On second Israel visit, Kevin Costner dismisses BDS champion Roger Waters


At the Israel premiere of a film starring Kevin Costner, the Hollywood actor said he does not care whether anti-Israel activists, including Roger Waters, disapprove of his visit to the Jewish state.

“I don’t ask anyone’s permission to travel,” Costner said in an interview Tuesday a press conference earlier this week at the Cinema City multiplex near the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. Asked by a reporter whether Roger Waters, a British musician known for his role as  former Pink Floyd frontman and for promoting boycotts on Israel, Costner said: “Who? I haven’t heard of it,” adding: “ I’ve received lots of love here. I wouldn’t have missed that.”

Costner, who in 1991 won two Academy Awards for directing and acting in the box-office hit “Dances with Wolves,” was in Israel for a screening of the upcoming action film “Criminal,” in which he stars alongside Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman and Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

But he told reporter at the cinema Tuesday that he came to support the film’s Israeli director, Ariel Vromen. “This is his country, his parents are here, and I’m very proud of him. He’s a young man who is truly doing well,” Costner said. Speaking of Gadot, Costner said she was “lovely” to work with and “a wonderful partner.”

He also said that he met Gadot for the first time ahead of a scene in which his character assaulted hers in a bedroom. “I shook her hand, said: ‘Hi, Gal, I’m Kevin, and we immediately started acting out the scene.”

“Criminal” tells the story of Jericho Stewart (Costner), a death-row inmate working to complete a deceased CIA agent’s last mission to save many lives. In addition to having an Israeli director and a co-star, the film has an Israeli producer: Avi Lerner.

Costner, 61, said he had visited Israel once before, approximately four decades ago.

N.Y. man accused of hiding mother’s death to collect Holocaust benefits


A New York man was charged with hiding his Holocaust survivor mother’s death in order to collect her reparations benefits.

Gary Jacoby, 61, was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on Thursday on grand larceny and forgery charges, the Daily News reported. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Jacoby’s mother, Laura, died in 2008 at age 93. Over the next four years, he allegedly collected $56,000 in her benefits from the German government.

Jacoby allegedly colluded with a notary public to forge annual paperwork indicating that his mother was still alive.

He also appeared at the German Embassy in 2012 to testify that his mother was still alive, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Jacoby was released without bail and is due back in court on Oct. 14. He told the Daily News that he expects the charges against him to be dropped.

Not human enough to live


The facts are horrific. Video captures the brutal attack on the side of a busy street. Onlookers and passers-by don’t come to the victim’s aid. Eventually, the bruised, bleeding half-dead body is attended to by medical personnel, but it is too late. The victim dies.

No, I am not talking about the recent tragic hit-and-run of a 2-year-old Chinese girl — I am writing about the death of Kelly Thomas of Fullerton.

Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man, was brutally beaten by six Fullerton police officers on July 5. Yes, on-duty police. They then tried to cover up the murder. Thomas was beloved, not abandoned, but mental illness kept him on the streets.

Thomas’ beating at a bus stop was done in public. No one came to his aid. Cars and passers-by watched. The investigators interviewed 151 witnesses — yes, that is 151 people who stared, watched and did nothing — viewed seven surveillance videos and two videos recorded by witnesses on their cellphones. In addition, a recording device (all Fullerton officers wear them) attached to the leader of the assault recorded the murder in vivid detail. Two officers are being charged in his death, while four others who took part have not.

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, is waging a relentless battle to raise awareness about his son’s murder, the police cover-up and ultimately about the fate of the mentally ill on our streets. And it’s working. Residents of Fullerton are taking their city council to task, and the FBI is now investigating the crime. Fullerton just set up a task force in the wake of the murder, to look for ways to improve the plight of the homeless in Fullerton.

Paul Orloff, a Fullerton resident, has launched a change.org campaign to bring to justice the four Fullerton police officers who have yet to be charged in the Thomas murder case. In just a few days, more than 14,000 people signed a petition for justice in the murder of Thomas.

While the world gasped in horror at the death of the Chinese girl, in America we walk by the legions of homeless who lie motionless on the side of the street every day.

We are numb to the facts: Hundreds of thousands of them call the streets their home every night. They sleep over subway grates, in alleyways and doorways. As the economy worsens, the numbers on the street are increasing.

Those who call the street home are mostly ignored as if they do not exist. From time to time, a passer-by will show compassion, offering food, money, a kind word. Yet, most of us find ways to harden our hearts to their plight. We dismiss them as junkies, bums, beggars or mentally ill. Cities create laws to banish them from our sight. Yet, each homeless person, no matter his mental, physical or hygienic condition, is a human being endowed with the same soul as anyone else.

In addition to their plight living on the streets of America, literally under our feet, the homeless are also targets of random murders

the latest to make the papers. In just a 10-day period last month, these cases made the news:

On Oct. 13, Casey Daniel Brown was sentenced by Sacramento County Superior Court for the second-degree murder of 68-year-old Bernice Nickson, a homeless woman who approached him at a bus stop.

On Oct. 19, in Butte, Mont., Shane Hans, 35, was charged with deliberate homicide in the killing of a homeless man, Teddy James Hildebrant.

On Oct. 23, Allen Harrell Hunter, from West Palm Beach, Fla., was arrested for the 2008 murder of a homeless man, David Roland Ulmer.

Why are homeless people targeted for such random killing? Because they are often regarded as less than human. Some of the murderers have readily admitted that they calculated no one would miss these creatures of the streets.

Thomas’ tragic life and death are causing one city to move forward and continue the soul-searching needed to work on the issue of homeless on their streets. Hopefully, it will not take more grisly videos of a homeless person being bludgeoned, run over or stabbed and left to die by the side of the road for America to start taking notice.

Criminal investigation won’t be opened into Carmel fire


Israel’s attorney general will not open a criminal investigation into the Carmel fire.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided Monday that there is not enough evidence to merit opening an investigation into the actions of several government ministers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai. The family of a prison guard killed in the blaze had called for such an investigation.

The state comptroller, who has been charged with investigating last month’s blaze, will pass on any criminal findings to the attorney general.

Meanwhile, some 50,000 Israelis visited the site of the fire over the weekend, after it opened for the first time since the disaster, which took the lives of 44 people and destroyed 12,000 acres of land and 5 million trees.

Family members of those who died in the fire were among those who visited the site, Ynet reported.

Ehud Olmert should be indicted, Israeli police tell prosecutors


JERUSALEM (JTA)—Ehud Olmert should be indicted on corruption charges, Israeli police recommended Sunday.

Bribery is the most serious of the charges that police recommended against the prime minister to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Others include fraud, breach of trust and money laundering.

The corruption charges stem from two investigations of Olmert. In the Rishon Tours double billing affair, he allegedly used money from charitable organizations to fund family trips. In the Talansky affair, Olmert is alleged to have received illegal contributions from American businessman Morris Talansky over the course of 15 years.

Police are still reviewing evidence in a third case; Olmert is under investigation in six cases.

The recommendations, along with investigative material, will be passed on to the state prosecutor’s office. Once the material is passed on and a hearing held for Olmert, the prosecutor’s office will make a decision on filing an indictment in about two weeks.

Police also recommended charging Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken.

A statement from the Prime Ministers Office called the recommendations “meaningless.”

Defying Nazis? Sure! It’s all in a days work


Of all the books written on German militarism, “The Captain From Koepenick,” by German playwright Carl Zuckmayer, is not only one of the great all-time satires, but penetrates to the heart of the matter more pointedly than a dozen treatises.
 
The play premiered in 1930 and immediately earned its author a place on the Nazis’ enemy list. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Zuckmayer was a marked man, more for his political views than for his mother’s descent from an assimilated Jewish family.
 
The title character, Wilhelm Voigt, is a petty criminal who tries to go straight as a shoemaker after his release from prison. Every attempt to get a job is foiled by the German bureaucracy and by employers who will only hire men who show proof of army service.
 
In desperation, the middle-aged Voigt buys a second-hand captain’s uniform from a pawnbroker, puts it on and, suddenly, every good German stands at attention and obeys his every command.Though the time and setting are pre-World War I, during the Kaiser’s reign, the mentality it skewers was sadly confirmed during the Nazi regime.
 
After returning from wartime exile, Zuckmayer wrote the movie version, starring Heinz Ruehmann, the comic German everyman.
 
Rarely shown in the West, the film is part of a 12-week retrospective of works by German director Helmut Kaeutner, now under way at the Goethe Institut in Los Angeles.
 
Also part of the series is Kaeutner’s second major hit, “The Devil’s General,” starring the great German actor Curt Juergens. The 1955 movie was one of the first post-war attempts to examine the recent Nazi past. At its center is a popular World War II Luftwaffe general, torn between loyalty to his country and his disgust with the Nazi regime.
 
Kaeutner wrote the 1929 screenplay for the classic “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich, and made his directorial debut in 1939 with the film, “Kitty and the World Conference.” It was immediately banned by propaganda minister Josef Goebbels for its allegedly pro-British attitude.
 
Nevertheless, the director stayed active during World War II with pictures that largely ignored war and ideology, and he reached his artistic peak in the 1950s.
 
Also scheduled are films dealing with the post-war East-West German divide, as well as a number of nonpolitical romance movies.
 
Weekly screenings, through Nov. 28, start at 7 p.m. at the Goethe Institut, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100 “The Devil’s General” will be shown Oct. 5, and “The Captain From Koepenick” on Nov. 28. Admission is $5.

Black Sheep


For better and for worse, my parents raised me to be a mensch. In the business world, sticking to the strong moral values they instilled in me hasn’t always been easy, but I can safely say I’ll never be the type who could stab a co-worker in the back. Little did I know that at least one of my ancestors wasn’t troubled by such compunction.

During my genealogy research I was surprised to learn that my great-grandfather was a real scoundrel. While it’s impossible to know what was happening inside of his head, I’ve found clues that give me a better understanding of who he was.

I first stumbled onto his sordid past when I found several documents that detailed four separate birthplaces. On a census record, Isaac Spear listed his birthplace as New York. On his wedding certificate, it’s written as London. On his son’s birth certificate, he claimed Hanley Staffordshire, England. And, in 1900, an Isaac Spier in Sing Sing prison claimed to have been born in Pennsylvania.

While visiting my grandparents’ apartment in Brooklyn as a child, I remember that my grandmother once told me to not say the word Sing Sing in front of my grandfather because it upset him.

I flew to New York to examine Sing Sing’s admissions records. In one hour I confirmed that my great-grandfather, registered as Isaac Spier, alias Herbert Edward Spier, was a criminal.

Isaac’s trouble started when two women took their separate grievances to the Kings County Courthouse. My great-grandmother Ida complained to the judge that Isaac had abandoned her. The other woman, Minnie Ott, accused Isaac of bigamy.

Several newspapers provided different perspectives of the story. According to one account, my great-grandmother went with my then-infant grandfather and a policeman to Minnie’s house. After realizing who was at the door, Isaac darted into the street and hopped onto an eastbound trolley car. A mile down the road he realized the policeman was following him, so Isaac jumped off the trolley and hopped on another one headed in the opposite direction. Eventually Isaac was apprehended.

Another newspaper captured the dialog between my ancestors. Isaac first denied ever knowing my great-grandmother. In response, she held up my grandfather in front of Isaac and said, “Do you deny that this is your son?” Isaac’s only response was a gulp.

He was later convicted of bigamy and sentenced to four years at Sing Sing. Police suspected that Isaac might have had as many as four wives.

As I continued to research Isaac’s nefarious past, I found a 1916 New York City Police Department report that detailed how Isaac laundered money from Gretsch, a guitar manufacturer. In 1925, he made The New York Times when he was accused of extortion. As an auditor for the New York State Income Tax Bureau, Isaac was the target of a failed police sting operation.

Although the process took years, I finally determined that Isaac was born in London, the son of a rabbi. By comparing my great-grandparents’ marriage certificate to my grandfather’s birth certificate, it is clear that he was conceived out of wedlock.

His headstone at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, located right next to the grave of his third wife, Rose, shows his name as Joseph in English and Isaac in Hebrew. If nothing else, his tombstone is an amusing final tribute to his use of aliases.

Criminal behavior among Jews has been far more rampant than what our parents or the Jewish community are willing to admit. I was amazed to find thousands of Jewish criminals as I delved deep into Sing Sing’s records. The goniffs ranged from big-name gangsters to small-time crooks and included physicians who performed illegal abortions.

As a genealogist, I have come across numerous fellow descendants of Jewish inmates who have been kind enough to share the stories of their ancestors with me. I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone. And the odds are likely that you might have a black sheep like Isaac in your family, too.

Ron Arons is a member of both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Jewish Genealogical Societies. He will be teaching a three-part introductory genealogy course at The University of Judaism beginning Oct. 18. Walk-ins welcome. For more information, visit dce.uj.edu/Content/CourseUnits.asp?CID=282 or call (310) 440-1246.

Follies


In the solar system of Jewish life, Irv Rubin is Pluto.

The man accused of conspiring to plant a pipe bomb at a mosque and at the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-48) has long operated at the distant edges of greater Los Angeles’ Jewish population that numbers some 600,000.

If you subtract from that number Rubin, his associate Earl L. Krugel and other active members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) here, you end up with 599,975, give or take 20. Nationwide, the JDL has perhaps 200 activists, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

To be honest, no one can say for certain just how many JDL activists prowl the delis of Los Angeles, plotting over half-sour pickles late into the night. The organization has never produced a membership list, it is not a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and in seven years of covering this community I’ve rarely encountered a soul who doesn’t consider these men to be, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, loose cannons.

None of this is to say they’re guilty as charged. The strongest witness for the prosecution seems to be an informant with a criminal past of his own. In the current climate, it is fair to raise questions of overzealous FBI even-handedness. Rubin and Krugel deserve the full measure of the civil and legal rights that they are accused of plotting to deny others of. Aren’t they fortunate that the Constitution rushes in where the rest of us would prefer to watch what we’re stepping on.

Following the arrest, a handful of local Muslim spokespeople used the occasion to gloat. The alleged JDL plot made clear that "Jewish terrorism is just as dangerous as Muslim terrorism," Muslim Public Affairs Council Vice-President Aslam Abdullah told the Los Angeles Times’ Teresa Watanabe. Muslims demanded that authorities treat Jews as Muslims have been treated post-Sept. 11: profiling those who "look like Rubin," freezing JDL assets, blocking JDL Web sites. The implication is that their crazies equal our crazies, that the problem of religious fanaticism is shared by Jew, Muslim and Christian, so why devote special attention to Arabs and Islam? Well, here’s why:

The reaction of the Jewish community to the JDL arrests was swift and unequivocal condemnation.

The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Simon Wisenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress, Hadassah, the synagogue movements — no one hedged, no one displayed any residual support for Rubin’s politics or argued for an understanding of his sense of victimhood. Every Jewish leader called for Rubin and Krugel to receive the maximum penalty under the law if found guilty.

The JDL and its founder, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have been institutionally marginalized in the Jewish world.

In 1988, Israel’s Central Election Committee barred Kahane’s Kach party from competing in Knesset elections, terming it "racist" and "Nazilike," a ban upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Here in Los Angeles, for years now Rubin has been escorted out of far more Jewish events than he’s ever been invited in to.

Sept. 11 was the work of a worldwide terror network supported by millions of dollars and the rhetoric of religious teachers. Dec. 11 was, at worst, two Jews and a pipe bomb.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations implied that Rubin’s alleged actions were the result of "an atmosphere of Islamophobia" fanned by mainstream Jewish organizations. The truth is that mainstream Jewish organizations were among the first to separate the actions by relatively few of the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims from Islam. And Jewish organizations, like the Progressive Jewish Alliance, have been at the forefront of protecting the civil liberties of Arabs and others following the attacks.

None of this is to say that Jewish extremism doesn’t exist. It has a virulent Israeli-based strain, as evidenced by Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir and those nationalist religious teachers for whom the idea of taking all of the land of greater Israel by force necessitates a milchemet mitzvah, or Holy War.

These voices are a minority, though as professor Reuben Firestone has pointed out, the ideas they propound have a way of trickling into mainstream discourse. But Rubin is not a foot soldier of any mass organization, or the vanguard of any movement. He has garnered the spotlight, but gained no sympathy, and as news of his arrest circulated over the weekend, the only question on most Jews’ minds was, "What planet is he from?"

Nazi in the Catskills


Ellenville, N.Y., is a little village in the Catskills, population 4,200, located 90 miles northwest of New York City. It’s the heart of what used to be the Borscht Belt, before Jews discovered Aspen and Antigua. Times have changed, but Ellenville still boasts a couple of grand kosher resort hotels and a brace of tiny bungalow colonies catering to Jewish families fleeing New York’s summer heat.

Now it turns out that the owner of one of Ellenville’s most popular bungalow colonies is a suspected Nazi war criminal. Federal prosecutors charged last month that Mykola Wasylyk, 76, had served as an armed guard in two SS slave-labor camps in his native Poland during World War II, after receiving training at the notorious Trawniki SS training camp. The U.S. Department of Justice asked a federal court on Nov. 18 to revoke Wasylyk’s U.S. citizenship, saying he lied about his war crimes when he came here in 1949.

It sounds like a scene out of some drugstore thriller, but for attorney Eli Rosenbaum it’s just another day’s work. Rosenbaum, 46, heads up the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI). That’s the unit in charge of hunting down former Nazi war criminals and getting them sent back where they came from.

This is a strange moment in Nazi-hunting. On one hand, there’s more work than ever. Researchers are still digesting evidence newly available from Soviet archives post-Cold War. Huge battles loom with Germany, which is resisting taking back deported Nazis, and with Japan, which hasn’t begun to acknowledge its war crimes and help prosecutors.

At the same time, there’s growing cooperation between Nazi-hunters and the new crop of international war-crimes prosecutors. Much of the expertise at the Bosnian and Rwandan war crimes tribunals comes from government Nazi-hunters.

Last month the Senate voted to expand the OSI’s mandate and put it in charge of chasing down modern-day war criminals, including Serbs and Rwandans. If the House agrees, the OSI will be in business for a long time to come.

And yet, Nazi hunters say, it seems lately the world can’t get its attention away from Nazi gold, Nazi art, Nazi bank and insurance looting and other assorted Nazi plunder. Folks forget that people like Eli Rosenbaum are still out there hunting real Nazis.

Rosenbaum joined the OSI as a Harvard law student intern when the agency was first set up in 1979. He’s been there almost continuously ever since.

He now heads a staff of 33, including 11 lawyers and eight professional historians who comb archives for evidence.

The job has brought Rosenbaum into contact with some pretty awful characters. They shot and clubbed Jews, herded them into gas chambers, worked them to death, or supervised others who did the dirty work. A few were senior Nazi officials, but most were concentration camp guards and Nazi police goons. They came from Germany and Austria, Lithuania, Poland, Croatia, Ukraine. The OSI found them living new lives in Cleveland and Chicago, Tampa, St. Louis and Brooklyn, not to mention Ellenville.

They’re all frail old men now. Inside a courtroom they tend to look tiny and lost. But they fight back like tigers. One died after a shootout with police outside his Kansas City home in 1997, just after the OSI filed charges. Another pulled a gun once on Rosenbaum. Two committed suicide when charges were filed. Many beat deportation by dying of old age first. “Our major opponent now is Father Time,” says Rosenbaum.

Technically, the OSI doesn’t prosecute anyone for war crimes. It can only take civil action to strip someone’s U.S. citizenship after proving that they committed war crimes and lied about it to immigration. Then they’re sent home, hopefully to face prosecution, though few have. Some return to heroes’ welcomes and live out their lives in peace. They even get their monthly Social Security checks uninterrupted, if they leave before being deported.

Still, OSI is the most successful Nazi-hunting organization in the world, bar none. Over the years it’s investigated 1,500 persons and taken action against about 110. Sixty-three have had their citizenship revoked and 52 have been kicked out of the country. Eighteen cases are now in court, and 260 people are under investigation. Four new cases have been filed since August alone.

And at a time when nearly every federal government operation is under budgetary siege, Congress recently raised the OSI’s $3.7 million annual budget to $5.5 million so it could speed up its work.

By contrast, Great Britain dissolved its war-crimes investigation unit this fall after bringing three cases and winning just one. Australia dissolved its war-crimes unit in 1994, having failed to convict or deport a single war criminal. Canada’s war-crimes unit is mired in local controversy and hasn’t filed a case in several years. Austria hasn’t prosecuted a war criminal since the 1970s. Germany is about to convert its war-crimes investigation office into a research archive.

“We’re speeding up while Europe is shutting down,” says Rosenbaum. “Europe has basically abdicated its moral and legal responsibility.”

The record isn’t perfect. OSI’s biggest foul-up to date was John Demjanjuk, the Cleveland steelworker identified as the notorious Treblinka guard “Ivan the Terrible.” He was deported in 1986 to Israel, where he was publicly tried, convicted and sentenced to die. But Israel’s Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1993, saying he wasn’t the camp guard named in the indictment.

The mix-up prompted a sharp rebuke by a federal judge, who claimed outside influences — apparently Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League — were improperly influencing OSI decisions. OSI got the allegation withdrawn, and last spring it refiled Demjanjuk’s case. But the black eye hurt.

OSI’s critics — there are many, particularly in the Ukrainian-American and Baltic-American communities — say hunting Nazi war criminals has become a pointless vendetta. They often depict the OSI’s suspects as patriots who cooperated with Germany to fight off Russia. More often they simply claim it’s time to lay the past to rest.

Rosenbaum doesn’t buy it. “We need to send a message to would-be perpetrators of crimes against humanity that if they dare to act on their pernicious fantasies, there is a real chance that the civilized world will pursue them, if necessary to the farthest corners of the earth, if necessary for the rest of their lives,” he says.

Yes, even to the Catskills.


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for the Jewish Journal.