting of the umbrella group of American Jewry came after the conference’s membership committee recommended rejecting Meretz USA, saying it has too small a budget and scope of impact. However, some conference members say the 17-14 vote was political. The conference leadership “really doesn’t want us on board,” said Charney Bromberg, executive director of Meretz USA, a peace and civil rights group associated with the left-wing Israeli political party. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which applied for adjunct membership and was recommended for admission by the Presidents Conference’s membership committee, also was rejected.

Court Won’t OK Firing

A U.S. court refused to approve a Florida’s university plan to fire a Palestinian professor who is accused of having ties to terrorism. On Monday, the court recommended that the dispute between the University of South Florida and Sami Al-Arian be submitted to binding arbitration. A spokesperson for the university said the school is still deciding how to proceed. Critics of Al-Arian, who is suspended from his tenured position, say he raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the United States and established groups that support terror. Al-Arian denies the charges.

Statue Honors Wartime Hero

A statue was unveiled in Los Angeles honoring a late Japanese diplomat serving in wartime Lithuania who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. The statue of Chiune Sugihara was dedicated last Friday in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. Jewish, Japanese and Lithuanian officials were among those attending the ceremony.

No U.S. Tax on Shoah Restitution

President Bush on Tuesday signed a law excluding Holocaust restitution payments from federal tax. The Holocaust Restitution Tax Fairness Act of 2002 passed Congress earlier this year.

Rabin Assassin Testifies

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin testified in the trial of a former Shin Bet operative. Yigal Amir appeared Wednesday at the trial of Avishai Raviv, an undercover agent accused of knowing in advance about the 1995 assassination but failing to prevent it. Amir testified that he never told Raviv he intended to murder Rabin, but did say that someone should kill the prime minister. Amir also testified that among the people who heard him make the remark was legislator Benny Elon, leader of the far-right Moledet Party. Elon denied the accusation: “I don’t know what is going on in Amir’s twisted mind,” he said. “Seven years ago he assassinated the prime minister, and today he’s trying to perform character assassination.”

Hamas Associates Arrested

Four brothers have been arrested in Dallas for alleged ties to Hamas. The four, who work for the InfoCom computer company, were arrested Wednesday, according to WFAA-TV in Dallas. They were accused of having fundraising ties to Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity closed last year after the Treasury Department claimed it funneled funds to Hamas. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to comment on the arrests Wednesday afternoon.

Time’s on his Side

There’s no denying that Fox’s critically acclaimed "24" is a fast-moving show that, unlike other dramas, operates in "real time" — each 60-minute episode’s action literally unfolds over an hour’s time.

But what series co-creator Joel Surnow never anticipated was that his rookie show would move as fast in the real world: Not even halfway through its first season,"24" was nominated for Best TV Drama and Best Actor (Kiefer Sutherland)Golden Globes.Dark horse Sutherland won over perennial award show favorites Martin Sheen and James Gandolfini.

Since episode one, the series has tracked Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) into a web of intrigue that turns his corrupted agency against him. Bauer’s odyssey grows murkier each week as he must foil an assassination attempt on an African American presidential candidate while simultaneously locating his own kidnapped wife and daughter. The twist: He cannot trust anyone.

It’s been a fast rise for Surnow, 47, who wrote for "The Equalizer" and "Bay City Blues." Surnow co-created "24" with his former "La Femme Nikita" partner, Robert Cochran.

"Both Bob and I were raised steeped in Judeo-Christian values," Surnow says. "Bob was raised Christian-Scientist, and we inform the show with those values. We see our hero the same way."

Growing up on the fringes of Beverly Hills in the 1970s was exhilarating for Surnow, who moved from Detroit at age 9 and was bar mitzvahed at West L.A.’s Congregation Mogen David. Surnow’s father, whose lineage comes from Odessa, w as a tin man. His mother, in clothing retail, came from Lithuanian descent. Surnow attended Beverly Hills High, dated the daughter of B-movie horrormeister William Castle and befriended the son of Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter on "Gomer Pyle").

A few years ago, "24"’s star went through some growth of his own. Sutherland left Hollywood to go the cowboy way on the rodeo circuit. When he decided to make "24" his big return, there was no hesitation at Fox.

"He was transitioning from boy to man in his life," Surnow says. "I think his life experience outside of the business gave him some gravitas, as they say."

Indeed, the running storyline of "24" harkens back to 1970s TV staple "The Fugitive," which strung viewers along by dangling a dramatic carrot from week to week. "24’s" glossy cinematic style evokes filmmaker Michael Mann. No accident: Surnow worked on the first season of Mann’s visually flashy "Miami Vice."

"I was influenced by his attention to detail," Surnow says, "which I think he brought to TV — saying that a series could look bigger, like a movie."

Stylish flourishes, like a split-screen effect, make "24" appear big screen. But this is more functional than conscious homage to Norman Jewison’s "Thomas Crown Affair."

"It was organic," says Surnow, who credits the pilot’s director, Steven Hopkins and editor Dave Thompson, for this device. "A real-time show has lots of phone calls, and phone calls on TV are boring. We decided to start and end every act with a split screen."

Off the clock, Surnow spends time with his five children, ages 6 – 19. "Two Jewish, three mutts," he says, tongue in cheek. Now remarried, Surnow says, "I’m basically a holiday Jew. However, she’s a pretty devout Catholic, and there are a lot of similarities in the two cultures."

"24’s" creators have already begun brainstorming for a Day Two. But Surnow has an even grander project ahead once season one wraps.

"I’m going to plan a vacation," he says, laughing.


I don’t know that the assassination of Rechavam Ze’evi changes the entire Middle East equation, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Tuesday. England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a measured response, which struck many Israelis as laughable, considering the massive military force Britain and the United States have arrayed against the Taliban. It may be unfair that Israel must be constrained while America can pummel Afghanistan at will, but so it goes. There is so far no indication that President George W. Bush or our allies are going to let the Israeli minister’s murder change their vision of how the war on terror should be waged, or how the post-war world should ultimately look.

In any case, Bush will find a more accurate measure of his future success not in Israel’s response to the murder, but in Yasser Arafat’s. His Palestinian Authority has been on good behavior lately, facing down street riots, even denouncing the assassination of Ze’evi, a man who called for the mass expulsion of Palestinians. In return Arafat has received assurances that the United States is committed to a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated settlement. If Arafat doesn’t follow through on his commitment to arrest the perpetrators of this latest attack and others, those negotiations will be a long time coming.

How will Sharon’s immediate and justly outraged response be heard in the rest of the world? More than likely as two-faced. Assassination of political and military leaders has been an Israeli government policy. Some groups and governments have criticized it as immoral and counterproductive, but it seems to me the very nature of suicide attacks requires preemptive strikes. Nowadays, even Bush could hardly deny that.

Even so, it is a policy that risks exact reprisal, and that is exactly how others, including numerous Israelis, will view the Ze’evi assassination. Israel’s government has not been doing an ace job of making its case in the court of world opinion, and if Sharon wants the world to view the murder as an earthquake and not a tremor, he and his government need to articulate a strong and public case.

One aspect of Ze’evi’s politics that guaranteed him a seat on the fringe was his determination to not care what the rest of the world thought of his ideas. That may be noble in an opposition politician, but it’s untenable for people who run a government as dependent upon foreign largess, and therefore world public opinion, as Israel.

For Israelis, there’s an additional frightening aspect to Zee’vi’s murder, which took place outside the minister’s room at the Jerusalem Hyatt Hotel. “We’re all wondering if the assassins had help from Palestinian workers inside the hotel,” a colleague in Israel said. “Are Arabs here being radicalized to that extent? ” At press time there’s no indication such fears will be borne out. There’s no question the ongoing violence strains Israel’s civic fabric, but no one wants to face the horrible realities that would ensue if it were to completely tear.