Ban backtracking on U.N. bias disappoints Israeli officials


Israeli officials said they were disappointed that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backtracked on his statements that Israel faces bias and discrimination at the world body.

Unnamed Israeli officials made their comments Tuesday to Israeli media outlets a day after Ban amended the remarks he made late last week to Israeli college students.

Ban told the students during a meeting Aug. 16 in Jerusalem that “unfortunately because of the conflict, Israel has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias — sometimes even discrimination.”

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Ban said, adding that Israel should be treated equal to the other 192 member states of the United Nations.

Asked Monday by a reporter at the U.N. what he intended to do about the bias, Ban retracted the remarks.

“No, I don’t think there is discrimination against Israel at the United Nations,” Ban said.

“The Israeli government maybe raised this issue that there’s some bias against Israel, but Israel is one of the 193 member states. Thus, Israel should have equal rights and opportunities without having any bias, any discrimination. That’s a fundamental principle of the United Nations charter. And thus, Israel should be fully given such rights.”

One unnamed senior Israeli official told Israeli media outlets that Israel was “disappointed” by the remarks.

“It’s clear that Israel has been systematically discriminated against at the United Nations, and the way to start dealing with that issue is first of all to recognize that there’s a problem,” he said. “The secretary’s comments on Friday in Jerusalem about the U.N.’s bias against Israel showed moral leadership, and we hope we’re not seeing backtracking.”

Rabbi Uri Regev heads Hiddush – Freedom of religion for Israel


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused a storm with her remarks about Israel in a closed session at the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2. Untypically, Secretary Clinton not only addressed international involvement with Israel, but also chose to express her deep and growing concern over the marginalization of women in the public sphere, a direct result of the growing religious extremism in the country. Clinton even remarked that this discrimination reminded her of what is happening in Iran and drew an analogy to the discrimination faced by Rosa Parks.

Lest recent events appear to be isolated incidents of religious extremism, both Clinton and the State Department are aware that this discrimination has reached untenable levels and can no longer go unaddressed. In addition, Hiddush polling shows 89 percent of the Jewish public in Israel sees recent expressions of religious rigidity resulting in gender segregation in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and on bus lines as a distortion of Judaism (42 percent) or exaggerated and unnecessary (47 percent).

While issues of women’s rights are close to Clinton’s heart, her condemnation of the dangers of the rights against women do not exist in a vacuum. Israel is continuously shown to be the Western democracy that lags furthest behind in its implementation of religious freedoms overall. The U.S. State Department’s comprehensive annual reports on International Religious Freedom track Israel’s disturbing performance in this arena, and the Israel Democracy Institute shows that Israel ranks among the likes of China, Saudi Arabia and Syria in an international comparative religious freedom scale, giving Israel a score of zero.

With international Human Rights Day approaching on Dec. 10, it is critical that Clinton and all who stand for human rights see the bigger picture of these disturbing events: The exclusion of women is one symptom of a deeper and more dangerous problem in Israel. Women’s rights cannot be divorced from the system that denies of right of marriage to hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens for religious reasons only, including all Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist converts to Judaism; forces women to divorce through an anachronistic and discriminatory religious court system; and includes government policies that consistently discriminate against both non-Orthodox Jewish movements and non-Jews.

The universally cherished human rights of religious freedom and the right to marry both enjoy overwhelming public support in Israel, as evidenced year after year by Hiddush’s Israel Religion and State Index and other similar studies, including that of Israel’s governmental Central Bureau of Statistics. According to Hiddush’s 2011 index, 83 percent of Israeli Jews want to see freedom of religion and equality become a reality, and 80 percent are dissatisfied with the government’s handling of matters of religion and state.

In 1948, there were two historic events: the establishment of the State of Israel and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Israel was a signatory. But the Israeli government and Knesset have continued to thwart the principles of both the Declaration of Human Rights and the Israeli Declaration of Independence, hindering the right to marry and the religious freedoms promised in both. On this celebration of Human Rights Day, we must remember the rights that are yet to be realized and continue to work toward their fulfillment.

Rabbi Uri Regev is president of Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality.

The CNN-NPR-NY Times Middle East Conspiracy


Have you noticed that when people complain about bias in the media, it’s always bias against their own point of view and never bias in favor of their side?

When press accounts confirm your interpretation of events, they’re fair, accurate and objective. When the upshot of a news story is that your team is the bad guys and the other team is the good guys, it’s obvious that the reporter or paper or network or corporation is in the tank for the other side. And when articles and broadcasts balance ammo for your side with ammo for the other side, they’re guilty of the fallacy of false equivalence, which turns righteous battles between right and wrong into vapid he-said/she-said standoffs.

Nowhere is this more true than in coverage of the Middle East.

Supporters of Israel are furious that when pictures of Palestinian casualties are shown, the causes and context of the war are left out—Hamas’ rocket attacks on southern Israel, which precipitated the attack on Gaza; its cynical use of civilians as human shields, which is a war crime; its intention to destroy Israel and Jewry, which amounts to genocide—all get scandalously short shrift from the press.

Supporters of Hamas are just as enraged about the inhumane living conditions in Gaza, which Israel has blockaded; the Israeli refusal to allow the international press into the battle zone; what they believe is the original sin of Zionism, the displacement of Arabs, and that when Israel is portrayed as a victim, the suffering of the Palestinian people is conveniently omitted.

And what if you’re not a partisan of either side, but think of yourself instead as an independent advocate for human rights and peace? Then not only will you bring down on yourself the opprobrium of both sides for failing to take a stand at a moment that demands a choice, you will also find in the prevailing media narrative no hook to hang your conciliatory analysis on, no peg for your empyrean perspective, no patience for your it’s-all-so-complicated heartsickness.

Any news story can be successfully picked apart from any vantage point. Why does the Los Angeles Times disparage the Israeli point of view as ““>anonymous mitigating hearsay about a Hamas sniper? Why aren’t the networks airing the “>Israeli scholar’s assertion that Palestinian casualties aren’t excessive because “so far well over three-quarters have been armed gunmen, and that is a percentage which is very rarely attained in urban warfare”?

In fact, two reasons make it really hard to conclude (but not to claim) that a mainstream media outlet is biased—on the Middle East or on anything else. And a third reason makes the whole enterprise of watchdogging the press somewhat quixotic.

One is the sheer quantity of content. The stories and pictures you saw may be plenty to convince you, say, that the Associated Press is unfair to Israel, but the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” The only way to determine anything defensible about bias in reporting is to analyze a scientific sample—to examine a slice of stories that’s large enough to be representative of all stories and to choose that slice randomly, without knowing what’s going to be in it.

Some people may feel that they watch CNN so much or read The New York Times so regularly that they have plenty of data to base conclusions on. Not so. That’s why pollsters are paid big bucks: The methods they use to construct the universe of people they survey are even more important than the questions they ask them.

Second is the difficulty of coming up with an objective measure of bias. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. If you can show me a journalistic scoring system that Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky can agree on, then I’d like to show you how to earn 12 percent a year in a very special investment fund.

But even if you had a scientific sample; even if you devised a neutral litmus test for bias, the strange truth is that media spin probably matters a lot less than we assume.

Yes, public opinion is an important element of public policy. Nations care what people think about them. But the audience for cable news is astonishingly small, maybe 2 million people on a good day; the daily readership of a prestige newspaper is hardly more than that, and the only way that public radio can claim north of 20 million listeners is to count all the people who listened to any of its programs during a week.

Sure, the Internet has surged as a source of news, but its audience is fragmented into niches. If you want to get really depressed, chew on this: For decades, Americans have said that their number one source for news is local television news. Not only is that audience scattered among a thousand stations in a couple of hundred media markets, the amount of attention those stations give to international news is a tiny fraction of the airtime they give to celebrities, freak accidents and crime.

There’s no question that some elite media set the agenda for much of the rest of the press. And some nonnews programming, like talk radio hotheads, get demonstrably big listenerships. But it’s next to impossible to prove a cause-and-effect relation between these bloviators and public opinion, and the same is true of the impact of the mainstream press on public attitudes and beliefs. In the end, why Americans think what they do about Israel and Hamas is as much a mystery as how they decide who to vote for or what toothpaste to buy.

I get just as steamed as anyone else when I see a Middle East news story that I think is wildly unfair. I’m just unwilling to ascribe it to a conspiracy or to think it matters as much as the frustration and fury I feel.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

‘Teenism’ gives young adults an undeserved rep


Teenagers. The word strikes fear into the hearts of most parents and adults. I bet you get shivers down your spine as you’re reading this. Though most teenagers are perceived as reckless, raucous, recalcitrant, rowdy and riotous, the truth is that for the most part, teenagers exercise a natural responsibility that is occasionally eclipsed by their more immature moments. It is because their wild outbursts draw more attention that they are blown out of proportion and overshadow the maturity that teenagers portray most of the time. While the adult perception of youthful rebellion may seem justified, it can be damaging and hurtful to those who pride themselves on being as mature as any adult.

Nowadays, biases against blacks or homosexuals are tiptoed around, while biases against teenagers are left unchecked, proliferating everywhere, because hardly anyone gets taken to court for discriminating against a teen. Since every adult has been a teen once in their lives, they believe they’ve had enough personal experience to speak about all teenagers, when really they are merely projecting their own past onto all teenagers. Parents who went wild in their youth will watch their children like a hawk, never trusting them, accusing them of being disrespectful not because of hard evidence, but because that’s how they were when they were young. Often young adults are given a blanket diagnosis of being stuck-up and caustic, anti-parent, anti-school, anti-everything. From parenting magazines to primetime television, teens are portrayed as a pack of self-centered ingrates who let their emotions run wild with abandon, and it’s time someone said something about it.

Are teenagers reckless? Of course. That is, some of the time. But in our modern world, applying ideas that are true “some of the time” to every case is no longer acceptable, even in as small a way as believing all teenagers are rebels.

Of course, other discriminations are much more pressing in nature. Racism has more dire consequences than believing that your teenager is hot-blooded, when he is not. But discriminations against teens still deserve attention because of the simple fact of how many people are being discriminated against. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 20.2 million people in America aged 15 to 19, and they are 7 percent of the population. So be careful what statements you make, or what biases you might allow yourself to believe. Your ideas about teens will reflect greatly in your treatment of them, and the consequences of this (whether good or bad) could be much more far-reaching than you realize.

Almost as much as people falsely believe teenagers are terrible, people falsely believe that adolescence (and especially childhood) is the best time of a person’s life, when worries are few and far between. But this just isn’t true. In 1998, about a third of all victims of violent crime were ages 12 to 19, and almost half of all victims of violence were under age 25 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice). In addition, one in eight teenagers suffers from depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. (And, sadly, the sixth leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 14). As Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) once said: “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Adolescents face almost all the same problems that adults do and engage in the same unhealthy quick fixes, but it is only young adults who must handle these things sans experience. Without the bedrock of age and wisdom to tread on, high schoolers are left to trail-blaze through their lives haplessly, like the first pioneers of the American West.

A massive leap has occurred in our modern world, far wider than generation gaps of old. The epidemic of multitaskism, the intensity of grade-amassing and the all-around increase in schoolwork has created a miasma of anxiety for the American student, making all previous generations of schooling look like cakewalks in comparison. Those who want to answer the clarion call of college must prepare themselves for an Olympic level of competitiveness. A few examples: Yale’s acceptance rate this year was 9 percent, down from 11 percent in 2006, while Stanford’s rate reached the lowest in it’s history at 9.5 percent. In addition, tuition for four-year colleges has gone up 35 percent in the past six years, making the fight for financial aid all the more arduous.

Obviously, there isn’t much we can do to alleviate this situation. It is the face of our modern reality, for better or for worse. But there is something that can be done.

As with a lot of things, the most helpful solution is a simple change of attitude. Life for teens will always be a little on the rough side, but perhaps treating them with less pigeon-holing and more empathy is all that’s need it to smooth it out.

Justin Morris is in the 10th grade at Shalhevet School and a columnist for the Boiling Point newspaper.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Paris and Rosie


On Sunday, I was at the Islamic Center of Southern California on Vermont Avenue, participating in a panel discussion on the “The Image of Muslims in the Media.”

I didn’t have to do much preparation – I just had to take the notes I use when I speak to Jewish audiences on the “The Image of Israel in the Media” and do a search-and-replace, Israel for Muslim.

Each side’s complaints are mirror images of the other. Jews bemoan the lack of context, the one-sidedness, the over-simplification and the focus on blood and gore that marks quite a bit of the media coverage of Israel. And the Muslims? To them, the media paints all Muslims as terrorists, offers superficial understanding of Islam and focuses on violence over culture and accomplishment.

“To try to get better stories told on a daily basis,” Edina Lekovic said, “is … frustrating.” Lekovic, media relations director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, or MPAC, struck the same note I hear from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

As an example, a video produced by her organization cites Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich” as a media product that negatively portrays Muslims. How many Jewish panels have I sat on that have picked apart the same movie for its “bias” against Israelis?

Los Angeles Times Opinion and Sunday Currents page editor Nick Goldberg, also a panelist on Sunday, made clear he hears from disgruntled Muslims and Jews whenever he runs an op-ed perceived to be harmful to either side.

I’m sure “the media” – whatever that is – would be proud to know that it has managed to get Jews and Muslims to agree on something. That something being, of course, the incompetence and unfairness of the media.

On a week when the evening news has told us more about who visited Paris Hilton in jail than which Americans died in Iraq, it is hard not to join the chorus.

Phil Shuman, the conscientious Fox 11 News reporter, told the audience that his station preempted an hour of news last week to broadcast live a police car chase.

But I don’t place all the blame on the media. I blame Jews and Muslims, too.
We expect the media to be balanced, judicious and open-minded though we feel perfectly justified exhibiting none of those qualities.

Case in point: The Muslims I spoke with were especially upset about the media’s handling of the recent Pew Research Center poll of Muslim Americans. The poll found that the majority of American Muslims see themselves as American first and that two-thirds are strong believers in the American way of life. “When we looked at the Pew poll we thought ‘finally they’ll see what we see,'” Lekovic said.

Instead, the media focused on a finding that 26 percent of American Muslims aged 18 to 29 believe that suicide bombing against civilian targets is justified “in order to defend Islam from its enemies.”

Once again, the Muslims felt that instead of showing off their achievements and pride as Americans, they had to defend themselves against the idea that all Muslims are terrorists.

“Why is the image of Islam so negative today?” asked Salam al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC.

Well, I said to this audience of some 100 Muslims, as a Jew, I could ask the same question.

I said why, despite all evidence to the contrary, the same poll found that 40 percent of Muslim Americans don’t believe that Arabs were behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

I said why, despite all evidence to the contrary, a majority of Europeans believe that Israel is the root of all the evil in the world.

In other words, I said, you can present people with all the information they need, in context, with background, and they’ll still choose to live in cloud or cuckoo land. Perhaps the deeper problem is why people cling to ignorance in the face of knowledge, fantasy in the face of facts.

Believe it or not, that was not an applause line.

After the discussion, a Muslim man approached me and argued that talk show host Rosie O’Donnell also questioned who was behind Sept. 11. “Is Rosie O’Donnell crazy?” he asked.

“Probably not,” I said, “but she’s not my No. 1 news source.”

But I don’t mean to let Jews off the hook here, either.

We also tend to cling to our orthodoxies without challenging them. And one of those orthodoxies is that the West is facing imminent destruction at the hands of extremist Islam. Too easily this idea, which is in itself arguable, poisons our understanding of all Islam and our relations to all Muslims.

“We are very nervous about being taken for a ride,” Rabbi David Rosen said. “But we have an existential interest in speaking out to the Muslim world.”

Rosen is international director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee. He is an Orthodox rabbi, based in Jerusalem, who was ordained at the charedi Mir yeshiva and also graduated from Oxford. I spoke with him Monday in my office.

Out of their justifiable concern over Muslim extremism, Jews have closed themselves off from Muslims and rejected overtures and cooperation from even moderate Muslims, like W.D. Muhammed, who heads the largest black Muslim organization in the United States.

Jews, Rosen said, are missing an opportunity to engage Muslims in America and even to help them establish the kind of American religious institutions that have helped moderate and modernize Judaism itself.

Yes, extremist Islam is a threat. But it has also presented us with an opportunity to reach out to our Muslim neighbors, even the ones who believe Rosie O’Donnell over their own good sense.

This so-called clash of civilizations will be a fast ride to hell if we close ourselves off, choosing fear over hope.

I’ll leave the last word to the rabbi: “What do you want to do?” Rosen said.

“Curse the darkness or light a candle?”

Letters to the Editor


Bill Boyarsky

Bill Boyarsky’s article (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18) was inaccurate and mean-spirited. He had the opportunity to dissent and speak up at the meeting of more than 400 attendees, but instead chose to vent to Journal readers who were not there and who could not fairly assess his charges.

The moderator asked if the audience thought the Los Angeles Times portrayal of Israel was biased against Israel, and the verbal and show of hands response was overwhelming. The audience was not angry with Boyarsky or David Lauter personally, but rather with their collusion with this bias.

I believe that both are out of touch with the opinion of the Los Angeles Jewish community and why so many have cancelled their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times. If this forum shed any light on the issue, it was a very important evening.

Rita Sinder
Encino

Bill Boyarsky’s column was misleading. The audience of 400 at the Women’s Alliance for Israel event responded sharply to the L.A. Times deputy foreign editor’s defense of his newspaper labeling the Hezbollah as guerillas and not terrorists. They were not “out for his scalp” but didn’t like his answers and his newspaper’s fairness to Israel. I strongly suspect that any cross-section of Jews in our town would have reacted the same way. Most Jews in Los Angeles believe the L.A. Times is unfair in its treatment of Israel.

Boyarsky is right we do need “rational discussion.” How about starting with his column? He is obviously too biased to defend his former employer.

Howard Welinsky
via e-mail

David Lauter’s brilliance and soft-spoken nature has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that many people are obviously concerned about the Los Angeles Times. I know David and have always liked him. That doesn’t make the L.A. Times a reasonable publication. The day before I left for Israel on the StandWithUs solidarity mission, the L.A. Times headline read: “Israel Rejects Peace.” If I were to encapsulate the problem, there it is. Who in their right mind, right or left, could have ever approved a headline like that? Unless it was meant as a provocation to both liberals and conservatives who care about Israel?

This is what the crowd of 400 people was upset about. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican who loves Israel and craves long-term peace. What matters is that staff at the L.A. Times would have approved such a headline, minimizing the distaste this would cause to the L.A. pro-Israel community. I’m sorry if the crowd was impatient and “unreasonable.”

But the L.A. Times staff needs to be realistic. If they continue to frequently depict Israel as the side provoking war and not interested in peace, Israel as the strong side that pits war machines against children and women, they should likely expect unreasonable audiences who are hurt and fed up with one-sided reporting. In that case, if I were David Lauter, sitting on a panel defending or explaining the L.A. Times, I would “know my audience” and not be surprised at their predictably pent up concern.

Roz Rothstein
National Director
StandWithUs

Who cares if Lauter wore a yarmulke? Indeed all the more reason to wonder why he has no historical perspective, no understanding that Israel faces an existential crisis today and that “if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it.”

Although the Los Angeles Times has been accused repeatedly of anti-Israel bias and irresponsible reporting, there was no debate or disagreement from Boyarsky as a panelist — of the kind he expected from the audience.

Perhaps the audience might have sat politely — lending a false impression of agreement rather than exercising the same right of free speech and dissent that Boyarsky claims for the Times. If we do not forcefully confront the prejudices and distortions that underlie the anti-Israel bias in today’s media, our very values of compassion, tolerance and even- handedness could be our undoing.

Sadly, the Los Angeles Times and its representatives to not seem to understand this.

Rosalie Zalis
via e-mail

I was at the event that Bill Boyarsky and David Lauter spoke for the Woman’s Alliance for Israel Program (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18). However, Boyarsky is incorrect in his assumptions about us going after Lauter’s scalp.

We wanted much more from Lauter. We wanted an explanation on why the Los Angeles Times has difficulty in using the word terrorist, instead of “militant.” Instead of giving us a logical answer, he bored us with his explanation of the “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” jive, and that the L.A. Times assumes that its readers can discern the difference.

We booed because we are not the radical “right-wing” DEBKA readers, as Boyarsky implied. This was a slap in the face to any Republicans that were in the audience. We booed because we are not stupid. We expected an intellectual dialogue, but we were hit with criticisms of the Bush regime, a “not my president” attitude, and the moral explanation that because reporters put themselves in the line of fire they do a good job.

Well, my son is in the army in Israel; he puts himself in the line of fire, and he has no problems distinguishing between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. And to top it off, to make comments about FOX — the one channel that does not make excuses for suicide bombers — and assume this as our only source of information was a slap in the face to the many activists who work hard daily, educating, discussing, working and fighting for Israel. I am one of those people who was insulted by the attacks on the right, the convoluted answers and the lack of respect that Boyarsky gave us that night and in his column.

This is the reason why I find the L.A. Times irrelevant in their reporting. They refuse to listen to more than 400 subscribers and former subscribers, and the stats on their readership should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to use their political bias to win arguments.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director, American Jewish Congress
Western RegionSanta Monica

Bill Boyarsky exposes why the Israel Women’s Alliance audience was so disturbed by LA Times deputy foreign affairs editor David Lauter. We wanted substantive discussion about bias and questionable sources and editorial choices at the Times. But Boyarsky asserts that the Times is so balanced, this question isn’t even debatable. He attacks the audience for daring to raise the issue and for being dismayed by Lauter. who avoided it by prattling on about the logistics of getting reporters to Lebanon and by giving such convoluted, unconvincing answers to informed questions that the audience audibly sighed. Boyarsky and Lauter exhibited “boorishness” and “narrow-mindedness” and cut off rational discussion, not the audience. Boyarsky’s response can only heighten concerns about journalistic standards.

These are grave times. Israel and Jews face a dangerous media propaganda war fed by Arab media, sources and photojournalists. This is not the time for the journalistic establishment to circle the wagons and defend their own and their egos.

They should be engaged in serious self-examination to see if they meet their own standards or are part of the problem. Judging from Boyarsky’s response, they would rather demean and silence the messenger than rationally and openly consider the validity of the message. Unfortunately, that means they are part of the problem.

Roberta P. Seid
Santa Monica

Dems and Don’ts

Why is Rob Eshman surprised at poll findings that find Republicans more consistently pro-Israel than Democrats by 20 points (“Dems and Don’ts,” Aug. 18)? Where have you been, Rob?

Eshman’s solution to the current schism is to disengage support of Israel from support of the [Bush] administration, so as to rise above “politics.” In other words, show appreciation for the policies of the administration by withholding our support, while maintaining our support for those who increasingly oppose our interests. Oh, that makes sense.

I have a better idea: realign with political parties who support Israel.

Sam Shmikler
Santa Clarita

Rob Eshman is correct that we must make arguments that appeal to decent liberals; to do this we must revamp the case we make for Israel.

Our first priority should be making it clear that Zionism is justifiable (establish why analogies between Palestinians and Native Americans are obscene). This would certainly entail going after textbooks.

Secondly, we need to follow Joe Hicks (Chipping Away at Israel Support Endangers U.S.,” Aug. 18) and make it known to everyone that Israel is the victim of absurdly disproportional criticism; disproportionate criticism is hate, should become Israel’s slogan.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

I respect Rob Eshman a great deal, and his column demonstrates that the pro-Israel community has done a poor job of reaching out to progressive-leaning groups, which should be naturally allied with our goals. However, many of the assumptions made in the articles were wrong.

Despite some wonderful lip service by Republicans, the GOP has shown a lack of spine in putting their money where their mouth is on Israel.

It was Republican congressional leaders who pushed Israel to accept the phased-out elimination of all economic aid to Israel, and attempted to cut military aid to Israel in 2004 before being beaten back by Democratic votes.

Further, in 2006 it was Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) who held up the Senate Resolution condemning Hezbollah and Iran because he was more concerned about Iraqi opinion than our friendship with Israel. 44 of 45 Senate Democrats sponsored that resolution, but only 19 Senate Republicans dared to put their names on the line for Israel. Anti-Israel Republicans like Sen. Sununu (R-N.H.), Sen. Enzi (R-Wyo.), U.S. Rep. Issa (R-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Paul (R-Texas) are conveniently overlooked in the Republican argument.

Even in the Connecticut Senate race, the truth is that the Lieberman/Lamont race actually shows that the Democratic Party’s support for Israel is both wide and deep and provides a “win-win” for Pro-Israel activists.

Lieberman, the sole Orthodox Jew in the United States Senate, is a tireless supporter of Israel. Some believe that Jews such as Lieberman, because of their Jewish heritage, have a special connection to Israel and the issues facing our community.

However, reviewing Ned Lamont’s Web site, Lamont demonstrates a similar strong support for Israel and the right of Israel to defend itself, stating.

Andrew Lachman
President
Democrats for Israel Los Angeles

In his column, it appears that Rob Eshman sees the problem, notes the dissonance, wishes it were different, but offers no deeper analysis of the problem. I urge him to think about this freshly and more deeply, not just urge liberal Dems in Hollywood to speak up. It’s their worldview that is holding them back. Eshman needs to understand and impact that to have any effect.

David Schechter
via e-mail

Miles on Israel

The cover story from Aug. 4 (“Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?”) was far too negative, especially since it was not even logical or accurate. The mordantly leftward slant of The Journal has made it insufferably unpleasant to read. There is something even treacherous in the miserable, compulsive pessimism of the “analysis” of Jack Miles’ opinion piece (masquerading as definitive analysis) and of The Jewish Journal’s view of the war in general. Frankly, I think The Journal needs a new editor if this self-pitying can’t be brought under control.

Jarrow L. Rogovin
via e-mail

Republican Jewish Coalition Ad

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) stoops to a new low by implying that members of the Democratic Party are anti-Israel because Joe Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic Primary in Connecticut (Aug. 18).First, Joe Lieberman was not silenced he can still speak out for Israel, as I am sure he will. Second, the man who defeated him, Ned Lamont, is a strong supporter of Israel.

I recommend the RJC convince their representatives in the Congress to support pro Israel programs not just mouth support. For example improving automobile gas mileage would significantly reduce the dollars that Iran and other Israel foes get and use to fund the terrorists including Hezbollah.

The RJC should support programs that help Israel, and eliminate programs and actions that have resulted and continue to result in recruitment of terrorists.

Henry J. Pinczower
Los Angeles

The ad on your inside cover from The Republican Jewish Coalition disgusts me (Aug. 18). Joe Lieberman was not defeated because of his support for Israel, but because of his continuing support of the most incompetent and corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party supported Lieberman. It was the voting public, fed up with the disastrous war in Iraq and Lieberman’s blind support for it, that led to his defeat.

The “radical left” has hardly taken over the Democratic Party, and Cindy Sheehan is not a spokesperson for party policy.

No Democratic president would stand by and allow Hezbollah rockets to rain down on Haifa. Nor would they have started a war with Iraq that has ended up strengthening Iran and weakening both the United States and Israel.

Finally, it is the Republican Party that envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy. I cannot understand how any Jew could proudly align themselves with these people.

Barry Wendell
North Hollywood

Israel

I read Michael Aronoff’s letter and assumed he was referring to me, among others, as one who engaged in “fury against an apostate.. [and who]…lives in a fantasy world” regarding Israel’s enemies.

I have been to Israel nearly 50 times, have spent time teaching and consulting there, serving on Jewish Agency committees, heading the North American committee on aliyah, etc. I also met with Palestinian leaders over the years, including Arafat three times. I was and continue to be a life-long Zionist. I have absolutely no delusions that enemies such as Hamas and Hezbollah and their backers are serious about wanting to destroy the state of Israel.

Bill Boyarsky pointed out sadly in his column about the behavior of those attending the Women’s Alliance for Israel meeting in last week’s issue. The two matters are conjoined. Rational discussion and open-ness to information explaining the complexities related to Middle East matters should be on everyone’s agenda here.

Israel must be kept strong under all circumstances. I have confidence in its ability to defend itself and believe whatever the rhetoric of Israel’s enemies, Israel’s continuity depends on its strength and not the wishes and intentions of its enemies.

Peace Now in Israel has been in the forefront in supporting the state of Israel, serving and fighting in its army ,while continuing to criticize, where appropriate, the behavior and policies of its governments, regardless of the party in power. Most of today’s conventional positions, including discussion and acceptance of a two state solution, began with Peace Now.

The fighting in Israel has ceased for now. What all sides need are opportunities to find moderates and rational thinkers who will continue to concentrate on the long-time festering issues which ca n never be solved on the battlefield. Open discussions, explorations of options, confronting Israel’s mistakes in dealing with its own Israel Arab citizens, cooperation with friendly Arab countries, affecting world public opinion are but some of the issues facing Jews world-wide and the State itself. Yes, Israel lives in a bad neighborhood. But it is also true that the radicals remain a small, if powerful voice and influence in the Middle East. Eventually political discussions with the enemy remains the only path for insuring peace. Easy? NO. Necessary? Absolutely.

If this is a fantasy world, then God help us all, for Israel with its ^ million Jews in a sea of a billion or more Muslims, is doomed to eternal wars.

Citizens of Israel are more realistic about these matters than many of us seem to be. I. These discussions are an imperative here and in Israel, now more than ever. I remain firm in my support of our beloved Israel but even more committed to help in some small way to finding those paths which will better serve Israel’s future than another century of warfare.

Gerald Bubis
Los Angeles

Corrections

An article on Carvel ice cream shops in the Aug. 11 issue misspelled the name of the owner of the Carvel outlet at 11037 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles, near the San Diego Freeway. The owner is Stephen Winick. The article also misidentified the opening date of the store, it was September 2005, not December.

Connections

If you have any information about Ferramonti, the concentration camp in Southern Italy, please call (888) 388-0444 or e-mail ferramonti@sbcglobal.net.

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

Refugee Chief Faces Toughest Test


The honeymoon was sure to end sooner or later. Since Karen Koning AbuZayd took the reins nearly a year ago of the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees, Israeli officials had praised her for steering clear of the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, the smoother sailing was always a bit misleading. AbuZayd’s controversial predecessor, Peter Hansen, had served during the intifada, when Israel cracked down on terrorists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, often via incursions into U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) refugee camps that were incubators of militancy.

During the relative calm since AbuZayd took over UNRWA, Israel had conducted no large-scale operations — and so had not come in for UNRWA criticism. That has changed in recent weeks, with an Israel Defense Forces offensive into the Balata refugee camp in Nablus and elsewhere to hunt down wanted men.

With that, AbuZayd has made herself heard — in UNRWA’s familiar, imbalanced fashion.

“Israeli military operations have continued in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], including daily shelling [in response to Kassam rocket attacks], targeted assassinations in Gaza and new incursions in the West Bank,” AbuZayd told diplomats of the 21-nation UNRWA Advisory Commission on Feb. 27 in Amman, Jordan. “In the latest IDF operation in Balata camp, some of our installations were commandeered by the IDF, despite all efforts made by my West Bank colleagues and myself at preventing these unacceptable and illegal intrusions.”

Not only did AbuZayd adopt the language of the Palestinian narrative, but her passive wording skipped over the fact that the Kassams were launched by Palestinians. That was the lone reference to Palestinian violence; in contrast, several paragraphs focus on Israeli actions, with no mention of their motives. That sort of one-sidedness was familiar from the days of the intifada. While supplying vital relief and shelter for the neediest of its 1.6 million clients in Gaza and the West Bank — plus its traditional educational, health, social services and microfinance programs — UNRWA made repeated statements that skimmed over, if not outright ignored, Palestinian contributions to the cycle of violence.

That lack of context and short shrift to Israeli security concerns — by a U.N. agency that presents itself as neutral to the international media, human rights groups and foreign diplomats — helped create a popular impression of disproportionate, gratuitous Israeli violence. If the situation grows more violent, AbuZayd’s words will surely be watched closely by supporters of Israel.

In a quarter-century of refugee work, AbuZayd, 64, has helped the displaced and dispossessed of Uganda, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia and Liberia. After the fall of apartheid, she directed U.N. efforts to repatriate South Africans. During the Bosnian war, she headed the refugee agency in Sarajevo.

With Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer, the Ohio native now faces her toughest challenge — overseeing the historic transition from “occupation” to sovereignty and, potentially, an end to the Palestinians’ perpetual refugee status.

UNRWA has unveiled a vast reconstruction and recovery plan that AbuZayd says will cost “several hundred million dollars over several years” to rejuvenate the Palestinian camps, rebuild damaged homes, renovate infrastructure and create thousands of new jobs. It would be the largest economic revival project in Gaza in a decade, since the early, hopeful years of the Oslo peace process. Such investment is key to reviving hope for a people who feel abandoned by the world, she said by phone from UNRWA headquarters in Gaza.

“What we’re trying to do is to make sure that there are some signs of new life and assistance, that the international community is supporting them and the disengagement,” said the former professor of political science and Islamic studies.

If Palestinians see tangible benefits of steps toward peace with Israel — freedom of movement, a decent-paying job, food on the table — they’ll be less likely to take up arms, she said, or support those who do.

Of course, that also was the theory behind the Oslo peace process, and it failed to temper militancy. Moreover, critics may dispute the premise that Palestinian terrorism is driven by despair, which ignores the influence of incitement in mosques, schools and official Palestinian Authority media.

Nevertheless, that is AbuZayd’s philosophy — and, as the top administrator and fundraiser for an organization responsible for nearly 4.3 million registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, she commands a unique pulpit.

With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as much a battle for public opinion as a struggle on the ground, the debate often becomes a contest of conflicting narratives. In this debate, supporters of Israel say, an agency that is bound by the U.N. Charter to be “neutral” and “impartial” has been anything but.

AbuZayd took over UNRWA last April, after four and a half years of intifada violence in which Hansen had become such a vocal defender of the Palestinians that in October 2004, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, labeled him a “hater of Israel.” Israel’s defenders accused Hansen, a Dane on the job for nine years, of turning a blind eye as UNRWA camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank became sanctuaries for extremists and a primary source of terrorist attacks against Israel.

“Hansen was criticized for offering exculpatory arguments — cover for the killings and suicide bombings,” said Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights. “Some believe this attempt to explain the reasons for terrorism emboldens Palestinian extremists and terrorists to launch more attacks.”

Hansen was unrepentant about his advocacy, yet he reportedly became too much of a liability for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was under pressure from the United States for various other controversies.

It was against that background that AbuZayd, a mother of two who is married to a Sudanese professor, stepped into the spotlight. Her public comments reveal a willingness to venture into sensitive topics. In an August 2002 issue of the Jerusalem Report, AbuZayd, at the time Hansen’s deputy, spoke candidly about the militarization of UNRWA camps, acknowledging the risk to staff and civilian safety. However, in an October 2004 chat with readers of IslamOnline.com, she was harshly critical of Israel, never mentioning the Palestinian contribution to the cycle of violence.

“Israel is a difficult partner, thanks to their heavy security concerns, which are used as an excuse for all the obstacles put in our (and the Palestinians’) way,” she wrote. “Taking the offensive against us is a way of diverting attention from our criticism.”

She also seemed to endorse an explicitly political agenda: “The international community is failing [the Palestinians], and groups of nations could exert more pressure on Israel.”

Yet at times, she has angered the Palestinians as well. Speaking to the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, last summer about the Palestinian demand for a refugee right of return to their former homes in what became Israel, AbuZayd acknowledged that no solution could be imposed on Israel and suggested that the demand is more symbolic than practical.

Considering that most Israelis view the right of return as demographic suicide, AbuZayd’s comments appeared to repudiate maximalist Palestinian demands.

“We demand that Mrs. AbuZayd stop intervening in this issue, because her role is to serve Palestinian refugees and not cancel their political right to return to the land from which they were displaced,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman.

Nevertheless, Ronny Leshno Yaar, deputy director general for U.N. affairs at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel would prefer that she avoid such topics altogether.

“We expect UNRWA to not get involved with Palestinian-Israeli politics, but to stick to responding to humanitarian needs of the refugees,” he said.

To her good fortune, AbuZayd has taken over during the quietest period in the past six years. This has been due to a “truce” largely observed by the biggest Palestinian terrorist groups in 2005, the removal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and the continued construction of Israel’s West Bank security barrier, which has drastically reduced terrorist attacks and concomitant Israeli reprisals.

Any tensions between UNRWA and Israel “have always been during especially bloody periods of the conflict — during an incursion or when a large number of people have been killed or homes demolished,” AbuZayd said in an interview. “The current period of relative calm … clearly creates fewer points of friction.”

The agency still is willing to criticize Israel, as it did in an annual report delivered to the United Nations in November that singled out the humanitarian impact of Israel’s security fence. Yet there also has been an internal calculation made, according to a U.N. official in New York, who asked not to be identified.

“A decision was made to be more careful about what UNRWA addresses, and how it addresses them,” the official told JTA. “It shows to what extent UNRWA has been aware of the political sensitivities of the situation and Israel’s position.”

Still, as presaged by AbuZayd’s reaction to the recent Balata incursion, that could all change if the intifada resumes under a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

“As long as UNRWA has access to the population it wants to get to, it can operate in an environment even where there’s armed conflict,” the U.N. official said. “But if UNRWA can’t deliver emergency assistance … the agency feels duty-bound to bring that to the attention of the Israeli authorities and others in the international community.”

If so, Israel hopes that under AbuZayd it will be done impartially — and in context.

 

Objecting to Guardian’s Anti-Israel Bias


As you might have heard, I’m leaving The Guardian next year for The Times, having finally been convinced that my evil populist philistinism has no place in a publication read by so many all-round, top-drawer plaster saints. (Well, that and the massive wad they’ve waved at me.)

Once there, I will compose as many love letters to the likes of Mr. Murdoch and President Bush as my black little heart desires, leaving those who have always objected to my presence on such a fine, liberal newspaper as this to read only writers they agree with, with no chance of spoiled digestion as the Muesli goes down the wrong way if I so much as murmur about bringing back hanging — public.

Not only do I admire The Guardian, I also find it fun to read, which in a way is more of a compliment. But if there is one issue that has made me feel less loyal to my newspaper over the past year, it has been what I, as a non-Jew, perceive to be a quite striking bias against the State of Israel. Which, for all its faults, is the only country in that barren region that you or I, or any feminist, atheist, homosexual or trade unionist could bear to live under.

I find this hard to accept, because crucially, I don’t swallow the modern liberal line that anti-Zionism is entirely different from anti-Semitism — the first good, the other bad. Judeophobia — as the brilliant collection of essays, “A New Anti-Semitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st Century Britain” (axt.org.uk), published this year, points out — is a shape-shifting virus, as opposed to the straightforward stereotypical prejudice applied to other groups (Irish: stupid, Japanese: cruel, Germans: humorless, etc.).

Jews, historically, have been blamed for everything we might disapprove of: They can be rabid revolutionaries, responsible for the might of the late Soviet empire, and the greediest of fat cats, enslaving the planet to the demands of international high finance.

They are insular, cliquey and clannish, yet they worm their way into the highest positions of power in their adopted countries, changing their names and marrying non-Jewish women. They collectively possess a huge, slippery wealth that knows no boundaries –yet Israel is said to be an impoverished, lame-duck state, bleeding the West dry.

If you take into account the theory that Jews are responsible for everything nasty in the history of the world and also the recent E.U. survey that found 60 percent of Europeans believe Israel is the biggest threat to peace in the world today (hmm, I must have missed all those rabbis telling their flocks to go out with bombs strapped to their bodies and blow up the nearest mosque), it’s a short jump to reckoning that it was obviously a bloody good thing that the Nazis got rid of 6 million of the buggers.

Perhaps this is why sales of “Mein Kampf” are so buoyant from the Middle Eastern bazaars unto the Edgware Road, and why “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” could be found for sale at the recent anti-racism Congress in Durban, South Africa.

The fact that many non-Jews and Arabs are rabidly Judeophobic, while many others are as horrified by Judeophobia as by any other type of racism, makes me believe that anti-Semitism/Zionism is not a political position (otherwise the right and the left, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Ku Klux Klan would not be able to unite so uniquely in their hatred), but about how an individual feels about himself.

I can’t help noticing that, over the years, a disproportionate number of attractive, kind, clever people are drawn to Jews; those who express hostility to them, however, from Hitler to Hamza, are often as not repulsive freaks.

Think of famous anti-Zionist windbags — [Vanessa] Redgrave, [Patricia] Highsmith, [George] Galloway — and what dreary, dysfunctional, po-faced vanity confronts us. When we consider famous Jew-lovers, on the other hand –Marilyn, Ava, Liz, Felicity Kendal, me — what a sumptuous banquet of radiant humanity we look upon!

How fitting that it was Richard Ingrams –Victor Meldrew without the animal magnetism — who this summer proclaimed in The Observer that he refuses to read letters from Jews about the Middle East and that Jewish journalists should declare their racial origins when writing on this subject.

Replying in another newspaper, Johann Hari suggested sarcastically that their bylines might be marked with a yellow star, and asked why Ingrams didn’t want to know whether those writing on international conflicts were Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Hindu.

The answer is obvious to me: poor Ingrams is a miserable, bitter, hypocritical cuckold, whose much-younger girlfriend has written at length in the public arena of the boredom, misery and alcoholism to which living with him has led her, and whose trademark has long been a loathing for anyone who appears to get a kick out of life: the young, the prole, independent women. The Jews are in good company.

Judeophobia: Where the political is personal, and the personal pretends to be political, and those swarthy/pallid/philistine/aggressive/cowardly/comically bourgeois/filthy-rich/delete-as-mood-takes-you bastards always get the girl. I’ll return to this dirty little secret masquerading as a moral stance next week, and, rest assured, it’ll get much nastier.

As the darling Jews themselves would say (annoyingly, but then, nobody’s perfect), enjoy!

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited.


Julie Burchill is a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian.

Bias Hits Rabbis on Mommy Track


When Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Reform rabbinical seminary, ordained its first female rabbi, Sally Priesand, in 1972, the event was more inevitable than revolutionary. It had been 50 years since HUC-JIR had come within a whisker of ordaining faculty daughter Martha Newmark, and other women had attended liberal rabbinical schools since then.

Meanwhile, in 1968, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) opened, with women admitted from the first day. Priesand’s ordination — and that of the first female Reconstructionist rabbi, Sandy Sasso, in 1974 — were newsworthy, but they quietly found pulpits and began to build careers, the first of an accelerating number of women to join the rabbinate in American Jewry’s most liberal denominations.

Today, the 377 women in Reform’s Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) constitute about 20 percent of Reform rabbis — closer to 25 percent when retired and inactive rabbis aren’t counted — up from about 10 percent in 1991. Currently, there are 246 Reconstructionist rabbis, 45 percent of whom are women.

Female rabbis serve synagogues, schools, hospitals and Jewish communal organizations in every metropolitan area; more than 20 women work in Los Angeles congregations, with possibly a similar number of women holding down other rabbinic jobs. Their ubiquity has had an effect on Judaism — but motherhood, a factor for most women in the rabbinate, may be keeping them from real power.

Transforming the Synagogue

Women in the rabbinate are widely credited with making rabbis seem friendlier and more approachable: the common buzzword is "accessible."

"We used to say that women’s presence has shifted the rabbinate out of the priestly, hierarchical model into a more egalitarian model," said Karen Bender, associate rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana, who was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1994, though she added that younger male rabbis strive for accessibility, too.

"Congregants want a closer, personal relationship with their spiritual leaders, and for many women this intimacy comes easily," according to Judith HaLevy, rabbi at Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Reconstructionist temple.

"Women are historically seen as good listeners," said Zoë Klein, associate rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park. "I think all of those negative stereotypes from the past actually fit well with what people want from a rabbi: a gracious hostess, care, gentleness and strength."

Another rabbi said she thinks women are more comfortable talking to female rabbis about issues such as menopause and domestic violence.

"It’s important that girls are growing up with women rabbis," Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and a Conservative rabbi, told The Journal, adding that women bring "a keener eye and a fresh perspective [to Jewish texts]."

For many female congregants, there’s a comfort level in connecting with a woman rabbi when one is searching spiritually.

"Walking that path with another woman can be powerful," said Sheryl Nosan-Blank, a 1993 HUC-JIR graduate and rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills.

Some see women rabbis as an engine for Reform Judaism’s recent attention to traditional ritual. Male rabbis during Reform’s first 150 years were interested in shedding ritual, said Temple Judea’s Bender, but women, having been excluded from ritual for so long, don’t feel the same way. "For women, there isn’t meaning in shedding; women embrace ritual," Bender told The Journal. "They’re more, ‘Let’s make more ritual, let’s make new ritual.’"

And women have most definitely made new ritual. Laura Geller, senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, who became the third female Reform rabbi in 1976, said at last November’s Reform Community Shabbat that women in the rabbinate have made it possible for women to mark the milestones in their lives in Jewish ways. They’ve created rituals for menarche, menopause, weaning, miscarriage and abortion, she said, and they are responsible for making the ceremony for bringing a new daughter into the covenant as prominent in rabbis’ manuals as brit milah.

She added, though, that this contribution goes beyond women’s ceremonies to "new rituals for men as well as women: rituals for retirement; new rituals for divorce; gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies; rituals for becoming a grandparent."

"The presence of women in the rabbinate opens up the perspective," Temple Beth Torah’s Nosan-Blank said. "It changes what we see and what we hear and therefore what we listen for and what we look for."

The Mommy Track

Bender, who works full time and is rearing two children with a female spouse, is active in the Women’s Rabbinic Network, a group of female Reform rabbis. Five years ago, she said, women attending the group’s convention would state guiltily that they were leaving congregational work; today, she said, they brag, "I’m pulpit-free."

"Most people are finding that the pulpit rabbinate is incompatible with being a mom," Bender said. When significant numbers of newly or recently ordained rabbis leave congregations or won’t go into congregations at a time of shortage, she said, "that’s a crisis."

"I don’t think I could have done this when my children were small," said Sheryl Lewart of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, whose children were 12 and 14 when she entered RRC and who was ordained in 1994. "I would not be a pulpit rabbi with children at home."

There’s wide acknowledgment of a "mommy track" in the rabbinate. "Certain [jobs] lend themselves to ‘mommyness’: those with clear hours, evenings and weekends off," Lewart said. Such jobs include teaching, Hillel work and administrative positions in Jewish communal organizations, though plenty of male rabbis do that work, too.

Women comprise the bulk of rabbis holding down part-time positions in Reform congregations and affiliated organizations, said Rabbi Arnold Sher, director of rabbinic placement for the CCAR. Even a "part-time" job, particularly in a congregation, often means working 40 hours a week for 20 hours’ pay, several women said. Some rabbinical mothers limit their careers to part-time teaching or officiating at weddings and funerals.

When Rabbi Karen Fox’s two sons were small, she worked a two-thirds-time schedule at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for five years except during the summer, when she ran the temple’s camps in Malibu. She brought her sons and a housekeeper to camp with her, but when one of the boys complained, "You’re not their mom, you’re my mom," Fox left Wilshire Boulevard and switched to education, teaching and then directing the middle school at Pressman Academy in Pico-Robertson.

"That allowed me to have structure as a mom and as a rabbi, and I was home for Shabbat," said Fox, who was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1978 and is back at Wilshire Boulevard as associate rabbi. "There were times when I thought I might be trading something away, [but] I don’t think I gave anything up; I allowed myself to have a soul."

Several rabbis mentioned the arrival of a second child as the breaking point at which full-time congregational work (which in a typical rabbi’s contract involves working six days a week, including Saturday and Sunday) becomes too much for many mothers. Temple Isaiah’s Klein, however, has had a son and a daughter since her 1998 ordination, and she embraces the rigors of the job.

"Being a rabbi is hard work, but I chose it because I feel called to it and I love it with all my heart," Klein said. "Sometimes, when my weekends are eaten away in service of families, I wonder if it is worth it, but … when my son runs through the halls of Temple Isaiah and then stops suddenly in his tracks, points up to my picture and says proudly, ‘That’s my mommy,’ I know it is worth it."

"The hardest thing about being a mother, a wife and a rabbi is that when most people have family time — Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday — that’s when I am the busiest," said Michelle Missaghieh, associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Her decision to remain in full-time congregational life with two children under age 4, though, is a lonely one. Of the women in her 1996 ordination class at HUC-JIR, Missaghieh said, "they’ve either left congregational life, left rabbinical life and become mothers full time, they’re working part time or they’re lesbians and have a partner at home."

But she has no plans to leave full-time work.

"That’s the struggle, that I am so fulfilled in my work," Missaghieh told The Journal. "I would not be as effective as a full-time mother as I am as a full-time rabbi; I could not be the best Michelle I could be if I were a full-time mother."

Parenthood deepens experience and makes men and women better rabbis, several women noted. Sherre Zwelling Hirsch, a Conservative rabbi, said that as a young, single woman, she wasn’t taken seriously when she first came to Sinai Temple in Westwood, but during those five years, she met and married her husband, bore her first child and helped nurse her father through a terminal illness.

"People say, ‘I really didn’t support you when you first came here, but now I honor you as my rabbi,’" Hirsch said.

"I think that I am greatly aided by my role as a mother, especially in dealing with families," said Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue’s HaLevy, who entered the rabbinate after her children were grown. "My son refused to wear anything but his favorite tennis shoes with holes in them to his own bar mitzvah, so I can relate to all those parents of 13-year-olds who wonder where the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has gone."

The setting of limits on one’s time is crucial to keeping one’s sanity, several rabbis commented. "I have very strong boundaries: If I’m working at night, I make sure I’m home in the middle of the day; if I have to work all day Sunday, I’m home all day Monday," Hirsch said.

Bender is more skeptical that rabbis have the ability to say no.

"How much power do you have to craft a rabbinate that lets you have a family life?" said the Temple Judea rabbi. "Do I ask to miss that meeting, or do I just say I’m going to miss that meeting? I think rabbis are afraid: ‘If I keep missing meetings, they’ll fire me.’"

"My joke is, ‘And I have a wife,’" said Bender, whose partner works part time. "Just because I have a wife doesn’t solve the problem."

However, the presence of mothers in the rabbinate is credited with raising congregations’ consciousness that all rabbis need to set limits on the time they give their synagogues, though that may contain a generational element as well, as younger men assert a need to spend time with their spouses and children.

Janet Marder, who recently became the first female president of the CCAR, suggested that when women rabbis set the example of making time for family life, they put in motion a new way of looking at the rabbinate.

The rabbi who sets time boundaries and doesn’t burn out "is better able to serve because you have more to give," she said. And the need for rabbis to pull away from synagogue demands, Marder added, has led to the empowerment of laypeople, who develop ritual and administrative skills to pick up the slack.

The perceived need for boundaries for both men and women, however, has fed a shortage of rabbis willing to take pulpits, especially the senior rabbi positions at large congregations, which historically have been seen as the most prestigious jobs but are also the most demanding.

The CCAR’s Sher said that the aspirations of male and female rabbis are becoming "pretty equal," with fewer men going into congregational work than ever before.

While Missaghieh loves her present job, she isn’t looking to move up. "I’m not interested in being a senior rabbi…. I really want to spend time being a mom, being a wife, and exploring my own strengths and weaknesses." Marder, who became senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Am, a 1,200-household temple in Northern California, in 1999, said she probably would not have applied for the position when her daughters, now 17 and 20, were younger.

On the other hand, Temple Emmanuel’s Geller, who became the first woman to lead a large congregation when she took her current job in 1994, says that once the temple hired an associate rabbi six years ago, they were able to divide up Friday nights and otherwise share responsibilities.

"Generally, you have some control over your time," Geller told The Journal. "The reason many women choose not to pursue senior rabbi positions has less to do with the job than with the ability to see it in a different way."

From Influence to Power?

Power at work is generally associated with presence at the top of a hierarchy and the ability to dictate standards, and by that definition, women have a distance to travel toward power in the Reform rabbinate.

HUC-JIR ordained equal numbers of men and women this year, but Sher says the rabbinical program does not strive for gender parity, and he doesn’t expect women to comprise 50 percent of Reform rabbis in his lifetime.

The CCAR is currently conducting a salary survey; Marder said that there’s no pay gap between newly ordained men and women, but salaries may diverge in later years. Locally, the Board of Rabbis’ Diamond sees a significant pay gap and knows of synagogues that have offered women lower salaries than to men for the same position.

Not every congregation offers maternity leave, Marder said, adding that many temples are reluctant to hire women of childbearing age because they don’t want to deal with the issue, a situation driven more by tight finances, she said, than by sexism.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Fox said that over 25 years, she expected women to have more effect on pocketbook issues.

"The time for change has already come," she said. "I never thought you would have to keep asserting those questions."

Women do not hold top executive positions at HUC-JIR or the national headquarters of Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the Reform movement’s synagogue arm. However, women have become a much stronger presence among HUC-JIR faculty of late, filling 10 of the 17 tenure-track positions open during the past seven years, and six of the UAHC’s 14 regional offices have female rabbis as directors.

Women Reform rabbis also are beginning lead large congregations. Although it took 22 years for a large Reform temple to hire a woman as senior rabbi, Sher estimates that 10 women currently lead congregations of 1,000 families or more.

"It’ll be interesting to see what happens when a lot of women rabbis are empty nesters," Temple Beth Torah’s Nosan-Blank said.

And it may be that the real revolution brought about by women in the rabbinate is not about top-down leadership but about liberal Judaism in each synagogue sanctuary, where women have already begun to bring about change — and to represent normative Judaism.

"I’ve made a huge impact on the congregation as a role model for mothers and daughters," Missaghieh said. "A lot of congregants see me up there with my daughter on my hip, and she’s sucking her thumb as I’m telling a story, and that tells them, OK, this is what Judaism is about."

"I look forward to women rabbis being old and gray and creased and being emeritas," Klein said, "because I believe that once there are enough of us who are elderly, with white hair and thick glasses, we will start to complete the landscape of clergy."

NPR Israel Coverage Sparks Protests


"The Palestinian uprising and subsequent Israeli offensive in the West Bank stirred enormous sympathy for the Palestinians throughout the Arab world…. Over the past year, scores of Egypt’s top singers have come out with songs about the Palestinian uprising. Most are accompanied by music videos featuring slain Palestinians, weeping families and homes destroyed by Israeli tanks…." — "Weekend All Things Considered," May 22, 2002

The above quote is from a National Public Radio (NPR) report "Egyptian Empathy for Palestinians Manifests in Art." But some Jewish groups think the quote says a lot more about politics at NPR — or what they call "National Palestinian Radio" — than it does about Egyptian art.

The Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and the Los Angeles-based StandWithUs are among the Jewish groups that see examples of this bias in many of NPR’s reports about the Middle East conflict. They charge that the language NPR uses when reporting about Palestinians often sugarcoats the reality of the situation, for example, using the innocuous sounding word "uprising" instead of the more evil sounding "terrorism," and the evocative references to Palestinian suffering but no mention of Israeli suffering caused by Palestinian terrorism.

On Wednesday, May 14, they will join pro-Israel groups across the country in holding demonstrations outside NPR affiliate stations in 33 cities, including Los Angeles. In addition to the protest, called "NPR: Tell the Truth," the Boston-based organizers are asking participants and corporations to withhold financial support from NPR stations until the alleged bias is halted. In Boston, the tactic has been so successful that the NPR affiliate, station WBUR, reportedly lost more than $1 million in funding.

This is not the first time a media outlet has been accused of bias against Israel. In the last two years alone, Jewish groups have called for boycotts against media outlets ranging from the Los Angeles Times to The New York Times. As the conflict in the Middle East comes to the end of its second year with no clear solution in sight despite the "road map" (see story p. 18), advocacy groups — on both the Israeli and Palestinian side — in America increasingly go after the media for biased reporting.

NPR representatives said they are constantly reviewing their Middle East coverage, and denied it is biased. They pointed out that pro-Palestinian groups and media watchdogs, such as FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), charge NPR with being too pro-Israel.

NPR programs such as "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Talk of the Nation" are distributed to 700 affiliate stations and have an audience of more than 21 million, making it one of the most widespread news sources in the United States.

CAMERA, a pro-Israel media watchdog, has been monitoring NPR for 10 years and has issued numerous bulletins alerting listeners to alleged instances of bias and inaccuracy. The Massachusetts-based organization has lobbied to get NPR to issue corrections, which, according to CAMERA, it did in four instances.

NPR discounted many of CAMERA’s criticisms, saying they come from a group with an agenda.

"CAMERA is an organization that has an absolute commitment to making sure that the Israeli issue gets covered from a certain viewpoint, and they do a damn good job," said Ruth Seymour, general manager and program director at local NPR station KCRW. "NPR is a journalistic organization, and it has other obligations."

But NPR critics discount the denials, saying that NPR doesn’t want to be held accountable. On March, 11 congressman, including Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to NPR President Kevin Klose, requesting an internal audit of coverage. Klose denied the request because, he said, it would "open a door to political interference."

"When NPR is funded at the expense of us all, then a statute [from the Public Telecommunications Act] applies that it has to be balanced," said Sherman, who is considering action on a bill that funds operations like NPR.

Most of NPR’s funding comes from membership dues, program fees and contributions from private individuals, foundations and corporations. Federal grants make up a small percentage of its financing. The amount of government funds, NPR says, is only 1 percent or 2 percent of its total budget. NPR critics say the percentage is much higher.

"It’s very dangerous to have an unbalanced government information service. The attitude I get from NPR is that they are above criticism, which is an amazing position to take," Sherman said.

The question of bias often enters into a circular "he said, she said" debate with either side unable to prove their cause. "Bias is in the eyes of the beholder," said Murray Fromson, a professor of Journalism at USC, who has worked as a journalist for more than 50 years. "I listen to NPR every day, and there are pieces that are favorable to the Palestinians, and pieces that are favorable to Israel. There are pieces [on NPR] that absolutely outrage me, but on the whole I think there is a balance," he said.

In Los Angeles, the protest against NPR is sponsored by StandWithUs and is scheduled on May 14 at 11 a.m.-1 p.m. outside of KCRW, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica.