How a year of war and terror changed Arab-Israelis’ views of their country

In April 2014, nearly 60 percent of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens said they felt “part of the state and its problems.” The 11 months that followed saw the nationalistically motivated murders of four teenagers — three Jewish and one Arab — a two-month war in the Gaza Strip, a wave of terror in Jerusalem and a tense election campaign.

By March 2015, the month of the election, only 28 percent of Arab-Israelis felt part of the country and its problems.

That’s the starkest of several indications of Arab-Israeli alienation from the state in the latest Israel Democracy Index, a comprehensive annual survey of Israeli attitudes conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank and presented Tuesday.

Notably, the tumultuousness of that year — which included 1,500 Arab Israelis arrested during protests, a string of riots and terror attacks in eastern Jerusalem and one hardline party pushing a plan that would put Arab population centers outside Israel’s borders — did not discernibly sour Jewish Israelis on their country. If anything, the opposite was in evidence.

In 2014, 69 percent of Jews felt good about their personal situation. In 2015, it was 76 percent. In both years, 42 percent of Jews said Israel was doing well. Last year, only a third of Jews said the government was handling the country’s problems well. This year, 36 percent said they trusted the government. Last year, 78 percent felt part of the state and its problems, as opposed to 88 percent in 2015.

But along with the scant 28 percent of Arab-Israelis that felt a sense of belonging in Israel in 2015, only 28 percent characterized the country’s situation as good, as opposed to 54 percent last year. Last year, 45 percent said there was a high level of tension between Jews and Arabs. This year: 67 percent.

In 2014, a majority of Arabs trusted then-President Shimon Peres, a champion of the two-state solution. This year, only 39 percent support President Reuven Rivlin — an opponent of Palestinian statehood — despite his efforts to reach out to and integrate Arabs-Israelis. The share of Arabs who trust the army dropped from nearly half to 36 percent.

Israeli Arabs’ pessimism extended to everyday life. In 2014, 57 percent of Arab-Israelis said they were discriminated against as a group. This year, that number jumped to 86 percent. Last year, 46 percent of Arab said they belonged to the “weak” half of Israeli society. This year, it was 66 percent.

Still, Arab-Israelis seem relatively happy with their personal lives. Nearly two-thirds said their lives were good this year, as opposed to just half last year. And this year, 83 percent of Israeli Arabs said they would stay in Israel even if they could gain citizenship in a Western country.

Just because they’re unhappy with the country, in other words, doesn’t mean they want to leave.

Canada puts Israel on list of democracies ‘unlikely’ to generate refugees

Canada placed Israel on a list of “safe” countries whose citizens are unlikely to seek asylum as refugees.

Israel and seven other countries joined a list of 27 “Designated Countries of Origin” already on the list.

The 35 nations now on the list include the United States and most members of the European Union, according to a statement published on Feb. 14 by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The ability of citizens from countries on the list to appeal decisions of the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) will be limited.

Countries eligible for the list are “democratic countries that offer state protection, have active human rights and civil society organizations and do not normally produce refugees,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada said in the statement.

“Most Canadians recognize that there are places in the world where it is less likely for a person to be persecuted compared to other areas,” it said. “Yet many people from these places try to claim asylum in Canada, but are later found not to need protection. Too much time and too many resources are spent reviewing these unfounded claims.”

Israel's addition to the list excludes Gaza and the West Bank.

The other countries added on Thursday were Mexico, Japan, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia and Switzlerland.

Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees criticized the list for limiting the ability of citizens from countries on the list to appeal IRB judgments, saying this was a violation of the U.N. Refugee Convention, Postmedia News reported.

The move comes as Stephen Harper's Conservative government has been establishing stronger ties with the Jewish State.

In the fall, Canada closed its embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from the country, supported Israel in the latest Gaza Strip war and opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is a staunch supporter of Israel and widely seen as a potential successor to Harper as leader of the Conservative Party.

Opinion: The Post-Kumbaya President

I wonder where Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan are having dinner tonight.

Four years ago, while Democrats danced at inaugural balls, Reps. Cantor and Ryan dined at The Caucus Room, a Capitol Hill steakhouse, along with other top Republicans, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and Sens. Jim DeMint, John Kyl and Tom Coburn. 

Barack Obama’s presidency was by then all of eight hours old.  At midday, the man who rocketed to prominence in 2004 by declaring America to be not red states or blue states, but the United States, had told the nation, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” With those words, and the applause of 1.8 million Americans on the National Mall still ringing in their ears, some 15 GOP leaders discreetly gathered in the restaurant’s private room to decide what to do with the olive branch the president had extended.

As we know from a new ““>Robert Draper’s book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,” the Caucus Room caucus decided, in Draper’s words, “to fight Obama on everything – this meant unyielding opposition to every one of the Obama administration’s legislative initiatives.”

No matter what was on Obama’s agenda, even if it was identical to Republican proposals, they planned to attack it.  No matter how many times Obama met with them, sought common ground or negotiated with himself, their strategy was to keep the number of Republican votes he got for anything whatsoever as close to zero as possible.  

This happened before there was a Tea Party, before there were 87 far-right GOP freshmen, before the birthers had migrated from the lunatic fringe to the party’s mainstream.  The economy was in crisis; a second Great Depression was conceivable.  Also conceivable was actually working together on behalf of the country.  But from night one of day one, the Republicans decided to torpedo Obama, a sentiment echoed the next year when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said publicly that denying President Obama a second term was his top priority.

Now that second term has begun.  The president has had plenty of experience with Republican intransigence.  He has learned the hard way that you can’t sing Kumbaya as a solo.  But even so, in his second inaugural he said that the oath he swore, “like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.”  Though he surely has the Republicans’ number by now, he said, nevertheless, that “we cannot mistake absolutism for principle,” that we cannot “treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”  Was any of that more than wishful thinking?

Seven times he said “together”; five times he said “we, the people.”  Does he really think his opponents are capable of collaborating, or is he just laying down a marker to collect when they behave badly? 

A lot is riding on the answer.  “We will respond to the threat of climate change,” he promised at heartening length; “we will preserve our planet.”  But scores of Republican science-deniers hold very safe seats in gerrymandered House districts; they will face no electoral penalty for sticking it to the president every chance they get.  Immigration reform, tax reform, school reform, gun control: It’s hard to imagine Luntz, Gingrich & Co. working up a different playbook for dealing with the 2012 Obama agenda in a back room at steakhouse 2.0 than they did four years ago. 

Though the president didn’t put a fix for Citizens United in his inaugural address – isn’t fighting political corruption as important as the long shot legislation that made it into the speech? – he did use the word “citizen” eight times.  He said it at the top (“fellow citizens,” instead of the traditional “fellow Americans”), and he said it repeatedly in the peroration. 

I connect that word “citizen” with something else he said.  Between going after absolutism and rejecting name-calling, he said that we cannot “substitute spectacle for politics.”  In an age when the public holds politicians in such low esteem, it’s so striking that he chose to use “politics” as a positive term. 

Politics is what citizens do – that’s what I took him to mean.  Spectacles need spectators; democracies need citizens.  Spectacles treat citizens as consumers, markets, eyeballs to sell to advertisers.  Politics treat citizens as stakeholders, constituents – people to listen to, not just persuade.  Spectacles are circuses to distract us; citizens know the risk we run of “>most important political event of the past week may turn out to be neither the inaugural, nor the sirloin-fueled cabal it may have prompted, but rather the morphing of Obama for America into Organizing for Action.  Obama for America was an attempt to convert his 2008 ground game into a grassroots group at the Democratic National Committee, but it barely played a part in his first term’s legislative battles.  Organizing for Action will try not to make that mistake again.  His 2012 top command is determined to make the 2012 vote the beginning, not the end, of political action.  His first term was about negotiations between party elites; his second term will be about mobilizing citizen power. 

That thrilling phrase in his second inaugural – “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” – is about citizens, not spectators, about activists, not audiences.  If Washington actually ends up, despite steakhouse obstructionism, doing something important about climate change or guns or anything else on the president’s shortlist, it will not be because we saw his inauguration on television, but because we took his fate, and ours, in our own hands.


Marty Kaplan is the “>

A Tale of Two Cities Divided

On one side there is no escaping the wall: hulking, concrete and towering almost 28 feet into the sky.

Where it’s not a wall, the barrier is a mesh fence topped with barbed wire and cameras, looping around the entire Palestinian city of Kalkilya.

Just across the boundary and only a little over a mile away, in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba, the barrier is welcomed.

But has anyone in Kfar Saba actually seen the barrier? Shrugs, shakes of the head — no.

Kalkilya is surrounded on all sides by what Israel calls the separation fence, a barrier the government says it must build to protect its citizens from suicide bombers, snipers and other Palestinian terrorists.

Residents of Kalkilya say it has turned their city into a ghetto.

But Kfar Saba residents are solidly behind the wall.

"I think we need it. It’s for our security," said Dafna Subai, walking down Kfar Saba’s main shopping street with her family. "If the worst is that they have to live behind a wall and the worst for us is that we are blown up, then I say let them live behind a wall for now."

The differing views of the security fence are coming to a head as Israel and the Palestinians prepare for a Feb. 23 hearing on the barrier’s legality at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Palestinians argue that the fence is a land grab, taking territory they want for a future state. Israel claims the fence is necessary for security — and is perhaps the least invasive step the Jewish state can take after three years of Palestinian terrorism have left nearly 1,000 Israelis dead and thousands more wounded.

In most places the fence hews roughly to the Green Line, the armistice line from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, which served as a de facto boundary until the 1967 Six-Day War. But parts of the fence are projected to bow into the West Bank, causing tension between Israel and its main ally, the United States.

The fence also is altering the delicate fabric of life that has emerged between Israelis and Palestinians over nearly four decades.

According to the Israeli army spokesman’s office, five suicide bombers from Kalkilya have carried out attacks in Israel. Among them was the bomber who exploded himself outside Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium disco in June 2001, killing 21 young Israelis.

Last year, a sniper circumvented the wall by crawling through a drainage pipe, shooting at an Israeli car traveling on the nearby Trans-Israel Highway and killing a baby girl.

A portion of the concrete barrier that is now part of the greater fence project was built in late 2001 to protect Israeli vehicles on the highway from snipers in Kalkilya. Several road workers had been fired upon during the highway’s construction.

The decision to build the wall almost 28-feet high was calculated to ensure that buses would not be hit by sniper fire, said Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman.

The main problem in Kalkilya is that it is adjacent to the Trans-Israel Highway, "and therefore Israel had no choice but to build a concrete wall, which is very different from most of the rest of the fence," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"It’s also important to recall that throughout the world you have acoustic walls next to a highway, and they don’t look much different" than the wall near Kalkilya, he added.

In Kalkilya, the fence looms large as both a physical and a practical nuisance. Opposition to it is unanimous and locals dismiss Israel’s security argument, saying attacks will continue with or without the barrier.

"Peace has to come from within. Peace cannot be established through fences and walls," said Abdullah Shreem, a Kalkilya farmer who is among those whose land is located on the Israeli side of the fence. "If a tiger is kept in a closed room, you can imagine how it will act when it is out of its cage. This apartheid wall only shows Israel thinks of us as animals — another reason for Palestinians to resist."

Before the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000, the residents of Kfar Saba, a palm tree-lined suburb of Tel Aviv, thronged to neighboring Kalkilya on weekends for humus lunches, bargain shopping and cheap automobile repair.

But those days are barely a memory at the Israeli military checkpoint where, until the fence was built, soldiers guarded the only way into and out of the Kalkilya.

Now the checkpoint is dominated by cement blocs topped with sandbags. A nearby watchtower is draped in camouflage netting, and army trucks and jeeps whiz in and out.

In an effort to improve the quality of life in Kalkilya, the Israeli army downgraded its presence at the checkpoint in recent weeks.

Soldiers now visit only sporadically and Palestinians pass the checkpoint freely in donkey carts, trucks and on foot.

Jessica Montrell, who heads the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, says that by opening up the entrance to Kalkilya, Israel is disproving its own argument about security risks.

"I think it only strengthens the argument that most of the suffering of the Palestinian population is needless and not necessarily for security," she said.

With a population of 40,000, Kalkilya serves as a center for surrounding Palestinian towns and villages. It has the main hospital in the area, and many of the teachers for area schools live in Kalkilya.

Many of the Palestinians in Kalkilya work as shopkeepers or in agriculture. Unemployment has soared, partly because of Israeli limits on the number of Palestinian workers allowed into Israel since the intifada began.

Kalkilya is a Palestinian hub for citrus fruit, boasting vast groves of orange and lemon trees, as Kfar Saba did before its rapid development in recent decades. Nicknamed the "City of Orange Gold," Kalkilya’s fortunes have suffered because of intifada violence, which has limited the transport of produce to Israel and abroad.

In August 2002, Israel’s Cabinet approved the first stage of the security fence, including the area around Kalkilya near Israel’s narrow waist. The plans made Kalkilya and neighboring Palestinian villages of Habla and Ras Atiya into enclaves enclosed by the fence.

According to B’Tselem, the decision to enclose the three Palestinian towns was made in part to appease pressure from nearby Jewish towns in the West Bank to be included on the Israeli side of the fence.

Although Habla, for example, is only 218 yards from Kalkilya, the fence construction means that residents of one area will have to drive about seven miles to reach the other.

There is a gate between Kalkilya and Habla for farmers to use, but residents say it is opened only sporadically. Construction reportedly is under way on an underground passage between Kalkilya and Habla to ease the fence’s impact on Palestinians.

Farmers like Shreem who have land beyond the Kalkilya fence must receive special permits to visit their property. Shreem also has land in Habla, and he pulls out a green, folded document from the Israeli army stating that he is a farmer with produce in the area and has permission to travel there.

But for the past three days he has not been able to go to Habla, he said, because the army closed the Kalkilya exit for what he heard were security reasons.

Shreem surveys the flock of Damascus sheep that, in pre-intifada days, he would export to Israel and the Persian Gulf states for a hefty profit. He also has rows of cedar, kumquat and olive tree saplings bordering his greenhouses.

Shreem’s property rests along the edges of the concrete wall that stretches for 1.8 miles on the western side of the city.

He said army officials told him he can no longer use the six acres closest to the fence. If he does not remove them, he said he was told, the army will demolish the greenhouses because they are too close to the wall.

Israeli officials did not relate specifically to Shreem’s claim, but Israel has said it will compensate Palestinians whose property is destroyed or expropriated because of the fence project. Some Palestinians have sought and received compensation, while others have resisted, Israeli officials say.

Shreem, for example, has refused to request compensation because receiving it would mean signing away his right to the land.

"That is something I will never do," he said.

In Kfar Saba, a city of about 80,000 where the first Jewish settlers planted citrus groves and harvested almonds and peanuts, most residents today work in high-tech or commerce. Many commute to jobs in nearby Tel Aviv.

About 10 percent of the city’s population consists of immigrants from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia. It’s a homey city with ice cream shops and a city hall of white stucco and dark wood that dates back over 100 years, when it was a Turkish inn.

Residents are fond of their city, praising the culture and good schools.

Kfar Saba has not been attacked as much as other Israeli cities that border the West Bank, such as Netanya or Jerusalem.

But intifada violence indeed has reached Kfar Saba’s streets. On March 17, 2002, a Palestinian gunman opened fire across from a Kfar Saba high school, critically wounding an 18-year-old student and wounding 16 others.

On Nov. 4, 2002, a suicide bomber came to the city’s main mall but was stymied by a security guard who asked to check his bag. The bomber detonated his explosives, killing himself and the guard.

Miri Horvitz, a cosmetics saleswoman at the mall, was there the day of the attack.

"If the fence brings us quiet then I think it’s the best thing," she said. "I feel freer now, more relaxed."

Horvitz becomes subdued when she talks about the aftermath of the mall attack. "I was scared to leave the house for a long time," she said.

Her daughter, Hila, 24, shared her mother’s fear of attacks. Only now, after a two-year hiatus, has Hila returned to riding city buses. She also is in favor of the fence.

"I saw the fence on television," she said at the trendy boutique where she and her mother shopped. "It’s not a ghetto; it’s a security fence. I don’t think it’s as drastic as people say, suggesting it’s a ghetto and we are the Nazis."

At the open-air mall where the attack took place, there are balconies and a stone plaza with fountains where children roll with in-line skates, skateboard and ride bicycles. Trampolines are set up and children in harnesses strapped to bungee chords jump up and down.

"We feel more secure, although we know it doesn’t totally take away the risk," said Ruhama Sarussi, a teacher who visited the mall with her two sons, both on in-line skates. "We don’t want to put anyone in a ghetto, including them, but when will they let us feel secure so we don’t have to fear them?"

Inside the mall, Shlomo Shabo, a salesman at the electronics store a few feet from where the suicide bomber exploded, recalls the attack — the flesh that clung to his shirt, the thick, choking smoke and the crashing sound as television sets and appliances exploded.

"People are ripped into pieces because of these bombers. I saw it right here," Shabo said. The Palestinians "are paying the price for those wreaking havoc here. If there was no terrorism, there would be total freedom."

But the only long-term solution, Shabo said, is not a fence but a peace agreement.

In the Kalkilya neighborhood that faces the concrete wall, Nuhaila A’Wainat, a Palestinian homemaker and mother of five sons, sits in her spacious new home. It has high ceilings, a staircase with wooden railings, stone pillars and overstuffed red velvet couches. But she laments the view.

"My dream was to have a house like this. This is what we worked for all our lives," she said.

A’Wainat has a smooth oval face and her hair is covered by a beige scarf. She and her husband, a wealthy automobile parts salesman, built the house with money saved during several years of work in Kuwait.

They moved in 18 months ago, and enjoyed being so close to Kfar Saba.

"I enjoyed seeing the lights," she said. "It is Israel, but it is Palestine to me."

Now, however, she can hardly bring herself to look at the wall, which is some 15 yards from her house.

Her family feels alienated, she said, because relatives and friends fear visiting a home so close to the wall. Soldiers patrol along the wall, and people fear being shot accidentally.

"We are constantly on edge," she said. "Every little noise or movement makes us worry."

She places the blame entirely on Israel, however, rather than on Palestinians whose attacks precipitated the construction.

In Kfar Saba, the closest neighborhood to Kalkilya is on the city’s far eastern side. It consists mostly of immigrants who live in apartment blocks where the paint peels off the walls and gardens lie untended.

Their view is of white squat houses on Kalkilya’s sloping hillside. A verdant green field separates the two cities. From here, the wall can’t be seen.

Hussia, an immigrant from Moldova, wears a flowered house dress as she walks her small dog. The Arabs do not want peace, she said, and only a fence that climbs to the heavens would be high enough.

As for the security fence, she said, "Where is it? I have not seen it."

Who’s to Blame for Terror?

Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.

Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that "terrorism" can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of one group and justify that of another.

One might say I’m an all-around, groovy radical. And yet, I’ve got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up Israeli citizens.

Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel’s fault, the narrative goes, that these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created Palestinian terrorism.

Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation must be remedied — the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?

The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of Allah.

Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of dhimmi — legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances, Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal restrictions — forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.

When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews instigated by the government or the masses.

This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.

The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for 1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the time.

Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.

Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been the majority of Israel’s Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.

To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West Bank and Gaza — at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt — and dumped the refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against Israel.

Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.

In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption would change the status of the refugees. But wasn’t that the moral objective?

Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.

And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian desperation?

Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab propaganda creating this phenomenon, the "progressive" movement continues to feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East.

Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of “The
Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern
Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for the Jewish
Telegraph Agency. You can find Khazzoom on the web at

Lessons From Israel

Natalie, a 17-year-old from Ethiopia, looks forward to serving as an army paramedic and dreams of a trip to California. Mikhail, an 18-year-old from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, reflects on his decision to leave his friends in a crowded Tel Aviv nightclub one hour before the arrival of a suicide bomber.

Elsa, an 83-year-old Polish-born Holocaust survivor, cherishes a sacred Hebrew scroll rescued by her late husband from a burned-out Italian synagogue, while he served in the British army in World War II. Yuri, a former Soviet human rights activist turned hard-line Knesset member, sees parallels between a Soviet system that sought to crush dissent and a terrorist leadership that seeks to kill innocent civilians.

While most of the images of Israel presented to the American public are of military conflict, a recent mission to Israel sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which included City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, City Council President Alex Padilla, Cesar Chavez Foundation President Andres Irlando and myself, revealed something very different. We saw a multiethnic democracy full of citizens, with jaw-dropping stories of survival, demonstrating incredible resilience.

Halfway around the world, we encountered a small nation confronting many of the same challenges we face in Los Angeles and returned convinced that increased contact between Los Angeles and Israel can facilitate the solution of many complex problems at home. Some examples:


Like the United States, Israel must cope with ongoing, massive influxes of immigrants from diverse places such as Ethiopia, Russia, South America and even Brooklyn.

Israel’s absorption centers and social service agencies must do more than accustom these new Israelis to a new language and society. They must ensure that the first generation of immigrant offspring are ready to do their patriotic duty in the military — and do it well — beginning at age 18.

While our country often does not quickly enable young immigrants and their children to reach their full potential in society, Israel jump starts its startlingly diverse immigrants on their way to meaningful citizenship. Somehow, it succeeds.


The debate over diversity in America can often seem abstract. Not so in Israel, where families such as Natalie’s and Mikhail’s live side by side. Israel’s very survival as a nation depends upon the recognition of new, diverse groups and the legitimacy of their civic participation.

For example, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was born in Tunisia; our trip’s security escort, Eyal, was born in Israel to an Iraqi father and a Polish mother.

Things are far from perfect, and the challenge of creating a discrimination-free society (particularly for the 20 percent Arab Israeli minority) in a time of war remains daunting. Nevertheless, the multiethnic Israel we experienced upends the United Nations’ infamous, now-rescinded resolution equating Zionism with racism and instead offers much for us to emulate.

Economic Redevelopment

Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, both modern, bustling seaside metropolises, face similar challenges in urban redevelopment.

Just as investors grew leery of South Los Angeles in the wake of the 1992 riots, real estate interests have shied away from the largely Arab town of Jaffa during the latest wave of terror.

Both cities face similar challenges to empower private investors to find opportunities and to ensure that residents participate meaningfully in planning their own futures. Collaborative initiatives, such as the Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership allow us to share insights gained from programs such as L.A.’s Project Genesis.

Terrorism Preparedness

The last three years have seen a tenfold increase in terrorist violence directed at innocent civilians in Israel, and the country has adapted with a new security regime. Israel has implemented meaningful security measures at high-risk locations, enhanced coordination between the public and private sector and leveraged intelligence and experience in screening efforts at airports.

Interestingly, along with increased vigilance has come a determination to reject paralysis — families and workers still lead productive and social lives.

Unfortunately, American cities such as Los Angeles will have to follow Israel’s lead and be smarter, better coordinated and more proactive as the threat of radical terror in the United States grows more acute in the coming years.

My colleagues and I left Israel struck by the diversity and resilience of the Israeli people. At the same time, we came away with lessons to confront the challenges of Los Angeles, where 18-year-olds too often pick up guns to fight against each other rather than for their country.

Obviously, Israel faces many difficult security and political issues. Still, Jews and Latinos represent so much of the strength and diversity of Los Angeles, and observing the struggles and successes of another land of immigrants redoubled our commitment to make Los Angeles succeed for everyone.

Jack Weiss represents the fifth district on the Los Angeles City Council.

The Price We Pay

Jacob spent 20 long years in the home of his father-in-law, Laban, before he could return to the land of Canaan, his home and homeland.

He had been threatened, cheated, tricked, attacked, injured and orphaned over the course of those years. Certainly, he was hoping to settle down and enjoy the rest of his years in peace. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Jacob’s daughter, Dina, was spotted by Shechem, the prince of the land. He desired her, abducted her, raped her and then, in an odd twist, his aggression turned soft and he sought to make her his wife.

Shechem and Chamor, his father, approached Jacob and preposterously asked for his permission to marry Dina. It could be the start of a new relationship between the locals and Jacob’s family, they reasoned. Sons and daughters would intermarry, they could do business together; it was a win-win partnership for everyone. Jacob and his sons listened incredulously as these men painted such a rosy picture, as if they would happily agree to an alliance with those who perpetrated such an ugly and violent act against their daughter and sister.

Unfortunately, Jacob’s family had the weaker stance in these negotiations. Dina was still Shechem’s prisoner, and their one objective was to bring her home safely. Instead of agreeing to or rejecting the proposition, the brothers devised a plan, and attached an unrealistic condition to the marriage; all of the men in the city of Shechem must be circumcised before they would allow Dina, or any of their daughters, to intermarry. If the men refused, the brothers could take Dina back and be released from any obligation to have dealings with these repulsive people. It was a clever plan, but it backfired. The brothers underestimated the power and persuasion that Shechem had over his people, and all of the males underwent circumcision.

What to do? It seemed that the brothers had backed themselves into a corner. Shimon and Levi, two of Dina’s brothers, decided, independently, to take matters into their own hands. On the third day following the circumcision, when the men were weak and defenseless, they entered the town wielding swords. They killed all of the males, including Shechem and Chamor, took spoils and captives, and fulfilled their main objective, rescuing their sister and bringing her home.

They were successful in their quest, but were they justified? Were they allowed to kill so many people, to risk their own lives, to act with deceit? Their father seemed to think not. Jacob rebukes them sharply, both at the time that they act, and years later at the end of his life. He fears the repercussions of the inhabitants of the land, curses the anger of his sons and disassociates himself from their partnership.

But they have a defense. They have a response to their father’s objection: "Hach’zonah ya’aseh et achoteinu. (Should he treat our sister like a harlot?") Shimon and Levi felt that Shechem acted so brutally against Dina because she was the daughter of Jacob, a Jewish girl. Jews are easy targets because no one stands up to protest when a Jew is attacked. Shechem feared no punishment, no backlash, no consequence to his actions, and, therefore, he was free to do to Dina whatever he pleased. But Shimon and Levi stood up to say an emphatic no. Jewish blood is not hefker (ownerless). It is not free for the taking. We can and will use the full force of our strength to defend the lives and honor of our own, even if everyone else turns a blind eye to the injustices carried out against us.

Is this not the story of our past and our present? Who stood up to defend those who lost their lives in the Crusades? In the Inquisition? In the pogroms? In the Holocaust? Atrocity after atrocity befalls our people, and why? Because the world does not cry over spilled Jewish blood. Thank God for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who have, time and again, been blessed with the strength of Shimon and Levi, and showed the world that Jewish blood is accountable. As a nation, we can and will defend the lives of our citizens, and even if the world stands idly by while aggression is unleashed against us, it won’t go unpunished.

For the past two years, daily and deadly attacks have been unleashed against the citizens of Israel, yet Israel gets condemned for exercising her right of self-defense. Women and children are targeted and killed in their cars, their restaurants, their own homes — and the world seems to side with the perpetrators, not the victims. Were Shimon and Levi justified in wiping out the city of Shechem? Is the IDF justified in rooting out terrorists? Not everyone thinks so. The United Nations, the European Union and some in our own American government don’t support the drastic measures Israel must sometimes take to defend her citizens, even her very existence. But despite the protest and the bad press, it is hard to condemn success and security. There is a price to pay for relying on others for help, and there is a price to pay for taking care of ourselves. Shimon and Levi force us to think about which is a greater price to pay.

Steven Weil is senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

Enemy or Friend?

Israel’s 1 million Arab citizens have been going through a process of radicalization for the last generation, but since the Al Aqsa Intifada broke out nearly 14 months ago, that process has taken a bitter leap forward. Days after the intifada began and rioting Palestinians were shot to death by Israeli troops, Arabs across the Galilee also rioted, and 13 were killed by police. In a few cases since then, Arab citizens of Israel — nearly all Islamic fundamentalists — have been involved in terror attacks.

At the same time, the public statements of Israeli Arab leaders have become more extreme. Expressions of support for the intifada have become almost commonplace. But what Knesset Member Azmi Bishara said and did was unprecedented.

In a speech on June 5, 2000 — a week and a half after Israel’s pullout from Lebanon — he said, “Hezbollah won, and for the first time since 1967, we tasted the flavor of victory. Hezbollah has the right to flaunt its achievement and humiliate Israel.”

Bishara’s speech was at a celebration thrown by his political party in Umm el-Fahm, the capital of Israeli Arab radicalism. Bishara doesn’t deny making the remarks. But what really got him in trouble with the law was his appearance a year later at a gathering in the Syrian birthplace of longtime dictator Hafez Assad, to mark the one-year anniversary of the dictator’s death. The host at the gathering was Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the guest list included Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Palestinian terror chieftain Ahmed Jibril, who sat next to Bishara.

The tenor of this assembly was that of an Arab war council. Bishara paid tribute to Hezbollah’s “determination, persistence and heroism,” and called on the Arab world to support the intifada so Palestinians “can wage resistance” with the same success.

Bishara does not deny saying this.

For those two speeches — in Umm el-Fahm and in Syria — the Knesset voted to lift Bishara’s parliamentary immunity, allowing Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein to indict him for giving support to a terrorist organization. It is the first time in Israel’s history that a Member of Knesset (MK) will be prosecuted for things he said.

The case spotlights the dilemma regarding where to draw the line between freedom of speech and subversion. A number of Arab MKs have been and are being investigated for expressing support for terrorism against Israel, yet it is fitting that Bishara be the test case. Along with Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, Bishara is the ascendant political power among Israel’s Arab community, and except for Yossi Beilin, Bishara is the most original and effective agent for change this country has seen in the last decade.

Bishara authored and popularized the idea that Israel should not be a Jewish State, but rather a “state of all its citizens,” a demand made by virtually all Israeli Arabs except those who insist Israel should be an Islamic state. He’s the only Arab to run for prime minister, pulling out on the eve of the 1999 election to hurt incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu’s chances. And when the beneficiary of that gesture, Ehud Barak, badly disappointed Arab voters and then waged war against the intifada, Bishara, in February, spearheaded the first-ever Israeli Arab election boycott, which turned out to be a resounding show of strength.

Now, at 45, he has yet another provocative “first” to add to his resume.

Presenting his side of the story in a telephone interview, Bishara at times sounds like he’s taking his cue from Bill Clinton’s defense in the Monica Lewinsky “It depends on what you mean by the word is.”

“I never called for the use of violence, never called for terror, never gave support to Hezbollah, never identified with Hezbollah,” he says, answering the charges in Rubinstein’s draft indictment.

But isn’t using the word heroic to describe Hezbollah’s actions — which included killing Israeli soldiers and civilians — the same as supporting it?

“No,” Bishara replies. “Many Israeli commentators have described Hezbollah’s actions as heroic.”

He says his appearance at the Syrian gathering was not intended as a gesture of solidarity with Syria, Hezbollah or anybody else at the assembly. “I didn’t invite those people; I was invited on my own,” he notes.

The issue of whether he’s entitled to immunity as an MK doesn’t seem to interest Bishara, or at least did not in our interview. Even the democratic issue — freedom of speech — is secondary. The main thing for him is the politics of the matter, the rightness of his position. Hezbollah, in his view, was totally justified in its guerrilla war against what he calls Israeli “occupation” and “colonialism,” and so are the Palestinians.

This, he believes, is what makes him innocent, and this is what makes the Israeli judicial and political system, which are trying to punish him, guilty.

“What gives my statements legitimacy is the fact that colonialism and occupation are bad, and people have the right to resist it,” Bishara emphasizes.

And if the situation were turned around — if, say, a Syrian citizen traveled to Israel and praised the government for fighting the Palestinians and Hezbollah — would that be legitimate?

“No,” Bishara replies. “When one’s people are fighting against occupation, it is not legitimate for him to speak in favor of it.”

Rubinstein is known for being cautious about going after MKs who call for violence, but the Bishara case, for him, was cut and dried. He told the Knesset that in the past there were always divergent legal opinions on whether to go after an MK for incitement, but that in the Bishara case, he heard no such dissent.

Many liberal doves in the Knesset agree with the decision to indict Bishara. “A democracy has to defend itself,” notes MK Anat Ma’or of the left-wing Meretz party.

MK Tommy Lapid summed up the feeling among many liberals: “We all have a problem. Nobody wants to limit freedom of speech, but on the other hand, we all understand that Bishara exploits this freedom unjustly. ” Over the last year, Israeli Arab MKs have become so extreme,” Lapid continues. “A democracy has to set certain limits.”

Victory Should Be Israel’s Goal

Should Israel’s goal be to defeat the Palestinian Arab terrorists who are waging war against it? Or should Israelis be striving merely for a few days or weeks of quiet?

The answer would seem obvious, but at a recent meeting with a senior State Department official, I and other Jewish leaders were surprised and disappointed to discover that the State Department condemned Israel’s July 31 pre-emptive strike against terrorists in Nablus, who were planning to carry out a massacre of Israeli Jews, as "excessive" and "provocative" because it "would not contribute to the goal of achieving quiet."

No country in the world, including the United States, would sit by idly and allow the massacre of its citizens. Indeed, the United States has never behaved in that fashion. For example, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the goal of America’s response was not to achieve temporary "quiet," but to make sure that the aggressor would feel consequences so severe that the aggression would halt. And, of course, the United States has used much greater force than Israel in situations where Americans citizens were not in direct danger, including in Panama, Grenada and the Persian Gulf.

Israel’s goal in fighting a war is not "quiet," but is to protect Israeli lives and the Israeli homeland. A few days of quiet might provide an impressive sound bite for publicity-hungry politicians, but it would not do Israel any real good. It would just mean a very slight delay until terrorism resumed.

Israel has every moral and legal right to use whatever force is necessary to defend the lives of its citizens. Secretary of State Powell himself has supported strong U.S. action to defend U.S. citizens and U.S. interests.

Powell’s statements include:

America should enter fights with every bit of force available, or not at all." (Time, April 19, 2001)

Overwhelming U.S. force assures success at minimum risk to Americans in uniform." (Boston Globe, Jan. 19, 2001)

The State Department’s passionate rhetoric about the two Arab youths who were inadvertently killed during Israel’s July 31 counterterrorist action is especially ironic, considering the harm done to innocent civilians in operations directed by then-Gen. Powell himself. For example, he oversaw the December 1989 invasion of Panama, in which 25,000 troops were sent to capture a minor dictator suspected of drug trafficking. The action cost the lives of 23 American soldiers, 315 Panamanian soldiers and hundreds of Panamanian civilians. In addition, thousands of civilians were injured, and 10,000 were made refugees.

Israel has not used "full force" or "overwhelming force" — to quote Powell’s description of his recommended methods — but soon it will have no choice but to do so. As of this writing, 138 Israelis have been murdered since September 2000, and the daily mortar attacks, shootings, and bombings have reached Israel’s major cities. Israel will have to take serious military action to defeat the terrorists.

If the Bush administration is serious about its interest in peace in the Middle East, there are specific actions it can take to stop the terror before it leads to an all-out war:

Stop condemning Israel’s counterterrorist actions. The condemnations lend encouragement to the terrorists.

Halt America’s $100 million in annual aid to the Palestinian Arabs. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Arabs must be made to see that there will be real consequences for Arafat’s war against America’s ally, Israel.

Put the Palestinian Authority on the official U.S. list of terrorist sponsors.

If Palestinian Arabs kill Americans, take concrete steps to bring the killers to justice — including offering rewards for information leading to their capture, and issuing indictments so the suspects can be brought to trial in the United States.

Continue the administration’s policy of refusing to invite Arafat to the White House so long as violence continues. This is the one positive action the administration has taken regarding Arafat, and it must be maintained. Inviting Arafat now would be rewarding violence.

There can be no peace until Israel has defeated Arafat and his terrorists. The United States should help Israel do so.

Exploring Faith’s Price

“Love and Liberation: When the Jews Tore Down the Ghetto Walls” by Ralph David Fertig (Writers Club Press, $17.95)

On Jan. 9, 1807, Prince Jerome of Prussia decreed that the fortifications of the ancient city of Breslau could be destroyed. After 540 years of isolation, the Jews of Breslau tore down the ghetto gates. Under Napoleonic law, they were now free to pursue their religion while becoming citizens of the state.

For some, this meant breaking away from the strictures of Orthodoxy and embracing a new religion; for others, it meant a splintering of Judaism’s moral authority. Nothing would ever be the same again: under the new guard, freedom brought justice, but with it, a loss in faith.

It is exactly the price of this faith that author and retired judge, lawyer and civil-rights freedom fighter Ralph David Fertig dissects in his new historical novel, “Love and Liberation.” The story of three Jewish protagonists is played out against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the collapse of the Roman Empire, the emergence of capitalism and the birth of Reform Judaism. Like any satisfying puzzle, the pieces of this book intertwine through fiction and historical fact to give us a bird’s-eye view of the forces that ended feudalism and ushered in the Age of Enlightenment.

Like “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant, a biblical fiction about Dinah, “Love and Liberation” reveals more truth than historical fact. We feel, along with the characters, a time when the spirit of revolution was fueled by new movements in literature, philosophy and religion: how some Jews held on, desperate to maintain the old, familiar ways of the ghetto, while others, like Fertig’s protagonists, became energized in the discovery of change.

Despite some overly long expository dialogue that works against the flow of narrative, the book is finely written, bold and direct. It dishes up such a wealth of interesting historical accounts and believable characters that we feel rewarded and entertained. Fertig is a fresh voice in Jewish historical fiction.