The Other

David Myers’ message on the disengagement from Gaza is moving and powerful and wonderfully significant (“Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other,” Aug. 26). It is a call to conscience and a much-need reminder that what lies at the heart of the Jewish ethos is the conviction that the Jewish conscience has no boundaries. The Gaza settlers, the impoverished Israelis, the Arab citizens of Israel, the Palestinians — there must be a compassionate place for all of them on the walls of a Jewish heart.

Rabbi Leonard Beerman
Los Angeles

In his article, David Myers shows his universalism first. He has little sympathy for the settlers who did not take any money. Apparently, they had higher motives in not wanting to leave their homes.

Recently we watched the scenes of evacuees and soldiers. One could not help but be proud of the Israel Defense Forces as they carried out their duty with so much sympathy for the anguish of the settler. Disengagement was a wrenching experience for all of Israel. One needs time to mourn and contemplate its effect on the history of the nation.

Myers does not even allow a mourning period. He immediately chastises us for not showing empathy toward the Palestinians. He neglected to mention that Jews were evicted from all the Arab countries, leaving behind far greater wealth.

You don’t hear about these Jewish refugees. Israel did not keep them in refugee camps for more than 50 years. They were integrated into the society.

We teach children to first love themselves because only then can they love a friend or the “other.” This applies to adults, as well. In the fullness of time, the other will come to understand that the gestures of friendship which Israel has demonstrated over the years deserve to be reciprocated.

Bracha Malkin
Los Angeles

Like a Virgin

In response to Amy Klein’s column, “Like a Virgin” (Aug. 19), I would like to offer a response to the last few lines of the article: “But a 40-year-old virgin? Save it for the movies, because it’s so sad you’d have to laugh.”

While I would agree that it would appear to be atypical or uncommon to have existed on this planet for 40 years (let alone 40 days and 40 nights, as far as many people are concerned) without ever having had sexual relations with another person, I would hardly call it “sad.” Better a 40-year-old virgin (who perhaps is just selective and sensitive enough to want to wait for the right person and have a caring, more meaningful relationship with a true connection) than a 20-something who just wants to “romp around” because he/she “can” or because “everyone else is doing it. I’m sure my nearly 50-year-old male virgin friend would agree.

Name Withheld Upon Request

Claim Won’t Hold

A Nation/World brief in your Aug. 19 issue reported that entertainer Harry Belafonte recently claimed Jews were “high up in the Third Reich” (“Oy, Mr. Tallyman,” Aug. 19). After protests by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, Belafonte backtracked and admitted that “Jews weren’t ‘high up'” in the Hitler regime, but he then claimed: “Jews did have a role, some did, in the demise and brutal treatment of the Jewish people [during the Holocaust].” (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 11, 2005) Your article noted that Belafonte claimed my book, “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers,” supports his charge.

“Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers” shows that a number of people of partial Jewish ancestry served in the German military, but they did not even consider themselves Jews. Moreover, the vast majority of them were drafted — they were forced to serve Hitler just as other Jews were forced to become slave laborers in Auschwitz and elsewhere. In fact, many of them were later dismissed from the German military and sent to forced labor camps where they themselves were persecuted and some were murdered. Belafonte should take the trouble to read the books he cites, before claiming they support him. My book does not support him.

Bryan Mark Rigg
author of “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers”

Death by Oprah

I picked up The Jewish Journal, opened the back page and was drawn in by the title of an article by Annie Korzen: “Death by Oprah” (Aug. 19). I read the first paragraph, and became excited at the prospect of reading, finally, an intelligent discourse from an expert who writes about “the ugly stereotypes Jewish men have created about their wives and mothers.”

But it was all downhill after that. Rather than being a spokesperson for Jewish women, Korzen went on to prove these stereotypes by her own words and deeds, descriptions of her own behavior proving the reputed ugliness is all too true. Her piggish eating habits and self-denigrating jokes proved the opposite of what she supposedly set out to do, which is to destroy stereotypes, the reason she was invited on “Oprah.” Her so-called humor served only to further the ugly clichés about Jewish women.

What a pity, taking up two columns of a Jewish newspaper to serve the callous cause of stereotyping Jewish women, who deserve better that that. With friends like Korzen, we Jewish women don’t need enemies.

Carol Pearlman
West Hollywood


In “Classnotes: Genesis Generation” (Aug. 26), The first name of Jenna Barocas was incorrectly written as Jennifer.

Faith Remains

The Journal’s question, “After Gaza, Can Religious Jews Still Believe in Israel?” is entirely wrong (Cover Story, Aug. 12). In fact, it is quite the opposite. Ultimately, the vast majority of religious Jews will emerge with their faith in Israel intact — even if challenged by Israel’s secular administration and its surreal, morally evil expulsion plan, whereby 10,000 of Israel’s best citizens suffered unimaginable loss and pain.

As for the nonreligious Jews (not the non-observant, many of whom may well be Jews of faith), what will be the degree and quality of their belief in Israel now that we have experienced the expulsion from Gaza?

More than 1,000 proud and hugely productive Gush Katif families, a number of them nonreligious, are today homeless — adrift throughout Israel — due to unfulfilled government promises. Illustrative is the experience of certain expelled secularists who arrived at their promised quarters only to be turned away. The facility owners now lacked confidence in the government’s promise of payment. Once again, these Jews became outcasts.

Belief in God’s word and their spirituality enable the religious to say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” But will the nonreligious outcasts be able to recover belief in Israel? That is a more appropriate question.

Julian M. White
Beverly Hills

Terrorism Won

Notwithstanding the arguments of Hirsh Goodman (“Israel’s Future — Not Terrorism — Won in Gaza,” Aug. 26) on the strategic benefits and objectives for Israel of the Gaza withdrawal, the perception held almost unanimously by Palestinians is that tactics of terror have driven Israel out of Gaza. That is the only lesson that the Palestinians will draw from the Gaza withdrawal, and now they will try to apply it in the rest of Israel, with disastrous results for themselves and for many Israelis.

One might request that Goodman at least not repeat the Arab propaganda claim that Gaza is “the most populated piece of real estate in the world.” Had he devoted even a few minutes to fact-checking, Goodman would have found that, with more than 1.3 million people in 138 square miles, Gaza has a density of 9,971 persons per square mile. That is about 57 percent of the density of Hong Kong (17,377) and less than 15 percent of the density of Manhattan (66,844).

Ralph B. Kostant
Valley Village

Junk Science

Most paleontologists admit that fossils have not proven the validity of classical evolution (“Junk” Science, Aug. 12). Microfossils of bacteria occur immediately after the appearance of water on Earth. Almost 530 million years ago, with no hint in earlier fossils, the Cambrian explosion of life appeared with all the body plans represented in animal phyla extant today, simultaneously, in a single burst in the fossil record. Classes developed within each phyla, but they retained the basic body plan of their particular phylum. Animals make their sudden appearance highly specialized and fully developed, last their time and disappear essentially the same. One of the great mysteries of animal evolution is why no new phyla have appeared since the Cambrian age. These rapid staccato changes cannot be explained by purely random mutations at the molecular genetic level. Microevolution within a species has been well documented but there is no data to support macroevolution. The persistence of theories for a randomly driven evolution of life in the face of the data from molecular biology and the fossil record, both replete with evidence against it, is purely a matter of cognitive dissidence.

Dr. Sabi Israel
West Hills

Gaza Sympathies

David Myers, in his zeal to support our enemies and oppose our own interests, lied (“Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other,” Aug. 26). Houses were demolished in Gaza, Samaria, Judea and Jerusalem not “without reason.” As is well known, they were houses of terrorists, and a Turkish law, kept on the books by the British occupiers and still retained by us in our independence, decrees their razing; or houses threatening innocent civilians passing on the roads. Does the professor think that they were picked at random, destroyed on whim?

He turned truth on its head: In 1948 it was Jews in Muslim countries who were dispossessed and exiled (or hanged, as in Baghdad), not Palestinian Muslims: Some of those fled out of fear of reprisal for attacking Jews, or in obedience to the Arab high command to “clear the battlefield” for genocide of the Jews. Even so, their property was kept in trust for them until a peace settlement.

Nursing their enmity toward us for generations, they should not be “permitted back”. Every trace of their occupation of the land of Israel (as they originally called it) might well be erased. The millions of Arabs living well as Israeli citizens are there by Israeli sufferance, not by any right. They keep the peace. The refugees didn’t and don’t.

Louis Richter


Wrongful-Death Claim in Burbank Shooting

The family of an Israeli immigrant killed by Burbank police is pursuing a $51 million wrongful-death claim against the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles. Assaf Deri, 25, died a year ago when Burbank undercover police officers shot him in an alley in North Hollywood.

Attorneys for the family said they filed their claim late last month, just prior to the one-year anniversary of Deri’s death, but the filing could not be verified on Friday, when the family went public with the legal action.

On June 25, 2004, plainclothes officers approached Deri after “boxing him into an alley with their vehicles,” according to the claim. A coroner’s report concluded that Deri died after officers shot him multiple times. The incident remains under investigation by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

The Journal previously reported that Burbank police characterized the shooting as self-defense. Officials said that the shooting occurred after two officers approached Deri’s car on foot while conducting a narcotics investigation in an alley near Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Oxnard Street. Deri, who was alone in the car, accelerated, said police, hitting and slightly injuring one of the officers. Out of fear for their safety, officers opened fire. The police have declined to speak in detail about the case pending the conclusion and release of the official investigation.

The claim asserts that Deri “was not engaging in any illegal or suspicious activity, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” It also states that Deri had no previous criminal record. In addition, the filing alleges that officers were quick to draw their weapons because Deri looked Middle Eastern. Deri “was killed because of his race and national origin (Middle Eastern) and his religion (Jewish) and/or his perceived religion (Muslim),” in the words of the claim.

Later that night, police went to Deri’s apartment and handcuffed his girlfriend and his father, who was visiting from Israel, said family friends. Officers allegedly roused them at midnight, told them that Assaf Deri was dead, then held them there overnight without allowing them to make phone calls. The claim states that officers “conduced a fruitless search for contraband and/or illegal activities without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.”


Sharon Wins Big With Bush

One historic concession deserves another. Just four months after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — the father of the settlement movement — stunned Israelis by pledging to evacuate some settlements, he got his payback from President Bush, who reversed decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Israel’s claim to parts of the West Bank.

It was compensation, with interest: Sharon had scored perhaps the most stunning diplomatic triumph in the U.S.-Israeli alliance in a generation.

"In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949," Bush said Wednesday at a White House appearance with Sharon after the two leaders met. "It is realistic to expect that any final-status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities."

The statement, reiterated in a letter to Sharon, represents the first time the U.S. government has provided a formal commitment to Israel’s claim on parts of the West Bank.

Bush’s commitment came without any mention of land from Israel and was widely seen as a significant shift in U.S. policy in the region. It was a soaring historical moment fraught with grinding political realities.

Bush needs a Middle East success to bolster a reputation as a bold foreign policy leader that flags with each U.S. casualty in Iraq.

For his part, Sharon needs to show Israelis that his leadership through some of the nation’s most traumatic years is resulting in a diplomatic breakthrough.

In addition, Sharon faces a May 2 Likud Party referendum on his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and other Likud figures have vowed to challenge any uprooting of settlements.

When talks on the dimensions of a withdrawal began in February, the Americans rejected out of hand any recognition of Israeli claims in the West Bank. Subsequently, U.S. officials said they would consider such a recognition depending on the breadth of the withdrawal.

According to a senior Israeli official, the disengagement plan Sharon presented to Bush calls for an Israeli withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank.

The settlements, encompassing 500 settlers, include Ganim, Homesh, Kadim and Sanur, all in the northern West Bank. The withdrawal from these settlements would provide contiguity for the Palestinians between Jenin and Nablus, a major Palestinian concern.

The official said any future withdrawal would depend on how the Palestinians respond to this proposal and whether they live up to their commitments.

No one expected Bush to so explicitly bury years of U.S. policy, which traditionally said all the land Israel captured in 1967 was up for negotiation.

At best, Bush was expected to recognize vague "demographic realities." Instead, he said it was "unrealistic" to expect Israel to return to its pre-1967 lines.

Bush moreover threw in an endorsement of Israel’s controversial security barrier as it is now routed.

"The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of that security effort should, as your government has stated, be a security rather than political barrier," he said.

Finally, Bush expressed his most emphatic rejection to date of the Palestinian demand that Arab refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to land in Israel that they left in 1948.

"It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final-status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there rather than Israel," he said.

Sharon gave very little in return. Against Bush’s repeated assurances that the Gaza withdrawal would spur forward the U.S.-led "road map" peace plan and its goal of a Palestinian state, Sharon referred only obliquely to "your vision" in his public remarks Wednesday.

The biggest political loser Wednesday appeared to be the Palestinians, who were paying the price for a leadership that refused to stop terrorism and never successfully engaged Bush.

"He is the first president who has legitimized the settlements in the Palestinian territories when he said that there will be no return to the borders of 1967," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei was quoted as saying by Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper.

Qurei’s outlook was bleak.

"We as Palestinians reject that, we cannot accept that, we reject and refuse it," he said.

Senior Bush administration officials, however, said the Palestinians should view the letters as an opportunity.

"What we want is a situation where Palestinian leaders, committed to democracy and fighting terror, have a chance to take control of that territory as a down payment on the way toward a Palestinian state," one said. "And we propose to engage very vigorously with the Palestinian Authority to try and create the institutions that will allow them to do that."

Car Donations May Hit IRS Roadblock

Get rid of your old car, help out a charity and get a
write-off. What could be easier?

With the April 15 IRS deadline drawing near, charities are
tapping taxpayer frustration by increasing their appeals for vehicle donations.
But a proposed government crackdown on the value donors can claim for a donated
vehicle is changing the way programs are being advertised.

Claims of “highest blue book value” and grandiose statements
about how a car donation will support your favorite charity are giving way to
cautious, increasingly detailed disclosures of the donation process, including
specifics on how much a charity might expect to receive from a donation.

The pressure on advertisers to come clean about the donation
process follows a recent congressional investigation that found many donors
claim the highest “blue book” value on their taxes, while many charities are
typically earning 20 percent or less from the transactions. In some cases,
nonprofits are even losing money on the deal.

Uncle Sam is now threatening to step in and regulate a
system based primarily on the honor system, which provides donors with plump
write-offs and makes car auctioneers a tidy bundle but leaves charities with
little to show.

“There’s clearly been an area where there’s potential abuse,”
said Paul Castro, president of Jewish Family Service (JFS).

While charities might be receiving a small percentage of the
total donation, many are increasingly reliant on the vehicle sales as a funding
source for annual budgets.

JFS, which uses a third party to collect and sell donated
cars, is worried that any changes in the current system will carry a negative
financial impact for charities. Proceeds from the sale of donated vehicles 
account for 22 percent and 33 percent of the budgets for the organization’s
Valley and Santa Monica offices, respectively.

“Obviously, anything that gets into place from a regulatory
perspective that chills the donor is something that’s going to effect us,
because people are going to be more cautious,” Castro said. “On the other hand,
if the charity is forced to get the appraisal, then it’s going to become a
burdensome process, and if the donor is required to get an appraisal, they’re
going to be less likely to donate it.”

The Bush administration, as part of its budget proposal for
2005, is hoping to close this tax loophole, which could save the federal
government billions in estimated savings over the next 10 years by establishing
either a deduction limit or stricter appraisal requirements for used vehicle
donations. However, the change could have a deleterious impact on nonprofits at
both the national and local level.

If passed by Congress, the changes could take effect this

A November 2003 report prepared for the Senate Finance
Committee by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of
Congress, found rampant abuse by taxpayers who donate vehicles to nonprofits.
In addition to taxpayers inflating write-off claims for used vehicles to “blue
book” value instead of fair-market value, the report found that charities often
earn anywhere from 20 percent to 5 percent of the value donors claimed on their

The report tracked 54 donated vehicles, most of which were
sold at auction. In one instance, a donor valued a 1987 Volvo 740 at $3,000,
but the nonprofit’s final take was $35. Some charities lost money on the
donation after paying towing, repair and resale costs.

The GAO estimates that tax claims for vehicle donations cost
the federal government $654 million in revenue for 2000, but the report did not
estimate how much the IRS loses when donors use the higher “blue book” value
rather than fair market.

The Treasury Department and several senators are pushing for
stricter requirements.

According to the Treasury, closing the tax loophole on car
donations, as well as a crackdown on deductions for intellectual property and
patents, would raise about $4.8 billion over a 10-year period. Under a plan
submitted by the Treasury, the IRS would require taxpayers to get their vehicle
appraised prior to donation. Current IRS regulations require appraisal only if
the vehicle’s value is greater than $5,000.

“We encourage people to proceed carefully when donating
vehicles,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said. “But people should know that
in some cases, the donation is providing little value.”

Before donating a vehicle, the IRS advises that taxpayers
ask questions of the charity to determine how the vehicle will be sold — either
by the charity itself or a private fundraiser, like an auction house — and how
much of the sale price will be used for charitable purposes.

California law requires that nonprofits issue donors a
receipt that lists the mileage and condition of the vehicle for a state tax
deduction. It’s a model the federal government may turn to as a blueprint for
any vehicle donation reform.

While more stringent reporting at the state level has made
the taxpayer more honest, third-party retailers are still behind the curve. A
California study revealed that 80 percent of charities contracting with
fundraisers to run their car donation program received less than 60 cents for
every dollar value of vehicle donated.

However, smaller-scale car donation programs that handle
their own intake and sales, like Southern California Jewish Center or Chabad,
aren’t worried that future regulations will scare off potential donors.

Rabbi Moshe Bryski said Chabad of the Conejo, which recently
sent out an advertisement about its vehicle donation program to congregants,
takes in about a dozen cars every year that are then sold by a volunteer.

“Organizations that primarily get their cars donated from
people who care about the organization, not so much doing it for the tax
write-off but doing it to help Chabad, it’s not going to have an effect on us
at all,” he said.  

Survivors Sue Claims Commission

Survivors are suing the commission on Nazi-era insurance claims, a commissioner has called for the resignation of its chief and Jewish officials handling the claims acknowledge serious problems.

But they also say there probably isn’t a better way to dole out the claims.

The anger and frustration some lawmakers and survivors feel toward the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims peaked last week when several survivors filed suit, claiming the organization was delaying payments.

California’s insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, a member of the commission, later joined the suit and called for the resignation of the commission’s chairman, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Survivors Jack Brauns, Manny Steinberg and Si Frumkin, all Los Angeles-area residents, charged that the ICHEIC improperly delayed or denied payments totaling more than $1 billion on policies held by the survivors or heirs of those who perished under Nazi rule.

"This is a commission that is supposed to help survivors," said William Shernoff, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. "But from what we see, they are helping the insurance companies more than survivors."

They also are seeking Eagleburger’s resignation, saying his salary — which they estimate at over $300,000 — is paid for by the insurance companies. The plaintiffs believe Eagleburger is working in the insurance companies’ interests.

"This is blood money stolen from survivors," said Frumkin, chair of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jewry.

For his part, Eagleburger says he has no intention of resigning. His aide, Anais Haase, said that time and resources planned for investigating claims would be diverted to defending against the lawsuit if the survivors persist in fighting them.

"We don’t believe we are mistreating survivors or their heirs," Haase said. "We offer the only option available at no cost to survivors and their heirs."

The plaintiffs are asking the ICHEIC to place more pressure on Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali to divulge more unpaid life insurance policies. The ICHEIC has published 9,000 names of Generali policyholders, but the claimants suggest the list could exceed 100,000 policies.

Shernoff said Holocaust survivors and their heirs should also maintain the right to use litigation to gain money owed them, rather than working through the ICHEIC.

The suit was filed under California’s Unfair Business Practices statute, but it’s unclear whether the ICHEIC can legally be defined as a business.

A Generali official in New York called the lawsuit baseless and misleading, saying that thousands of claimants "have and will continue to be paid and offered generous amounts through ICHEIC, which is supported by leading Jewish Holocaust restitution organizations and the State of Israel."

Stuart Eizenstat, a special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said the lawsuits could wreck the ICHEIC system if the suit nullifies the agreements the commission has reached with the insurance agencies.

"It continues to cast a cloud of debate over the exercise," he said. "It diverts energy and attention from filling claims."

Eizenstat said he appreciates that the suit is an expression of frustration over the slow process of paying claims. But he and others contend that the insurance companies, not the ICHEIC, have made the process more difficult by withholding names.

Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, agreed.

"There is no bad faith here," he said of the ICHEIC. "There is bad information after 50 years."

Singer acknowledged that the organization has had trouble completing its mission.

"ICHEIC has a mammoth task, and it’s bigger than we ever thought it was going to be," Singer said. "We couldn’t have known it at the time."

He suggested an ombudsman might be able to bridge the gap between the ICHEIC and the Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC, founded in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has had some problems in the past two years. Eagleburger threatened to resign last year after difficulty securing cooperation from German insurance companies.

Congressional representatives and others also have chastised Eagleburger and the commission for its slow progress, especially considering the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC also has been criticized for spending $56 million in five years, and Eizenstat agreed that the organization cannot be considered a model of efficiency.

But both Eizenstat and Singer defended Eagleburger.

"Larry has earned every nickel and then some," Eizenstat said. "He’s had to undergo hell to bring the parties together."

California Gov. Gray Davis issued a statement Saturday accusing the ICHEIC of "not meeting its mission.

"The system does not work, claims are not being investigated and survivors are not being paid,” Davis said in the statement.

Edwin Black and Tom Tugend contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

It’s Not Our Right to Challenge Israel

I grew up in Australia in the 1960s and well remember, as a child, sitting by the radio or television anxiously awaiting developments during the Six-Day War.

I vividly recall scouring the paper for details of troop movements during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and remember being unable to sleep at night for fear that Israel might not exist when I awoke the following morning.

But I also remember a more powerful lesson from childhood. My Jewish day school education left me with the enduring belief that decisions regarding the security interests of the State of Israel were best left in the hands of those whose sons and daughters were asked to fight its battles.

Whatever our opinions about Israel’s claim on the territories, its attitude to Palestinian nationalism or its rights to self-defense, no one was asking us to risk our lives for Israel’s sake.

I had neither the right nor privilege to challenge the government of Israel’s decisions on how to protect its citizens. If I did so, I was in some way undermining that government and endangering Israel’s existence in a hostile world.

In a cynical age such as ours, this parochial attitude might seem charmingly out of date. And yet, this central tenet of a Zionist education remained embedded in my consciousness throughout high school, through my student leadership days and even into my 30s, when I had to make strenuous efforts to channel my bitter opposition to the Oslo process into nonpublic activism.

I resisted and continue to resist attacking a democratically elected government of Israel. I remain committed to the notion that short of living full time in the Jewish State, the policies of Israel, for better or worse, deserve to be publicly respected.

The wisdom of this approach is often challenged, particularly within my own ideological circle. My usual response to such criticism is that the State of Israel will always have far greater enemies than its own government, and that these enemies are much worthier of challenge.

Maybe that is why I am so angered by advertisements and articles in our local papers that claim that alternative voices are being muffled in the community. By "alternative," they, of course, mean opposition to the Israeli government.

When I read the most recent lachrymose statement on the back page of The Jewish Journal, my first reaction was a sense of irony. How often during the long years of Oslo, when many in my own circle felt that Oslo was a deathtrap leading Israel not to peace but war, did we feel like pariahs, with no audience or forum to hear our perspective? Yet, I still can’t remember anyone suggesting that we buy advertising space proclaiming our sense of exclusion. Despite our worst fears, we knew that time would prove us tragically right.

My second reaction was more pointed. What does this self-described loyal opposition really want?

For two years, Israel had a national unity government composed of left and right — a government that achieved a record 70 percent approval rating.

It was a government in which the prime minister’s own right-wing party was in the minority. It was a government whose leader had expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a government that had laid down a clear agenda for negotiations, had accepted many American proposals from Mitchell to Tenet to Zinni. It was a government attempting to extricate Israel from one of the most difficult security situations it has ever encountered.

While Israelis are dying in their dozens, for no other reason than that they are Jews in the wrong place at the wrong time, who are we to tell the Israeli government how they can best be protected? Maybe this unity government doesn’t have all the answers, but surely it is better equipped than any of us to under take the necessary problem-solving.

Finally, I thought of the many community forums in which I have participated or which I have attended. In these community gatherings, there has almost always been another spokesman with an alternative point of view.

No one that I am aware of has ever been ejected from a forum for challenging anyone’s right-wing perspective. Even this very paper, which represents itself as the voice of the community, has, to its credit, pains over the course of the past two years to achieve a balance between competing points of vie .

It is said that when truth becomes apparent, it blazes so intensely that the unprepared must shield their eyes. That certain members of our community remain blind to realities in the Middle East can be debated.

But whatever we believe to be the solution to the Middle East conflict, there is no advantage to either Israel or ourselves in denouncing the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.

We are outsiders. It is not our democratic right or even our Jewish right to voice opposition to Israeli policies, anymore than it is Israel’s right to voice opposition to American social policies.

If you want that right, then live in Israel and become a citizen. In the meantime, we should allow those who must contend with daily risks to their own and their childrens’ lives to make their own security decisions entirely free from our unwanted interference.

Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and senior editorial columnist for www.Jewsweek.com.

Sex,Space and Swastikas

The explosive claim by Clonaid that a human being was successfully cloned has focused attention on the Raelian Movement, the quasi-religious sect that set up the genetic engineering company in 1997. Sharp-eyed viewers of television interviews with founder Rael may have noticed him wearing a necklace featuring a Star of David-shaped medallion, with a pinwheel filling the star. The design has been the official logo of the movement for more than a decade, but that’s not always been the case; the original symbol was, incredibly, a swastika within a Jewish star. The change came after an emotional confrontation I had with Rael in early 1992.

At the time, I was senior reporter for a TV newsmagazine program that had done an extensive investigation of the flamboyant Frenchman and his thousands of followers. He was an outspoken advocate of promiscuity ("If you like to have free sex, you have free sex," he told his adoring adherents), and he delighted in telling the story of his 1973 encounter with a 4-foot-tall extraterrestrial who called himself "Yahweh Elohim." The visitor explained to Rael (a former auto racer originally named Claude Vorilhon) that life on earth was created by scientifically advanced beings, and that the Hebrew word "Elohim" had been mistranslated in English Bibles as "God." Rather, it really means "those who came from the sky."

Rael said his little buddy told him to establish an embassy where the aliens can be welcomed when they return to earth sometime before 2035, and to that end, he has repeatedly asked the Israeli government for permission to build what he calls "the third temple" somewhere near Jerusalem. The request, for some reason, has been denied.

After our initial report on Rael, we heard that he’d be giving a lecture at the Loew’s Santa Monica Hotel. The program’s host, Geraldo Rivera, and I decided to confront him before the speech, and while awaiting his arrival with our camera crew, I perused a long table filled with Raelian literature and various tchotchkes. I was appalled to see the swastika/Star of David symbol emblazoned on virtually everything.

Rael was surprised to see us in the lobby, but pleasantly agreed to an interview in which he told us how extraterrestrials had taken him to another planet and revealed that he was to be the New Messiah; he also confirmed that he had personally met Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and Buddha, and that "I was speaking to them like I am speaking to you now."

After watching his lecture, I told Rael’s assistant that I wanted to meet with him privately. Following some whispered negotiations, I was ushered into a darkened room adjacent to the lecture hall. "Rael," I began. "I have no problem with you and your movement. Believe what you want to believe, preach what you want to preach, sell what you want to sell. But how dare you use a combined swastika and Star of David as your symbol!"

The soft-spoken guru expressed shock. "Why does this offend you?" he asked. "It is an ancient Sanskrit design which means ‘well-being’ and also represents infinity!"

"Excuse me," I replied, trying to contain my anger. "When I return home, I’ll show this to my mother and grandmother, who escaped from Nazi Germany. I’ll show it to my relatives who survived concentration camps, and to my cousins whose parents and siblings were murdered by people wearing this grotesque symbol. Do you think it will say ‘well-being’ to them?"

Rael, to my surprise, was clearly shaken by this line of reasoning, which was apparently a revelation to him, despite the fact that Jewish groups had already held protests outside his lectures. After more discussion, he told me he’d be in touch. A week or two later, I received a press release in the mail announcing a new emblem for the movement. There was also a full-page, handwritten letter to me from my new pen pal. Rael said that after our conversation, "I spent part of the night praying telepathically to the Elohim for a solution to not make more suffering for old people who were victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Finally, I got the authorization to change the symbol."

He closed the letter by thanking me for my "intervention," for explaining the problem to him, and for making him realize that the old design might be an obstacle to establishing that new embassy in Israel. Glad I could help, Rael.

The Circuit

Persian Celebration

Members of the Iranian-American Jewish Association (IAJA) celebrated the 22nd anniversary of the house that Dariush built.

Dariush Fakheri, the outreach organization’s founding father, was honored at the Loews Santa Monica Hotel gala, along with members Fred Fouladi, Star Barlava, Asher Aramnia, Saeed Banayan and Pooya Dayanim. The Anti-Defamation League’s Marjan Keypour emceed the evening. Also present: Neil and Dora Kadisha.

George Hardonian, president of Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, told The Circuit that the honors are overdue.

“They are truly grass-roots people who give of their time,” Hardonian said. “They’re not all affluent business people, but they are people who have done a lot for the local Iranian Jewish community.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, an instrumental ally to the Iranian Jewish community in bringing awareness to the Shiraz 13 prisoners, vowed to continue to “imply and apply economic pressure” on the Iranian government to release the remaining prisoners.

Over dinner, Shohreh Mizrahi, who in 1994 started IAJA’s Young Professionals Network, praised IAJA’s accomplishments.

“It’s been a very essential part of Persian Jewish life here,” Mizrahi said. “They get involved in different issues, relevant to young and old. I see [IAJA] as a voice of conscience of the whole community.”

Circuit Updates

IAJA reports that Dariush Frashidian, the imprisoned Iranian Muslim local, aided by Persian Jews and recently profiled in The Journal, has found work as a cab driver in Costa Mesa.

Remember Leora Sharone, first-place winner of the academic contest on Israel sponsored by Jewish Community Centers of Los Angeles? The 18-year-old had been seeking scholarship money to enable her to volunteer in Israel as part of the Habonim Dror Workshop. Guess what? — Leora sent The Circuit a thank-you card for bringing attention to her ambition.

“I was able to meet my scholarship goal and I will be attending the program next year in Israel,” she wrote. “Thank you very much!”

An Important Claim This Year in Jerusalem!

Dr. David Fox of Beverly Hills contacted The Circuit with the news that graduates of Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn-Toras Emes convened in Jerusalem in honor of Rabbi Yakov Krause, the school’s dean. Also addressing alumni were Rabbi Moshe Chadash and Shmuel Fasman.

Mann Power ‘Closet’ Conspirators

The Circuit caught up with celebrated French writer/director Francis Veber (profiled in an August 1999 Journal article) as the longtime L.A. resident was anticipating the New York premiere of his latest comedy, “The Closet” (“Le Placard”). The Miramax release is a special occasion for Veber, a Paris-raised Jew who is one of France’s most commercial filmmakers. “The Closet” reunites him with cinematic partner-in-crime Gérard Depardieu, star of Veber’s hilarious ’80s hits, “La Chévre” and “Les Compéres” (and the inspiration for the less-appetizing American remakes “Pure Luck” and “Father’s Day,” respectively).

Film aficionados know that Depardieu is the hardest working man in cinema, dancing at both Hollywood and French weddings. This evidently took its toll on the actor last August, when Depardieu was rushed into emergency quintuple bypass surgery a day before starting “The Closet.”

“I came to the hospital and he looked like Moby Dick,” Verber said with characteristic candor. “I kissed him and he said, ‘Wait for me.'”

Veber waited. Five weeks later, Depardieu was ready to roll. Still, Veber had concerns regarding his old friend.

“I make a lot of takes. I didn’t want to kill him,” said Veber, “but he is strong.”

So are the performances in “The Closet,” according to Veber. The movie centers around a milquetoast accountant (Daniel Auteuil) who learns that the condom manufacturer he works for wants to fire him for being too boring. So the accountant schemes to convince co-workers that he is gay; a fabrication that makes him an object of intrigue. Hilarity ensues.

If this comedy of errors sounds dicey, have faith in Veber, a master of farce since his screenwriting on “La Cage Aux Folles” (successfully remade as “The Birdcage” by Mike Nichols ). Evidently, the premise works — a hit earlier this year in France, “The Closet”‘s Gallic success echoed 1998, when Veber’s “The Dinner Game” grossed second only to “Titanic.” Incidentally, “The Closet” also reteamed Veber with Thierry Lhermitte, who so precisely portrayed the arrogant Brochant in “Dinner Game.”

Veber visited corporate workspaces before writing “The Closet.” Despite his research, there were details he couldn’t have anticipated before his Parisian shoot.

“We had to go to Japan and visit a condom factory, and then rebuild that on the set,” Veber said. “All the condoms in France come from Japan.”

“The Closet” opens July 6. Limited release.

125 Years Strong

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR)celebrated its anniversary with a day of study and celebration. HUC-JIR’s cantorial alumni provided entertainment at the event, co-chaired by Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark of Temple Beth Ohr and Paul Lippe. At 125 years, HUC-JIR is the nation’s oldest institution of higher Jewish learning.

Supporting Their Claims

California’s insurance commissioner has promised to use the power of his office to help thousands of the state’s residents collect on unpaid insurance policies stemming from the Holocaust era.

Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush gave the pledge during an often dramatic hearing on Monday at the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles.

Six Holocaust survivors or descendants of Nazi victims testified at the hearing, relating how leading European insurance companies had stonewalled their efforts to collect on life and property insurance policies taken out before World War II.

One witness, Freddy Jackson (whose story The Jewish Journal reported in its May 2 issue), told of an elaborate runaround by the Italian insurance giant Assicurazioni Generali in which his claim on the policy taken out by his father, killed in Auschwitz, was bucked from one European country to another for decades.

The experiences of many of the insurance claimants parallel those of depositors trying to collect on dormant Swiss bank accounts, but the sums at stake may be much larger.

Attorney Rene Siemens, representing the petitioners at the hearing, said in a telephone interview that insurance claims across the United States and the world could run into billions of dollars.

The Los Angeles hearing was part of a nationwide effort by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to aid claimants by exerting their regulatory powers over the American affiliates and subsidiaries of the targeted European insurance companies. A task force of the association has held hearings in Skokie, Ill., and Miami, and plans further hearings in Los Angeles, Seattle and New York.

At the same time, a national class-action suit on similar claims against the European insurance companies is being heard in New York federal court. In this lawsuit, plaintiffs charge that “in many instances, proceeds from the insurance policies of the victims of Nazi persecution were used to finance and extend the war or otherwise enrich Nazi war criminals.”

After the witnesses’ testimony in Los Angeles, Quackenbush said that he recognized representatives of the insurance companies in the hearing room and asked them to step forward. None took up the invitation.

However, a public relations representative for Italy’s Generali distributed a statement. It noted that the firm had been founded in 1831 by a group of Jewish merchants and that an affiliate, Migdal, is Israel’s largest insurance company.

The statement added that Generali is in the process of establishing a $12 million philanthropic fund in Israel in memory of the company’s policyholders who perished in the Holocaust.

An attorney for Germany’s Allianz AG, also named as a defendant in the New York lawsuit, told the Los Angeles Times that his client had done nothing wrong, but had set up a help line and was retaining an American accounting firm to review its files.

A second Los Angeles hearing will be held on Jan. 13 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where more witnesses will be heard. Quackenbush said that he will ask representatives of the insurance companies to testify, and if they decline, he will issue subpoenas for their appearance.

Siemens’ law firm, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, working with Bet Tzedek Legal Services of Los Angeles, has set up a nationwide help line for potential claimants at (800) 899-4341.

In addition, staff counsel Leslie Tick of the state Insurance Department can be contacted for information or by persons wishing to be heard at the Jan. 13 hearing. She can be reached at (415) 538-4190, or by e-mail at tickl@insurance.ca.gov.

Insult to Injury

Only justice can set them free.

When Gerhard and Ursula Maschkowski met at the Deggendorf displaced persons camp in Bavaria soon after liberation, Gert weighed 70 pounds. He had survived not only four years in youth labor camps and two years in Auschwitz, but five months of a Nazi death march through the snow in Poland. Ursula endured two years of “slave labor” in a Siemens factory, followed by two years in Theresienstadt, where only 6 percent of the internees came out alive.

For years, the Maschkowskis told themselves that they were the lucky ones. Though Ursula’s father died in Auschwitz, most of their small family survived.

“We can’t complain,” Ursula likes to say, with a bright, steely smile and a look that pierces through nonsense. She seems as surprised as anyone that her urge toward justice started to rage late in the day.

“I didn’t think much about the past until the Reagan years,” Ursula says. “But during the Iran hostage crisis, when I saw the way America came to the aid of her hostages, I felt something had gone wrong. No one had come to save us.”

I’d stopped by their West Los Angeles home last Saturday, joining their family and friends (most of them fellow survivors) in wishing her and the dapper Gert a happy 50th wedding anniversary. They wanted my help.

In 1993, the Maschkowskis filed a claim against Siemens on behalf of Ursula, seeking compensation for wages owed her not only for her two years of “slave labor” at the company but, specifically, for the work she did the last week before she was transported to Theresienstadt, for which she did not receive any payment.

“It was slave labor,” she says in a calm, firm voice. “They only paid us half the wages we were owed. They waived all the child-labor laws for the Jews. I had to be up at 4 to be at work at 6. Some days, I had to work until 11:30, and walk home in the blackout. I was 15, a child.” She pauses, then repeats: “The last week, we got paid nothing at all.”

The debt is 50 years old, but the wounds are fresh. While the Maschkowskis were pursuing their claim, Siemens beat back a lawsuit for damages filed by another survivor; the court ruled that Jewish workers submitted voluntarily to their labor as a way of postponing transit to the camps.

Soon, insult was added to injury. The company wrote the couple, stating that it had already paid 7 million Deutschmarks to the New York-based Jewish Claims Conference to settle all cases from Jewish “slave laborers.” And the Jewish Claims Conference itself wrote the Maschkowskis, saying, yes, the Siemens money had been received, but it was all spent.

“This agreement was reached in May of 1962,” Saul Kagan, the Conference executive vice president, wrote Gert in August 1993. “The [distribution] program was closed over 20 years ago.”

The Maschkowskis, who knew nothing about the Claims Conference until 1992, are outraged. A little acorn of injustice has grown into a sturdy oak of pain. They have joined an increasingly vocal group of Holocaust survivors who now are focusing their rage on the secret workings of the Claims Conference.

They want to know, how can a reparations program end? Nothing less than a full accounting will satisfy Gert, who says that his efforts to prod the IRS into auditing the Claims Conference have come to nothing.

“We want to know who got the money,” says Gert Maschkowski.

Last week, The Jerusalem Report published an extraordinary investigative report, “Cheated Out of Their Legacy?” raising questions about the business practices of the 44-year-old Claims Conference in regard to properties once owned by Jews in Germany. The Report described the Claims Conference, the very group charged with handling survivor property rights, as suspicious of heirs. It quoted one memo that referred to the claimants as “inheritance chasers.” The Claims Conference operates in secrecy, with no oversight.

All of a sudden, Gert and Ursula’s pursuit doesn’t seem so lonely.

“Nearly all survivors who have contacts with the Conference have been dealt with in a most demeaning and insulting manner,” Leon Stabinsky, co-chair of the Holocaust Child Survivors’ group of Los Angeles, recently wrote The Journal. In January, the group picketed the Jewish Federation Building while Kagan was meeting inside with Los Angeles leaders. The survivors demanded fuller disclosure of Conference operations.

“It’s not the money; it’s the justice,” Ursula tells me. “I would give all the money — it’s probably not more than $5,000, compounding the interest — to the attorney or to Israel. But what’s happening here is wrong.”

Only justice can set them free.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

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