Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about 9/11 persist


Osama bin Laden is dead. A new skyscraper is rising at the site of the old World Trade Center. U.S. troops are withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ten years later, the physical legacies of 9/11 attacks are fading into history. Yet the conspiracy theories about who “really” was behind the attacks seem to be growing.

Like a drug-resistant virus, these fantasies have persisted — despite efforts to combat them — by mutating over time, taking new forms and finding new modes of transmission. Jews and Israel often are their targets, and they evoke centuries-old myths about Jewish power, allegiances and manipulation of social institutions.

The conspiracy theories began almost as soon as the towers fell. Four days after the attack, the Syrian newspaper Al-Thawra reported that 4,000 Jews failed to show up for work at the World Trade Center on 9/11 after being warned by Israeli intelligence, according to a 2007 U.S. State Department document debunking the myth. Another held that five Israeli students were secret Mossad agents who knew about the attacks and allowed them to happen. That myth eventually morphed into the conspiracy theory that the Israelis directed the attacks remotely.

Other myths have followed, spreading around the world and taking root even in the United States. Of 36,000 conspiracy videos recently found on the Internet, 16,000 implicated Jews or Israelis, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) titled “Decade of Deceit: Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories 10 Years Later.”

“What we’ve seen in the last 10 years is the proliferation of a real propaganda industry surrounding Sept. 11,” said Deborah Lauter, director of the ADL’s civil rights division. “Prominent among those theories are those making anti-Semitism front and center.”

The theories have amounted to more than just pernicious talk.

On June 10, 2009, one alleged 9/11 conspiracy theorist opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, killing a security guard. The perpetrator, James von Brunn, then 88, died before the case could come to trial.

Experts say 9/11 myths that blame the Jews are spreading freely from neo-Nazis and other white supremacists into new areas whose acolytes are not necessarily anti-Semitic but are unknowingly adopting the tropes of classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories: anti-government radicals, young anti-war activists, New Age ideologues, and propagandists and journalists in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

“What’s changed is the proliferation of coded rhetoric to refer to Jews internationally and in the U.S,” said Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a liberal think tank based in Somerville, Mass. “They’re unprepared to recognize it even when they see it.”

Michael Barkun, a professor of political science at Syracuse University who has studied extremists and their ideologies, said, “They aren’t people who are terribly different from the population at large,” except that “they are more likely to be attracted to conspiracy theories.”

Alan Sabrosky, a columnist for Veterans Today, an anti-Semitic Web site, is one of the most widely cited sources for anti-Semitic 9/11 myths, according to the ADL. Sabrosky has declared his mission to “contain” Israel’s ambition by exposing Israel’s alleged role in 9/11 and maintains that Washington and New York are the centers of “Zionist power.”

Citations of Sabrosky’s work pop up not just on extreme-right Web sites but also on pro-Palestinian Web sites such as Mondoweiss, Arab media sites and the Internet newsletter Dissent Voice, which describes itself as “a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice.”

“This is a strange world where the right and the left mix, with anti-Semitism shot through,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report. “On the left, it is shot through with anti-Zionism; on the right, the fear of the international Jew.”

A 2008 poll of 17 representative nations by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland found that only nine of the countries surveyed had majorities who believed al-Qaeda orchestrated the attacks. Most of those who believed otherwise did not implicate Israel, however. Instead, they said they did not know who was behind the attacks or blamed the United States. In Russia, Israel-related conspiracy theories were at 2 percent of those polled. In

Kenya, 3 percent believed in Israel-related myths. In Indonesia, the number was 5 percent.

In the Middle East, however, the numbers were much different. In Egypt, 43 percent of respondents blamed Israel for 9/11. In Jordan, 31 percent blamed Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, the numbers were slightly lower. In Turkey, however, only 3 percent believed Israel was behind the attacks.

Conservative columnist Daniel Pipes, who has written two books on conspiracy theories, says such theories about Jews are a fringe element in the West, but are par for the course in the Middle East, where he said “they are spread by the mainstream media, leading intellectuals and politicians.” Pipes considers 9/11 conspiracy theories a relatively benign false belief akin to theories about the Kennedy assassination — widespread, but not leading to damaging consequences.

The impact of the many 9/11 conspiracy theories is still not entirely clear.

“We’re in a period where the boundaries between the mainstream and the fringe have become quite blurred,” Barkun said. “Once they were more distinct. Once most people were not exposed to them, or if they were, it was to have them debunked. Now they move quite readily into the mainstream.”

Barkun added, “This shift in which these ideas have entered the mainstream is so recent that I don’t think we are in a position to know what the social effects are.”

Berlet said he worries that 9/11 conspiracy theories are fueling the rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric in major public forums.

“It is horrifying. It creates a hunt for an enemy and undermines the very concept of democratic society,” he said. “You would think that decent people would stand up and say enough. It’s spreading, and our leaders lack the backbone to confront it.”

Some Arab conspiracy theorists seeing WikiLeaks-Israel link


Unless you’re a reader of Islamist websites, you’d probably be surprised to learn that the WikiLeaks trove of U.S. diplomatic cables is an Israeli conspiracy.

Wonder why there was so much material about Arab regimes petitioning the United States to contain Iran’s nuclear program? How about why there was conspicuously little in the trove of data that was embarrassing to Israel?

It’s because WikiLeaks founder and director Julian Assange struck a deal with Israel and the “Israel lobby” to withhold documents that might embarrass the Jewish state—at least that’s what Al Manar, the Hezbollah-run media outlet, and Al Haqiqa, which is affiliated with a Syrian opposition group, are writing. The conspiracy theories are percolating as well on far-left and far-right websites.

“Why [did] the hundreds of thousands of American classified documents leaked … not contain anything that may embarrass the Israeli government?” asked a Dec. 8 story on Indymedia UK, an independent online news organization. “The answer appears to be a secret deal struck between Wikileaks … [and] Israeli officials, which ensured that all such documents were ‘removed’ before the rest were made public.”

Israeli officials haven’t even bothered to respond to the allegations.

“We don’t comment on such ludicrous claims” was how Yoni Peled, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, put it. But the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement last week detailing some of the rumors and denouncing them as conspiracy theories cooked up by Israel’s enemies.

Comparing it to persistent rumors that Israel was behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman called the theories “yet another manifestation of the Big Lie against Jews and Israel.”

The “WikiLeaks affair has given new life to the old conspiracy theories of underhanded Jewish and Israeli involvement in an event with significant repercussions for the U.S. and many nations around the world,” Foxman said.

Ben Cohen, associate communications director for the American Jewish Committee and an expert on anti-Semitism, said the conspiracy theorists haven’t gotten far, even in the Arab world.

“I’ve seen them, but not in any mainstream outlets,” Cohen told JTA. “Nor do I get the sense they have picked up huge traction.”

The story, however, also has surfaced in the United States, at the Arab Times and the Arab Voice, Arab-American community papers in Texas and New Jersey.

Cohen says it’s unlikely that Assange would strike any deal with Israel. WikiLeaks’ representative in Russia is a well-known Holocaust denier who spews anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli diatribes from his home in Sweden, often under aliases. His real name is Israel Shamir, a convert to Orthodox Christianity who claims to have been born Jewish.

“The idea that WikiLeaks is in league with the Israelis is hugely undermined by their relationship with Shamir,” Cohen said.

Sharif Nashashibi, chairman of Arab Media Watch, a London-based nonprofit that monitors the British media for its coverage of the Arab and Muslim world, says the articles he’s seen are all reprinting the same Indymedia story.

“This claim certainly isn’t prevalent in the Arab and Muslims worlds, and that’s most likely because it has no solid basis,” Nashashibi wrote JTA in an e-mail. He noted that Israel indeed has been mentioned in the cables leaked by WikiLeaks, contrary to what the conspiracy theorists claimed.

“Without any credible supporting evidence, this claim is merely a baseless conspiracy theory that doesn’t warrant serious attention from any concerned parties, including the ADL,” Nashashibi wrote.

Foxman says the reports do merit concern, irrespective of their veracity or number.

“These things feed on themselves and circulate and recirculate,” Foxman said, citing the persistence of the 9/11 conspiracy theory even a decade later and despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. “It’s not rational; it has political expediency. That’s what fuels it.”

The CNN-NPR-NY Times Middle East Conspiracy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Money


Give Bernard Madoff credit for one good deed: As much as his self-confessed Ponzi scheme revealed weaknesses in the Jewish world, it also laid bare many ofour strengths.

Trials and tribulations tend to do just that — bring to light the good, the bad, the ugly. When some people behave at their worst, others are forced to, or revealed to, behave at their humanly best.

That’s what any fair look at the Madoff scandal shows. The standard worry is that Madoff’s actions will give rise to a vicious anti-Semitic backlash. But I don’t see it, despite the fact that all the cretinous Jew-haters have come forward online, using this scandal as proof of Jewish financial perfidy.

Complete Madoff CoverageEarlier this week, when I entered the search terms “Madoff” and “Jewish” into Google, the top responses included JewishJournal.com and stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi Web site. That should alarm no one: The only people more obsessed than neo-Nazis with a famous person’s specific degree of Jewishness are Jewish journalists.

But anti-Semites never need a reason to hate Jews. They were penning their poison before Madoff, and they’ll be spreading it long after he’s gone. Madoff doesn’t make anti-Semites more rational, just more topical.

But will their spew gain more traction in the wider community? I doubt it.

It’s not just that Madoff’s victims were disproportionately Jewish. (That fact alone should give pause to the idea that we possess some super-Spidey sense of financial acumen.)

It’s that the list of victims reveals something truly remarkable about the Jewish world: its deep and far-reaching philanthropy.

What, for instance, does this partial list of Madoff-afflicted charities have in common: Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the Chais Family Foundation, the Wunderkinder Foundation, Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, The JEHT Foundation, Julian J. Levitt Foundation, Technion—The Israel Institute of Technology?

The answer is that they spend much, if not all, of their time and resources helping non-Jews.

Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation supports more than 75 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation. It gave generously to Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, two institutions founded by Los Angeles Jews that serve a largely non-Jewish population.

A much-loved anti-Semitic trope is that “tentacles” of Jewish power encircle Wall Street, the White House, the media. But the truth is that it is the tentacles of Jewish philanthropy that reach far beyond our small, numerically insignificant community.

Public radio? The Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation gave millions to WGBH in Boston. According to The Boston Globe, the Shapiro Foundation gave more than $80.3 million over the past decade to hundreds of schools, hospitals, arts groups and community-based nonprofits in the Boston area and beyond.

Human rights? The JEHT Foundation in Massachusetts gave millions to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, among many other organizations.

The arts? The Arthur I. and Sydelle F. Meyer Charitable Foundation of West Palm Beach, Fla., wiped out by Madoff, supported the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, the Norton Museum of Art and a downtown Palm Beach amphitheater, among others. Tentacles indeed.

The list is much, much longer: The money that Madoff lost had done incalculable good, saving lives, advancing art and science, making the world a better place.

In his Sunday column, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote that liberal Americans are less generous than conservative Americans. “Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad,” Kristof wrote, “yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.”

I don’t know if Jews, among the most liberal of voters, fall into the cheapskate category, or whether Jewish giving pushes up the liberal average. There is no comprehensive study of Jewish philanthropy to compare Jewish giving, whether to synagogues or for other purposes, to general American giving, according to Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

But if you scroll through the list of Madoff’s philanthropic victims, you’ll find plenty of evidence that even Jews who have shed every vestige of their ancient practice short of circumcision still resonate to the prophetic call to heal the wider world.

In the second volume of his “Code of Jewish Ethics,” (Bell Tower, 2009), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin traces the textual roots for this precept back to the Talmud.

“The Talmud ruled that, ‘we provide financial support to the gentile poor as well as to the Jewish poor,'” recounts Telushkin. “This ruling was issued at a time when the non-Jews among whom the Jews lived were usually idolators with values antithetical and often hostile to Judaism.”

Telushkin concludes: “If we donate only to Jewish causes or to individual Jews in need, we may stop seeing everyone as being equally created in God’s image and therefore worthy of our help. After all, we are all members of one race, the human race.”

That’s something the Madoff scandal makes clear Jews haven’t forgotten.

Briefs: ADL helped Feds in skinhead Obama plot, FBI report says hate crimes down


ADL Helped Track Alleged Plotters

The Anti-Defamation League assisted in the investigation into white supremacists arrested in an alleged plot to assassinate Barack Obama.

The ADL, which tracks white supremacist groups, provided the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with information on Daniel Cowart, 21, of Jackson, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Ark.

A joint ATF and Crocket County, Tenn., Sheriff’s Office investigation culminated Oct. 22 in the arrests of the two men, who were charged with “possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threats against a major candidate for the office of president,” according to an ADL release.

News reports said the men planned to murder 88 blacks, possibly at a local high school, and also discussed assassinating Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate.

ADL had information on the pair partly because of Cowart’s involvement in Supreme White Alliance, a racist skinhead group monitored by the Jewish civil rights body.

“The arrests of these dangerous white supremacists prevented what could have been the most serious act of domestic terrorism in recent years,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director. “This case shows how extreme ideologies easily lead to extreme actions.”

Hate Crimes Down Slightly in ’07

Hate crimes in the United States declined slightly last year, according to the FBI.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations’ annual report on hate crime data documented 7,624 hate crimes in 2007, compared to 7,722 in 2006. Crimes directed against Hispanics, gay men and lesbians increased, however; with the rise in acts due to sexual orientation at nearly 6 percent.

Religion-based crimes fell to 1,400 in 2007 from 1,462 in 2006. The number of anti-Jewish crimes was about the same — 969 in ’07 and 967 the previous year.

“While we welcome the fact that reported hate crimes declined slightly in 2007, violent bigotry is still disturbingly prevalent in America, with nearly one hate crime occurring every hour of every day of the year,” said Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman.

Foxman said the ADL is looking forward to working with the new president and Congress in January on ways to combat the problem, including the passage of legislation that would expand the federal government’s ability to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting such crimes.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

PBS ‘Resurgence’ documentary explores reappearance of anti-Semitism


The PBS documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” will discomfit viewers of all stripes.

Airing Jan. 8 at 10 p.m. on KCET, the film will annoy those who believe that rising anti-Semitism is a myth fueled by Jewish paranoia and self-serving Jewish defense agencies.

Equally upset will be those who argue that anti-Semitism, particularly in the Islamic world, is just using the same old stick to beat up on a blameless Israel.

In addition, fervent believers in a global Jewish conspiracy, if any tune in, will be enraged at seeing their worldview demolished and ridiculed.

Within one hour, the documentary, narrated by veteran broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff, covers a lot of territory in a graphic and efficient manner.

We are given a capsule history of Jew hatred both in the Christian West and Muslim East, accompanied throughout by horrifying cartoons across the centuries depicting the Jew as “Christ killer,” blood sucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination.

Numerous experts weigh in on the Middle East conflict and its impact on the resurgence of anti-Semitism. On the whole, the arguments balance each other out, with perhaps a slight edge to our side, thanks to Woodruff’s narration.

Considerable airtime is given to New York University professor Tony Judt, often denounced for his harsh criticism of Israeli policy and leadership. In this program, however, he limits himself mainly to exploring the growing Muslim immigration and influence in Europe.

Israel’s Natan Sharansky and the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris effectively lay out the Jewish role in the fight against anti-Semitism.

A telling analysis of the corrupting effect of anti-Semitism on the Arab masses is given, surprisingly, by Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief for Al Hayat, an independent Arab daily published in London.

Princeton historian Bernard Lewis draws a useful distinction between Christian and Muslim anti-Semitism over the centuries.

In the Islamic world, the Jew, though not equal, was tolerated and did not carry the satanic aura painted in medieval Europe, said Lewis, who “credited” British and other Christian theologians with introducing modern anti-Semitism into the Arab world.

Perhaps the most surprising emphasis in the film is on the deep and persisting impact of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” in shaping the prejudices of European anti-Semites and the convictions of Arab leaders and masses.

The “Protocols,” a Czarist forgery of the early 1900s, has proven particularly useful to Muslim presidents and clerics to rationalize how the “inferior” Jews of Israel could repeatedly outfight proud Arab nations.

While the Arabs have never gotten over their defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, their humiliation is lessened if they can believe that they were beaten by the cosmic evil power portrayed in the “Protocols.”

The one point of agreement among the experts is that anti-Semitism will not disappear, because “it serves so many purposes,” notes professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University.

Added Woodruff, “Israel is used as a coat hanger” by Arab leaders, who can attach all their problems on it and divert their people from their poverty and corrupt regimes.

The PBS production was produced, written and directed by Andrew Goldberg, who recently documented “The Armenian Genocide,” in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Letters to the Editor


Chamberlain Ad

I do not know if I can communicate how deeply offended I was by the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Neville Chamberlain ad on page 6 of the Sept. 8 Jewish Journal. Besides the complete lack of intellectual honesty, the appalling lack of logical reasoning fails beyond the pale to measure up to the traditions of Judaism specifically and humanity in general:

Rather than deal with the threat that Al Qaeda actually presents to our national security, President Bush has chosen to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on a personal vendetta in Iraq washed in five years of the blood of the Iraqi people and citizenry of our great nation.

Rather than communicating with a government seeking to open communication between the United States, President Bush consciously closed all potential paths of dialogue and continuously vilified and threatened a sovereign nation in a tinhorn cowboy attempt to force Iran into a diplomatic mistake of nuclear proportions.

Rather than assist Israel to defend itself against continuing malicious attacks from Hezbollah or Hamas, Bush specifically chose to do absolutely nothing for five years, and more importantly, two weeks of Israel’s invasion into Lebanon, then sent the single most ineffectual secretary of state within the last century to negotiate a failed cease-fire proposal.

If The Journal is so strapped for cash, it would be a far better use of its ad space to place a plea for donations and financial support from its readership, rather than compromising all dignity and integrity by running further tripe from the RJC.

Richard Adlof
North Hollywood

Shame on the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for running two ads which desperately tried to denigrate the Democratic Party.

First, shame on the RJC for taking an issue of great bipartisan agreement — support for a strong U.S.- Israel relationship — and turning it into a wedge issue for tawdry partisan political advantage. Any objective observer of U.S. politics has to agree that both of our major political parties are remarkably supportive of Israel. This fact is crucial in maintaining the strong relationship between the United States and Israel. For the RJC, however, it appears that twisting the truth for some petty partisan gain is apparently more important than maintaining bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

It is true that in both parties there are a handful of politicians who are not part of this bipartisan consensus. Carter is one of these outsiders who find no support for their positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict within their own parties.

Jewish newspapers, like all newspapers, have an obligation to not print false and misleading ads. We hope in the coming weeks, as RJC slings more mud, this newspaper will fact-check their ad copy to make sure the RJC doesn’t continue to use these pages to violently twist the truth.

Marc Stanley
First Vice Chair
National Jewish Democratic Council

The Republican obsession with Iraq has left Israel open and vulnerable to the possible nuclear overtures of a Holocaust-denying Iran. The Republican obsession with the Cold War almost led to a military defeat for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (and did lead to a country-permeating malaise). The Republican obsession with a fundamental Christian theology that is based on the apocalyptic demise of not only Israel but Jews everywhere is too eviscerating and too self-evident to even require an elaboration.

Does any Jew still believe that the Republican party has their true interests at heart?

Marc Rogers
Thousand Oaks

We applaud the recent public discussion about the support for Israel by the political parties (“GOP Sees Israel as Way to Woo Democratic Jews,” Sept. 1).All who are pro-Israel should appreciate the positive influence our growing Jewish Republican community is having on the GOP. Our access to senior GOP leaders is warmly encouraged, and, in return, the Jewish community is increasingly impressed by an administration and a Republican Congress that have been deeply pro-Israel.

The example of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is instructive. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) was virtually alone among national Jewish organizations in supporting the nomination of this hero of the Jewish people, who not only helped to defeat the odious “Zionism is racism” resolution years ago, but who now vigorously defends Israel at the United Nations against unfair demonization and delegitimization. Many Jewish Democrats now see that Bolton is the right man at the United Nations.

Putting aside the issue of Israel, moderate Jews might approach 21st century American politics with an open mind on who is best on both national security and domestic public policy issues. It is time that respectful attention be paid by Jews to positive GOP ideas about economic growth, welfare and entitlement reform, medical liability and tort/legal reform, energy independence and educational choice and competition to best serve children.

To the benefit of Israel and the United States, the days of one-party Jewish voting are, thankfully, over.

Joel Geiderman
Chairman
Larry Greenfield
Director
Republican Jewish Coalition, California

Illegal Jewish Immigrants

Your articles focused on illegal Israeli immigrants who are not terrorists and do not take low-paying jobs away from minorities (“Living and Working [IL]Legally in America,” Sept. 8). Instead they engage in commercial activity that is beneficial to Israel.

Thanks to your article calling attention to them, perhaps immigration officials will divert attention from terrorists to crack down on these Israelis.

Are you The Jewish Journal or the anti-Jewish Journal?

Marshall GillerWinnetka

The Jews Didn’t Do It

Not all conspiracy theories are equal (“The Lie That Won’t Die,” Sept. 1). Richard Greenberg’s article asks us to believe otherwise, holding out only two possibilities to the American public: Either you accept the government version of Sept. 11 or you are a “conspiracist.”

But the world is much more complex than these two positions allow, and the democratic process itself depends on citizens who question official stories. David Griffin, author of “The New Pearl Harbor” and three additional books on Sept. 11, raises important questions about the adequacy of the Kean Commission report.

Jewlicious Conspiracy


In November 2004, I sat in Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein’s kitchen. They are a young couple with three children, and together they run the Cal State Long Beach University Hillel (he is spiritual adviser; she is program director).

Apple laptop on hand, Rabbi Bookstein talked of a dream about a conference for young Jews, where they could hang out and learn. No agendas, no gimmicks.

I jokingly labeled it a conspiracy. But with the collaboration of a Web journal, or “blog,” known as Jewlicious.com, the conference “Jewlicious @ The Beach” launched in April 2005.

Parents don’t understand why 300 young Jews packed the Long Beach Alpert JCC for the Jewlicious sequel on Feb. 17. We came for food and song, complete with banging on the tables and exuberant dancing wherever there was room. At the Sunday night concert, “Jewbilation,” you could see the look of shock on the older generation’s faces as we jammed to Hebrew heavy-metal songs by the Maccabees. This was not your mom’s “Oseh Shalom.”

Jewlicious included panels on everything from “Kabbalah and Madonna” to “Jews Who Protest.” There were workshops, musical jams and tons of food. It was attended by young Jews in the spotlight, such as writer Ruth Andrew Ellenson, editor of “Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt,” and Matisyahu, the Chasidic reggae superstar my dad refers to as “the hip-hop hoo-hoo.” But most of all, it was everything that the Booksteins hoped for: a celebration of being young and Jewish and alive.

What many people don’t realize is that a new Jewish youth culture is coming to the surface. For us, it’s old school meets new school-klezmer with a hip-hop beat (brought to “Jewbilation” by the amazing DJ So Called and Beyond the Pale).

We are of all ethnicities and levels of observance, and we include some in the process of conversion. Some young Jews have become more observant, much to the shock of less traditional parents. Orthodoxy is no longer old-fashioned, but a source of fascination.

We have faced anti-Semitism in all forms. At a women’s session, one girl told us that when she was in high school in Glendora, swastikas were carved into her desk and she was beaten up-twice. Anti-Israel activities on campuses these days often turn hateful against “Zionist Jews.” Many of us have been told to accept Jesus before we go to hell. Our response is Jewish pride.

We love eating, wine tasting, the beach, dancing, movies, fashion and long conversations. We’re activists, writers, musicians, artists, vegans, nonconformists, Shabbat-observers or just attracted to big noses. If you like being Jewish, you are an MOT, or Member of the Tribe.

And what do MOTs do? We rock out to Matisyahu and Israeli hip-hop. We wear shirts that say, “Eat me, I’m kosher.” We like poking fun at ourselves, with examples ranging from the movie, “The Hebrew Hammer,” to Rav Shmuel’s cutting jibes in his song, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

We love Israel, although some of us are more willing to criticize its policies than others. We’re glued to our computers, and use them to connect to other Jews. We understand that there are many people in the world who still hate us, and in order to prevent them from bringing us down, we have to come together.

Sometimes it worries me that the pendulum will swing back. Yes, we have come very far in our Jewish youth culture, but for how long will the Los Angeles Times refer to Matisyahu as a Jesus-figure, as it did after the Ragga Muffins Festival in Long Beach? For how long will we be cool and not have to respond to the world outside?

Luckily, Jewlicious @ The Beach was my answer. Between musical jam sessions and henna tattoos , we had created something very important: a community, a safe haven where we could express who we are and learn. The Jewish youth culture was creating a home — a home we have desperately needed.

Judaism is changing as youth takes over the reins. It’s us taking our Judaism away from what others tell us it is and transforming it, letting it grow and making it into our own.

I guess it is a conspiracy after all.

Reina V. Slutske is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.

 

Sympathy for the Devil?


A rule in Jewish law holds that when all the judges on the Jewish high court unanimously condemned an accused criminal, he must be set free. The very unanimity was suspicious and called into question the justice of the proceedings.

Talk about unanimity. By now thousands of published articles, ranging from critical to hateful, have appeared about the famous Jack Abramoff — Orthodox Jew, former Washington super-lobbyist, product of an affluent Beverly Hills upbringing and future inmate of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has pleaded guilty to mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy.

As Abramoff told The Jewish Journal in a series of phone interviews earlier this month, “I had lost a sense of proportion and judgment. God sent me 1,000 hints that He didn’t want me to keep doing what I was doing. But I didn’t listen, so He set off a nuclear bomb.”

In such a case, can there be room for giving the universally condemned man the benefit of the doubt?

“What hurts the most is the way my co-religionists want to cut my head off,” Abramoff says.

Predictably, he has been excoriated by some Jews who seem transparently thrilled to point to an Orthodox Jew with failings. The response from the Orthodox community is more aptly described as shock and frequently expressions of shame at the thought that Abramoff, a Jew, did what he did.

But the story has another side.

In presenting this alternate view, I don’t pretend to be disinterested. I have met Abramoff twice, and 10 years ago I enjoyed spending the first two festival days of Sukkot in his home. His fundraising efforts, related in his plea agreement, supported many Republican and Jewish causes including an organization I admire and once worked for — Toward Tradition.

But those who so entirely condemn Abramoff are not all disinterested either. Many are eager to see the humiliation of Republican congressmen who received gifts and favors from the lobbyist. Others find in him confirmation of dearly held but more idiosyncratic beliefs, biases and bugbears.

So having admitted biases all around, let’s try to understand Jack Abramoff and his Jewish journey.

From an early age he was a religious rebel and an ardent idealist. His story is in many ways that of many other ba’alei teshuvah, Jews who returned to tradition. I, too, am in that group.

Now age 46, he was born in Atlantic City, N.J. His father, Frank Abramoff, a Diners Club executive, moved the family to Beverly Hills in 1969. The family’s home was in the tree-lined flats north of Santa Monica Boulevard on Elm Drive. His early religious education was at Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation in Beverly Hills. However by the time of his bar mitzvah he was fed up with what he felt was a Judaism devoid of meaning.

“I quickly came to the conclusion that what they were saying was gibberish,” Jack Abramoff says.

Frank Abramoff remembers, “He said ‘That’s the last time I’ll be involved with that sort of tradition.’ I said, ‘That’s your decision.'”

His only exposure to traditional Judaism was from watching “Fiddler on the Roof,” a movie he found inspiring. Abramoff had no idea there was an Orthodox community in Los Angeles and was stunned in 1972 when he met a boy his own age wearing a kippah in La Cienega Park.

Jack started attending a Conservative synagogue, Sinai Temple, on his own. He taught himself Hebrew and read Judaica, notably Hayim Halevy Donin’s “To Be a Jew,” first published in 1972.

“I read that book cover to cover several times over and decided that if I was going to be a Jew, that’s the kind of Jew I was going to be.”

Many ba’alei teshuvah (including myself) have been strongly influenced by Donin’s powerful and dignified-yet-simple summary of Jewish practice, which has no equal even today among the new books for Jewish beginners.

Donin wrote of the Jewish idea of holiness, which he defined as “Developing one’s sense of discernment as to be able to distinguish and choose the right from the wrong, the true from the false, the good from the bad, the sacred from the profane, the pure from the impure, and the clean from the unclean. The greater the sense of ethical-moral-religious discrimination, the greater the holiness of the individual.”

For all his study of Donin, the young Abramoff remained remarkably innocent about the realities of a traditional Jewish life. When he decided to observe Tisha B’Av for the first time at age 13, he became confused about the rule against wearing leather shoes on that holy day. He thought all shoes were forbidden on Tisha B’Av, and he assumed too that it was a rest day, like the Sabbath, and thus riding in a car was forbidden.

“So I walked to Temple Sinai, 5 miles down Wilshire Boulevard, night and day, in my socks. Somebody at the temple asked me if I wanted a ride. I thought, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with these guys?'”

For college in 1977, Abramoff chose Brandeis University in Massachusetts because he’d read it had a kosher kitchen. There he first came into personal contact with Orthodox Rabbi Rod Glogower.

“We learned Gemara [Talmud] together. There was a Mishnah shiur [class],” Abramoff recalls. “He bore himself in such a dignified way, an elegant way. Just seeing him inspired me.”

Rabbi Glogower, now spiritual leader of the Ann Arbor Orthodox Minyan, remembers the college-age Jack fondly.

“My wife and I lived in a tough neighborhood, and when we would walk to and from the campus, I often got anti-Semitic comments from passing cars. Windows would roll down,” he said. “When Jack heard about it he was extremely upset and protective of me. I have never forgotten the sense that he was a guy who would be in the trenches with me.”

After graduating in 1981, Abramoff got into the political trenches as chairman of College Republicans, later as a producer of admittedly cheesy anti-Communist action movies. Work on one of those took him to South Africa, where he met the man who became his “rav,” or rabbi: David Lapin, now a business consultant and rabbi emeritus at the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice.

That was in 1983. Again what impressed Abramoff immediately was a certain regal bearing in Lapin, not so different from Glogower. After listening to thousands of hours of taped lectures over the years by Rabbi Lapin, Abramoff said, “His is the voice in my ear, the voice of Torah, that I hear the most. He is so erudite, such a mensch. His teaching is outside the box, it’s in the box, it’s all around the box.”

So one turns to Rabbi Lapin himself for an insight about Abramoff — especially since Lapin, along with his brother Daniel in Seattle, president of Toward Tradition, the nonprofit, conservative, Judeo-Christian foundation, were both initially drawn into the Abramoff affair in different business-related ways, which by now have blown over.

Daniel Lapin was interviewed by the FBI which, he said, found that Toward Tradition had innocently accepted money from an Abramoff client. David Lapin was negatively and misleadingly portrayed in The New York Times — and by The Jewish Journal, which carried a JTA article drawing from the Times story — on the topic of consulting his company did for the Northern Mariana Islands. The Times subsequently printed a correction of a key detail, which it said was “erroneously omitted.”

What, I asked David Lapin, does religious observance do if it doesn’t keep a man out of prison?

“Studying Torah refines the character,” he said, “It doesn’t artificially transform it. So I usually assume that when one who has studied Torah does wrong, he or she would have done much worse without the refining and restraining influence of Torah knowledge and practice.” And now that his student is in trouble, Lapin said, “I think the Torah he has learned helps him to internalize the tragic events of the past two years in his life and use them for personal transformation.”

What leads a religiously committed Jew to go down a wrong path? Liberal Jews and some Christians point to what they see as Orthodoxy’s over-emphasis on minutiae which, so goes this line of analysis, may result in a Jew who is fervent about what is picayune (for example, the details of Sabbath observance) but lax about greater matters (like bribing congressmen). There are two problems with this strategy for maligning traditional Judaism.

First, taking seriously the Torah’s commandments inherently necessitates a care for details. God cares to see that we care.

Second, while the mitzvot are not magic, if done right they create a heightened mindfulness about matters great and small, including moral matters. But the key phrase is “done right.” In our conversations, Abramoff repeatedly berated himself for allowing his Jewish observance to become mechanized, an afterthought.

“How many times did I take 60 seconds to say Birkat Ha’Mazon [the grace after meals]?” he asked. “How many times did I say the Shemoneh Esrei [Judaism’s central prayer] without thinking about what I was saying?”

Obviously, if you are not mindful about the so-called “ritual” commandments, they will produce few beneficial effects in other areas of your life.

Alternatively, could Abramoff’s problem be classic compartmentalization: cares about mitzvahs, doesn’t care about mail fraud?

In the end, to ask such a question, thinking you can imagine the mind of another person, is to mislead yourself.

“God created us as infinitely complex creatures,” Daniel Lapin said in a public statement released after Abramoff’s plea. “We are capable of both evil actions and good ones — very often on the same day.”

Jack Abramoff is undoubtedly a complex creature. The same man who wrote crudely insulting e-mails about Indian gambling moguls plowed the money he made not into a second home, a yacht or mistresses, but into expensive Jewish enterprises of benefit to others: two idealistic religious schools in the Washington, D.C., suburbs; two money-losing kosher restaurants, intended both as a lobbying venue and as a boon to kosher diners and other Jewish businessmen; and private gifts to needy Jews who came to him with broken hearts and empty wallets. In the early 1990s, he put his work on pause to oversee the creation of the Torah School of Greater Washington, now 12 years in operation and thriving. The high school he started, Eshkol Academy, failed amid acrimony over unpaid salaries as Abramoff’s legal troubles deepened. Abramoff himself told The Journal he saved nothing and supported himself, his wife and five children from check to check.

Although Jewish law asks us to give between 10 percent and 20 percent of net income to charity, Abramoff says, “I incorrectly didn’t follow the mitzvah of giving away at most 20 percent. I gave away everything. I was the softest touch in town.”

Or are we soft to believe him about this? The Jewish newspaper in Abramoff’s area, the Washington Jewish Week, deserves credit for bothering to look beyond the negatives. A Jan. 11 article quoted a range of community members who personally witnessed the effects of Abramoff’s generosity, testifying with comments like: “Hundreds of kids in this area owe their Jewish day school education to Jack,” “We remain indebted to him,” and “How many Jews make millions of dollars in this town and don’t give … anything” back?

The Abramoff family lives in the same house in mostly drab Silver Spring, Md., that Abramoff bought in 1999 for $1.03 million. While far from a shack, such a house is equally far from a mansion by today’s standards. Clearly, his crimes weren’t committed to fund some ridiculously lavish lifestyle.

“He has always been a good child,” says his father, Frank Abramoff, who sounded a heartbreakingly plaintive note, describing Jack Abramoff’s moral qualities as if his son were still that boy walking 5 miles down Wilshire Boulevard in the dark, in his socks.

Now that Abramoff’s personal fate for the next decade or so has been sealed with the plea agreement, the Jewish community must decide whether to give him the benefit of the doubt about his charitable works and contrition, or persist in thinking we’ve got him figured out, and in announcing to the world how embarrassed of him we are.

Some apparently believe it’s almost a mitzvah to say you’re embarrassed. When Abramoff famously appeared in public wearing what looked like a “religious”-style black hat, of the kind favored by some Orthodox Jews, the story caught the attention of Los Angeles’ Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. In his online journal, Cross-Currents, Rabbi Adlerstein speculated that Abramoff meant to conceal a yarmulke and thus avoid making his chilul Hashem (a public “desecration” of God’s Name) worse.

The rabbi, who is Orthodox himself and directs Project Next Step at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, then chided me for, as I’d written elsewhere, not being embarrassed of Abramoff: “I am embarrassed that he [Klinghoffer] is not embarrassed.”

Rabbi Adlerstein also discovered in Abramoff an occasion for some patronizing thoughts about ba’alei teshuvah. He was pretty sure that Abramoff is a ba’al teshuvah, or BT. Thus the rabbi compared the character of “BTs” with Orthodox Jews who are religious or “frum”-from-birth: “FFBs,” who because of their superior schooling would know better about ethical matters than a BT like Abramoff.

Adlerstein, an incisive thinker and a caring person, nonetheless typifies a certain Jewish response to Abramoff, speculating from a position of ignorance about the man. As it happens, his interpretation of the hat was flat wrong.

“That was between me and God,” said Abramoff of the hat, “not between me and anyone else. I was sick and tired of not wearing a head-covering in business. I no longer care what others think of me. I care what God thinks of me.” Contrary to press reports, it wasn’t a “frum” Borsalino, either. “You know what it was?” he said. “It was a crushable rain hat.”

Other reactions to Abramoff have been more hurtful than Adlerstein’s. One thinks of Orthodox Jewish columnist Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe defining the term chilul Hashem for his readers: “Within the Jewish community whose values he so dishonored, there is little sympathy for Abramoff, who is likely to receive a prison sentence of 10 or 11 years.”

The column was posted by the Aish HaTorah Web site, which led with these harsh conclusions: “Instead of upholding the Torah’s ethical standards, Jack Abramoff trampled on them, desecrating God’s name.” (For whatever reason, it’s since been taken down.)

Other Jews, too, rushed to decry Abramoff without grasping the facts or the character of the man.

In an op-ed distributed by the liberal Orthodox group Edah and picked up by The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Eliyahu Stern, of New York tony’s Park East Synagogue, castigates me for preferring not to denounce Abramoff: “I am sorry Mr. Klinghoffer, if using an Orthodox yeshiva to launder ill-begotten [sic] money does not embarrass you, then what does?”

Abramoff did not use the Orthodox high school he supported to launder funds, although the school was the recipient of money he raised, reportedly without telling lobbying clients where it was going.

He did set up an entity purportedly to help inner-city youths, The Capital Athletic Foundation — which did serve as a conduit for other causes.

Again, Abramoff has admitted that his business was shot through with illegalities.

But in light of his plea agreement, what purpose is served by his fellow Jews, including rabbis, continuing to flog him so publicly?

While not making oneself into a chilul Hashem is an undoubted Jewish value, I’m still searching for the Torah source obligating us to publicly denounce the chilul Hashem of others where the offender has already admitted his offense, even if under the pressure of potentially decades in prison, abased himself in public and faces heavy secular penalties.

Please, give me sources to match in clarity and authority those that advise us, as the Talmud does: “He who judges his fellow man favorably is himself judged favorably [by God]” (Shabbat 127b); “In the measure with which a man measures, so is he measured” (Sotah 8b).

Or this: “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow” (Leviticus 19:15), by which the classical interpreter Rashi says we’re meant to understand that when there is a doubt about our fellow’s good intentions, we must be “dan l’kaf zechut”: Judge on the side of merit.

We circle back to the question of motivation. What was Abramoff’s motivation? To be a player? To prove himself? To be a macher? Personally, I would not dismiss out of hand his assertion that he acted to help others — even though it probably strikes most as self-serving. Someday, I will want God to measure my misdeeds in a forgiving fashion, and judge me on the side of merit.

In this context one must also open up the possibility that what is in his plea agreement represents not a stark and true representation of crimes committed, but rather a confession “squeezed” (in Time magazine’s word) out of him by the threat of harsher punishments.

The day he wore the notorious black hat to appear in federal court, he said, “Your Honor, words will not be able to ever express how sorry I am for this, and I have profound regret and sorrow for the multitude of mistakes and harm I have caused. All of my remaining days, I will feel tremendous sadness and regret for my conduct and for what I have done. I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer.”

These are only two logical possibilities. Either a) Abramoff was squeezed into giving false testimony about himself, or b) he is a repentant sinner. Since a) can’t be supported from any known evidence, we’re left with b). Which, then, is the greater chilul Hashem? A Jew who admittedly committed crimes and will be performing teshuvah (repentance) for years to come? Or Jews lining up to kick such a person now that he’s been defeated and humiliated?

O n Cross Currents, Rabbi Adlerstein is posting a three-part exploration of Jewish law as it pertains to hurtful speech and judging charitably. As of this writing, he had reached the conclusion that “there is no … legal obligation — only a praiseworthy character trait — in judging a stranger favorably.” I am waiting to see what he’ll do with the clear and unambiguous halachah in the most authoritative of law codes, the Shulchan Aruch, which forbids reminding a penitent of his now-repented sins (Choshen Mishpat 228:4) — much less publicly putting such a person in the category of “evildoers.” (Abramoff said he happens to be a regular reader of Rabbi Adlerstein’s journal.)

Abramoff told me, “What astonishes me is the unqualified support and outpouring of love I’ve received from the religious Christian world.” Now that should embarrass us.

In recounting the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs, the Torah suggests some relevant models of behavior toward the erring Jew.

One of these models is our forefather Jacob and how he handled the transgression of Reuben, his first-born, who grieved him by seducing Jacob’s concubine Bilhah. When Jacob was preparing to die, he blessed his sons, and reminded Reuben of his “impetuosity” and the “desecration” (Genesis 49:4) he committed. But at the time of Reuben’s deed, decades earlier, the Torah writes only that Jacob “heard” (35:22). He said not even a word about it. The classical commentator Nachmanides credits this to Jacob’s “humility.”

Abramoff attributes his downfall, in part, to “zealousness for finding funds for the charities I supported.” Like Reuben, he was certainly impetuous — impetuous enough to believe that the causes he supported merited committing fraud against others.

After Jacob died, Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him as a slave. He told them: “Fear not, for am I instead of God?” And “Thus he comforted them and spoke to their heart” (50:19, 21). As Egypt’s viceroy, he could do to them what will soon be done to Jack Abramoff, or worse. He chose to follow the humble path of his father Jacob. Granted Abarmoff deserves a prison sentence, the question for us is what our attitude toward him should be as a fellow Jews.

What will be done to Abramoff? I asked Chaplain Gary Friedman, chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International. If Abramoff is sent to a minimum-security prison, at least personal safety won’t be a major concern.

“He’ll have nothing to worry about,” Friedman says. “He’ll be a high-profile case. Still, my recommendation to him would be: don’t bring attention to yourself.”

Kosher food won’t be a problem either: “Everything is hekshered” — that is, there’s kosher-certified food available.

“Everything that’s heated is pre-packaged. That helps insure the kosher integrity,” says Chaplain Friedman, who incidentally puts to rest Rabbi’s Adlerstein’s idealization of FFBs at the expense of BTs. The BT and FFB prison populations are, in relative numbers, “perfectly consistent with community demographics,” he said.

Consistency and inconsistency are the principal themes of this story. One may say in the final analysis that Jack Abramoff, Orthodox Jew and admitted sinner, is consistent with the norms of humanity. Sincerely repentant yet amazed at the “lack of proportionality” of his crimes to his punishment, he remains infinitely complex. I wouldn’t pretend to know what criminal punishment he deserves or doesn’t. However the injustice of continuing to condemn him, now that it’s been resolved that he will take his licks, seems obvious.

Undoubtedly there are others in prison who are like him; that is, better than society has judged them to be. Meanwhile there are many walking the street who have not aspired to deeds of charity or been called to account for their missteps. When Jack Abramoff gets out, I suspect he’ll continue to repair his life by pursuing the good acts that he never, in fact, abandoned. Without calling attention to himself, he may well put to shame others who now sit in judgment of him.

David Klinghoffer (

Conspiracy Theories on Arafat Death Rise


A year after Yasser Arafat’s death, Palestinians are developing a new myth around their historic leader: Arafat did not die from natural causes but was murdered, most likely by Israel.

Now an Israeli Arab politician has joined the conspiracy bandwagon.

“I am confident that Arafat’s death was not natural,” Knesset Member Mohammed Barakeh said at an Arafat memorial rally held in the Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm. “Many strings lead to the office of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon.”

Barakeh, the leader of Hadash, Israel’s Communist Party, is the first Israeli Arab political figure to make such an accusation, in what seemed to be the opening shots in Israel’s upcoming election campaign.

Barakeh’s charges echoed similar developments in Israel and Lebanon. In Israel, the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once again brought to the surface a conspiracy theory that Israel’s Shin Bet security service was behind the assassination, and that Rabin’s real assassins are still at large.

In Lebanon, the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri led to the establishment of an international commission of inquiry that has produced evidence of Syrian involvement. Now Barakeh is demanding the establishment of a similar commission to look into Arafat’s death.

The Palestinian Authority already has set up two inquiry commissions to investigate the case. Ahmad Abdul Rahman, one of Arafat’s closest advisers, earlier this month followed the steps of Tunis-based PLO hard-liner Farouk Kaddoumi, blaming Israel for killing Arafat by injecting a slow-acting poison into his ear — a method that recalled the Mossad’s botched 1997 assassination attempt on senior Hamas activist Khaled Meshaal in Jordan.

Israel repeatedly has rejected such charges as “nonsense” and “baseless,” and no one has produced any evidence, medical or otherwise, to support allegations of Israeli involvement. Among some Palestinians, however, conspiracy theories offer convenient explanations for all manner of phenomena, where rational discourse might shed an unflattering light on the Palestinians themselves.

The medical report published after Arafat’s death in a Paris hospital on Nov. 11, 2004, listed the immediate cause as a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from an infection. Doctors ruled out foul play, and some have contended that Arafat died of AIDS. However, in the absence of a definite diagnosis of the cause of death — Arafat’s widow refused to allow an autopsy — the inevitable conspiracy theories began circulating.

On the first anniversary of Arafat’s death, the present Palestinian Authority leadership, suffering from instability and internal struggles, tried to shift public attention to the conspiracy theories. Paradoxically, while the majority of Palestinians support the more moderate course of Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor as P.A. president, the latest poll of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion shows that nearly 74 percent of Palestinians still miss the intransigent Arafat.

Ghassan Khatib, P.A. minister of planning, suggested that a lack of progress in the peace process in the year since Arafat died — he elected not to mention Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the recent agreement on the Rafah border crossing — proves that Arafat was not the main obstacle to peace, as Israel argued.

“If indeed Arafat had been the main obstacle to peace, we should have seen some progress by now,” Khatib wrote in the latest edition of Bitterlemons, a joint Israeli-Palestinian Web site. “We haven’t, and the reason ought to be obvious: The main obstacle to peace is and always was Israel’s refusal to abide by international law, international legality and international moral standards.”

What remains of Arafat’s political legacy a year after his death is “fawda” — Arabic for chaos — Ron Pundak, director general of the Peres Center for Peace and one of the architects of the Oslo accords, wrote in Bitterlemons.

“Security has been ‘privatized’ in favor of armed and violent gangs that rule city centers and refugee camps, the security services are more fragmented than ever, Hamas is gathering strength at the expense of the inactive Palestinian Authority, government offices barely function, law enforcement is in a state of collapse and the Fatah movement is destroying itself from within in superfluous power struggles,” he wrote.

“In other words, there is chaos at every corner, no collective responsibility and [Abbas] is unable to lead, rule or deliver on any of his promises to the public,” Pundak stressed. “One year later and the hoped-for changes are not happening.”

Besides Abbas, there is another notable and obvious contender for the role of present and future Palestinian leader. That is Marwan Barghouti, who is in an Israeli prison, sentenced to five life terms for his role in terrorist attacks.

The West Bank Fatah leader still is widely considered the political heir apparent to both Arafat and Abbas. One of his most frequent visitors in jail is P.A. Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, who reportedly doesn’t make any significant move without consulting Barghouti.

 

A Defiant, Guilty Plea in AIPAC Case


Lawrence Franklin’s plea-bargain pledge to cooperate with the U.S. government in its case against two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials was put to the test as soon as it was made.

“It was unclassified and it is unclassified,” Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst, insisted in court last week, describing a document that the government maintains is classified. The document is central to one of the conspiracy charges against Steve Rosen, the former foreign policy chief of AIPAC.

Guilty pleas usually are remorseful, sedate affairs. But Franklin appeared defiant and agitated in an Alexandria, Va., courthouse on Oct. 5 when he pleaded guilty as part of a deal that may leave him with a reduced sentence and part of his government pension.

Franklin’s prickliness could prove another setback for the U.S. government in a case that the presiding judge already has suggested could be dismissed because of questions about access to evidence.

Franklin’s performance unsettled prosecutors, who will attempt to prove that Rosen and Keith Weissman, AIPAC’s former Iran analyst, conspired with Franklin to communicate secret information. The case goes to trial Jan. 2.

The argument over the faxed document furnished the most dramatic encounter Wednesday.

“It was a list of murders,” Franklin began to explain to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis when Thomas Reilly, a youthful, red-headed lawyer from the Justice Department, leapt from his seat, shouting, “Your Honor, that’s classified!”

Ellis agreed to seal that portion of the hearing. JTA has learned that the fax was a list of terrorist incidents believed to have been backed by Iran.

There were other elements of Franklin’s plea that suggest he is not ready to cooperate to the fullest extent. The government says Franklin leaked information to the AIPAC employees because he thought it could advance his career, but Franklin says his motivation was “frustration with policy” on Iran at the Pentagon.

Franklin said he believed Rosen and Weissman were better connected than he and would be able to relay his concerns to officials at the White House’s National Security Council.

He did not explicitly mention in court that Iran was his concern. But JTA has learned that Franklin thought his superiors at the Pentagon were overly distracted by the Iraq war in 2003 — when he established contact with Rosen and Weissman — and weren’t paying enough attention to Iran.

The penal code criminalizes relaying information that “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.” Franklin’s testimony would not be much use to the prosecution if he believed Rosen and Weissman simply were relaying information from the Pentagon to the White House, sources close to the defense of Rosen and Weissman said.

“I was convinced they would relay this information back-channel to friends on the NSC,” he said.

In any case, the section of the penal code that deals with civilians who obtain and relay classified information rarely, if ever, has been used in a prosecution, partly because it runs up against First Amendment protections for journalists and lobbyists, who frequently deal with secrets.

A spokesman for Abbe Lowell, Rosen’s lawyer, said Franklin’s guilty plea “has no impact on our case because a government employee’s actions in dealing with classified information is simply not the same as a private person, whether that person is a reporter or a lobbyist.”

The essence of Franklin’s guilty plea seemed to be only that he knew the recipients were unauthorized to receive the information. Beyond that, he insisted, he had no criminal intent.

Admitting guilt to another charge, relaying information to Naor Gilon, the chief political officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Franklin said that he wasn’t giving away anything that the Israeli didn’t already know.

“I knew in my heart that his government had this information,” Franklin said. “He gave me far more information than I gave him.”

Franklin turned prosecutors’ heads when he named Gilon, the first public confirmation that the foreign country hinted at in indictments is Israel. Indictments refer to a “foreign official.”

The suggestion that Franklin was mining Gilon for information, and not the other way around, turns on its head the description of the case when it first was revealed in late August 2004, after the FBI raided AIPAC’s offices. At the time, CBS described Franklin as an “Israeli spy.”

Asked about his client’s outburst, Franklin’s lawyer, Plato Cacheris, said only that it was “gratuitous.”

But Franklin’s claim reinforced an argument put forward by Israel — that Gilon was not soliciting anything untoward in the eight or nine meetings he had with Franklin beginning in 2002.

“We have full confidence in our diplomats, who are dedicated professionals and conduct themselves in accordance with established diplomatic practice,” said David Siegel, an embassy spokesman. “Israel is a close ally of the United States, and we exchange information on a formalized basis on these issues. There would be no reason for any wrongdoing on the part of our diplomats.”

Franklin also pleaded guilty to removing classified documents from the authorized area, which encompasses Maryland, Virginia and Washington, when he brought material to his home in West Virginia.

He sounded another defensive note in explaining the circumstances: He brought the material home on June 30, 2004, he said, to bone up for the sort of tough questions he often faced from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld’s then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.

Franklin, who has five children and an ill wife, said he is in dire circumstances, parking cars at a horse-race track, waiting tables and tending bar to make ends meet. Keeping part of his government pension for his wife was key to Franklin’s agreement to plead guilty, Cacheris told JTA.

Franklin pleaded guilty to three different charges, one having to do with his alleged dealings with the former AIPAC officials; one having to do with Gilon; and one for taking classified documents home.

The language of the plea agreement suggests that the government will argue for a soft sentence, agreeing to Franklin’s preferred minimum-security facility and allowing for concurrent sentencing. But it conditions its recommendations on Franklin being “reasonably available for debriefing and pre-trial conferences.”

The prosecution asked for sentencing to be postponed until Jan. 20, more than two weeks after the trial against Rosen and Weissman begins, suggesting that government leniency will be proportional to Franklin’s performance.

Franklin is a star witness, but he’s not the entire case. The charges against Rosen and Weissman, apparently also based on wiretapped conversations, allege that the two former AIPAC staffers shared classified information with fellow AIPAC staffers, the media and foreign government officials.

Two other U.S. government officials who allegedly supplied Rosen and Weissman with information have not been charged: David Satterfield, then deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and now the No. 2 man at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and Kenneth Pollack, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer who is now an analyst at the Brookings Institution.

The problem with the wiretap evidence lies in the government’s refusal to share much of it or even to say exactly how much it has. In a recent filing, the government said that even the quantity of the material should remain classified.

In a Sept. 19 hearing, Ellis suggested to prosecutor Kevin DiGregori that his failure to share the defendants’ wiretapped conversations with the defense team could lead to the case being dismissed.

“I am having a hard time, Mr. DiGregori, getting over the fact that the defendants can’t hear their own statements, and whether that is so fundamental that if it doesn’t happen, this case will have to be dismissed,” Ellis said.

DiGregori said the government might indeed prefer to see the case dismissed rather than turn over the material.

AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman in April but is paying for their defense because of provisions in its bylaws. AIPAC had no comment, nor did lawyers for Weissman.

 

Planning the Holocaust


Kenneth Branagh, dapper in his SS costume, his blond hair neatly slicked back, coldly spat out the words during production of the HBO film "Conspiracy": "Dead men don’t hump. Dead women don’t get pregnant. Death is the most reliable form of sterilization."

He was sitting on a soundstage that was an exact reproduction of the luxurious Wannsee villa where 15 high-ranking Nazis, over lavish food and drink, matter-of-factly planned the Final Solution on Jan. 20, 1942. Branagh, the Oscar-nominated actor-director, was playing SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, who led the brief, top-secret meeting like a ruthless CEO. His fellow actors sipped liquor and puffed cigars as Branagh, feeling revolted, completed the scene. "It was very claustrophobic, very smoky, because once those set doors were closed, all the actors were in there all the time," said Branagh, who is best-known for directing and starring in film adaptations of Shakespearean plays. "That meant that at the end of every take, you rushed out of the room, peeled off your SS uniform, and took a breather from that creepily atmospheric place."

Branagh, who suffered sleepless nights as a result of the material, actually fled the set in the middle of one scene. He was reciting the dialogue where Heydrich refers to the gas chambers and advises: "The machinery is waiting. Feed it."

"I had to go outside for a little while," he confided. "I just felt the cumulative weight of it all. At all times I was reminded that this happened: It was not a fiction. It happened in a room like this, and it took only 90 minutes, and this man, this fantastically intelligent man Heydrich, was at the heart of it. I just felt this underlying revulsion at what happened and at the man himself. I didn’t want to say the lines. It was the most disturbing experience of my 20-year acting career."

"Conspiracy" is the brainchild of &’9;director Frank Pierson, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Dog Day Afternoon" and the director of HBO’s "Truman" and "Citizen Cohn." He labored for eight years to bring "Conspiracy" to the screen.

Though Pierson is not Jewish, he felt close to the material. As a scholarship student at a posh New England prep school in the late 1930s, he befriended two Jewish classmates who were refugees of Nazi Germany. The boys, who were outcasts at school, didn’t like to talk about their experiences. Pierson learned something of what they had gone through when he avidly read about the Shoah after the war.

Cut to the mid-1990s, when Holocaust refugee Peter Zinner, a film editor, gave the director a tape of the subtitled 1984 Austrian-German drama "Die Wannseekonferenz."

"I can’t say I enjoyed it," said Pierson. "But I watched it like I was seeing a terrible auto wreck. I couldn’t take my eyes away."

He hoped to remake the movie "to elicit in viewers a kind of tenderness for the thin veneer of civilization that keeps us all from savaging each other to death." He hired screenwriter Loring Mandel to write the script, based on the 15-page Wannsee "protocols" and meticulous historical research (see sidebar below).

Pierson’s goal was to engage audiences by "making them feel as if they were in that room at Wannsee, as if it were a live event," he said. To that end, he "kept the cameras always at eye-level, so viewers would imagine that they were sitting at the table." To allow the actors to feel they were really at Wannsee, he shot 10-minute takes at a time and used 16mm cameras, which are relatively small, so he could fit two on the set without having to pull out a wall.

During a Journal interview, Branagh, 40, confided that he had known no Jews while growing up in a working-class Protestant home in Belfast in the 1970s. He did know something about bigotry and ethnic strife; when he was 9, his family fled the strife between Protestants and Catholics by relocating to Reading, England.

There, Branagh’s thick brogue made him the object of taunts by school bullies; as solace, he lost himself in 25-cent paperback copies of Shakespeare’s plays. By the age of 24, he had been accepted to the Royal Shakespeare Company; over the years, he made his mark with film versions of "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet."

But nothing quite prepared him for the challenge of playing Reinhard Heydrich in "Conspiracy," he said. Branagh accepted the role, he said, in part "because I felt myself to be reasonably well-informed about the Holocaust, but was shocked to discover I knew nothing about the Wannsee Conference." He dutifully visited Holocaust museums and read biographical material, only to find that Heydrich’s inner life remained an enigma. Screenwriter Mandel tried to help by typing up a psychological profile of Heydrich, a talented musician known for his brute courage and bullying manner. "We were looking for elements that would lend to an understanding of his behavior, whether it be a childhood trauma or some physical or mental disability, but nothing seemed to make psychological sense," Branagh said.

"My previous experience of playing somebody quite so dark and evil was Iago in [the Castle Rock film of] ‘Othello,’" he added. "And yet, inside that part are many motivations — sexual jealousy, thwarted ambition — that you might regard as human, however unappealing. But I didn’t find that with Heydrich. It was very difficult to discover what was human inside him."

In the end, the key to Heydrich "was just that he relished power, his ability to judge and be ruthless with people," Branagh said. "I didn’t even think he had any deep-rooted hatred against the Jews. I think that if he had been asked to get rid of 11 million tennis players, he would have done it with exactly the same efficiency and skill."

The casual tone of the Wannsee meeting was as shocking to Branagh as the concentration-camp photographs he perused while researching his role. To cope with the difficult subject matter, the cast played a movie trivia game between takes "with a mad zeal that I have never encountered before," Branagh said. "We threw ourselves at the banal and the silly and the superficial in a hysterical way."

At the end of the Journal interview, the actor said he was flying off to Greenland to live on an icebreaker while making a movie about legendary British Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. "He was a man who valued life and was awash with compassion," the actor said. "It will be healing to play him. He was the exact opposite of Heydrich."

"Conspiracy" airs May 19, 9 p.m. on HBO.

Was FDR to Blame?


Scholars will doubtless continue to debate Franklin Roosevelt’s actions — and inaction — regarding the Holocaust. What did he know? When did he know it? Didn’t he care, or did he really believe that the best and quickest way to help the Jews was, as he repeatedly argued, to win the war?

Sidney Zion is no scholar. To say of Roosevelt that he was actually a "co-conspirator in the murder of the Jews " is to stretch the RICO act beyond imagination. A co-conspirator presumably knows the intent of the conspiracy and shares in that intent. For so serious an indictment, Zion provides not a scintilla of evidence. He would have us believe that Roosevelt "blocked every effort to rescue Europe’s Jewry," yet the only overt act of which he accuses Roosevelt is his refusal to permit the refugees aboard the St. Louis to enter America — this in 1939, before there was any evidence that genocide was Hitler’s plan. (In fact, as far as the evidence goes, there was not yet a plan for genocide.) In retrospect, we can understand the gravity of the St. Louis episode; imagine what Hitler learned from it. But then everything is more clear in retrospect than in prospect. Before there was the Holocaust, a holocaust was unthinkable. (Even now, it is scarcely imaginable.)

What, then, can Zion have had in mind? Is his animus toward the New Deal, or toward Stephen S. Wise, so profound as to warrant his bloated language regarding Roosevelt’s role in the Holocaust? Or is his entire screed an effort to set up his last sentences, where he has it that it was Ben Hecht who "got FDR to create the War Refugee Board?" Ben Hecht has long been a darling of the right, the more so of those who shared Menachem Begin’s views on how to craft a Jewish state in Palestine rather than David Ben-Gurion’s. But the War Refugee Board, created only in January 1944, was principally the product of Henry Morgenthau Jr.’s intervention. Morgenthau, then secretary of the Treasury, belatedly was made aware of the perfidy of the State Department, and especially of the assistant secretary of state, Breckenridge Long. It was Long, plainly an anti-Semite, who blocked every effort to help in the rescue of Europe’s Jews. In this ongoing effort, he was well-aided by the British, whose official policy noted with concern "the difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews" as proposed by the rescue plans. On Dec. 20, 1943, Morgenthau ordered the preparation of a background paper that would detail State’s behavior with respect to the Jews. On Jan. 16, 1944, he met with the president and presented him with the paper; on Jan. 22, the president established the War Refugee Board.

Could Roosevelt have done more? Of course. Could he have acted earlier? Surely. Was he a "co-conspirator?" There is no evidence whatever to support this claim. In interpreting history, one is generally best advised to seek the simplest explanation that fits the known facts. Given the unprecedented enormity of what was happening to the Jews, given the attitudes of our closest allies, the British, given the subversion by the State Department of even modest rescue plans, given very considerable anti-Semitism in this country, and given the entirely plausible argument that winning the war quickly would put an end to the genocide, it is difficult in the extreme — nay, more than difficult, downright noxious — to suggest that Roosevelt was actively complicit in the slaughter.

Whatever Zion’s motives, his problem, it seems to me, is that he sees no ground between those he defines as "Roosevelt apologists," historians and others who claim there was nothing more Roosevelt could have done, and his own dramatically different view. But the obvious middle ground is that Roosevelt, like every president before and after, was imperfect. He did not know everything we know, his plate was full, and so forth. Our contemporary judgment issues more in sorrow that in outrage. And Sidney Zion might also want to consider this: Absent Roosevelt, would America have entered the war at all?

Trial’s End


David Irving told the High Court in London this week that some of the world’s largest Jewish organizations are involved in an international conspiracy against him.

The self-described Holocaust revisionist’s claim Wednesday was the centerpiece of his 104-page closing address at the end of a two-month libel case against American Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin Books.

Irving has alleged that his reputation was damaged and his career wrecked by Lipstadt’s 1994 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” which, he claims, depicted him as a Holocaust denier who distorts historical data to suit his own ideological goals.

The trial, which has attracted international attention, has been described as the most important trial involving the Holocaust since Adolf Eichmann, the chief engineer of the Holocaust, was convicted in Israel in 1961.

A ruling is expected to be delivered in about four weeks.

The plaintiff and defendant have shown sharply contrasting styles. Irving — who served as his own attorney and appeared to relish the spotlight — wasted no opportunity in and out of court in making statements supporting his claims that Auschwitz was not a death camp or that there was no systematic, mass destruction of Jews; Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, has sat silently.

Asserting that Israeli Holocaust specialist Yehuda Bauer paid for and directed Lipstadt’s book, Irving alleged that Bauer urged Lipstadt to incriminate him.

The book, said Irving, is part of a 30-year campaign, led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, JTA, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and others, aimed to discredit him.

“It is quite evident that the ADL, in cahoots with Lipstadt, set itself the task of destroying my career,” he said, asserting that “the real defendants in this case are not represented in this court.”

But, he added, “We have them to thank for the spectacle that has been presented in this courtroom since January.”

Without their financial assistance, he said, it is doubtful whether the expensive defense team could have “mounted this colossal assault on my name.”

Irving has represented himself — in sharp contrast to the large legal team defending Lipstadt — and he claimed that the defense case had cost $6 million and 20 combined years of research.

Irving has described Auschwitz as a “fable” and insisted there was no evidence to suggest that Hitler ordered the systematic mass destruction of the Jews.

Irving was particularly scathing about JTA. He claimed the news agency provided material in 1992 for Lipstadt’s assertion that Irving was to have participated in a gathering in Sweden, which was later canceled, that would have been a “confluence between anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial forces.”

Among others who Lipstadt said were scheduled to attend the conference were Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Holocaust revisionists, representatives of the Islamic fundamentalist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and the ultranationalist Russian group Pamyat.

Irving also claimed that a 1995 JTA report accused him of “having supplied the trigger mechanism for the Oklahoma City bomb.”

“That item,” Irving told the court, “was picked up by the American, and then faintly echoed by the British press. It was only months later that I found out who had started that lie.”

A JTA report, dated March 4, 1996, said Timothy McVeigh’s lawyer had gone to London to investigate whether British neo-Nazis provided components for the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 that killed 168 people.

The report named Irving as one of three British citizens the FBI had subpoenaed to “provide information on the alleged European link” behind the bombing.

In his 24-page closing address, defense lawyer Richard Rampton declared that the trial had exposed Irving’s views as a “fraud.”

Irving based his claim that Auschwitz was not a death camp on psuedo- scientific research, said Rampton. He noted that Irving has never traveled to Auschwitz to examine the archeological remains or the documentary evidence in its archive.

“It follows that some other reason must be sought to explain his devotion over many years to the bizarre idea that no significant numbers of people were murdered in the homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz/Birkenau,” said Rampton.

The reasons, he continued, were not hard to find: “As the evidence in this court has shown,” he said, “Irving is a right-wing extremist, a racist, and, in particular, a rabid anti-Semite.”

Conspiracy Theory


Did the Mossad kill JFK? Serious researchers hardly think so.Following a day of public protests, organizers canceled the college seminar in which a speaker would “prove” that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency masterminded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

However, the apparent victory for sanity may be illusory.

The incident casts a sharp light on the fevered subculture of conspiracy theorists, which is growing luxuriantly on the Internet and now is apparently seeking a foothold in academia.

On Aug. 18, the trustees of the South Orange County Community College District approved $5,000 to fly in four guest panelists to participate in a Sept. 26-28 seminar on who was behind the murder of Kennedy in November 1963. Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo was to be the host.

Casting a tiebreaking vote to hold the seminar was Steven T. Frogue, president of the board of trustees. His vote was not entirely disinterested, since he was to teach the seminar.

Frogue is a high school history teacher who was allegedly transferred from one classroom to another, according to the Los Angelees Times, presumably for remarks that offended Jewish students and parents. He has been a persistent foe of the Anti-Defamation League and its regional director, Joyce Greenspan.

In a newspaper interview last fall, Frogue labeled the ADL “a group of spies,” and he declared that “Lee Harvey Oswald [Kennedy’s assassin] worked for the ADL…I believe the ADL was behind it.”

For the seminar, which the college advertised as a “high-quality community education” offering, Frogue invited an eclectic mix of “experts.” The one who received the most attention was Michael Collins Piper of Washington, D.C., author of “Final Judgment: The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy.”

Piper posits that the Mossad plotted the assassination. The reason, he asserts in his book, is that then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Kennedy “were involved in a heated dispute over Kennedy’s refusal to support Israel in its drive to build a nuclear weapon. Other authors have documented that this dispute, as much as anything, caused Ben-Gurion to resign.”

The ADL’s Greenspan, speaking at the college district board meeting, described Piper as a regular contributor to Spotlight, a notoriously anti-Semitic weekly, and as a Holocaust denier.

Both Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, and Uri Palti, Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, had a one-word evaluation of Piper’s theory: “nonsense.”

Other slated panelists were:

* Sherman Skolnick, a self-described “traditional Jew” from Chicago who has been propounding a link between “rogue Mossad agents,” the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the apparent suicide of White House counsel Vincent Foster.

Skolnick, also an occasional Spotlight contributor, denied later that he had agreed to speak at the seminar.

* Talk-show host Dave Emory, who contends that top Nazis, who had fled Germany after its defeat, played a leading role in Kennedy’s assassination. Emory and Piper frequently tangle at JFK conspiracy seminars around the country.

* John Judge, who adheres to the views of the late New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (hero of the Oliver Stone film “JFK”) that the Kennedy assassination was the work of a cabal of homosexuals and the military-industrial complex.

Serious researchers of the Kennedy era reacted with incredulity and amusement when told of the “panel of experts.” One such analyst, Chip Berlet, said: “You couldn’t find…more embarrassing conspiracists in America. Even among conspiracy theorists, these people represent the outer limit.”

Various faculty members at Saddleback College immediately protested the planned seminar. The general public took notice after the Los Angeles Times published a front-page report three days after the board meeting.

Within hours, the story was picked up by wire services and radio talk-show hosts, and phone calls from some 200 angry protesters deluged the college district offices. A considerable number of supportive messages were also logged by the ADL.

In the midst of the furor, Frogue announced that he was canceling the seminar, but that he would hold it at some future date away from the college and without its financial support.

Robert Lombardi, chancellor of the college district, described the public reaction as “pretty intense and somewhat surprising.”

He had earlier defended holding the seminar on the basis of First Amendment free-speech rights and the college district’s prerogative to offer courses appealing to “special interests.” For instance, Lombardi said, “we also offer a course on California wines.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which frequently intervenes in perceived free-speech violations, did not receive any calls regarding the seminar and does not plan any action, a spokeswoman said.

Despite the seminar’s cancellation, Jewish defense agencies reacted more with concern than satisfaction.

The ADL’s Greenspan, who was the point person in opposing the seminar, said that while she appreciated the general community’s reaction, she was bothered that the college board “still doesn’t see this racist seminar as their problem.”

She also warned that if and when the seminar is given under private auspices, it will lack public scrutiny and “bring the crazies out of the woodwork.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and an expert on racist and hate propaganda in cyberspace, added another perspective.

“The Mossad conspiracy theory may be laughable to us, but I can guarantee that, in a short time, it will become part of the folklore of hundreds of web sites on the Internet,” he said.

“For the Frogues and Pipers, the seminar cancellation is only a temporary setback. They got what they wanted by getting into the mainstream press. They don’t need to prove that Israelis had a hand in assassinating JFK; they just have to plant the seed of suspicion that it might have been that way.”

In assessing the role of the college district in authorizing the seminar, Cooper said: “The situation somewhat parallels the growing practice of the mainstream press to descend into tabloid journalism. What we’re getting here is a form of tabloid academia.”