Jewish teen, woman lightly wounded in Paris-region anti-Semitic attacks


A Jewish boy and a woman were assaulted in separate anti-Semitic incidents in the Paris region.

The incident involving the woman occurred on May 13 on a street in Sarcelles, an impoverished northern suburb of the French capital where some 60,000 Jews live in close proximity to many Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.

The woman was lightly injured by three African women who assaulted her because she complained to them about the behavior of children, whom the Jewish woman thought belonged to at least one of the African women, the National Bureau for Vigilance Agaisnt Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, wrote in a report published Friday. The children, the report said, had hurled a soccer ball at the daughter of the Jewish woman, identified in the report only as L.D.

As they were allegedly assaulting the woman, witnesses heard the African women shouting anti-Semitic remarks, including “Hitler didn’t finish the job” and a statement about Jews being “a filthy race,” according to the report. “You need some more beatings,” one of the women also said.

Police were called to the scene and the alleged victim filed a criminal complaint for assault. She was also treated in the hospital for her injuries, which required several days of recovery.

“Increasingly, banal conflicts involving Jews degenerate into anti-Semitic incidents and assaults,” BNVCA wrote in its statement, which urged police to “get to the bottom of what happened.”

Separately, on Friday, four unidentified young men assaulted a 16-year-old Jewish male who was wearing kippah as the alleged victim was leaving his home in central Paris, according to a BNVCA report. The perpetrators stole the teen’s cellphone and hit him in the eye.

The perpetrators, aged 17 to 20, had an Arab appearance, the report said. A fifth individual, also of Middle Eastern descent, approached the scene and encouraged the perpetrators to “break” the victim, whom he called a coward.

The beating stopped when an Asian woman intervened and threatened to call the police. The victim filed a complaint after being treated for minor to moderate injuries connected to his emergency eye surgery at Rothschild Hospital.

ADL audit: Anti-Semitic incidents down in U.S., assaults up


The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States decreased by 19 percent in 2013, but physical assaults against Jews increased, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

In its Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the ADL reported that there 751 incidents in 41 states and Washington, D.C. — among the lowest number since 1979, when the ADL began collecting data. The number of incidents has been steadily declining for the past decade.

The audit includes assault, vandalism and harassment targeting Jews and Jewish property and institutions reported to ADL’s 27 regional offices and the police.

“In the last decade we have witnessed a significant and encouraging decline in the number and intensity of anti-Semitic acts in America,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, in a statement. “The falling number of incidents targeting Jews is another indication of just how far we have come in finding full acceptance in society, and it is a reflection of how much progress our country has made in shunning bigotry and hatred.”

The audit attributed the declining number of anti-Semitic incidents to “a relatively quiet year for anti-Israel activity in the public sphere.”

Despite the overall decline, the audit found a “significant” increase in “violent anti-Semitic assaults” — 31 assaults compared to 17 in 2012, although no assault was life threatening or required hospitalization.

“The high number of violent in-your-face assaults is a sobering reminder that, despite the overall decline in anti-Semitic incidents, there is still a subset of Americans who are deeply infected with anti-Semitism and who feel emboldened enough to act out their bigotry,” Foxman said.

Despite the overall decrease of incidents, the ADL reported increases in several states, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio and Texas. The states with the highest number of incidents were those with the largest Jewish populations: New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

The ADL does not count critiques of Israel or Zionism as anti-Semitic incidents, unless such criticism invokes “classic anti-Jewish stereotypes or inappropriate Nazi imagery and/or analogies,” the organization said in a news release. It does, however, count “public expressions of anti-Israel sentiments that demonize Jews or create an atmosphere of fear or intimidation for U.S. Jews.”

Chicago rabbi arrested on sex abuse charges


Chicago Rabbi Larry Dudovitz was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2006.

Dudovitz, 45, was arrested Saturday, the Chicago Tribune reported, and is being held on $100,000 bail.

Dudovitz, who is also known by his Hebrew name Aryeh, reportedly leads a Chabad synagogue in Chicago. He was formerly a rabbi at the Chabad House of Northwest Indiana.

According to authorities, the alleged assault occurred at the victim’s home on Oct. 26, 2002 in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.

Report: Justin Bieber sued for ‘assaulting’ Israeli bodyguard


The Israeli former bodyguard of teen idol Justin Bieber reportedly sued the pop star for assault.

Moshe Benabou, who lives in the United States, is seeking unspecified damages for assault and battery and more than $420,000 in unpaid overtime, the news site TMZ reported on Thursday.

According to Benabou — who claims he worked for the singer from March 2011 to October 2012 —  Bieber, 18, berated him and punched him in the chest multiple times during a disagreement about how to handle a member of Bieber's entourage. Benabou allegedly had attempted to keep the member of the entourage away from Bieber.

TMZ quoted sources “in Bieber’s camp” as saying that Benabou was “a disgruntled employee looking for money,” and calling the claim that Bieber struck Benabou “absurd.”

Benabou made a splash on the gossip website last February when he was filmed struggling with a photographer at Los Angeles airport. After a brief struggle, both men fell to the ground.

Orthodox gay activist sues cousin for assault


An Orthodox blogger sued his cousin, whose family owns a large New York Judaica store, for assaulting him.

Chaim Levin, now a gay activist, has sued cousin Sholom Eichler in a Brooklyn court, according to the New York Post. Eichler’s family owns Eichler’s Judaica Store in Brooklyn.

Levin claims that Eichler assaulted him weekly beginning when he was 6, from 1996 to 1999, at the Eichler family home and at a synagogue.

Teacher arrested after Holocaust lesson goes awry


A South Carolina teacher was arrested on charges of assault and battery after trying to make a point during a lesson on the Holocaust.

Patricia Mulholland, a veteran seventh-grade social studies teacher at Bluffton Middle School, is accused of dragging a student from his seat by his collar and pushing him under a table while shouting “this is what the Nazis do to Jews.” The incident occurred last week.

The teacher said she was attempting to supplement a previous lesson on the Holocaust, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Police reportedly have copies of videos made by some students on their cell phones of the teacher acting strangely before the incident, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mulholland, who has been teaching in the district for 23 years, was placed on administrative leave with pay on April 26. The school district has launched an internal review.

It has not been reported whether or not the student is Jewish.

French Interior Ministry says assault has not started


UPDATE (4:40 p.m.): French Interior Ministry says blasts were to intimidate suspect in Toulouse, assault has not started


French police launched an assault late on Wednesday on an apartment where a gunman suspected of killing seven people in the name of al Qaeda was holed up, officials said.

Three loud blasts were heard at the site in the southwest city of Toulouse just before midnight, which blew open the door of the apartment where the gunman had been holed up since 3 a.m. GMT, a police source said.

“I confirm that the assault has started,” a police source told Reuters. The deputy mayor of Toulouse, Jean-Pierre Havrin, confirmed that negotiations had ended and the assault had begun.

Police had been trying to get 24-year-old Mohamed Merah to turn himself over after he fired through the door at them while they tried to storm his apartment in the suburbs of Toulouse in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The 24-year-old Muslim shooter has been bottled up by France’s elite RAID commandos since 3 a.m. (0200 GMT) inside a five-story building in a suburb of Toulouse – a drama that has gripped France a few weeks ahead of a close-fought presidential election.

Police reinforcements had arrived at the scene at around 10 p.m. GMT and authorities switched off street lights in the street, signalling that action would begin soon.

“This will not last for days, because of physical and mental fatigue. All the experience with crazed gunmen like this is that they stop at some point,” Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said on TF1 television on Wednesday.

“What we want is to capture him alive, so that we can bring him to justice, know his motivations and hopefully find out who were his accomplices, if there were any,” he added.

Thomas Withington at the London Center for Defense Studies said an elite commando team could launch an assault after throwing a stun grenade into the house.

“What complicates things is that they want to take him alive. They want to wait until he gets very tired,” he said.

Merah, who has told police negotiators he was trained by al Qaeda in the lawless border area of Pakistan, said he killed three French soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan.

A French citizen of Algerian origin, Merah boasted to police negotiators he had brought France to its knees and said his only regret was not having been able to carry out his plans for more killings.

“He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, part of the anti-terrorist unit leading the investigation, told a news conference.

Merah had already identified another soldier and two police officers he wished to kill, Molins said.

“He has explained that he is not suicidal, that he does not have the soul of a martyr and that he prefers to kill but to stay alive himself,” the prosecutor said, adding that Merah had repeated promises to surrender to police.

CALL FOR UNITY

Earlier, at a ceremony in an army barracks in Montauban, near Toulouse, President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to the three soldiers of North African origin killed last week. A fourth soldier of Caribbean origin is in a coma.

“Our soldiers have not died in the way for which they had prepared themselves. This was not a death on the battlefield but a terrorist execution,” he said, standing before three coffins draped in the French flag.

“This man wanted to bring the Republic to its knees. The republic did not give in, the republic did not back down, the republic has not weakened. The republic has done its duty, and tomorrow justice will be done,” said Sarkozy, who is running for re-election in five weeks time.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Sarkozy to voice his solidarity with the government and people of France.

Several other presidential candidates also attended the ceremony, including Socialist Francois Hollande, who is ahead of Sarkozy in voting intention polls.

Sarkozy’s appeal for unity came after far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a rival presidential candidate, said France should pursue war on Islamic fundamentalism.

But leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities said the gunman was a lone extremist and called for calm and unity.

Sarkozy’s handling of the crisis could be a decisive factor in determining how the French people vote in the two-round presidential elections in April and May.

Immigration and Islam have been major campaign themes after Sarkozy tried to win over the voters of Le Pen, who accused the government of underestimating the threat from fundamentalism.

France’s military presence in Afghanistan has divided the two main candidates in the election. Hollande has said he will pull them out by the end of this year while Sarkozy aims for the end of 2013.

SURVEILLANCE

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah was a member of an ideological Islamic group in France but this organization was not involved in plotting any violence.

He said Merah had thrown a Colt 45 pistol of the kind used in all the shootings out of a window of the block of flats, where he has been living, in exchange for a mobile phone.

Two police officers were injured in a firefight with the gunman after police swooped at 3 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Wednesday. Officials said police had also arrested Merah’s girlfriend and his brother, known to authorities as a radical Islamist.

The raid came just three days after the school attack and followed an unprecedented manhunt by French security forces.

Merah’s first attack, on March 11, was on a soldier he had contacted on the pretext of wanting to buy his motorcycle.

Gueant said police identified the IP address he used because he was already under surveillance for radical Islamist beliefs.

“We knew, and that is why he was under surveillance, that he had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the minister said.

After Merah’s attack on the Jewish school, police received a tip-off from a scooter repair shop in Toulouse where the gunman asked how to remove a GPS tracker device.

Merah’s telephone was tapped from Monday and with the help of other information the police decided to raid his house.

A group of young men from Merah’s neighbourhood described him as a polite man of slight build who liked football and motorbikes and did not seem particularly religious.

“He isn’t the big bearded guy that you can imagine – you know the cliche,” said Kamal, who declined to give his family name. “When you know a person well you just can’t believe they could have done something like this.”

Merah’s lawyer Christian Etelin, who has defended him in several minor crimes, said that his client had a tendency towards violence that had worsened after a stay in prison and trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“There was his religious engagement, an increasing hatred against the values of a democratic society and a desire to impose what he believes is truth,” Etelin told France 2 television, adding he had not expected this level of violence.

The Jewish victims from the Ozar Hatorah school were buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Parliament speaker Reuben Rivlin said in his eulogy at the hill-top cemetery that the attack was inspired by “wild animals with hatred in their hearts”.

Additional reporting by Jean Decotte and Nick Vinocur in Toulouse; Brian Love, Daniel Flynn, Geert De Clercq, Alexandria Sage and Leigh Thomas in Paris; Joseph Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Police question Strauss-Kahn in French assault case


UPDATE: [1:10 p.m.] Strauss-Kahn was immune from civil suit under international law when suit was filed, his lawyers say.

Monday, Sept. 12
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was questioned by French police on Monday over a complaint of attempted rape, filed after his May arrest in New York in a separate sex assault case that forced him to resign but was later dropped.

Tristane Banon, a journalist and writer some 30 years his junior, says Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2003 in a Paris apartment where he had invited her to interview him for a book she was writing.

The former IMF chief, once seen as a favorite to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency, returned to France after U.S. prosecutors dropped charges last month that he tried to rape a hotel maid.

He was questioned by Paris police for about three hours before leaving the station around 0900 (GMT) in a car without making any comment to journalists.

His French lawyers said in a statement that Strauss-Kahn, who has yet to make any public comment since returning to his Paris home, had asked to be heard by police as soon as scheduling allowed.

Other high profile witnesses, including Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande, have been questioned by police in the case to determine whether they had any knowledge of Banon’s allegations.

One issue is whether her allegations against Strauss-Kahn amount to attempted rape or sexual assault. In France the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases is three years, versus ten years for attempted rape.

Reporting by Nicolas Bertin and Thierry Leveque; Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Peter Graff

Israeli court sentences Birthright assailant


A New Jersey man who assaulted a fellow Birthright Israel participant was sentenced to time served and community service.

Jonathan Haft, 25, was convicted Monday in Israel of aggravated assault for attacking Sherry Kestenbaum, 23, also of New Jersey, last May. He was sentenced to to 2 1/2 months in prison and six months of community service. The prison time has already been served.

Haft also was ordered to pay Kestenbaum about $55,000 in compensation, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Since his release from prison, Haft has been under house arrest at a hotel in Rishon Lezion, the Post reported.

Haft, a martial arts expert, attacked Kestenbaum on May 31 in the hallway of a hotel at a kibbutz guest house near the Dead Sea after she rebuffed his advances, according to reports. Her injuries included multiple broken facial bones, loss of teeth and severe chest contusions that brought on pneumonia.

Kestenbaum told the New York Post Monday that she is afraid Haft will come after her to “finish the job” after he serves his community service time in Israel.

Analysis: Israel seeks to change rules of the game with Gaza assault


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s retaliation against persistent Hamas mortar and rocket attacks on civilians in southern Israel was far more ferocious than anyone, including Hamas, expected.

The first three days of intensive Israel Air Force bombing in Gaza reduced hundreds of Hamas government buildings, military compounds, laboratories, metal workshops and supply tunnels to rubble and left more than 350 Palestinians, most of them militants, dead. But, as the airstrikes continued and Israeli tanks massed on the Israel-Gaza border, it was not clear how much longer the operation would last or how its goals would be achieved.

The security situation in southern Israel deteriorated quickly after Dec. 19, when Hamas declared that a six-month truce with Israel would not be renewed, and it stepped up its Kassam rocket and Iranian-supplied 120 mm mortar attacks on Sderot and other nearby Israeli towns.

Public pressure on the Israeli government to retaliate intensified, and it was clear the countdown to war had begun. On Dec. 24, after some 70 Kassams and mortars slammed into southern Israel in a single day, the government approved a detailed war plan, leaving the timing and precise scope of each phase to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the IDF.

” alt=’Complete Gaza Coverage’ title=’Complete Gaza Coverage’ vspace = 8 hspace = 8 border = 0 align = left>The initial airstrike on Saturday caught Hamas completely by surprise.

In the first wave, which lasted three minutes and 40 seconds, 64 Israeli jets reduced nearly all of Hamas’ military compounds, command-and-control centers and symbols of government to rubble. In the first two attacks, more than 200 people were killed, most of them Hamas militiamen.

The military problem facing Barak and the country’s military planners is twofold: how to stop the Kassam rockets and how to restore Israeli deterrence in the region after eight years of relative inactivity in the face of rocket attacks.

The devastating opening salvo Israel chose was based on what many military analysts see as Israel’s most effective operation in the 2006 Lebanon War: the bombing of the Hezbollah command-and-control center in Beirut’s Dahya district in the first few days of the fighting. Reducing the Dahya to rubble had a profound shock effect on Hezbollah and other leaders across the Middle East, and is seen as one of the main reasons for the current quiet on the Israel-Lebanon border. Now Israeli military planners hope what they call the “Dahya effect” will take effect in Gaza too and eventually deter Hamas from rocketing Israeli civilians.

In a news conference on the first night of the fighting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spelled out the war’s aims: to create a new security reality in the south in which Israeli civilians can live without fear of rocket or terror attacks. According to Israeli government spokesmen, this will be achieved by drastically changing “the rules of the game.” Through the devastating air force attack and an anticipated follow-up ground incursion, Israel’s leaders hope to:

  • send a clear message to Hamas that the price tag for any future rocket attacks on Israel will be intolerably high;
  • severely weaken Hamas’s current military capacity;
  • limit any future Hamas military build-up; and
  • achieve a new cease-fire regime under which Hamas would have to commit to no more rocket fire, no terrorist attacks, no explosive charges near the border and no more weapons’ smuggling.

The understandings would be reached through a third party, probably Egyptian mediation, and kept in place through Israel’s waving of a big deterrent stick. In other words, the aim of the large-scale Israeli operation is to achieve peace and quiet in southern Israel by establishing a new and very different deterrent model.

Many Israelis, however, are skeptical about the efficacy of the proposed deterrent policy. Some argue that the only way the rockets can be stopped would be to reoccupy Gaza. The Likud’s Yuval Steinitz, former chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, urges creating an Israel buffer between Gaza and Egypt to prevent future arms smuggling. Otherwise, Steinitz warns, Hamas will bring rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv, anti-aircraft batteries that could threaten IAF flights in the Negev, and equipment to monitor all Israeli military movements there. “Maybe we would get peace for a year or two, but the price would be a devastating blow to Israel’s national security,” Steinitz told JTA.

Others reject the idea of any reoccupation of Gaza as counterproductive and hope the government will be able to parlay its success on the battlefield into a long-term political agreement with Hamas.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has spoken of a more ambitious aim: toppling the Hamas government. Olmert and Barak, however, consider this unrealistic, and it is not part of the stated war aims. Nor is the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped and taken to Gaza 900 days ago. Clearly the current operation could put Shalit’s life at risk, but it also could create conditions for a prisoner exchange to secure his release. Indeed, some Israeli leaders, including Livni, say Shalit’s release should be an Israeli condition for any future cease-fire.

The devastating Israeli attacks sparked fierce protests and demonstrations across the Arab and Muslim world, in European capitals and among Israeli Arabs.

But, while Israel was widely criticized in the international media, governments across the world did little to stop the fighting. And despite their public posture criticizing Israel’s “barbarity,” some moderate Arab leaders were not sorry to see Hamas taking a beating — much as, two years ago, they were not sorry to see Hezbollah take a beating in the early days of the 2006 Lebanon War.

The Israel-Hamas clash reflected in microcosm the regional struggle between the pro-Western moderates led by Egypt and the radicals led by Iran. Both Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, while strongly condemning the Israeli operation, highlighted the fact that they had urged Hamas leaders to renew the cease-fire and warned them what would happen if they didn’t.

In the first three days of fighting, Hamas fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel, killing at least four civilians. Still, the mood in the country remains strongly supportive of the war, especially in the south, where people see in it the best hope of a more peaceful tomorrow. With elections just over a month away, political support for the war has been wall-to-wall in the Knesset, with the exception of the Israeli Arab parties, who are vehemently opposed. There also has been a degree of reservation on the left wing at the extent of the devastation in Gaza, with calls on the government to start working immediately on an exit strategy to the end the fighting.

Indeed, after three days of fighting, Olmert, Barak and Livni, the three leaders running the war, were moving in two contrary directions, preparing both a ground invasion and an early exit strategy that would translate the IDF’s overwhelming military success into a stable political solution on the ground.

Let bygones (not) be bygones


That’s it?

Twelve-hundred-and-eight words, and we’re supposed to forget the months of ugly that came before?

Not so fast.

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.”

A gracious gesture, and — poof! — the “Country First” ticket is off the hook, just like that, for the lying, red-baiting, character assassination, rabble-rousing, and calculated polarization that preceded it?

I don’t think so.

A dog that behaved that badly would be sent to obedience school. A child who was that reckless would face consequences up the wazoo. But just because Americans are good people, a campaign’s end requires us to willingly come down with a national case of amnesia?

Gimme a break.

What an insult it is to the idea of accountability, this notion that responsibility for the ugly emotions unleashed by demagoguery is wiped away by a concession speech. What an affront to the dignity of democracy, this remorseless draining of meaning from language, this quadrennial rush to retroactively trivialize our public discourse.

The most pernicious aspect of the media-political complex we are saddled with is its addiction to postmodern irony. Educated people are supposed to understand that politics is just theater, a pageant designed to entertain us, a Punch and Judy show whose audience realizes it’s not real. Politics is only a game, you see, a sport — a blood sport, to be sure, but the teams aren’t actually warriors, they’re performers, and their combat is ritual, not real.

You think these candidates mean what they say? Grow up, says the professional commentariat. Don’t you get it? These politicians are winking at you. They know it’s just kabuki. Don’t take this stuff seriously.

So John McCain — while claiming that not he’s not impugning Barack Obama’s patriotism — impugns Barack Obama’s patriotism, but we’re supposed to understand that it doesn’t really matter, because that’s just what people do in campaigns.

So Sarah Palin says that Obama pals around with terrorists, and she incites her crowds to look for pitchforks, but we’re supposed to believe that Pandora can just shoo the evil back into the box come Election Day.

So Rudy Giuliani bares his teeth on national television, but because he laughs with startled delight at the rancor he unleashes in his listeners, we’re supposed to construe his snarling as a harmless charade.

So the ads on America’s airwaves relentlessly pound into our national psyche the message that “liberal” is akin to traitor, that Obama is dishonorable, that he is opportunistically lying when he claims to dissent from “God damn America” – and the press covers the slurs as merely tactical maneuvers, as though the country could just take a shower once the campaign is over and wash the silly slime off its body, as though no damage had been done to the nation because no one serious takes any of this stuff seriously.

Yes, I know that some of Obama’s ads earned the ire of independent fact checkers. I realize that political rhetoric isn’t the same thing as sworn testimony. And I recognize that campaigns in America’s past have crawled with calumny even worse than this one.

But I also think that our yearning for post-election healing, our hunger for common ground, is risky. There is something wonderfully redemptive in our belief in national reconciliation. But there is also in it something naïve and self-destructive and dangerous.

Have we so quickly forgotten the rank hypocrisy of George W. Bush running as “a uniter, not a divider”? Have we no recollection of the fatuous hollowness of his inaugural promises to reach across the aisle? Is it too dispiriting to recall that his search for common ground turned out to mean “my way or the highway”? Is it just too difficult to remember the eight years during which principled dissent was demonized as being “with the terrorists”?

On Inauguration Day, no doubt Barack Obama will come up with something gracious to say about the worst president in history, just as he was generous in his victory speech to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and open-armed to their supporters.

But it does no good to pretend that the politics of personal destruction is harmless to democracy, to ignore how corrosive campaigns can be, to comfort oneself — as the punditocracy does — with the sophisticated nostrum that it’s only politics, so get over it.

Call me churlish, but I think that along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions. And if you think that words — the currency of campaigns — aren’t actions, if you believe that rhetoric doesn’t matter, if you treat politics as just another branch of show biz, well then, you’re pretty much a sitting duck for the next demagogue to come along.

Forgive and forget? Not just yet.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Record anti-Semitism weighs heavily on British Jews


With anti-Semitism in Britain at record levels, life is changing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the country’s Jews.

Armed guards escort Orthodox Jews in Manchester walking to synagogue. Vendors sell Arabic-language editions of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” outside train stations. Academic and labor unions routinely issue calls to boycott the Jewish state.

Jews in Britain say they feel a growing sense of unease and insecurity.

“Jews today, compared with three or four years ago, are feeling increasingly worried about anti-Semitism,” said Mark Gardner, a spokesman for the Community Security Trust (CST), the organization charged with providing security for the country’s Jews.

Apparently they have good reason to worry. A recent CST report showed that all forms of anti-Semitism in Britain increased in 2006.

Last year saw the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Britain since recordkeeping began in 1984 — a 33 percent increase over the previous year. Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have doubled in the last decade.

Jews are violently assaulted and subjected to threats. Schoolchildren face abuse. Communal property and synagogues are damaged and desecrated. And Britain is home to a growing cottage industry of mass-produced, anti-Semitic literature.

The sharp rise in anti-Semitism has not gone unnoticed in Parliament, which in 2005 formed an investigative committee to address the Jewish community’s concerns.

In its first report in September 2006, the All Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism recommended investigating the reason for the low number of prosecutions of anti-Semitic crimes and developing strategies to combat rising anti-Semitism. The report found that only a minority of police forces in the country were even equipped to record hate crimes as anti-Semitic incidents.

“Anti-Semitism has not been taken as seriously as other forms of hatred in some parts of our society,” Iain Wright, the parliamentary undersecretary of state for communities and local government, acknowledged this summer.

Wright pledged to significantly increase funding for monitoring and classifying anti-Semitism as a hate crime.

But are any of these responses to the problem making Jews feel safer?

In some communities, residents are volunteering to help provide security for Jews.

“Community leaders are trying to find ways to harness the fact that people want to help,” Gardner said.

For secular Jews in Britain, who may not be subject to the same street dangers that visibly Orthodox Jews face, the country’s increasingly populist anti-Israeli campaigns have been unsettling.

“When people start talking about how terrible Israel is behaving, I feel sensitive about it and how it might possibly be linked to anti-Semitism, even if it wasn’t meant that way,” said Lauren Tobias, who works in London. “Then I find myself acting very defensive.”

Gardner said the boycott Israel movement “has an anti-Semitic impact psychologically on the Jewish community. Boycotts remind us of the Nazi boycott of Jews.”

One British journalist, Richard Littlejohn, said bashing Israel has become so trendy that it is “this year’s AIDS ribbon.”

As in other places in Europe, anti-Semitism in Britain isn’t limited to the extreme right. On the far left, in unions and other forums where liberal-leaning Jews once felt politically at home, activists now leading the charge against Israel are driving Jews away.

Josephine Bacon, director of a Hebrew and Yiddish translation company, said she feels under attack at her volunteer office job in the Labor Party.

“I get incredible hostility at work at the Camden Labor Party,” said Bacon, who holds dual British and Israeli citizenship. “The only reason it’s not the same as the anti-Semitism of the ’30s is that Israel exists now.”

Bacon says many Jews are “voting with their feet” and cutting ties with the Labor Party, Bacon said, or “if they stay in the party, they don’t talk about their past.”

Anti-Israel activists by and large reject accusations that their campaigns are anti-Semitic. Ian McDonald, a senior lecturer from Brighton who supports the University College Union’s proposed academic boycott of Israel, said in debates about the boycott, “We have to challenge the notion that to be anti-Zionist is to be anti-Semitic.”

At a recent debate on the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, Wright called the boycott proposal “anti-Jewish in principle.” But that pronouncement hasn’t changed matters much on the streets.

Last year the CST launched a program to safeguard Jewish schools and community centers, pledging more than $6 million over a three-year period to install bomb-proof windows in some 600 community buildings.

Despite those efforts to help religious communities across the country beef up security, for some it hasn’t been enough.

British Jews are choosing to move to Israel in record numbers. British aliyah last year set a new record with 738 new immigrants, a two-thirds increase over the year before, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Nevertheless, agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said he doesn’t believe the aliyah is the result of British Jews fleeing anti-Semitism at home.

“By and large the reasons for aliyah are positive ones,” he said.

Bacon said that despite the hostility she faces in Britain, she has no plans to move.

“I’m determined to tough it out,” she said. “I think that the current wave of anti-Semitism will eventually die out. But I can’t say how soon.”

The report is available at

Community Divided Over Hillel Rabbi


The UCLA Hillel rabbi who allegedly lost his temper and kicked a freelance journalist who called him a derogatory name could be required to undergo anger management training, counseling or worse for his reported actions.

On Dec. 1, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and Rachel Neuwirth will meet separately with a city attorney hearing officer in Los Angeles to try to sort through the facts of his reported physical assault on her. Afterward, the hearing officer will mete out the appropriate punishment to Seidler-Feller, if merited, said Eric Moses, the city attorney’s director of public relations. It is possible the hearing officer could recommend that criminal charges be brought against Seidler-Feller.

Robert Esensten, Neuwirth’s lawyer, said that’s exactly what he wants. The city attorney has so far opted not to pursue them because witnesses have given conflicting testimony, making it difficult to obtain a jury conviction, Moses said.

Esensten said that Neuwirth has suffered emotionally and physically from the alleged attack, including bruising and soreness throughout her body. She plans to file a civil suit soon, he said, although he would not say when.

At the hearing, Seidler-Feller’s attorney Donald Etra said he would propose that "both sides shake hands and make peace." Etra also said Seidler-Feller was "sorry that there was an incident and that anybody took offense."

Etra said Seidler-Feller does not want to have Neuwirth prosecuted for having committed a hate crime by calling the rabbi a kapo. (Kapo is a pejorative term for the Jews who collaborated with Nazis in concentration camps during World War II.)

Legal experts question whether such an act meets the definition of a hate crime. The only police report filed to date involves Seidler-Feller’s alleged actions, Moses said.

"This is simply spin trying to divert the attention away from the batterer, aggressor and wrongdoer," Esensten said. "You don’t need to go to the yeshiva to know that men don’t hit women."

This affair has divided the community, primarily along partisan lines. Many dovish Jews critical of the Sharon government have come to the rabbi’s defense and point to his long service in the community. Jews more distrustful of the Arab world and the value of interfaith dialogue promoted by Seidler-Feller have called for his ouster. Either way, "the debate has become about ideology, which it shouldn’t be," said Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, president of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) Pacific Southwest Region.

His colleague, Gary Ratner, said he thinks Hillel should demand Seidler-Feller’s resignation or fire him. He also said the left’s relative silence has troubled him.

"What you have are liberal people who I know have been at the forefront of defending women’s rights, gay rights, anybody’s rights, who abhor violence, but are defending someone who committed violence against women," said Ratner, AJCongress’ western region executive director.

Etra intimated that those criticizing the rabbi have done so for political purposes and seem to have an agenda to "blow a minor incident out of proportion," Etra said. "I don’t know if it’s Ms. Neuwirth or someone else."

Neuwirth’s attorney called that a complete distortion and has nothing to do with politics.

Seidler-Feller allegedly attacked reporter Neuwirth on Oct. 21, when the two encountered each other outside UCLA’s Royce Hall after an Alan Dershowitz speech. The pair started arguing after Neuwirth overheard the rabbi inviting a group of protesting pro-Palestinian activists to a Hillel-sponsored event featuring Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian representative for Jerusalem. Nusseibeh has been accused of advising Saddam Hussein to launch Scud missiles toward Israel’s population centers to kill the maximum number of civilians.

In the midst of Seidler-Feller and Neuwirth’s heated exchange, Seidler-Feller allegedly grabbed the mother of two and former player on the Israeli national basketball team. Then he allegedly pushed and kicked Neuwirth. Whether she called him a kapo before or after the reported assault is also in dispute.

After four onlookers separated them, Seidler-Feller tried to charge Neuwirth, said Ross Neihaus, the president of Bruins for Israel, the pro-Israel student group at UCLA, who said he helped restrain the rabbi.

Neihaus told The Journal that the rabbi has been under pressure in recent years because of attacks on his political views and the challenge of raising millions for Hillel’s new building. Neihaus said he respects the rabbi, but thinks Seidler-Feller should voluntarily take up to a one-year sabbatical and issue a public apology for his actions.

"I’m concerned that Jewish students thinking about being involved in Hillel will attach a [stigma] to it and shy away because of the negative publicity," Neihaus said.

In the aftermath of the altercation, UCLA Hillel students last week held a special session on Thursday, Nov. 6. Emily Kane, co-president of the university’s Hillel student board, said reactions have been mixed. She called Seidler-Feller an important player in the Jewish community. Still, his alleged actions have disappointed her.

"I’m very surprised. He’s a peacenik from way back," Kane said.

In a written statement, Hillel’s interim President Avraham Infeld said the group is monitoring the situation closely and expected to put all questions to rest after an upcoming city attorney’s hearing.

Rabbi Robert Gan, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said his organization has historically not taken positions on such matters. He said has a deep respect for Seidler-Feller and what he’s accomplished at UCLA’s Hillel over the years.

"He’s a prominent, responsible, principled, committed, dynamic rabbi and has been for years," Gan said. "There’s no more decent person in this community. You have to take that into consideration in terms of whatever might have happened."

Rabbi Simeon Kolko, a former Hillel rabbi at Penn State and the Rochester Institute of Technology, said Jewish law permits the use of physical force only if a person’s well-being or life is endangered. Based on those talmudic tenets, there exists no justification for Seidler-Feller’s alleged actions, he said.

Kolko, now the rabbi at Beth Israel Temple Center in Warren, Ohio, said Seidler-Feller has blackened the Jewish community’s reputation. "He has not only brought shame to himself, suffering to another person but also disrepute to Judaism and the Hillel movement."

While Jeff Rubin, Hillel’s director of communications in Washington, D.C., would not comment on the situation, he did say that he is unaware of any Hillel rabbi physically attacking someone. Hillel has more than 450 chapters in North America.

The last time a rabbi publicly came to blows with someone was in Palm Beach, Fla. in November 1999. During a contentious Temple Emanu-El executive board meeting, famous Soviet Refusenik and charismatic Conservative Rabbi Leonid Feldman punched congregational President Stephen Levin. The next morning, Feldman apologized to all, and stayed at the synagogue for another four months before voluntarily resigning in order not to tear the community apart, he told The Journal.

Feldman’s situation is different from Seidler-Feller’s, he said, refusing to comment directly on the case. Feldman said it differed because it involved a congregational president "who made my life miserable," and "there was never any call for me to resign," he said.

Feldman took a position at another synagogue, Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach, where he has tripled synagogue membership, he said. In the process of landing his new job, he received a three-year suspension (which ended in August) from the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly for bypassing the organization’s placement service. The suspension was unrelated to the fight, he said.

Here in Los Angeles on the other sunny coast, many in the community are calling for forgiveness, citing Seidler-Feller’s commitment to tolerance, interfaith dialogue and fundraising.

UCLA Hillel board member David Lehrer said Seidler-Feller’s commitment to Judaism and educating young people is unparalleled. He said the rabbi had made a mistake but that it should be put in perspective.

This is not the first time that Seidler-Feller has had run-ins with his political opponents.

In March at an event sponsored by StandWithUs — a pro-Israel grass-roots organization that has locked horns with Seidler-Feller — two of the group’s supporters said that Seidler-Feller yelled at the speakers during the question-and-answer session, demanding to know whether they supported the two-state solution. StandWithUs consultant Roberta Seid, one of the panelists, said she told Seidler-Feller that they weren’t there to discuss the issue, adding that she thought Israel has been unfairly vilified. Seid said that Seidler-Feller stormed out of the room before an audience of 100.

"I was very taken aback. I didn’t know why he was being so hostile," said Seid, a self-described Clinton Democrat who said she favors the two-state solution.

Another StandWithUs supporter, Bracha Friedman, said that two years ago when Seidler-Feller showed up to one of StandWithUs’ inaugural meetings in Beverly Hills, he interrupted speakers, telling them to "shush" and told them that they were wrong, Friedman said. He behaved so boorishly he was asked to leave, she said. Before he leaving, Friedman said she saw Seidler-Feller and another man pushing.

Seidler-Feller, at the advice of his lawyer, declined to comment. His attorney, Etra, said he had no knowledge about his client’s alleged blowups. Seidler-Feller is passionate about his job, religion and mission, Etra said.

David Suissa, one of the rabbi’s supporters who tried to negotiate a rapprochement between the two parties, said that the rabbi is an emotional man who rarely shies away from a heated debate.

"If somebody pushes his buttons, he’ll get upset and confront them verbally," said Suissa, the founder and editor of Olam Magazine.

Suissa believes that perhaps some good can come out this affair. He said he hoped the brouhaha would lead Jews to learn how to disagree with one another more respectfully. The community has become too polarized and lost civility, he said. Perhaps this tragedy might lead people to avoid crossing "the red lines," he added.

Dr. Sheldon Wolf, a professor at UCLA Medical School, has given money to StandWithUs and considers himself politically conservative in the Israeli-Palestinian debate. Still, he considers himself one of Seidler-Feller’s strongest supporters and thinks those calling for the rabbi’s ouster are misguided.

Wolf and his wife have attended Seidler-Feller’s services at Hillel for eight years and audited two of the undergraduate courses he teaches at UCLA. He said the rabbi’s tireless work to build good relation’s between the campus’ Jews and Muslims has done more than simply generate goodwill.

"I think the lack of violence at the UCLA campus, first between blacks and Jews and now between Muslims and Jews, is largely a result of his efforts," Wolf said. "The guy’s almost saintly in his goodness."

Briefs


ADL Assists in OC White Supremacists
Arrest

Orange County authorities arrested two white supremacist leaders this week, and charged them with having bomb-making materials in 1999, including enough gasoline – 50 gallons worth – to blow up the Anaheim apartment building in which they lived.

The Nov. 18 arrests were the results of an ongoing partnership between the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and law enforcement, “in monitoring these people and the extremists groups that they belong to,” said Sue Stengel, ADL Western States counsel.

Authorities searching the apartment of Christine Greenwood, 28, and her live-in boyfriend, John Patrick McCabe, 23, also found razor blades, BB pellets, nails, battery-operated clocks that could be used as timers and a shopping list of bomb-making materials. Authorities said that the couple did not appear to have a specific target.

“ADL knows that these individuals have recruited, held meetings and hosted white power concerts in Orange Country for the past several years. As many as 150 people have been known to attend some of the these events, which serve to indoctrinate attendees into lives dedicated to hate,” said Joyce Greenspan, director of ADL’s Orange County/Long Beach region.

Greenwood was active in Women for Aryan Unity and organized a clothing drive for racist families. Both were among Southern California’s most active and influential white supremacists, according to the ADL.

A third suspect, John Frederick Steele II, 29, was charged with perjury and falsifying financial statements required by his probation officer. Steele is the leader of California’s Aryan Nations chapter, known as the Brandenburg Division. A search of Steele’s home on Monday turned up a letter urging for white supremacists to align themselves with Palestinian extremists and target Jews.

The three were being detained in the Orange County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

“We’ve been working for several months on this case,” Stengel said. “Once we knew that there was going to be one or more arrests, we encouraged the Orange County D.A.’s office, which played an enormous role in capturing them, to hold a press conference announcing the arrests. The public really had a need and a right to know that there were white supremacists were active in the Orange County area.”

Meanwhile, in Northern California, white supremacist Benjamin Williams was found dead Sunday in his Shasta County Jail cell while serving time for torching three synagogues and awaiting trial for allegedly killing a gay couple.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Williams, 34, was discovered dead, with cuts to his legs and arms, after he didn’t respond to a call for breakfast at around 6:30 a.m., said Redding Police Sgt. Dan Kupsky. An autopsy is scheduled to determine the cause of death, police said. – Staff Report

Fund Helps Disabled Girls Attend Day
School

With the help of Etta Israel’s Ner Shoshana Fund, six developmentally disabled girls are now attending Bais Yaakov, an Orthodox girls’ high school in Los Angeles. The yeshiva is serving as the first host school to this new program, which was named for Shoshana Greenbaum, a New York and Los Angeles day school teacher who was a victim in the Sbarro pizza restaurant bombing in Jerusalem on Aug. 9, 2001.

Due to their limitations, the teens had no choice but to attend public school, as there was no day school program that could accommodate them.

“The [girls’] parents are in tears every day,” said Dr. Michael Held, the director of the Etta Israel Center. “They can’t believe [the girls] are in a Jewish day school.”

In addition to regular academic subjects, the students are offered classes like art therapy, music therapy, dance and physical education.

Students in the regular Bais Yaakov program have been reaching out to their new friends by visiting them in their new classroom and Etta Israel hopes to create other Ner Shoshana programs at other host schools. “It’s very inspiring,” Held said. “Instead of defensive isolation in a yellow school bus, these students get to interact with other kids.” – Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Jewish Home Holds Walk of Ages III

Let’s hope the nice weather holds. On Dec. 8, the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) is holding “Walk of Ages III,” their third-annual 5k walk/run. Proceeds from the event will be used toward new and upgraded facilities for JHA, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in April.

Last year, participants raised $170,000 to benefit JHA, and this year’s goal is to pass the $200,000 mark, according to Walk chairman Shelly Markman. He said he was a little worried about the economy’s affect on fundraising, but he has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of money already raised – $120,000 at press time. The event is being sponsored by a huge slate of local businesses and organizations including Wells Fargo, Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center and B’nai B’rith.

Actor Jon Voight is the honorary chair and 104-year-old Sylvia Harmatz, JHA’s oldest resident, will reprise her role as grand marshal.

Western Bagel and Big Chill Yogurt will be there with refreshments for Walk participants, and there will be a drawing for a trip to Hawaii, with each walker eligible for one ticket per every $500 they raise, to be held at a special dinner in January for major fundraisers.

For registration, call (818) 774-3100 or visit

The Self-Denying Prophecy


This address was given Sept. 17, 2002, at morning prayers at Harvard University’s Memorial Church in Cambridge, Mass.

I speak with you today, not as president of [Harvard] University, but as a concerned member of our community, about something that I never thought I would become seriously worried about — the issue of anti-Semitism.

I am Jewish — identified, but hardly devout. In my lifetime, anti-Semitism has been remote from my experience. My family all left Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. The Holocaust is, for me, a matter of history, not personal memory. To be sure, there were country clubs where I grew up that had few, if any, Jewish members, but not ones that included people I knew. My experience in college and graduate school, as a faculty member, as a government official — all involved little notice of my religion.

Indeed, I was struck during my years in the Clinton administration that the existence of an economic leadership team with people like Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Charlene Barshefsky and many others that was very heavily Jewish passed without comment or notice — it was something that would have been inconceivable a generation or two ago, as indeed it would have been inconceivable a generation or two ago that Harvard could have a Jewish president.

Without thinking about it much, I attributed all of this to progress — to an ascendancy of enlightenment and tolerance. A view that prejudice is increasingly put aside. A view that while the politics of the Middle East was enormously complex, and contentious, the question of the right of a Jewish state to exist had been settled in the affirmative by the world community.

But today, I am less complacent. Less complacent and comfortable, because there is disturbing evidence of an upturn in anti-Semitism globally, and also because of some developments closer to home.

Consider some of the global events of the last year:

There have been synagogue burnings, physical assaults on Jews, the painting of swastikas on Jewish memorials in every country in Europe. Observers in many countries have pointed to the worst outbreak of attacks against the Jews since World War II.

Candidates who denied the significance of the Holocaust reached the runoff stage of elections for the nation’s highest office in France and Denmark. State-sponsored television stations in many nations of the world spew anti-Zionist propaganda.

The United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Racism — while failing to mention human rights abuses in China, Rwanda or anyplace in the Arab world — spoke of Israel’s policies prior to recent struggles under the Barak government as constituting ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The NGO declaration at the same conference was even more virulent. I could go on, but I want to bring this closer to home. Of course academic communities should be, and always will be, places that allow any viewpoint to be expressed. And certainly there is much to be debated about the Middle East and much in Israel’s foreign and defense policy that can be, and should be, vigorously challenged.

But where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.

For example:

• Hundreds of European academics have called for an end to support for Israeli researchers, though not for an end to support for researchers from any other nation.

• Israeli scholars this past spring were forced off the board of an international literature journal.

• At the same rallies where protesters, many of them university students, condemn the [International Monetary Fund] IMF and global capitalism and raise questions about globalization, it is becoming increasingly common to also lash out at Israel. Indeed, at the anti-IMF rallies last spring, chants were heard equating Hitler and Sharon.

• Events to raise funds for organizations of questionable political provenance, that in some cases were later found to support terrorism, have been held by student organizations on this and other campuses with at least modest success and very little criticism.

• And some here at Harvard, and some at universities across the country, have called for the university to single out Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of the university’s endowment to be invested. I hasten to say the university has categorically rejected this suggestion. We should always respect the academic freedom of everyone to take any position. We should also recall that academic freedom does not include freedom from criticism. The only antidote to dangerous ideas is strong alternatives vigorously advocated.

I have always, throughout my life, been put off by those who heard the sound of breaking glass, in every insult or slight, and conjured up images of Hitler’s Kristallnacht at any disagreement with Israel. Such views have always seemed to me alarmist, if not slightly hysterical. But I have to say that while they still seem to me unwarranted, they seem rather less alarmist in the world of today than they did a year ago.

I would like nothing more than to be wrong. It is my greatest hope and prayer that the idea of a rise of anti-Semitism proves to be a self-denying prophecy — a prediction that carries the seeds of its own falsification. But this depends on all of us.

Lawrence H. Summers is president of Harvard University.

Battle of the Iranians


After an evening of social drinking and dancing at a well-publicized Persian Night at the Goodbar nightclub in West Hollywood, some 20 young Iranian Muslims followed two young Iranian Jews into the street and, amidst shouts of “F–k the Jews, Kill the Jews,” attacked the two.

The incident, shocking in itself, raises larger questions about the relationships between the Iranian Muslim community in Southern California, estimated at anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million, and the Iranian Jewish community of 30,000, each the largest of its kind in the United States.

(In the following story, references to “Jews” mean Jews of Iranian descent, and “Muslims” stand for Muslims of Iranian descent.)

The Attack

Goodbar, at Doheny Drive and Sunset Boulevard, a frequent target of neighbors’ complaints, had been booked, in advance of Yom Kippur, for three Jewish birthday parties on Saturday night, Sept. 14.

There were about 200 young people at the club throughout the evening, said manager Ivan Urlich, but he sensed no tensions and the place closed at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

“Usually, when there is a fight, it starts in the club and we throw out the troublemakers,” Urlich said. “But this time, there was no trouble inside.”

Fareed Kanani and his friend Michael Kashany, both 25, left the club shortly before 2 a.m.

“We were walking and turned around and saw between 15 to 20 guys following us,” Kanani recalled. “They asked us, ‘Are you Jewish?’ and I said, ‘That’s irrelevant.’ Then they started shouting, in Farsi and English, ‘We’ll kill all the Jews,’ and started punching us.”

Kanani stands 6 feet 3 inches and Kashany is 6 feet tall; both are in pretty good shape and fought back as best they could. “These guys weren’t drunk, and they really wanted to kill us,” Kanani said.

After some 10 minutes of fighting, the two Jews made a break for a nearby high-rise apartment, where they were shielded by a security guard until the police arrived.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested five Muslims, but Kashany and Kanani could identify only two, Daoud Mohammed Mavid and Mohammed Hassan Aref, as among the attackers.

The two Muslims were arrested and booked on a charge of assault with intent to inflict great bodily injury and committing a hate crime. They posted bail at $55,000 each.

Detective Scott Petz of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s office said that he is still checking for additional suspects. He will submit the case to the district attorney in about two weeks, while Mavid and Aref will be arraigned Nov. 18.

Kanani suffered a broken nose and Kashany cuts and bruises. “We’re both strong physically and psychologically, but the thought that they actually wanted to kill us is a very scary thought, a very disturbing thought,” Kanani said.

“It’s been a great shock, but I wouldn’t blame all Muslims,” Kashany said. “I’m really cool with some Muslims, but they also have their punks and extremists.”

The Jewish View

There are strong generational differences in both the Muslim and Jewish communities, according to Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations (CIAJO).

Within the older generation, there is still the shared experience of living together in the old country, and strong ties to the homeland.

“However, in the generation born in America, the young Muslims are more Muslim than Iranian, and the young Jews are more Jewish than Iranian,” Dayanim said.

“I believe that there has been an increase in fundamentalist Islamic activity in Los Angeles and Orange County, which has led to greater anti-Semitism,” he said.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, sees the relationship between Muslims and Jews as generally good.

“We meet and work together at the Iranian Center and Rotary Club and we go to the same concerts and restaurants,” he said. One distinctive difference, though, is that the Jews have organized a social and administrative structure much faster and better than the Muslims.

George Haroonian, the CIAJO president, observed that, “Muslims are not used to seeing Jews openly assert their Jewishness. In Iran, we kept a very low profile.”

At the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, Associate Director Marjan Keypour Greenblatt reported a growing number of incidents between Iranian Jews and Muslims.

“The cases are not as virulent as attacks by white supremacists, but they do show the need for community leaders to pay close attention to the problem of anti-Semitism.”

The Muslim View

Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah, president of the Iranian Muslim Association of North America, said he doesn’t like people who turn their personal problems into religious and community confrontations.

“Suppose you have a Jewish and Muslim person as business partners. They have a fight over a business matter, but then try to make it into a fight between the two communities,” he said.

As for the West Hollywood incident, “The kids go to a nightclub, they have too much alcohol, they have a fight, but they have no right to make it into a religious problem.”

Namazikhah, a dentist and recently retired USC faculty member, said that “some of his best friends are Jewish” and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has aroused certain sensitivities among local Muslims and Jews.

“I hope we can stay away from this topic,” he said. “There is no way one side here can convince the other, and we can’t solve the problem of the Middle East here.”

A Muslim who serves as a Beverly Hills commissioner, but asked that his name not be used, agrees that the American-born Muslims and Jews differ greatly from their Iranian-born parents.

Surprisingly, he thinks that the Jewish community has retained closer cultural and linguistic ties with Iran than their Muslim counterparts.

He ascribed that phenomenon to the more cohesive Jewish religious practice, in which even young people attend and participate in the Farsi services.

“I see many more children and young people in the synagogue than in the mosque,” the commissioner said. “I talk to Jewish kids and they speak Farsi as if they were born in Iran. My kids grew up on the East Coast, they went to American schools and they refuse to speak Farsi.”

On Campus

The generally conciliatory picture of Jewish-Muslim relations painted by community leaders is sharply contradicted by two Jewish students at UCLA.

“The relationship has changed completely since the intifada started two years ago,” said 24-year-old history major David Yadegav.

“There was always anti-Semitism [by the Muslims], but it was hidden,” he said. “Now we are witnessing their true feelings. When we held an Israel support rally, the Muslims showed up with Hamas headbands.”

Yadegav believes that the anti-Semitism is also fueled by the success, financial and otherwise, of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles, as compared to the Muslims. “There’s a lot of envy,” he said.

Yoav Sarras, 22, also majoring in history, is on the board of the Persian American Jewish Organization, which represents some 400 Jewish students on campus. (For some reason, the older generation considers itself “Iranian,” and the younger generation “Persian.”)

Sarras pretty much agrees with Yadegav’s take on the situation.

“You would think that on a college campus we would be able to build bridges between us, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” he said. “Maybe the old resentments and jealousies have only become stronger with the situation in the Middle East.”

Self-Defense Vitalfor Women


Each year in January, female friends, co-workers and family members of Nicola Shocket can count on receiving a phone call or e-mail. The message isn’t a New Year’s greeting or birthday invitation. The 39-year-old executive-search consultant wants them to join her at a four-hour self-defense class given by the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women (LACAAW).

January marks an anniversary for Shocket. Fifteen years ago, in a downtown L.A. parking structure stairwell, Shocket was raped at knifepoint on her way to the office. Soon afterward, she signed up for LACAAW’s self-defense class as a way to combat her feelings of vulnerability.

The LACAAW class teaches women how to help prevent or escape an assault. Participants learn punches, kicks and other physical techniques to fight off an attacker of superior strength and size. But more than the physical techniques, LACAAW emphasizes the psychological elements of self-defense.

"We use an empowerment model," says Denice Labertew, project director for LACAAW, who taught Shocket’s class this year. "The goal is to provide options and choices which could be viable at any given moment."

Labertew and other instructors explain that assertiveness plays a key role in self-defense. They note that more than 80 percent of potential physical attacks can be avoided by using assertive responses — some as simple as yelling "No!"

"Assertiveness means defending yourself physically and emotionally," Labertew says. So a good portion of class time is devoted to helping women practice affirming their rights and setting boundaries.

In Shocket’s group, participants role-play, responding to situations ranging from being approached by a stranger in a parking lot to fending off flirtations from the office delivery man. They learn to use their words, voice and body to communicate firmly and clearly.

Instructor Leslie Bockian, who taught Shocket’s group last year, works to help women overcome the tendency to be polite, even in questionable circumstances. She notes that attackers tend to test a victim’s degree of compliance in determining whether to strike. They will often make requests for assistance, such as asking a woman to locate something for them on a map. "You decide whether or not to help, how close the questioner can get, and how long the interaction should last," Bockian tells participants. "You’re the one in control."

Awareness is another key component to self-defense, and for LACAAW, that involves debunking myths about rape such as the woman "caused" it, that women are helpless or that most rapes are committed by strangers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 75 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by people known to their victims.

Bockian says that although it might seem obvious, women must pay attention to their surroundings. Merely noticing a potential attacker’s presence may be enough to dissuade him because it ruins the element of surprise. Equally important, women need to trust their instincts, since gut feelings often signal lurking danger.

For those instances when physical contact occurs, LACAAW teaches techniques for escaping an assailant’s grasp and for disabling him long enough to flee by targeting vulnerable areas of his body.

Shocket says LACAAW has given her invaluable new strengths. "I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I’m more confident. I feel better prepared to deal with whatever situation might arise." Now, she wants to share her knowledge.

"I know the thought of taking a self-defense class can be intimidating, and it’s easier to just put off doing it. So I decided to encourage others to take care of themselves by making it easier for them to participate."

Shocket estimates that she has recruited more than 100 class participants, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. Later this year, she plans to attend LACAAW’s Woman Warrior Weekend, a more extensive, 12-hour workshop involving simulated attacks by trained, padded instructors.

"I want people to walk away from the class knowing they can take care of themselves. I want them to feel more confident, that they’re not helpless in any situation. People think it won’t happen to them — I didn’t think it would happen to me. But if I can prevent this for just one person, well, that’s my goal."

Labertew hopes women will see self-defense as an important component of women’s health. "Like getting a manicure or a massage, taking a self-defense class is one of those things you do to take care of yourself. Four hours is not too much to spend to make yourself safer."

The Divorce Force


By J.J. Goldberg

Gangs of masked, Yiddish-speaking thugs inBrooklyn have been abducting Orthodox Jewish men and beating themsavagely to force them into granting their wives a religious divorce,or get, according to several men who say they were victims of such assaults.The beatings allegedly were ordered by an Orthodox rabbinicalcourt.

The story surfaced just before Purim, but it’s nojoke. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office is investigating twocases and may submit evidence to a grand jury within weeks, the DA’sspokesman says. Newsday, a local daily, reports that it has uneartheda dozen such get-related assaults.

One of the alleged victims, Abraham Rubin, filed a$100 million civil racketeering lawsuit in state court in Januaryagainst the people he claims attacked him. The suit names severalprominent rabbis charged with authorizing the assault.

Also named is America’s second-largest Orthodoxrabbinic association, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the UnitedStates and Canada, which the lawsuit says acted “in conspiracy” withsome of the accused rabbis. The union’s executive vice president,Rabbi Hersh Ginsberg, says that his group had “nothing to do” withany beatings, adding: “We have 500 members, so whatever a member mayor may not do has nothing to do with us.”

The union last won headlines on the eve of Purim1997 by decreeing that Reform and Conservative Judaism were notJudaism. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest Orthodox rabbinic group inAmerica. Often derided by critics as marginal, the union’s membershipincludes some of the leading Talmudic authorities in traditionalOrthodoxy.

The allegations are the latest twist in acontinuing Orthodox debate over the fate of agunot, or “chainedwomen”—women who cannot remarry, because their husbands won’t givethem a get. In rabbinic law, the divorce document can only beinitiated by the husband. An ex-wife without a get is still a wifeand may not remarry, though a husband without a get may sometimestake a second wife.

Women’s rights advocates say that husbands oftenuse the get to extort better financial or child-custody terms than acivil court might grant. Many agunot, activists say, are womenfleeing abuse. Their number is unknown, but some activists put it inthe thousands.

Rumors of get-related beatings have beencirculating for years, but “there’s never been any hard evidence,“said Susan Aranoff, who is with the women’s rights group Agunah Inc.“We think it’s barbaric.”

A beating is rumored to cost about $5,000,including rabbinical court fees.

Rubin and his attorney, Thomas Stickel, held apress conference last week with five other Orthodox men who claimedto be victims of get attacks, including one beaten in 1992 bybat-wielding, Yiddish-speaking thugs in ski masks. Stickel believesthe same group of rabbis ordered most of the assaults.

Rubin’s lawsuit paints a sad picture of a 1986marriage that ended in 1990, when his wife, Chaya, fled to Canadawith the children. She agreed to settle their dispute in rabbinicalcourt, the suit says, but, instead, she obtained a civil divorce inMontreal in 1992. Then she asked for a get.

Beginning in 1995, the suit says, a series ofrabbinical panels ordered Rubin to appear for divorce. In 1996, aseven-member “star-chamber-like tribunal” allegedly issued a writ,“ordering plaintiff’s abduction and torture.” On Oct. 23, 1996, Rubinsays, he was snatched off a Borough Park street by three men whodragged him into a van, handcuffed, blindfolded and beat him, andrepeatedly shocked him with a stun gun, demanding in Yiddish that heissue a get. He says that he passed out and was later dumped near acemetery. Stickel says that Rubin was told the get had been concludedwhile he was unconscious.

In the broader Jewish community, the case hasaroused, well, not much of a reaction. Only two secular tabloids,Newsday and the New York Post, even reported the story. Orthodoxleaders who are asked for comment typically offer responses rangingfrom “nothing’s been proven” to “it’s not news; we’ve known aboutthis for years”—sometimes both from the same person.

The community’s ringing silence is not hard toexplain. It’s tough to know whom to dislike more in this, a sordidtale without good guys. But the silence also betrays a largerpathology: a tendency in the Jewish community, particularly theOrthodox community, to circle the wagons and resist outsidescrutiny.

It’s an old instinct, based on real fears ofvulnerability and a determination to shut out the outside world. Butit won’t work anymore. The outside world keeps creeping in.

Agunot were rare until recent times. That waspartly because divorce was infrequent, and partly because rabbis oncehad the power to flog a husband until he agreed to divorce. Israelirabbis can still jail a husband, but rabbis elsewhere have no suchpower. Not legally.

The problem is most acute in the United States.Because of church-state separation, no central authority governsrabbinic courts here, so husbands may bring a divorce to any tribunalthey choose. Some right-wing panels are known for favoringhusbands.

What’s emerged is basically a home-grown Americanproblem, something the Talmud never foresaw: growing numbers of wivesopting out, growing numbers of husbands refusing to free them. TheOrthodox community faces a crisis that it is just beginning toacknowledge. Society’s ills are taking a toll on a community thatlikes to think itself immune.

Actually, pummeling husbands isn’t the onlyhalachic way to help agunot. One tribunal in New York, headed byRabbi Moshe Morgenstern, began arranging divorces last year withoutthe husband’s participation. The panel uses an old procedure, akin toannulment, in which a get can be written without hubby’s consent ifthe rabbis rule the original marriage contract invalid.

But Morgenstern’s panel has evoked gales ofprotest from a spectrum of Orthodox rabbis who say the speedy getsare invalid. In January, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis convened aspecial “emergency meeting” to condemn the tribunal’s work as”deceitful.”

The reported get beatings, if proven true—andfew who know the community doubt there’s something there—are asign of what happens when change strikes a community that doesn’t believe in change. An irresistible force meets an immovable object.The result is violent chaos.

“This is what’s going on,” says Morgenstern. “It’sperfectly legitimate to beat the husbands up, but it’s treif to annul the marriages. There’s something wrong with that. Whether or not itwas once acceptable to use corporal punishment, it’s now against thelaw.”


J.J. Goldberg is author of “Jewish Power:Inside the American Jewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for The Jewish Journal.