Paul: cuts to Israel assistance would not be ‘immediate, dramatic’

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he does not favor immediate cuts to defense assistance to Israel and favors intelligence and development cooperation, but he believes that Israel would ultimately benefit from economic independence from the United States.

Paul, in a conference call Wednesday marking his return from a week-long visit to Israel, said his first priority in targeting foreign assistance would be those nations where people “burn the American flag and say death to America.”

Israel, he said, has been a “great friend” to the United States.

“Something I would be in favor of would not be immediate, dramatic or draconian, it would be evolving,” he said of his favoring cuts in assistance to Israel. “I'm for an independent, strong Israel that is not a client state and not a reliant state.”

Asked particularly about missile defense cooperation, he said there was a “great argument” for such programs and he believes that American cities should have missile defense infrastructure.

Of Iron Dome, the Israeli anti-missile system that Israel says repelled 80 percent of rocket attacks during the recent Gaza War, Rand said: “There's a great argument for the Iron Dome,” although he would want to examine “exactly how it is funded.”

Currently, Iron Dome is funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in grants on top of the $3 billion Israel receives annually in defense assistance from the United States. 

Paul said he understands how his calls for reducing aid to Israel make him an outlier among fellow senators, but that he believes his position is more pro-Israel than theirs.

Paul also said it was “presumptuous” of American politicians to dictate to Israel where it should build, and that he leans toward recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, although he understands arguments that such recognition could be “provocative.”

Paul, who met with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his trip, said he was concerned about defense assistance to Egypt, in part because its president, Mohamed Morsi, has in the past made anti-Semitic remarks, but also because such sales fuel an arms race with Israel.

Paul has gently distanced himself from the positions of his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a perennial presidential candidate who also has favored cutting assistance to Israel, but who has often cast those arguments as criticism of Israeli policies. The younger Paul is seen as likely to bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

This year, more Angelenos than ever get Passover aid from local agencies

This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.

During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.

Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.

The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos,  “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.

“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”

Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.

“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.

Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.

On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.

Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.

Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.

Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.

In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.

SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.

“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.

The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.

More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”

Israel to send quake aid to Turkey [UPDATE]

Israel said on Tuesday it was launching an airlift of supplies to help Turkey cope with a devastating earthquake, following a request from Ankara, with a first shipment of prefabricated homes destined for shipment on Wednesday.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Ankara had sought the aid via the Israeli embassy there, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered assistance in a telephone call to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the quake struck on Sunday.

The humanitarian step taken as more than 400 were reported dead in the disaster that struck southeastern Turkey, was seen as possibly easing diplomatic strains between the allies over the incident involving the Gaza-bound flotilla last year.

A spokesman for Israei Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that “tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon a first aircraft will fly from Israel to Turkey with several prefabricated homes,” suggesting the shipment would be followed by others.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Yigal Palmor said Turkey had “relayed a request to the embassy in Ankara for mobile homes” and that Israel was checking into the logistics of shipping these supplies.

“We are checking what we can do, and will do whatever we can,” Palmor said.

In Ankara, a Foreign Ministry official said Turkey had requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.

“We informed all countries who offered help, including Israel, of a request on specific items for post-emergency material, such as prefabricated houses, containers and tents,” the official said.

Israel, geographically close to Turkey, with each country situated on opposite sides of Syria and Lebanon, has sent equipment and rescue teams to Turkey after past earthquakes. Turkey sent fire-fighting planes last December to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc denied on Monday that Ankara had declined an offer of aid from Israel.

Tensions between the two U.S. allies increased last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologise for the Turks killed last year.

Israel said its marines acted in self-defence in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists aboard a vessel bound last year for Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas.

Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

Rescuers battle to find Turkey quake survivors, save baby

Rescuers pulled a two-week-old baby girl alive from the arms of her mother buried under a collapsed building on Tuesday as a search continued for survivors from a quake in eastern Turkey that killed at least 366 people and left thousands homeless.

Hope of finding people alive under tons of rubble was fading with every passing hour as rescuers pulled out more bodies and thousands of residents slept for a second night in crowded tents or huddled around fires and in cars across a region rattled by aftershocks in Van province, near the Iranian border.

With victims accusing the central government of being slow in delivering aid to a region inhabited mostly by minority Kurds, Ankara said it was sending more tents and blankets.

“We have no tents, everybody is living outdoors. Van has collapsed psychologically, life has stopped. Tens of thousands are on the streets. Everybody is in panic,” Kemal Balci, a construction worker said as he awaited news on friends injured in the quake at a hospital in the city of Van.

“Aid has been arriving late. Van has been reduced to zero. We have no jobs, no bread, no water and there are nine members in my family. If the government doesn’t give a hand to Van it will be like Afghanistan. Van has been pushed back 100 years.”

The 7.2-magnitude quake, Turkey’s most powerful in a decade, is one more affliction for Kurds, the dominant ethnic group in impoverished southeast Turkey, where more than 40,000 people have been killed in a three-decade-long separatist insurgency.

On Monday, Turkish tanks and armored vehicles crossed into northern Iraq headed in the direction of a Kurdish militant camp as part of cross-border operations in the wake of an attack last week by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters that killed 24 Turkish soldiers.

Quake rescue efforts focused on Ercis, a town of 100,000 that was worst hit, and the provincial capital Van, which has a population of one million.

Emergency workers extracted the infant girl alive from the wreckage on Tuesday, two days after it was buried with its mother under an apartment block.

The mother was clutching the child to her chest when the were reached by rescuers, who set about rescuing the mother and a grandmother who were also still alive.

“We’re going to get them out soon,” a rescuer assured the other grandmother, whose eyes brimmed with tears of joy over the survival of her grandchild.

Elsewhere, exhausted workers used machinery, jackhammers, shovels, pick axes and bare hands to comb through rubble. Every so often, they would shout for silence and generators and diggers would stop, straining to hear voices under the wreckage. Seconds later the drone of the machinery would start again.

Officials said 12,000 more tents would reach Van on Tuesday after complaints that entire families were cramming into tents and television images showed desperate men pushing each other roughly to grab tents from the back of a Red Crescent truck.

The Turkish Red Crescent has said it was preparing temporary shelter for about 40,000 people, although there were no reliable figures for the homeless. Many residents spent the night outside fearing any return to their damaged homes.

Turkish authorities have been criticized for failing to ensure that some of the neediest, particularly in villages, received tents as night temperatures plummeted.

“Life has become hell. We are outside, the weather is cold. There are no tents,” said Emin Kayram, 53, sitting by a camp fire in Ercis after spending the night with his family of eight in a van parked nearby.

His nephew was trapped in the debris of a building behind him, where rescue workers had been digging through the night.

“He is 18, a student. He is still stuck in there. This is the third day but you can’t lose hope. We have to wait here.”

How fast Ankara manages to deliver aid and long-term relief to the survivors might have political consequences in a region plagued by poverty and the Kurdish insurgency, analysts said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who secured a third consecutive term with a strong majority at a June election, has pledged to push reforms in parliament and rewrite the constitution to address long-time Kurdish grievances in an effort to end violence.

“If we want to win the hearts of our brothers of Kurdish origin, we should act now. We should beat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with this approach, which is more effective than arms,” leading commentator Mehmet Ali Birand wrote.

Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Administration said on Tuesday the death toll had risen to 366, with 1,301 people injured. The overnight death toll stood at 279.

The death count was likely to rise further as many people were still missing and 2,262 buildings have collapsed.

“It was like judgment day,” said Mesut Ozan Yilmaz, 18, who survived for 32 hours under the rubble of a tea house where he had been passing time with friends.

Unhurt but lying on a hospital bed under a thick blanket, his face blackened by dust and dirt, Yilmaz gave a chilling account to CNN Turk of how he survived by diving under a table.

“The space we had was so narrow. People were fighting for more space to survive,” Yilmaz said. “I rested my head on a dead man’s foot. I know I would be dead now if I had let myself go psychologically.”

The government has received offers of aid from dozens of countries around the world, including from former ally Israel, but has so far accepted aid only from Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Iran.

The center of Van resembled a ghost town with no lights in the streets or buildings. Hardly any people could be seen.

The sense of dislocation was even greater in Ercis. With no homes to go back to, thousands of people, mostly men, paced the streets, stopping to look at the destruction or whenever there was some commotion at a rescue site.

At one collapsed building on the main road through Ercis, exhausted rescue workers shouted at crowds of men pushing forward to catch a glimpse as efforts were made to free a woman’s corpse from the rubble.

“Get back. Are you not human? Show some respect. Do we not have any honor or pride?” one rescue worker yelled. Crowds formed at one demolished building where bystanders said a trapped boy had made contact by mobile phone.

As a rescue team dug at the rubble, one man screamed at the workers: “Where were you last night? I told you last night there were people here.”

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia, Daren Butler and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.S. Rejects Israel’s Offer of Aid Workers

The United States turned down offers of expert assistance from Israel and other nations in the crucial first days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Instead, the United States solicited material assistance from Israel that was probably superfluous by the time the shipment arrived on the evening of Sept. 8.

The reasons behind the decisions are unclear. Experts have offered a number of explanations, including the bureaucratic difficulties involved in absorbing thousands of foreign first-responder personnel, the belief that the existing first-responder infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi was well equipped to handle the crisis and the potential political fallout from asking foreign nations to help the world’s greatest power save lives on its own turf.

Such a request would have been “a tremendous admission of failure,” said one official of a nongovernmental organization involved in current rescue efforts, who asked not to be identified because of his relationship with U.S. government officials.

Critics have excoriated federal, state and local officials for their alleged failure to attend quickly to a disaster that for days left tens of thousands of people stranded, exposed to disease and at risk of drowning. Democrats and some Republicans, as well as a welter of newspaper editorials, have especially targeted President Bush and his administration for what Democrats contend was a slow and at times remote response to the crisis.

Israel would have been uniquely qualified to help, because a cadre of medical experts originally trained to respond to terrorist attacks has honed its expertise at earthquake and hurricane zones across the world. Most recently, Israel rushed medical personnel to Sri Lanka within hours of the tsunami in late December. In 1998, Israel’s lightning response to Al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in east Africa — hours ahead of the arrival of U.S. rescuers — was credited with saving dozens of lives.

The original Israeli offer after Hurricane Katrina was for “the dispatch of medical teams numbering hundreds of people, considerable medical equipment, medicines and additional necessary equipment,” according to a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. But the Bush administration turned down that and other offers of first-responder and medical-professional help from abroad, although Bush did cite Israel’s assistance in a speech last Friday, thanking countries for their offers of help.

Officials at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Department did not return calls seeking comment.

Israel’s offer on Sept. 1, a day after the Bush administration declared Katrina’s aftermath a public health emergency, came within the four-day window when such assistance is crucial. Israel might have had personnel on the ground by Sept. 2. Authorities did not start evacuating the New Orleans Superdome, where most refugees from the hurricane had gathered, until Sept. 3.

Officials involved in coordinating assistance did not want to comment on the record, but they said complex U.S. regulations regarding accreditation of doctors and other personnel might have been a factor, in contrast to Israel’s experience in developing nations, where such rules are more flexible. Additionally, no one anticipated that the most advanced medical system in the world would be so easily overwhelmed, experts said.

First-responder assistance from outside the region would have been crucial in the first days, said Garry Briese, executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“These communities lost their firefighters,” he said. “Buildings don’t exist, homes don’t exist, equipment doesn’t exist.”

Briese, who has a relationship with Magen David Adom (MDA), the Israeli relief agency, dating back to the 1970s when he helped train MDA medics, said Israel would have been uniquely able to assist. But he wondered if the Israeli experts could have arrived in time, given the travel distance.

There no longer is a need for first-responder assistance, and his organization has called on its members to stop going to the region, Briese said.

In the end, the United States asked Israel and other countries to deliver equipment and material. Israel came through on Sept. 8 with 80 tons of food packages, diapers, beds, blankets, generators and other essentials on an El Al flight, partially funded by the Jewish National Fund, that landed in Little Rock, Ark.

“Jewish tradition says, ‘To save a life is to save the entire world,’ and this comes from the hearts of the Israeli people,” said Eyal Sela, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official who accompanied the material.

Dean Agee, a vice president of International Aid, a relief group known for its work in the tsunami zone. foresees the need for more long-term assistance from Israel and other nations in rebuilding the region.

“In Mississippi alone there are 200,000 roofs needing to be repaired,” he said. “I have two photographs in front of me of Sri Lanka in March and of Gulfport [Miss.] now. In terms of damage, you can’t tell the difference.”

Chanan Tigay contributed to this story.


Haitian Songs

The following piece was written after a recent trip to Haiti, during which a delegation from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger was hosted by the Lambi Fund, one of MAZON’S longtime grantees.

It starts with a song. Soft at first, then louder, like slow rolling thunder, gentle harmonies that keep time with the clapping of hands.

Soon there will be time for serious talk — of politics, hard labor and the struggle to find food — but for now there is only the music.

Every Haitian man, woman and child knows this music, and during a recent trip to Haiti, I came to know it, too. I was there to visit several grass-roots organizations that help Haitians — most of them poor, many of them hungry — develop the skills they need to improve their everyday lives.

Haiti is a startling place. By all accounts is seems to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Driving around, I found a vast, barren wasteland, what you’d expect to find on a desolate moonscape or in some futuristic science fiction movie. Plagued by years of war, famine and political mismanagement, the country has been stripped of its natural resources, and with them its industry. Electricity is undependable, and running water an unheard of luxury. With mile after mile of nothing but rocky dirt road, Haiti seems like a place without hope, and certainly a place without a viable future.

And yet, five minutes into a conversation with a Haitian woman, I realized my first impression was wrong. I visited a grain mill in the center of the country, where local women bring their corn. In Haiti, women bear the brunt of the work burden. They are responsible for milling grain and working as vendors at local markets, while simultaneously tending to the needs of their families. The mill represents a significant improvement for the women who use it, and who previously had to walk great distances to process grain for family meals.

Despite their heavy loads, the women I met bubbled over with enthusiasm. These were not bitter, defeated women resigned to a life of poverty. In fact, the women — and the men — were decidedly upbeat. They recognized that they were poor but not powerless, and that systemic change would have to start with them.

Take Marie-Carmel. A 35-year-old mother of three, she understood what it would take to turn her fortunes around. When we were first introduced, she didn’t hesitate to make her views known.

"The politicians will do what they will," she said dismissively. Then she pointed to the mill and said, "This is my president. This is what I believe in."

In the face of extreme poverty, Haitians retain a tremendous sense of dignity. They may be dressing in rags caked with mud and clinging to machetes, but their children are spotless, wearing immaculate school uniforms and clutching battered books. Like parents all over the world, Haitian parents will sacrifice everything to give their kids a chance at a better life.

Several days into my trip, I drove through a torrential downpour to visit an agricultural site in a mountaintop village. After my visit, I climbed back into a rickety van with threadbare tires and began to descend the mountain, which was rapidly deteriorating into sludge. Several miles outside the village, the van sunk into the mud and was stuck. Within the hour, what seemed like the entire village had descended to help me. There was a sense among these people of the need for collective action, of getting around a problem and solving it. As I stood getting soaked, pushing the van out of the muck side by side Haitian men, women and children, I understood how poverty (unpaved roads, decrepit transportation) can be a physical obstacle to getting things done. But I also felt inspired by a sense of community and possibility.

For weeks leading up to my trip, I wondered what relevance all of this could have for the American Jewish community. For me, the question was more than academic, since I’ve dedicated the past several years of my life to raising funds from the Jewish community and distributing them to fight hunger in our country and around the world. How does Haiti affect Jews when it is a country with so few of us?

I found my answer in the faces of the Haitian men and women I was fortunate enough to meet. We are a people consumed by a vision of a more perfect world, and we are a people, many of us blessed with abundance, who can help build it. As Jews committed to tikkun olam, we send food to poverty stricken Haitians for the same reason we teach inner-city children to read and provide housing assistance for new immigrants in this country. We do it because we believe in kevod ha’beriyot, the respect due to every being. MAZON, the anti-hunger organization I head, was founded with this in mind, and shaped by the principle that Jews don’t discriminate.

Every meeting I attended in Haiti started with a song, and every song told a story. As I’ve replayed the lyrics in my head, I’ve become more convinced that the stories hold a lesson for us as Jews. It’s true that we have our own stories and songs. But ever since I’ve been back from Haiti, it’s struck me that it is the overlap, where our stories meet, where the real work gets done.

H. Eric Schockman is the executive
director of MAZON. For more information on MAZON, call (310) 442-0020 or visit

Domestic Violence: A Jewish Issue, Too

During Jewish holidays and festivals, many of us recite the
familiar blessings for our loved ones. As a Jewish communal professional for 30
years and a synagogue member for 23 years, I wonder why congregations don’t devote the
same time and attention during religious services to discussions of Jewish
family issues as we give to prayers for the Jewish family. The former might
make the latter more meaningful.

One of these issues is domestic violence, in all its
virulent forms and varieties. Jews, despite their reputation as a peaceful and
family oriented ethno-religious group, are not immune from domestic violence.

Nevertheless, there is a prevalent myth that Jewish men don’t
beat or sexually abuse their wives and children. When there is a publicized
incident involving a Jewish family, Jews gasp in horror and disbelief. After
all, these things don’t happen in the Jewish community.

Perhaps the most notorious incident in recent memory was the
1988 story of Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum, an upper-middle class Jewish
couple in New York City. Steinberg was an attorney who systematically beat his

Both Steinberg and Nussbaum beat their 6-year-old adopted
daughter, Lisa, and it was Steinberg who struck the blow that killed her. When
this violence was discovered and during the subsequent trial, this family was
headline news in this country. How could a Jewish couple be so physically
violent? Yes, Jews commit acts of domestic violence, like our gentile

It is estimated that 2 million women in the United States
suffer as victims of spousal-partner abuse each year, and that between 3,000
and 4,000 battered women in this country die each year from physical abuse.
Equally tragic is that 2,500 abused children in the United States die each year
from abuse. Figures show that 95 percent of the perpetrators of domestic
violence are men.

The incidence of domestic violence in the Jewish community
approximates the incidence in the general community. Domestic violence is an
equal opportunity phenomenon. It transcends racial, religious, ethnic,
geographic, sexual orientation and socioeconomic boundaries. Children who are
victims of abuse often become abusive as adults, abusing their children and
spouses or partners.

In Jewish homes, there is an intensified shame and stigma
associated with family violence. When there is violence in the Jewish family,
both victims and perpetrators go through great pains to conceal it from their
friends, employers, clergy and other segments of their social and community
life. Jewish victims tend to go to family and friends for shelter and financial

What can the Jewish community do?

Spokespeople in the Jewish community, such as rabbis,
educators and other Jewish communal professionals, should learn the following:

1. Signs and symptoms of victims, as well as perpetrators.

2. Mandatory reporting requirements, with respect to child
and elder abuse.

3. Local community resources, such as the community’s Jewish
Family Service. The staff there can provide many direct services and refer the
calling party to other important resources, such as domestic violence shelters,
law enforcement agencies, other social service agencies, legal assistance,
medical care and financial assistance.

4. Rabbis and other congregational leaders should talk about
domestic violence at religious services, in children’s classrooms and in
adult-education programs. Domestic violence issues should be on the curriculum
for all age groups, as prominent as Torah study. Identify religious and sacred
texts and traditions that are the foundations for the sanctity of life and
teach them to all congregational members.

While we are talking here primarily about physical abuse,
let’s remember that relationship abuse can also be economic, emotional, verbal
and sexual. All forms of abuse are seriously damaging to individuals and

If you know someone who is being abused, be supportive and understanding.
Help the victim develop a safety plan and assist the victim in securing
assistance to ensure survival, safety and recovery.

If our religious traditions believe that human life is
sacred, then domestic violence is wrong in any form and under any
circumstances. We have a collective responsibility to educate ourselves about
the problem and to do everything possible to prevent domestic violence and
reach out and help victims and perpetrators alike. Â

Mel Roth is executive director of Jewish Family Service of Orange County.

Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Candidates

To obtain the views of the two main gubernatorial candidates on issues of particular interest to the Jewish community, The Jewish Journal submitted identical questions to Republican Bill Simon Jr. and Democratic incumbent Gov. Gray Davis. Following are their unedited responses.

Jewish Journal: The Jewish community includes a large number of immigrants. What priorities and budget allocations do you foresee to assist such immigrants, particularly in aiding their naturalization process?

Bill Simon: Immigration makes our country and our state great, but our immigration system is broken and in need of fundamental reform. I support President Bush’s efforts to fix the system, and look forward to working with him to achieve this goal. Most people who want to come to California do so because they want a better life for themselves and their families, and they want to contribute positively to society. I will work to adopt constructive reform, in conjunction with the federal government, that recognizes the contributions of immigrants. In particular, President Bush has said, and I agree, that those who wish to come to the United States shouldn’t have to wait for years to get an answer.

Gray Davis: While naturalization is a federal issue, my administration has provided funding for programs that assist immigrant communities. California made the largest General Fund investment ever in new English Language Learning programs in public schools. In addition, I signed legislation to guarantee resident tuition rates at Cal State and community college systems for noncitizen residents who have attended a California high school for at least three years and have graduated from a California high school.

JJ: The community has been shocked by the rise in hate crimes against it and other minority communities. What steps do you advocate to reverse this trend?

Simon: With anti-Semitism flaring up across the globe, from Europe to the Middle East to our own backyard, we must aggressively prosecute any crime of this nature committed in California. In particular, the rising incidents of anti-Semitic hate crimes on our college campuses must be stopped with firm action.

Our state has comprehensive laws dealing with hate crimes and I will enforce them. Hate crimes demand a response because of their unique emotional and psychological impact on both the victim and the victim’s community. Additionally, I will make it a priority as governor to stay in regular communication with all the diverse communities around the state, and promote a dialogue so that we recognize and appreciate our common interests and common bonds.

Davis: Hate crimes are abhorrent and cowardly acts that touch the conscience of the entire State of California. I have worked to reinforce the values we share as a society — justice, tolerance and strength through diversity.

I worked to crack down on hate crimes and made hate-motivated murder punishable by the maximum penalties available under the law — life imprisonment and the death penalty. I expanded the definition of hate crimes to include national origin and sexual orientation, and signed legislation to create a California Unity Center in Sacramento.

In 1999, I created a Blue Ribbon Panel, chaired by Warren Christopher and George Deukmejian, to conduct a comprehensive study of current laws to combat hate groups and paramilitary organizations operating in California. Based on the committee’s recommendations, I signed new laws that promote the reporting of hate crimes; helped school personnel identify hate groups on campus; and helped crackdown on hate-related vandalism.

Following the events of Sept. 11, I announced an initiative by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to assist victims of alleged hate crimes arising from the attack on America. I also announced a new state program to help victims of hate and bias crimes, making them eligible for up to $70,000 for reimbursement of medical and other expenses.

JJ: Both UC and CSU campuses have been subject to anti-Semitic incidents, harassment of Jewish students, as well as attempts to force divestment of stocks in companies doing business with Israel. What steps do you advocate to counter such acts?

Simon: Anti-Semitic incidents on campuses, as with such incidents around our state must be investigated and the perpetrators must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I oppose the divestiture of stocks of companies doing business in Israel and recognize Israel as a strong ally of the United States. As governor, I would speak out against anti-Semitism and take all actions allowable and appropriate for the governor’s office. In addition to upholding laws against anti-Semitic violence, I will work through meetings and dialogue everywhere in California to highlight the great strength we derive from our diversity and our common interests.

Davis: I’m deeply concerned about any incidents of anti-Semitism. I issued a statement following the reported incidents on college campuses that denounced the acts of violence and urged students and the larger community to stand together against those who use hatred and prejudice to divide us.

I also sent a letter to Dr. Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California and Dr. Charles Reed, chancellor of California State University, asking them to take specific actions, including reviewing campus policies that govern demonstrations to ensure that free speech is exercised without escalating into violence and taking steps to promote tolerance.

Regarding divestment, as long as I am governor, California will not divest and will continue to stand side by side with our friends in Israel, both in business and in friendship.

JJ: What steps do you advocate to strengthen economic ties with Israel? What other actions would you propose to support America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East?

Simon: I will encourage California’s Congressional delegation to support President Bush’s trade policies with Israel. I will also invite the Israeli prime minister and other appropriate Israeli state officials to California to tour our state and discuss the mutual economic advantages of increased trade.

With the Israeli economy growing to over $110 billion, California businesses and industries have great opportunities to increase their trade with Israel by exporting goods, from high-tech to agriculture.

As governor, I will strongly support California’s Israel Trade Office, located in Jerusalem. I will continue to operate and staff the office with talented people, and maintain California’s Israeli trade office under the auspices of the International Trade and Investment Division of the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency.

Davis: The relationship between the United States and Israel is one of the most important strategic and cultural relationships that we have with any country. Throughout my career in public service, I have been a strong supporter of California’s Jewish community. When I served in the 43rd Assembly District, I represented a thriving Jewish community with whom I had a very positive relationship.

Israel is California’s 22nd largest trading partner and the state has a trade office located in Jerusalem to administer our burgeoning trade relationship. I have visited the State of Israel four times over the years, including my most recent trip as governor in 1999, meeting with former Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Barak and in the United States with President Katsav. I am proud to be the first sitting governor from California to visit Israel.

In addition to our economic ties, California has strong cultural ties with Israel — due in part to the large population of Jewish Californians and recent emigrants from Israel. In April 2002, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating a Cultural Cooperation Commission between California and Israel, the first such agreement between California and any foreign country. I will continue to work hard to expand ties with Israel.

On April 15, 2002, two days before Israel Independence day, I sent a letter to fellow Democratic governors asking that they sign a declaration of principles expressing solidarity with Israel and the peace process. [New York] Gov. George Pataki sent a similar declaration to his Republican counterparts. The response was extraordinary, with 42 of the nation’s governors — both Democrats and Republicans — signing this declaration expressing support for Israel.

JJ: With the looming threat of terrorist acts on American soil, what steps do you advocate to counter the danger?

Simon: My administration will work closely with federal law enforcement agencies to share information in an effort to thwart any potential terrorist threat facing the people of California and the United States. I have detailed a comprehensive California Homeland Defense Plan, which will prepare our state for preventing a terrorist attack, or if one occurs, making sure we respond with the best trained and equipped first responders.

I applaud President Bush’s call for a new Palestinian leadership that rejects terrorism, a move we all know is required for a real permanent peace in and around Israel. I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel and stand with President Bush in defense of the Israeli people against the threat of hostile nations.

Davis: In the war against terrorism, all levels of government must cooperate to keep citizens safe.

In 1999, two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, I established the State Committee on Terrorism and the State Threat Assessment Committee to study terrorism. After Sept. 11, I appointed George Vinson, one of the nation’s most experienced anti-terrorism experts, as my top security adviser.

Working with the attorney general’s office, I established the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center to ensure that state and local law enforcement officials are sharing intelligence information among themselves and with federal officials to detect, prevent and respond to possible acts of terrorism. In addition, I enhanced the public health readiness system, increased security at our vital assets, and won Federal Aviation Administration approval for the first-of-its-kind "Safe Skies" Program, allowing California Highway Patrol officers to carry a firearm and provide extra protection when flying on an in-state flight in the normal course of their duties. No state in America has done more to protect its citizens and vital assets from terrorist threats.