Debbie Wasserman Schultz under fire for calling young women complacent on abortion

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is facing criticism from liberal activists for suggesting that young women are complacent about their abortion rights.

“Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided,” Wasserman Schultz told The New York Times Magazine in an interview published Wednesday.

Roe v. Wade is the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision that established the right to an abortion.

At least three major progressive activist groups, including MoveOn.orgRootsAction and CREDO Action, have seized on the issue to launch petitions urging her to resign her post as chair of the DNC.

Photo is screenshot from Twitter

The abortion rights group Reproaction encouraged its supporters to criticize her on Twitter with the hashtag #DearDebbie.

Wasserman Schultz responded to the controversy in a statement Wednesday.

“We need women of every generation — mine included — to stand up and speak out, and that is the main message I sought to convey in that interview,” she wrote.

Some Sanders supporters have criticized Wasserman Schultz in recent months for favoring Hillary Rodham Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. There have been fewer Democratic primary debates than Republican debates and some have been scheduled at low-TV-viewership times, giving Sanders fewer high-profile opportunities to challenge Clinton.

Last month, the DNC temporarily cut the Sanders campaign off from the party’s important voter data files after a staffer peeked at Clinton’s data during a software glitch — leading to a public spat between the campaign and the party leadership.

Asked about the petitions calling for Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she still has confidence in the DNC chairwoman, ABC News reported.

Briefs: Peres elected President of Israel; Oprah criticized for pro-Israel stance

Peres Elected President of Israel

Shimon Peres became Israel’s ninth president. In parliamentary votingWednesday, the longtime leader defeated rival Knesset members Reuven Rivlinand Colette Avital. Rivlin and Avital dropped out after the first round,having received 37 and 21 votes respectively, the Jerusalem Post reported.In the second round 86 Knesset members supported Peres, the only remainingcandidate, and 23 opposed him.

“I have been in the Knesset for 48 years and not for one moment have I lostfaith or hope in Israel,” Peres said in his acceptance speech. “What Israelhas achieved in 60 years, no other country has been able to achieve. I hopeI can represent our faith not because there are no problems but because weall want to overcome them.”

Peres, 83, will assume the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, on July 15for a seven-year term. The presidency will cap a six-decade career in whichPeres has served in virtually every top civilian post in Israel. In 1993 hewon the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

Oprah Criticized for Pro-Israel Stance

Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), a partnership between the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine, said in a June 8 letter that Oprah Winfrey’s willingness to visit Israel was “very shocking” considering her image as someone who “stands with oppressed, marginalized people, fights racism, and works for justice and human rights.”

The letter was apparently a response to the talk show host’s declaration last month that she sympathized with the suffering of Israelis and would accept an invitation from Elie Wiesel to visit the Jewish state. Calling Israel’s policies a violation of international law, the JAI invited Winfrey to visit Palestinian areas and “witness firsthand the refugee camps, Apartheid Wall, movement restrictions and ghettos.”

Health Care Tops Poll for Jewish Progressives

An online poll conducted by progressive Jewish Web sites showed health care to be the top domestic political priority. The poll, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, listed 10 issues and asked respondents to pick the five most important. The top five were, in order: health care, the environment, education, civil rights and wages. The other issues, not in order, were seniors, immigration, housing, child-care and hurricane devastation. Each issue was framed in progressive terminology.

The poll got more than 8,600 responses through participating Web sites, including the Shalom Center, Jewcy and the National Council for Jewish Women. Polling experts believe online polls are suggestive at best, as participants are self-selective.

Grinspoon Offers $300,000 for Youth Philanthropy

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation will award $30,000 to each of 10 communities to start a B’nai Tezedek program, which asks teens to contribute a minimum of $125 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to an individual endowment fund. The foundation matches the contribution to help the teens establish a fund of at least $500, from which they make allocations every year. The program, which started in Western Massachusetts, where the foundation is based, is already up and running in 37 communities. The grants will be given on a first come, first serve basis, the foundation announced in a press release.

“It is essential to the future of Jewish society that we get our teens involved in giving to charity in a personally engaging way, and equip them with the tools to become financially intelligent donors,” said Harold Grinspoon, founder and chair of the foundation.

Rabbi Offers Online Advice for Interfaith Weddings, a support and resource center for intermarried families, has hired Rabbi Lev Baesh as its first Rabbinic Circle director. The 1994 graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion begins work July 9. Baesh’s main tasks will be referring interfaith couples to rabbis who will officiate at their wedding and running a listserv for rabbis to discuss the issue and share practical tips. President Ed Case, who said he receives about 60 requests a month from interfaith couples looking for officiating rabbis. Case says this service differs from the “rent-a-rabbi” phenomenon because the rabbis on Baesh’s list are all carefully vetted, and couples will be steered toward their local synagogues. “Our intention is not to tell rabbis that they should officiate, or pressure them to do so,” Case said.

The Reform movement’s rabbinic association officially discourages intermarriage, but leaves it to the discretion of individual rabbis whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are barred from doing so.

Shalit’s Mother Assails Government

The mother of an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinians assailed the government for not doing more to recover him. Aviva Shalit, whose son Gilad was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen last June, broke her silence in a newspaper interview published Monday. Previous public comments on the family’s ordeal have been made by Shalit’s husband, Noam.

“All year I hoped that the repeated promises to do everything for Gilad’s release would bear fruit, but this hope is also beginning to wane,” Aviva Shalit told Yediot Achronot. “My strong feeling is that not enough has been done, because if had they really done everything, Gilad would be home, and so would the other two kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev,” Shalit said, referring to troops held by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon since last July.

Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists, in exchange for Shalit, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled this out for fear of encouraging further kidnappings.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency

Shutting Jewish mouths; A civil tone of voice

A Civil Tone

Last week’s Letters section offered a fascinating window on the views and feelings of our community (Letters, Feb. 23). Most of the letters were thoughtful, informative and passionate. Two stepped over the line.

One nasty note was directed at Rob Eshman personally, condemning him for once belonging to Peace Now, calling him a traitor and a pogrom, while besmirching all Jews who disagree with the writer as people who would “sell their soul for a fake peace.” I’m afraid someone’s been listening to too much talk radio.

And speaking of talk radio, the other letter lumps together Messrs. Prager, Medved (and David Klinghoffer for good measure) as “notorious Jewish hypocrites,” while managing to disparage all evangelical Christians as people who “do not respect Judaism.” Sad.

Be they on the left or the right, some folks don’t seem to realize that it’s indeed possible to debate with facts, rather than fanaticism. Mr. Rohde’s letter proved it beautifully, with his clearly laid out rebuttal showing that our Founding Fathers did respect other faiths beyond the Judeo-Christian realm.So why tolerate the name calling?

While I congratulate you for having the guts and openness to publish even the most vitriolic letters, perhaps there’s a better way.

The Journal already imposes some restrictions on writers, requesting that letters be of a certain length and contain a valid name and address. May I make a suggestion? How about also requiring a civil tone?

Want to get nasty and call names? Go someplace else.

It would be a small thing, true, but maybe it’s a first step toward elevating the debate to at least a minimum level of respect.

Abe Rosenberg
via e-mail

Jewish Mouths

I thoroughly approve of your approach and point in this editorial (“Shutting Jewish Mouths,” Feb. 16). Two Jews, three opinions has always characterized our tribe and always will. Even with the fear injected into the conditions of dissent from the Israel lobby line, still we rise. I hope we always will.I especially appreciate your point of the destruction of all but the most reactionary views of history and current events when the left is walled off and vilified.

Stuart M. Chandler
Mar Vista

Rob Eshman speaks proudly of having sought Jewish support for a Palestinian state 20 years ago, when it was a minority position in the American Jewish community, saying, “The moral of the story: Today’s dissenters [like Tony Judt and Tony Kushner] might just be on to something.”

Doesn’t Eshman understand the danger of creating a Palestinian state today, which would have Hamas and Fatah running the show, whose charters call for Israel’s destruction and use of terrorism, and who would continue to promote hatred and murder of Israelis in its media, mosques, textbooks and youth camps and refuse to arrest and jail terrorists?

We agree with the former head of the IDF, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, who has repeatedly stated that “a Palestinian state should not be created. It will only increase the likelihood of war.”

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America
New York

Absurd Assertion

I coordinated the recent Los Angeles Combatants for Peace (CFP) events (“Divided We Fall,” Feb. 9).

StandWithUs’ (SWU) assertion that CFP presentations are “one-sided” is false, and its categorization of CFP events as “anti-Israel” is cynical and absurd.

CFP is a joint Israeli and Palestinian peace group, and all CFP events in the UnNited States feature representatives from both peoples. CFP is comprised of former Palestinian militants and Israeli combat soldiers who have realized the futility of the violence they have perpetrated on each other, and now believe that there is no viable military solution to the conflict and that both sides are wrong to persist in armed hostilities against the other.

If SWU applies the “anti-Israel” label to any gathering that fails to promote the integrity of greater Israel, CFP events are properly categorized as such. Otherwise, SWU’s labeling of CFP events as “anti-Israel” evidences a profound measure of political solipsism.

Further, I would be interested in learning what “unsubstantiated charges” and “misinformation” SWU claims CFP is disseminating. As a matter of policy and design, and out of a desire to discourage debate over ancillary matters, CFP makes no charges and takes no positions other than those expressed in its threefold mission.

Joel S. Farkas
Santa Monica

Azerbaijan Democratization

I was pleased to read one more article about Azerbaijan which stresses the tolerance of its population toward different religions and nations (“Borat, Meet Elin,” Feb. 23).

However, I see a threat: Because of authoritarianism and pressure on political opposition, more and more people have started turning their faces toward radicalism. An ordinary citizen believes now that it is impossible to change the government in a democratic way.

According to OSCE reports, all elections since 1993 have been falsified by the former local KGB and Communist Party boss Heydar Aliyev and by his son, Ilham, after the father’s death in 2003. Some experts have started warning about the danger of revolution in Azerbaijan. Yet, will it be “colored revolution” as in neighboring Ukraine and Georgia to democratize the country or Iranian-like path?

I do believe that only by urging authorities to cease the pressure on democratic opposition will we succeed in preventing Azerbaijan from falling into radicalism and finally starting democratization.

Elgun Taghiyev
Program Assistant
National Democratic Institute
Baku, Azerbaijan

‘Curly Top’ Arkin

To see Alan Arkin bald is so shocking to my system, considering here is a guy who, in a gentile high school environment, had the most glamorous and envious beautiful curly head of hair of any of us seven or eight gifted Jews who were literally his friends (“Alan Arkin: Not Just Another Kid From Brooklyn,” Feb. 16).

When it came to having that suave, utterly curly head of hair, Alan had no equal.

You have the right to shut up

Did you hear about the local court in Israel that sentenced a newspaper editor and a reporter to a year in jail for criticizing the prime minister? Or how about the 100 menwho were arrested at a private party in Tel Aviv because they were “dancing and behaving like women”? Or the Israeli court in Haifa that ruled that the testimony of a man is worth twice that of a woman?

You probably haven’t heard, because these abuses didn’t happen in Israel.They happened in Israel’s neighborhood, in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and as you might imagine, there are plenty more where those came from.

What does any of this have to do with a column about the Pico-Robertson neighborhood? This week I feel like going a little broader.

There’s a controversy that has bubbled up in the Jewish world today around this question: Is it good for Israel when Jews go public with harsh criticism of Israel?

One recent example is a Jewish group that has been presenting on college campuses a stinging, single-minded and, in the eyes of many, exaggerated critique of the Israeli army. Presumably, this type of collective soul-searching demonstrates the Jewish values of fairness and good faith and ought to generate some goodwill in return.

Of course, Jewish criticism against Israel or its policies is nothing new — but not all criticism is created equal. Criticism that rails against the corruption in Israel’s government, for instance, is an example of a political system trying to clean up its act to better serve its people.

But Jewish criticism that publicly undermines Israel’s morality and ability to defend itself is another matter, and it can backfire.

If we keep “confessing” to an already hostile world, for example, that we are too harsh in defending ourselves, should we be surprised if that same world concludes that we deserve to be punished — that we had all this terrorism coming?

And if this public self-criticism happens only on our side — because the other side doesn’t allow it — aren’t we creating a false reality that puts inordinate responsibility on Israel for whatever goes wrong? When we complain that Israel’s global brand image is worse than that of murderous regimes, isn’t our public self-flagellation at least partly to blame?

In short, shouldn’t supporters of Israel be more careful with what it allows its enemies to hear?

As I write these words, I feel like an 80-year-old World War II veteran who spends his days looking at his medals. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make you more exhaustingly boring and unsophisticated today than suggesting for one second that a Jew should watch his mouth.

For the Jews who don’t think twice before criticizing Israel in public, there’s no such thing as a bad debate. Go ahead and trash the Israeli army over civilian casualties, watch the enemy exploit this weakness to create even more civilian casualties and then let’s all celebrate the beginning of a “terribly important” debate.

Jews who are careful about not helping the enemy don’t have this fetish for debate. They see their home being broken into by people about to hurt their kids. Then, as they look at the faces of their frightened children, they have a choice to make: Do they argue with their spouse — in front of the burglars — about who was supposed to call that security company to install the new alarm, or do they figure out a way to protect their children and leave the debate on the alarm for later, in private?

These Jews’ mouths might be shut, but their eyes are wide open. They see that when Israel tried to give its enemy what it said it wanted (example: Gaza), things got even worse. They believe in peace, but not suicide, and they believe that in times of danger, knowing when to be discrete can be just as courageous as knowing when to speak out.

This is their guiding question: Does an enemy who wants to kill my family deserve to see all my insecurities?

So clearly, despite the ingrained Jewish habit of self-criticism, there are millions of Jews today who don’t think it’s a great idea to villify the Israeli army in front of American and pro-Palestinian college students.

Instead of buying you good will, it’s more likely to buy you bad PR.

Having said all that, in our collective obsession with Israel, Jews of all political stripes have missed a major opportunity: shining a light on the rest of Israel’s neighborhood.

While the world’s press records every Israeli mistake, millions of Arabs are being silently persecuted across the Middle East — gays who are arrested for being gay, women who are humiliated for being women, reporters who are attacked for reporting, Christians who are persecuted for being religious, poets who are jailed for writing the wrong poems.

Where is the outrage? Where are the “Breaking the Silence” campus road shows? Where is the liberal support for these Arab victims of human rights abuse who don’t have a fraction of the freedoms that Arabs in Israel enjoy?

The notion of shutting Jewish mouths is a moot point — nobody can shut a Jew up. If a Jew exercises the freedom to shut up, it’s a personal choice, and it’s usually for good reason.

But for all you progressive Jews out there who believe it’s in the grand Jewish tradition to always speak out, there are 300 million Arabs who don’t live in the vicinity of Israel, and who could surely use a road show.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council distances itself from Prager

Leaders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council,
ensnared in a raging controversy over one of its
members, this week moved to distance themselves from the cause of the furor.

Conservative commentator Dennis Prager, a member
of the Council that oversees the Holocaust Museum
on Washington’s Mall and the nation’s chief
academic center for Holocaust study, ignited a
firestorm of criticism when he wrote that Keith
Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat about to become the
first Muslim member of Congress, should not be
allowed to be sworn in on a Quran.

Allowing congressional oaths on a Quran, Prager
wrote, “undermines American civilization.” If you
are incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don’t serve in Congress.”

Prager was slammed by groups as diverse as the
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and
the Anti-Defamation League both for his lack of
tolerance for Muslims and for his inaccuracy;
House members are sworn in by the Speaker,
without any holy books, although many use Bibles
at private photo-op ceremonies after being sworn in.

Last week, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, also a
Council member, called for Prager to step down
for the good of the Museum, and promised to
introduce a resolution critical of Prager at this week’s Council meeting.

But the showdown was averted when neither Prager
nor Koch showed up. Council officials, wary of
heaping new fuel on the controversy, ruled that
Koch’s resolution would not be taken up.

“I did not go because I was told the matter would
not be put on the agenda,” Koch said in an interview.

At Monday’s meeting, Council chairman Fred
Zeidman read a statement acknowledging the
controversy but stating that the press of other
issues — including the genocide in Darfur and
the situation in Iran — made it inappropriate to
bring up the Prager matter at that time.

Zeidman told members that he is “heavily
involved” in the issue and expected a resolution shortly.

After the meeting, Zeidman worked with fellow
executive committee members to work out a
statement distancing the panel from the controversial talk show host.

The statement, issued on Friday, cited the
Museum’s role as a “living memorial to the
victims of the Holocaust devoted to teaching the
lessons of the Holocaust for the benefit of all
mankind,” and stated that Prager “has recently
publicly expressed and disseminated certain
statements which have been widely interpreted as being intolerant.”

Therefore, the executive committee, “while
recognizing that Dennis Prager has the right to
express his personal views freely, disassociates
itself from Mr. Prager’s statements as being
antithetical to the mission of the Museum as an
institution promoting tolerance and respect for
all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.”

A Museum source said he hoped Prager would get
the message and resign — but said he had no
indication the controversial commentator would do so.

Members of the Council are appointed by the
President, and can only be removed by the White House.

Tracks of an Ethiopian Exodus

Until the late 1970s, very few Ethiopian Jews had ever wandered beyond the borders of their country and made it to Israel.

But in 1979, an insurgency in northern Ethiopia opened an exit route to Sudan, and thousands of Ethiopian Jews — who called themselves Beta Israel but were known to outsiders as Falasha — began fleeing the famine and war of northern Ethiopia on a journey they hoped would end in Jerusalem.

Along with thousands of other Ethiopians fleeing their country, which at the time was ruled by communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Jews settled in refugee camps in Sudan and waited for Mossad operatives to take them out.

For the first few years, those who were taken to Israel left in one of three ways. Some were given forged documents and put onto planes in Khartoum bound for Athens. Once in Europe, they then were quietly put onto planes to Israel. Others were moved from their Sudanese refugee camps at night to Port Sudan, where Israeli naval commandos put them onto clandestine naval vessels and then transferred them onto ships headed for Israel. A few were airlifted directly to Israel from the Sudanese desert on illicit flights.

A famine in Ethiopia in 1984 lent great urgency to the effort to rescue Ethiopia’s Jews, many of whom were dying of starvation and disease in refugee camps in Sudan while they waited to be taken to Israel.

In the covert maneuver Operation Moses, Israel began airlifting large numbers of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan’s desert beginning in November 1984. Leaks about the operation and growing risks forced its early end in January 1985, after more than 8,000 Jews had been brought to Israel in the space of just six weeks.

Thousands more remained stranded in communist Ethiopia.

For those left behind, life was harsh. During Mengistu’s 17-year reign, Ethiopian city streets were left riddled with corpses as a warning against opposing the government, bereaved parents were forced to pay for the bullets that killed their sons and suspected political opponents were imprisoned and tortured.

The Jews suffered no more than ordinary Ethiopians, but anyone who was suspected of trying to flee to Zion was tortured, imprisoned and often killed.

In the early 1990s, the tide turned in the war between the rebel Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government, known as the Derg, and in May 1991 rebel forces surrounded the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Israel, which had clandestine ties with Mengistu’s regime, feared that the TPLF’s anti-Zionist rhetoric and hostility toward Mengistu could lead to massacres of the Jews when the rebels took Addis, and quickly put together a plan to rescue the country’s remaining Jews. Israel pressed the United States to persuade the rebels to hold their positions on the hilltops around Addis for 36 hours while Israel airlifted more than 14,000 Jews out of the country.

The fall of Addis came just hours after the completion of Operation Solomon, on May 24, 1991.

In the end, it turned out that Israel’s fears were unfounded: The new regime in Addis Ababa proved itself friendly toward the Jews and forged strong ties with Israel.

After Operation Solomon, the only Ethiopians with Jewish ties left behind in Ethiopia were the Falash Mura — Ethiopian Christians whose progenitors were Jews who had converted to Christianity. Many of them sought to return to Judaism in a bid to emigrate, but Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, instructed his government not to accept them. Unlike those who had immigrated to Israel, Shamir noted, these Ethiopians were not identifiably Jewish and maintained Christian practices.

Israel’s policy gradually changed, however, and since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Falash Mura have moved to Israel — nearly as many as the Ethiopian Jews who made aliyah during and before 1991.

During these last 15 years, Ethiopia’s government has maintained a policy of open emigration, which is why no special operations have been necessary to bring the Falash Mura to Israel.

In the last decade and a half, led by rebel-turned-head-of-state Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s government has accelerated the pace of the country’s industrialization, improved its economy and so far prevented any repeats of the devastating 1984-85 famine that killed an estimated 1 million Ethiopians and struck hardest in Tigray.

And though the Ethiopian government remains a target of human rights advocates, including some in Israel, observers abroad say the Meles government’s excesses do not approach the scope of that of Mengistu’s Red Terror.

But since last May, when government forces shot to death dozens of people in Addis Ababa protesting disputed election results, there have been growing tensions between the Amhara elite who live in the center of the country, around the capital, and the Tigrean minority that runs the government.

There also has been increased international criticism of the Meles government, which had been a rare African darling of Western democracies.

Some American Jewish federation leaders visiting Ethiopia last week suggested that one reason for Israel to speed up the aliyah of the Falash Mura is political instability in the country. But recent political tensions notwithstanding, experts on Ethiopia say there is little danger of imminent collapse for the current regime.


Hitler and the ‘What If?’ Question

“The World Hitler Never Made,” by Gavriel Rosenfeld (Cambridge University Press, $30).

In 1979, comedian Al Franken wrote a skit for “Saturday Night Live” called “What if: Überman,” featuring Dan Aykroyd as Klaus Kent, a clerk in Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda. Klaus dashes into phone booths to become Überman, uses his X-ray vision to detect bombs and to reveal Jews by looking through their pants, and ultimately leads his country to victory. The Nazi organ Der Daily Planet reports, “Überman Takes Stalingrad in 5 Minutes: Diverts Volga,” and “Überman Rounds Up Two Million Jews: Total Past 6 Million.”

This is undoubtedly one of the more outrageous examples, but since 1945, more than 100 authors and screenwriters in Europe and America have asked the same “what if” questions: How would the world look if the Nazis had won? If the Holocaust had never happened? The theme has attracted some of the finest minds in Anglo-American letters. Philip Roth’s latest best seller, for example, “The Plot Against America” (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) imagines an alternate past where U.S. President Charles Lindbergh signs neutrality pacts with Germany and Japan in 1940 and forcibly resettles the country’s Jews to the rural Midwest.

These scenarios, known as “allohistory,” or alternate history, are the objects of Gavriel Rosenfeld’s careful study, “The World Hitler Never Made.” The Fairfield College professor has analyzed every artifact of “what if” speculation on the Nazi era he could unearth, from celebrated sci-fi novels such as Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” to obscure “Twilight Zone” episodes, to fiction that one might describe politely as complete schlock (read: Newt Gingrich’s co-written flop of a novel, “1945,” about a Nazi victory over the Soviet Union; the book was so unsuccessful that most of its unsold copies ended up pulped one year after its publication in 1995).

Rosenfeld admits that the works are of “uneven literary quality” — but that is precisely the point. While most academic studies of literary representations of the Nazi era and the Holocaust focus on “high” art and literature, Rosenfeld’s aims to study the images of Nazism that proliferate in popular culture. Whether they intend to or not, speculations about the “what ifs” of Nazi history offer good evidence of our memory of the actual events.

What he discovers is a not altogether shocking but nonetheless worrisome trend: As the 1930s and ’40s recede further into the past, authors are taking more and more liberties with their portrayals of Nazism — and readers are responding. From the end of the war to the mid-1960s, allohistorical works in the English language depicted the Nazis as uniquely evil and portrayed an imaginary Nazi occupation of England and America as straightforwardly dystopic. Since then, he argues, alternate histories reveal an increasingly “normalized” memory of the Nazi era and even of the Holocaust. That is, recent works are less likely to represent Nazis as purely evil and the Allies as purely valiant.

In the postwar period, the allohistorical imagination conjured up what can only be called absolute nightmares of a Nazi future. In 1947, Noël Coward wrote a play sarcastically titled “Peace in Our Times,” set in Nazi-occupied London from 1940 to 1945. The story’s protagonists wage a noble war of resistance against a brutal Gestapo official, who avers that it is Germany’s “destiny to rule the world,” while Britons who preached appeasement in the 1930s end up collaborating with their persecutors. John Wall’s “The Sound of His Horn” (1952), set in the Nazi calendar year 102 — a century after the “First Fuehrer and Immortal Spirit of Germanism,” Adolf Hitler’s victory over Europe — emphasized the brutality of a would-be Nazi-ruled continent. Science fiction author Cyril Kornbluth published a short story in 1958 titled “Two Dooms,” in which an American nuclear scientist eats hallucinogenic mushrooms that make him imagine a German-occupied America where extermination camps have been set up outside Chicago. In all, Nazis were painted as unparalleled in their wickedness.

But, Rosenfeld notes, in the mid-1960s authors started writing alternate histories of Nazism differently. For example, at the dawn of “a more pessimistic mood within postwar British society,” the genre was used to break down national myths instead of reinforcing them, beginning in 1964 with Giles Cooper’s “The Other Man” and the 1966 film “It Happened Here.” These works, Rosenfeld writes, “blurred the line between the British and the Germans, depicting both as mired in the same immoral world” by focusing on the possibility of British collaboration.

In the United States, disillusion with the Vietnam War inspired revisionist portrayals of America’s war against the Nazis. In 1972, the political scientist Bruce Russett published “No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the United States Entry Into World War II,” an analysis of “might-have-beens” in World War II. Claiming that Americans might have been better off had they never entered the war, Russett relativized Nazism’s evils by insisting that “Nazism as an ideology was almost certainly less dangerous to the United States” than communism. He criticized American intervention in Vietnam by contesting the historical necessity of intervention in Europe.

This trend becomes even more pronounced by the beginning of the 1990s, by which time Robert Harris could crack the international best-seller list with his novel “Fatherland” (1992), featuring a humanized and even honorable Nazi as its protagonist. Recent novels about the Holocaust, such as Daniel Quinn’s “After Dachau” (2001) — however noble their intentions — have undermined the Holocaust’s uniqueness by using it to draw attention to other genocides, reflecting what Rosenfeld regrets to call “the erosion of prior moral perspectives” to the Holocaust and the Nazi era in general.

In the end, Rosenfeld has mixed feelings about alternate histories. On one hand, he recognizes their capacity for critique, but he also worries they can distort or divert our attention away from real history. It is clear, however, that Rosenfeld’s book is not so much a contribution to literary criticism — in which it is at times lacking — as much as to a larger debate over the portrayal of Nazism.

“Humanizing Hitler may in fact eliminate him from our nightmares, but it may also diminish his place in popular awareness altogether,” he writes. “Only as long as the dictator continues to haunt us are we likely to continue studying, reflecting upon, and drawing historical lessons from, the Third Reich’s destructive legacy.”

Rosenfeld might be exaggerating the extent to which our culture is “forgetting” the evils of Nazism, but his warning is well taken.

Article courtesy The Forward.

Noah Strote writes on Jewish and European history. He lives in Berkeley.

Zoning Snafus Keep New JCC Empty

Flashback to last fall, the opening ceremony of YESOD, a first-of-its-kind Jewish community center in the heart of St. Petersburg. This three-story modern stone-and-glass building — built by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) with funds raised primarily from North American federations and private donors — was pitched by the JDC as the new heart of the St. Petersburg community.

Now, four months after the impressive opening ceremony that brought together JDC leadership from New York and Israel, North American donors and local community leaders, the center is fully built — but stands empty.

The center is also the focus of criticism from some of its would-be occupants, who say that they haven’t been kept in the loop about planning the center from the beginning, that its opening has been delayed and that they are unsure about when they will be able to move in.

For its part, the JDC says that the delays are a result of bureaucratic snafus in obtaining zoning approval, and that it plans to move local Jewish organizations into the building later this month. JDC also wants to make the building economically self-sufficient; sources suggest that the project has stalled because JDC is also looking for commercial tenants to help achieve this goal.

YESOD, a bright and open space, is similar to state-of-the-art JCCs in cities across North America. It has space to house half a dozen Jewish organizations, a gym, a concert hall and a kosher cafe.

Although hailed as a landmark space uniting under one roof many Jewish organizations that have been scattered around the city, the center was received with mixed feelings by community leaders.

At the time, some criticized the JDC for organizing the center from afar and of not bringing the local bodies into the organizational process.

When the center held its ceremony, with Jewish federation guests from North America in attendance, its administration hoped that it would be ready for operation by the end of the year at the latest.

But the center is still not open.

“Everything has stalled and it is not certain when and how we are going to move,” said Leonid Kolton, director of St. Petersburg’s Hesed Avraham welfare center, which provides food and other services to Jewish elderly.

The JDC-run Hesed Avraham gave up some of its space in anticipation of the September move — space that it will need in its more active winter months. Hillel’s predicament is more serious: the student group’s lease is ending at the end of the month.

In an e-mail message, Jonathan Porath, JDC’s country director for Russia, said Hillel will move into the JCC before the end of the month.

But according to Leonid Smirnov, director of JDC in St. Petersburg, the finished building is still going through the lengthy process of receiving final approval from the zoning commission.

Local Jewish organizations should be able to move in at the end of January and “general activity” in the building should begin in the late winter or early spring, Porath said. Meanwhile, the amount that local groups will be expected to pay in rent is still unclear.

There are indications that the nonprofit tenants, St. Petersburg Jewish organizations, will need to pay rent for space in YESOD to cover its costly maintenance. Local Jewish leaders worry that the groups will be expected to pay commercial rates that some organizations cannot afford.

Smirnov says such criticisms and fears are unwarranted because most of the organizations relocating to YESOD are funded by the JDC and thus the JDC would just be paying itself.

“We are not interested in transferring money from one of our pockets to another,” he said.

Financial details are still being worked, out, JDC’s Porath said. According to Leonid Kolton, the overall situation puts a stain on JDC’s image and could even damage the structure of the Jewish community.

The JDC’s Smirnov says any large-scale operation spanning almost four years and involving the transfer of many organizations to a newly constructed building will inevitably run into difficulties and complications.

Added Joshua Berkman, a JDC spokesman: “JDC and its partners built YESOD to serve as a first-class facility where Jewish life in St. Petersburg can continue to flourish. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to make sure the organizations that are driving this historic Jewish rebirth can make YESOD their home.”

Iranian President’s Call Helps Israel

Israel often comes under international criticism for its counterterrorist and settlement-building policies. But comments by Iran’s president calling for Israel’s destruction have elicited international sympathy for the Jewish state.

In itself, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s televised late October call for the Jewish state to be “wiped off the map” wasn’t so new.

But since the comments came not from one of the country’s ayatollahs but from its president, and came soon after Israel garnered international plaudits for its Gaza Strip withdrawal, and as international scrutiny on Iran’s nuclear program intensifies — they drew a lot of attention.

Israel found its objections to the radical rhetoric echoed worldwide — from the United States to Europe to the United Nations.

Even Russia, which is helping Iran build its Bushehr nuclear reactor and has long been hesitant to criticize its trading partner in the Persian Gulf, joined in.

“What I saw on television is unacceptable. We will bring this to the attention of the Iranians,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who in a landmark United Nations address in September bemoaned the fact that “no one opens their mouth” when such threats are made against his country, launched a campaign to have Iran expelled from the forum.

“A country that calls for the destruction of another people cannot be a member of the United Nations,” Sharon said.

Jerusalem officials admitted that a U.N ouster of Iran was unlikely, given that it would require a Security Council recommendation and two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly — traditionally a bastion of anti-Israel sentiment.

“I don’t know if it has any chance of success,” Vice Premier Shimon Peres said of the campaign. “But it is something we must say. I don’t think it is a matter of what one thinks is worthwhile or not. This is intolerable.”

The U.N. Security Council has rebuked Iran for Ahmadinejad’s comments.

For its part, Iran over has accused the West of using its president’s comments about the destruction of Israel in order to intensify pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

At the same time, Iran’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the government’s official stance “is that the occupation of Palestine should end, refugees should return and a democratic state should be formed with Jerusalem as its capital.”

According to some Jerusalem officials, the international community responded so strongly to Israel’s diplomatic offensive in a bid to avert an Israeli military offensive.

Sharon, like President Bush, has long hinted that force could be a last resort for preventing Iran from getting the bomb. Ahmadinejad’s speech at the “World Without Zionism” rally — where the title was posted in English, not Farsi, for international consumption — coupled with his lack of cooperation with European-led efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program, have made this specter of confrontation loom ever larger.

“Such a country, with nuclear arms, is a danger, not just to Israel and the Middle East, but also to Europe,” Sharon said. Similar comments came from the White House.

Still, no one expects military escalation before the exhaustion of U.S.-led efforts to bring Iran before the Security Council and impose sanctions unless it abandons its quest for weapons of mass destruction.

Ahmadinejad has made this possibility more likely.

“I cannot fail to recognize that those who favor transferring the Iranian nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council now have an additional argument,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Israel Criticism Must Be Well-Founded


What are the limits for criticizing Israel? Many condemn the Jewish community’s refusal to listen to harsh criticism, while others object to the aggressiveness of the attacks against the Jewish state. Both sides claim to express themselves only on grounds of their “love” and concern for Israel.

It is essential to distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism. In order to do so, it may be useful to take an example from everyday life. Once in a while, in every community — be it a family, be it friends or colleagues — someone may make a mistake. Should we confront that person or not, and if so, in which way? In Jewish tradition, it isn’t merely permissible, but imperative to reprimand one’s fellow Jew if he or she has committed a wrongdoing: “Thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).

This stems from the sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility that binds the Jewish community.

In order for criticism to have a positive impact, three preconditions are essential:


• It must be based on verifiable evidence.


• The critic must take into consideration the context under which the offensive act took place and try to understand the total picture.


• The critic must understand that nobody can be held responsible for an action for which there was no reasonable alternative.

These conditions apply within the Jewish community as well as in our relationship to the State of Israel. We resemble an extended family feeling responsible for one another. Any deliberation about our faults must be conducted within the community. Only well-founded, balanced, and sympathetic criticism can have a positive effect.

Criticism that does not comply with these conditions may turn dangerously destructive.


• When censure is based on distorted or false information, it is malicious and defamatory. The Jenin “massacre” is an example. Newspapers the world over reported on Jenin as an “atrocious war crime,” a refugee camp that became a slaughterhouse. They reported thousands of killed. In reality, as confirmed by the United Nations, a total of 52 Palestinians were killed, a majority of whom were armed terrorists. On the other hand, what generally went unreported was that 23 Israelis were sacrificed in ground combat — a tactic chosen to minimize civilian casualties among the Palestinians.


• To ignore the circumstances surrounding a complex situation and to rip it out of context are both immoral and reckless. It is outrageous to fault Israel for not allowing Palestinian ambulances unrestricted access at checkpoints — while failing to note that these Red Cross vehicles are often used to smuggle terrorists and weapons into Israel.


• Criticism that is blatantly biased and based on a double standard in assessing political and military situations must be rejected. For instance, the United Nations Plenary passed 322 resolutions against Israel — and not a single one against any Arab state.

Far from constructive criticism, the above examples constitute a destructive campaign of slander and defamation against Israel. It is totally irrational that irresponsible “critics” are often invited to publicize their opinions through articles in Jewish publications and by speaking about Israel in Jewish communities. Any efficient effort to create awareness of what truly occurs is rendered ineffective from the start.


• In the context of legitimate criticism, any fair-minded person must remember that despite the many decades of Arab aggression and intransigence, starting before the birth of the state and continuing until the intifada, Israel has always sought peace and coexistence with its neighbors. She has demonstrated abundant readiness to make sacrifices for peace — dating back to the League of Nations declaration endorsing a Jewish settlement in all of Palestine and the 1947 Partition Plan, and up to Ehud Barak’s and Ariel Sharon’s proposals. The futility of such efforts is patently reflected in remarks by Yasser Arafat, so highly praised after his death, who declared some time after the signing of the Oslo agreement in Stockholm in 1996: “We plan to erase the State of Israel and to establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make the lives of the Jews intolerable through psychological warfare and a population explosion…. The Palestinians will take over all of Palestine including Jerusalem.”


• Surrounded by a sea of 22 Arab states, all governed by dictatorial potentates, Israel maintains, under difficult circumstances, democratic institutions, including freedom of the press. Thanks to this freedom, critics of Israel are allowed to freely and unrestrictedly disseminate their often-outrageous views — something that would be unthinkable in any Arab state.


• In the midst of the anarchy of the Middle East, where human rights are routinely violated by the governments themselves, Israel has developed a universally recognized justice system, to which all Arabs can bring their cases at any time and which deals without prejudice with all their humanitarian issues.


• Tiny Israel (600,000 Jewish inhabitants in 1948!) absorbed, under the most difficult circumstances, millions of refugees and integrated them, economically, culturally and socially. Within the past years alone, it has absorbed more than 1 million immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. Yet, most of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 are still stuck in abominable conditions, because politicians use them as pawns while billions of dollars in aid money for them is diverted for other purposes.


• Holding constructive peace talks with the Palestinians is extremely difficult — inasmuch as they deny that Israel has any rights in the Holy Land. They ignore the thousands-years-old intimate bond between the Jewish people and its homeland, they deny the Holocaust and they reject even Israel’s historical ties to Jerusalem. In contrast, the majority of Israelis accept the demands of the Palestinian Arabs and are ready to help them establish an independent state — despite the fact that a “Palestinian” state basically exists already in Jordan, which was formed on 77 percent of what was defined as Palestine under the British Mandate and whose population is mainly Palestinian.

The above facts must not be overlooked in any discussion about Israel if one is to obtain an accurate (and not distorted) picture of the Middle East situation. The mere idea that the facts mentioned are taken for granted speaks volumes about the value system of the State of Israel, values which the Jewish state struggles to maintain even under the most difficult circumstances.

Arthur Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of numerous films, including “The Garden of Finzi-Continis” and “One Day in September.” He lives Basel, Switzerland.


Insurance Claim Debate Heats Up

Two antagonists in a long-simmering dispute about the handling of life insurance claims stemming from the Holocaust era took off their gloves last week in a bitter exchange of letters.

On one side stands Lawrence S. Eagleburger, chairman of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). ICHEIC was established in 1998 in Switzerland with a mission to speed up and settle claims against European insurance companies, at no cost to survivors and families of Holocaust victims.

The commission’s board includes representatives of European insurance carriers, the National (U.S.) Association of Insurance Commissioners, major Jewish organizations and the State of Israel.

On the other side is John Garamendi, insurance commissioner of the State of California, as well as an ICHEIC commissioner, who has been a long-standing critic of Eagleburger and last year called for his resignation.

Garamendi opened the volley in a two-page letter to Eagleburger, accusing ICHEIC of sloppy management, dragging its feet in processing claims and favoring European insurers.

At the present pace, and as elderly survivors keep dying, "claims will not be completed until 2011," he wrote and charged that only 5 percent of claims had actually been paid out.

Since ICHEIC’s operations are budgeted only until the end of this year, Garamendi said that he feared that "claimants will be deserted."

He also accused ICHEIC of ignoring its own commissioners "who dare to suggest improvement, make constructive criticism, ask incisive questions or call for better management."

Eagleburger, a former U.S. Secretary of State, struck back with a seven-page rebuttal, in which he characterized Garamendi’s letter as "an ongoing embodiment of your grandstanding tactics."

In response to a recommendation by Garamendi, which Eagleburger said would mean going back on his word, he noted acidly, "That may be the way you do business in California, but it would be my definition of truly amateurish."

Among the mass of data cited in the Eagleburger letter, clarified in a phone interview with ICHEIC Chief Operating Officer Mara Rudman, are:

Since its inception, ICHEIC has received 80,373 insurance claims, of which only 17,200 named a specific European insurer, who had issued the original policy to a Holocaust victim or survivor. In addition, ICHEIC linked 2,000 further claims to the names of companies. The remaining 76 percent of claims did not list a specific company.

ICHEIC has made concrete settlement offers to 3,700 claimants. Of these, 2,500 have been accepted by the claimants (which means that about 13 percent of the 19,200 claimants linked to specific insurance carriers have accepted settlement).

So far, $58 million has been paid out to claimants, with an additional $16 million in "humanitarian" aid going to elderly individuals, who received $1,000 each.

While ICHEIC is budgeted only until the end of this year, it expects to receive operating funds for another year. The commission hopes to process all valid claims by early next year and wind up its operations by the end of 2005.

German, French, Swiss and Italian insurance companies have funded ICHEIC for a total of $500 million for its operations and to settle all claims.

The main sticking point is the Italian insurer Assicurazoni Generali, one of Europe’s largest, which did a thriving business selling policies to East European Jews before World War II. A number of survivors are suing Generali for allegedly stonewalling their claims for decades. Rudman acknowledged that Generali’s current pace was unacceptable and that ICHEIC is seeking to speed up the company’s claim processing.

In California, survivors have lawsuits pending against Generali, as well as against ICHEIC for its bias in favor of Generali. The lead attorney in most cases has been William M. Shernoff of Claremont and Garamendi has publicly supported the plaintiffs’ suits.

According to financial reports filed with the California Secretary of State, Shernoff’s law firm contributed $55,000 to Garamendi’s election campaign in 2002.

Asked about the frequent complaints aimed at ICHEIC’s operations by survivors and in congressional hearings, Rudman acknowledged that all sides greatly underestimated the complexity and timeline of settling claims and that the commission suffered from "some poor communications. Everybody expected too much."

"We at ICHEIC have had a lot ground to make up," she added.

Sharon Battles for Pullout Plan

Facing a crucial Cabinet vote next week on his amended disengagement plan from the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon is facing as much pressure as he ever did as a general on the battlefield.

On the international front, the Israeli prime minister has weathered scathing criticism of Israel’s latest military operation in the Gaza Strip, which left more than 40 Palestinians dead and dozens of homes demolished in the Rafah refugee camp.

At home, a rebellion is gathering steam in Sharon’s Likud Party by opponents of the planned withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

But Sharon is determined to press on. Just as his crossing of the Suez Canal turned the tables in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon hopes that Cabinet passage of his amended disengagement plan will disarm critics in his party and improve Israel’s tarnished international standing.

The Israeli army’s top brass hasn’t been fully behind the plan, the confrontation with the Likud rebels could split the party and threaten Sharon’s political career, and Sharon first will have to get the plan approved in the Cabinet, where opinion is split.

The decision last week to send Israeli troops into Rafah, in southern Gaza, came after reports that Iranian arms, including Katyusha rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons, were about to be smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels leading from Egypt.

The army leadership has long argued that if Israel withdraws from Gaza, it would need to widen a strip along the Gaza-Egypt boundary, known as the Philadelphi route, and maintain a presence there to prevent future arms smuggling.

But international condemnation of Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes to find smuggling tunnels and widen the Philadelphi route, thereby making future tunneling virtually impossible, led to a revision of the military’s thinking.

The generals realized they wouldn’t be able to widen the Philadelphi route as much as they had planned, strengthening arguments against maintaining any Israeli military presence in Gaza.

Ironically, despite the international criticism and the Israeli and Palestinian casualties in Gaza, Sharon found himself in a political win-win situation.

If the army succeeded in establishing an efficient hold over the Philadelphi route, the army leadership then could back Sharon’s disengagement plan. If it failed to do so because of international and domestic pressure, it would have to rethink its overall Gaza strategy in line with Sharon’s longer-term evacuation plans.

The Likud challenge to Sharon is more serious. The main difference between Sharon’s amended plan and the one Likud voters rejected in a May 2 referendum is that, under the new plan, withdrawal will be implemented in stages.

The idea is to evacuate the more vulnerable settlements first, proceeding from one stage to the next only after the government is satisfied that the previous stage has created a more favorable security situation.

Sharon’s Likud opponents say that’s only a cosmetic change from the original withdrawal plan, which party members resoundingly rejected. In proceeding, Sharon is in breach of party discipline, they argue.

This group claims to have the support of more than half of the 40 Likud legislators in the Knesset, and the group clearly poses a serious threat to Sharon.

The first major battle will come next Sunday, when Sharon submits his amended plan to the Cabinet. Of the 23 ministers, 11 support the new plan, 11 are opposed and one, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, is the potential tiebreaker.

One way or another, a determined Sharon likely will push at least part of his plan through the Cabinet. Then he will have a party rebellion on his hands, the size of which will depend on whether leading figures like Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu join it.

Sharon’s hopes of political survival could depend on whether he is able to forge a political alliance with Labor. Labor could join with Likud in a coalition that pushes the disengagement plan through the Knesset. Sharon also could form an electoral alliance with Labor and Shinui by running on a disengagement ticket in new elections that would be seen as a sort of national referendum on withdrawal.

But there’s yet another wrinkle for the beleaguered prime minister: Aside from all the political maneuvering, Sharon must survive a legal battle against corruption charges.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is due to rule within the next few weeks on whether or not to indict Sharon. An indictment almost certainly would end his career, while a decision not to indict would enable Sharon to survive yet another day — and face the political battle of his life.

Sharon’s Plans for Peace Draw Fire

After several years in office that have been characterized by ongoing violence and diplomatic stalemate, Ariel Sharon says he is determined to press ahead with new peace moves that could include "painful concessions" to the Palestinians.

The prime minister’s remarks last week elicited scathing criticism from within his own Likud Party. But opposition leaders and senior Israeli pundits remain skeptical. Sharon has made similar bombastic announcements before, they say, but never delivered.

Sharon confidants have been dropping broad hints that the prime minister’s grand plan includes dismantling some Jewish settlements to pave the way for the establishment of a mini-Palestinian state by next summer. Even if peace talks with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei’s new government fail, aides say that Sharon — for profound strategic reasons — intends to carry out a unilateral withdrawal from some Palestinian territories to create a clear line of separation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The National Religious Party and the far-right National Union bloc are threatening to bolt the coalition if Sharon goes ahead. Leaders of the opposition Labor Party, though, say that if Sharon is serious, they’ll be ready to join his government.

It all started with one enigmatic sentence. "I don’t rule out unilateral steps," Sharon declared emphatically — but without elaboration — at an exporters’ conference in Tel Aviv on Nov. 20.

The remark sparked a flurry of exegesis. One explanation was that the prime minister meant Israeli gestures to help bolster Qurei’s position on the Palestinian street; another was the more radical notion of unilateral withdrawal if negotiations with Qurei failed.

Both ideas stung Likud politicians, who called a Knesset party meeting Monday and demanded that Sharon explain himself. However, the prime minister declined to retract his hints or spell out in any detail what he meant.

Sharon refused to deny reports that he intended to evacuate some settlements and said he had spoken about "painful concessions" so that "people wouldn’t wake up one day and say they didn’t know."

"It is obvious," Sharon continued, "that ultimately we will not be in all the places we are in now."

As for the unilateral steps, Sharon said he meant steps in "our favor" — in other words, "moves in which the Palestinians would get less than they could have got through negotiation." Sharon warned the Palestinians that Israeli patience was not endless, and that if the Palestinians did not work seriously toward a peace deal now, they should not expect to find the same offers still on the table in the future.

Critics within the Likud Party charged that unilateral moves meant giving in to terror, contradicting the party’s official policy. Despite the vehemence of the Likud clash, pundits remained unconvinced.

Ha’aretz’s Yossi Verter argued that the party simply was playing the role assigned to it by Sharon’s spin doctors, making Sharon look like a moderate.

It was, Verter wrote, a "shop-worn ritual" in which "Sharon goes to the Likud Knesset faction, which is comprised mainly of rightists, some ideological, some opportunistic. They jump all over him. He bangs on the table and reminds them that they owe their jobs to him, and once again earns the media’s plaudits. And all without saying a single word in his own voice that would commit him to evacuating settlements."

But others say three factors are spurring Sharon to try to break the current impasse: U.S. pressure, grass-roots peace initiatives that are invigorating the Israeli opposition and the so-called demographic problem — the fact that, within a few years, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians will outnumber Jews in the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

Now that Qurei is in place, the United States is stepping up pressure on Sharon. Bush’s top Middle East adviser met with Sharon last week in Rome to discuss U.S.-Israel differences over the route of the planned security barrier and the dismantling of settlement outposts. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, picked up the same themes in discussions Tuesday in Washington with Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s top adviser.

In addition, William Burns, the top U.S. envoy to the region, will meet with leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah this weekend — his first visit since August — showing Bush’s renewed commitment to peace making there.

So what does Sharon really have in mind? Is it all spin or does Sharon really mean to act?

According to his aides, who insist that Sharon is serious, the prime minister has a two-tiered plan. The overall aim is to reach a clear division between Israel and a mini-Palestinian state by the summer.

Plan A would do so through negotiations based on the "road map" peace plan. Plan B would do so unilaterally if the road map negotiations fail.

Analysts say the demographic bogeyman should not be underestimated, because Jews soon could constitute a minority in the area including Israel and the Palestinian territories. Then, instead of a two-state solution in which the states of Israel and Palestine coexist side by side, the Arabs may well demand a single "Greater Palestine" comprised of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — with an Arab majority. That would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

To preempt this situation, people close to Sharon for the first time are talking in terms of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In mid-November interviews with Ha’aretz and Israel Radio, Deputy Prime Minster Ehud Olmert gave the first inkling of the new thinking.

Olmert, one of the ministers closest to Sharon, declared that if the road map negotiations fail — as he expects — "Israel will have the right to take unilateral actions to separate from the Palestinians through a fence or other measures."

To counter the demographic problem, he said, the line between Israel and the Palestinian areas should be drawn in such a way as to include the maximum number of Jews and a minimum number of Palestinians.

Sharon, too, apparently is concerned that failure to reach a two-state solution could expose Israel to demands for a binational state. That, his aides say, is partly why he is so intent on separating from the Palestinians, with or without agreement, by next summer.

All this, too, could be spin. But if Sharon really is serious and if negotiations with the Palestinians fail, the big question will be where Sharon draws the dividing line between the two peoples.

Will it be a line that entails dismantling settlements and keeps open future chances for a two-state deal, as many on the right fear? Or does Sharon plan to leave the Palestinians with 50 percent or less of the West Bank, undermining prospects for a future agreement, as many on the left fear?

The pundits suggest a third option, that Sharon is merely playing for time, using feints and dodges to impress the Americans and the Israeli public, with no intention of making meaningful political moves.

As usual in the Middle East, what the future holds is anyone’s guess.

Defining Family

A few months ago, in these pages, I described a brief visit to Los Angeles to attend the wedding of my daughter, Dafna, 42, and

her fiancé, Scott, 36 ("Father of the Bride," July 11). It was a first marriage for both and celebrated without benefit of clergy — Scott being Christian and Dafna, Jewish.

This drew some criticism from readers who felt that I was amiss in not discouraging my daughter from marrying a non-Jew. One, in fact, reminded me that some Jews sit shiva when such a marriage takes place and regard the offending child as dead. It seemed to me that is a bit strong. There was also a time when adulterers were stoned, but we seem to have progressed beyond that. (More to the point perhaps, how does one tell a 42-year-old daughter whom she should marry?)

Anyway, the stage has been set for even more protests since Dafna has now produced a son and you can add to the list of my sins of omission the fact that the young man did not have a brit milah, although he was circumcised by a doctor in the hospital. This was the subject of much discussion prior to his birth but the argument ended when Dafna pointed out that if we pressed the issue, Scott’s family might suggest a christening. Further installments in this true-life family drama may be expected at his bar mitzvah and marriage ages.

(One reader was especially incensed at my mentioning my second daughter, 23, who intends to marry a young man who is having a Conservative conversion to Judaism. This, she wrote, means that both of my daughters will have intermarried, the implication being that the Conservative movement is treif. I thought to myself that, even in Orthodoxy, the word treif has an elastic meaning; one rabbi’s heksher is another rabbi’s abomination — and don’t even ask about conflicting attitudes toward Zionism.)

This issue of how one deals with or even defines intermarriage is a major item on the Jewish agenda, so let me complicate matters even further. I have two sons. One is married to a certifiably Jewish woman (two Jewish parents, no conversions) who reads Torah in their Conservative synagogue. Their child attends a Jewish day school.

My second son is married to a woman whose father is Jewish and whose mother is non-Jewish. My son and daughter-in-law regard themselves and their two children as Jews and are raising the children accordingly.

In all this, who is in and who is out? I would suggest, over the objections of my "fan club" that the matter is one of self-definition, that in the end what is important is how one regards one’s affiliations and not what others claim are the laws as they define them. I know that this opens the communal doors to Jews for Jesus and their kind, but the rest of us are free to ignore their versions of Judaism and proceed on our way. Far too much Jewish energy and resources are wasted in dealing with these marginal elements and too few are invested in holding on to those who would remain with us given a bit of encouragement.

Numbers count. Our share of the national population has dropped from 2.5 percent to 2 percent in the past 30 years. These figures vary slightly depending on who is defined as being Jewish, but the trend is clear. So, too, are the increases being registered by other religious and ethnic minorities that give them added political and economic power, some of which is removed from us by virtue of our declining numbers.

But my critics have a point. Not only numbers, but quality, counts. We differ, to be sure, on the question of what constitutes quality Judaism. I am less concerned than they with ritual, but I accept their argument that without some sort of structure, some framework that includes generally accepted behaviors and beliefs, we are flirting with anarchy. I don’t know what the minimal standards should be but I cannot agree that ancestry should be the deciding factor. If it is, then we are best defined as a race and that, as any student of modern history will testify, means tragedy, not only for Jews but for anyone defined racially. Ask your friendly black American neighbor for verification.

You will note that I have refrained from mentioning the newcomer’s name. When my oldest son was born, in Jerusalem, I published notices in the newspapers with his name and the date of the brit milah. In a society virtually devoid of private telephones, that’s how friends and family learned about the event. Well, I caught hell from everyone for having made his name public before the eighth day. Apparently it had something to do with the dangers posed by the evil eye. Today he is a nuclear physicist engaged in cancer research, so it doesn’t seem to have harmed him. But if you think I am taking that chance again with a 7-day-old grandson, forget it. Far be it from me to defy the traditions hallowed by our elders.

Yehuda Lev is a former associate editor of The Jewish Journal.

Your Letters

The Case For Israel

Adam Rubin’s screed against my book “The Case For Israel” is premised on the assumption that readers of his review will not actually read my book (“Israeli History the Dershowitz Way,” Oct. 17). For any reader of my book will quickly see that he totally mischaracterizes my positions. His main example of my so-called “simplistic, black-and-white explanations,” is my description of the cause of the Arab refugee problem. He claims that I place the responsibility squarely at the foot of the Palestinians. Here is what I actually say:

“The reasons why the Palestinians left are complex and not amenable to such a simple, singular cause.” (p. 88)

I quote Benny Morris, who, unlike Noam Chomsky, “finds a shared responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem.” He also willfully distorts the essence of my book by claiming that I describe Israel as “an impossibly virtuous country … whose conduct is forever above reproach.” Any reader of my book will quickly see that I am extremely critical of many of Israel’s policies but that I always insist on a single standard of criticism equally applicable to all nations confronting comparable threats. Rubin is right that most Israeli scholars go out of their way to be hypercritical of Israel, and that may even be understandable in the domestic context. But when responding to outrageous canards about Israel, designed to delegitimate, demonize and single it out, it is important to present the issue in a comparative and contextual manner. I urge all readers of Rubin’s review to read “The Case For Israel” and then to write him, and me, with their reactions.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Cambridge, Mass.

Adam Rubin’s key criticism, which dominates the review, is that Alan Dershowitz portrays Israel as pure and faultless, while we all know that Israel has many flaws. There are two responses to this criticism. First, it isn’t true. Dershowitz is a strong advocate for Israel, but also is a critic. On pages 98-99, for example, he criticizes the occupation of the West Bank, saying that Israel “could have and should have implemented the Alon plan…” which called for withdrawal from West Bank population centers. Dershowitz goes on to say that “the 28-year occupation of these population centers contributed to many of the factors that now make peace more difficult to achieve.”

Second, aside from the fact that the book is, in places, critical of Israel, Rubin misses the essential point of the book, which is to give pro-Israel Americans, especially college students and professors, practical information with which to combat the many anti-Israel canards that fill general and campus newspapers daily. The book is a work of advocacy, and does not pretend to be an even-handed analysis of the issues. Dershowitz brilliantly attacks the anti-Israel camp and makes it easier for the rest of us to do so as well, while not denying its mistakes.

Shame on Rubin and The Jewish Journal for misleading Journal readers about the content of this excellent and highly useful book.

Joel and Fran Grossman, Los Angeles Anti-Israel Surge

I am surprised that The Jewish Journal would see fit to publish an article on anti-Israel expression on the UCLA campus this year — in anticipation of actual anti-Israel expression (“Prepping Campuses for Anti-Israel Surge,” Oct. 17). This kind of anticipatory anti-Semitism serves to alarm rather than to educate. Israel does not need alarmists-cum-advocates who produce misguided sound bites. It needs serious academic study, open to student and faculty alike, conducted in a free and open academic environment. Better to spend our time and effort creating this kind of environment — by endowing centers and chairs of Israel studies on our college campuses — than encouraging our young students to shout empty slogans guaranteed to fall on deaf ears.

David N. Myers, UCLA History Department Westwood

A Cold Wind

The situation in Israel is getting intolerable. Did Ariel Sharon deserve the standing ovation at the Sukkot celebration (“A Cold Wind Blows,” Oct. 17)? While fighting terrorism naturally gets top priority, Israel’s economy and infrastructure are suffering. Old people cannot afford needed medicines. Children do not have enough food. Christians, Yeshiva students and neo-conservatives are not doing Israel a favor by showing support through thick and thin. Better nudge their friend into more centrist-left policies to foster a more peaceful climate and turn the economy, and tourism, around.

Andrei Doran, via e-mail

Michael Tolkin

Michael Tolkin hit the nail precisely on the head in his response to Gregg Easterbrook’s assertion in The New Republic that Jewish executives in Hollywood “worship money above all else.” Tolkin’s column was a wonderfully effective analysis (“Unacceptable” Oct. 24).

I’m thrilled beyond description that Easterbrook eventually apologized, but one can only wonder precisely what he actually apologized for. Is he “sorry” that he’s anti-Semitic? Or is it that he’s “sorry” he slipped, and expressed his true beliefs in print for all to see? I would find it a little hard to swallow any other explanation, i.e., “I’ve suddenly and instantly seen the light, and no longer hold those opinions about Jews.” Oh?

One thing is certain: regardless of the nature of his apology, we can at least rest assure that Easterbrook is continuing the grand tradition of mixing stupidity with anti-Semitism. Why else would he allow his deepest convictions to show up in print, as he did? Could he not predict the inevitable response? Next time, save it for your living room, Easterbrook.

I suppose the only silver lining in this cloud is that stupid anti-Semites are easier to bear than strategic ones.

Larry Garf , Topanga

Jews and Money

The Jewish Journal published a lead article titled “Is There A ‘Docta’ in the House?” (Sept. 5). The article went on and on about how the profession has changed and that there is no longer the kind of money in it that it used to be. The Jewish doctor is therefore disappearing. Now comes the lead article titled “Apology Not Accepted” (Oct. 24). The article quotes a claim by The New Republic that Jews are “…interested in money above all.” It seems that a Jewish paper can state an opinion but no one else can even hint of the same opinion. Are we that insecure? Let’s grow up and get with the 21st century.

Irwin Grossman, Los Angeles

Test Stress

The desire to score well on the SATs and the SAT IIs does put many of our children under incredible pressure (“Pencils Ready? Let the Stress Begin,” Oct. 17). The fact is that we are living at a time when competition for admission to select colleges seems to be at an all-time high. That stress is felt by students in public and private schools, secular and religious schools, day and supplemental schools.

It is one reason why so many of us have taken advantage of a Jewish day school education, where students have the opportunity to think about God and their place in the universe in order to understand there is more to life than SATs.

Sari Beth Goodman, Director General Studies Adat Ari El Day School Valley Village

During my Friday afternoon ritual of reading The Jewish Journal, I came across Sharon Schatz Rosenthal’s article titled, “Pencils Ready? Let the Stress Begin.”

The article was very well written, and I could relate completely, yet I attend public school. It was interesting and somewhat hard to believe that students attending private Jewish day school feel that they have it “harder” than students like me who attend public school.

Just like them, I have a double course load, as I attend Hebrew High. Just like them, I have a rigorous schedule including a number of Advanced Placement classes. Just like them, I am very involved in extra curricular activities including student council, mock trial and I volunteer. Just like them I have the added stress of college entrance exams like the SAT, and the pressure to succeed in high school to move on to a prestigious university.

Granted, their private schools have a greater interest for their students to work hard and succeed, so that prospective students and parents will see an high admittance rate to top colleges and universities; nevertheless it is important to realize that no matter where we attend high school, we are all in the same boat in an ocean of stress and pressure.

Sammy Averbach, Agoura Hills

Greenberg Cartoons

Generally, my kudos to you on having elevated The Jewish Journal to an outstanding publication. At this point, I get more of my news and commentary from The Journal than from any other single source.

But each week, I find myself irritated by the “Greenberg’s View” cartoon, usually finding them totally devoid of any wit, charm, subtlety, insight, craft or much intelligence. Your Oct. 17 issue is filled with an extremely insightful, well-done piece about the new governor’s transition team plus your usual excellent, balanced and fair-minded political coverage. But to get to those pieces, one first sees Steve Greenberg’s opinion that Schwarzenegger’s election reflects nothing more than the obsession that California voters have for celebrity worship.

This is simply a childish, cloddish and silly observation — one forcefully dispelled by the latter point raised by Marc Ballon (p. 12) that 31 percent of Jewish votes went for Schwarzenegger, notwithstanding the negative issues he had to overcome with Jewish voters.

I urge you to find another cartoonist more in keeping with the rest of the paper.

Peter Levitan, Sherman Oaks


In the Up Front, “Restoration’s Silver Lining” (Oct. 24) the name should have read: David Friedman of David Friedman & Co Silversmiths.

In Tommywood, “Making L.A. Real” (Oct. 24), the name should have read Larry Field.

We apologize for the errors.

The Protocols Come to L.A. — in Russian

The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" have come to Los Angeles. On its 100th anniversary, the vicious, primitive forgery has struck again, this time in a Russian-language tabloid circulated in the heavily Russian Jewish neighborhoods around West Hollywood.

First published on August 28, 1903, the "Protocols" have been translated and published all over the world — including the United States — in dozens of languages. They have been exposed again and again as forgeries by courts, by investigative reporters of respectable publications and by scholarly analyses conducted by reputable scholars. The original sources from which this abomination was copied are known. They have nothing to do with Jews but still they keep rising from the dead like vampires in Hollywood movies.

This time the "Protocols" were presented as historical fact in the most unlikely venue: Kontakt, a Russian-language Los Angeles weekly serving a predominantly Jewish readership. Kontakt is owned by Vladimir Parenago, who bought the publication a few years ago. Generally clad in black and sporting a large crucifix on a necklace, he bills himself as a "healer" and "mystic."

His wife, Lyubov Parenago, is the editor of Kontakt. It was her signed editorial that discussed the "Protocols" and listed the important lessons Kontakt’s readers could learn from studying them.

She presented the "Protocols" as historical fact and as a true exposé of "the special secret [Jewish] plan to control all the world’s finances." She explained that the plan was adopted at a meeting that took place at the home of Meier Rothschild in 1773, to where he had invited 12 of the world’s most influential bankers — including six members of the Rothschild family — to take part in the conspiracy. The result was "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Reaction to the publication among Russian Jews has been angry and intense, but has largely been kept within the community. For many immigrants, dissent and criticism are still frightening and uncomfortable, so the reaction of most of the Russian Jews has consisted of complaining to one another, contacting people who are seen as a bridge between "Americans" and "Russians," and writing letters, mostly unsigned, to Washington, Sacramento, the LAPD, City Hall and Russian-language radio, TV and newspapers.

In addition, the two largest immigrant groups — World War II Veterans and Holocaust Survivors — sent letters to Kontakt.

The letters were never published. But in the most recent issue of Kontakt, Lyubov Parenago admitted that she has received many letters, some of them complimentary, others viciously hostile.

"Obviously those who were offended suffer from a lack of a sense of humor," she wrote.

Reader e-mails obtained by The Journal ranged from "What on earth were they thinking of?" to "These anti-Semites should go back to Russia where they will feel right at home." The most extensive and literate e-mail was from a local immigrant, Viktor K., who sent a copy of a letter he wrote to Kontakt. Here are some excerpts translated from the Russian:

"You must be aware that this year is the 100th anniversary of the publication of the ‘Protocols’ — the major historical forgery of the 20th century that was the ideological justification for pre-revolutionary pogroms, as well as the anti-Jewish atrocities of the White forces and the suffering of thousands. This forgery was exposed more than 80 years ago but it is still being used today by Hitlerite nazis, Islamic fundamentalists and assorted anti-Semites. This is why your publication of an additional ‘Protocol’ that is connected with the Rothschild family and predates the other by 130 years is a very personal contribution on your part… Later you informed your readers that it was all a joke and bemoaned the absence of a sense of humor among your readers. Well, your sense of humor is impressive."

Reached by phone, Lyubov Parenago said she was genuinely puzzled at what she saw as a lack of appreciation by the Jewish community. "I print stories about Israel," she said. "I support Jewish causes, I publicize Russian Jewish artists touring the United States. This was a fantasy that shouldn’t have been taken seriously, it was just advice on how to become rich, the Rothschild plan was never seen or read by anyone, it was a service to the community."

Lyubov Parenago then went on to deny that the "Protocols" she published were the actual ones. "This story wasn’t about the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’" she said, "it was about a different ‘Protocol,’ a different plot, a different idea, a Rothschild idea. How could anyone think that I would publish those ‘Protocols?’

"I can express my opinion," she went on. "I can say what I think in this free country. Why this hostile reaction? I don’t understand."

Si Frumkin is chairman of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews.

Most State Aid Goes for Public Programs

Over the years, the state government has been good to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

George Deukmejian, whose Armenian heritage made him sensitive to the genocide of minorities, took the initial step in 1985 by allocating $5 million for the creation of the Museum of Tolerance when he was governor.

Since then, through Republican and Democratic gubernatorial administrations and successive Legislatures, the state has appropriated another $45 million for the museum’s public service programs and capital expenditures.

Critics blame the center’s political clout and lobbying for the state’s largesse. During the late ’80s and early ’90s, hardly a week went by that the Los Angeles Times and The Jewish Journal did not receive written complaints from critics, pointing to the close links between the center and the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and denouncing the public grants as a violation of church-state separation.

Center officials and supporters rebut such criticisms, pointing out that most of the state money flows to the respected Tools for Tolerance, nondenominational public service programs, in which law enforcement officers and educators are taught how to function effectively in a diverse and multicultural society.

The controversy surfaced again this year, triggered by California’s catastrophic fiscal crunch and the vagaries of the state budget-making process. One of the vagaries is that the funds for the teachers’ tolerance program fall under the always-strapped budget of the California Arts Council, rather than the Department of Education.

In Gov. Gray Davis’ 2003-04 budget, he initially proposed $5 million for the Arts Council, down from a high of $30.7 million in 2000-01 and $17.5 million in 2002-03. In the proposed $5 million budget, $1.5 million — or 30 percent — was earmarked for the Wiesenthal Center programs. However, the $5 million was eventually slashed to $1 million, with no funds allocated to the center.

Upon the initial Davis proposal of $5 million, a cry went up from struggling small-town symphonies, theaters and school arts programs over the budget cut and the center’s nearly one-third slice of the shrinking pie.

However, the Arts Council, which bore the brunt of the criticism, had no choice in the matter, said Paul Minicucci, its deputy director. The annual Wiesenthal Center allocation is a budgetary line item fixed by the governor and Legislature beforehand and is treated separately from the Arts Council pot available for actual grants.

In the wake of the slashed Arts Council budget, which now contains no funds for the center, Rabbi Meyer May, executive director and chief fundraiser for the center, took the harsh news from Sacramento personally and warned that the teacher training program’s future is in jeopardy.

Minicucci put the main blame for the perilous state of his agency on the unwillingness of the state government — more so than the people — to provide public support for the arts.

"We now tax Californians 2.7 cents per capita for all public art support," Minicucci said, noting that in Canada, which has 4 million fewer residents than California, the National Arts Council has a budget of $660 million. He said similar figures for European nations are "simply off the charts."

The Skirball Cultural Center, which has received $6.4 million from the state for orientation of mainly public school students at its museum over the past seven years, has also been affected. However, in light of California’s deep financial hole, Uri Herscher, Skirball president and CEO, decided not to apply for state funds. Herscher said he hopes to make up for the loss through private contributions.

Projections for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles are not clear, but for the current calendar year, it has received $42.7 million in city, county, state and federal funds.

The money, in turn, is allocated to the social services provided by such Federation agencies as Vista del Mar, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service, Aviva Center, Jewish Big Brothers and Bet Tzedek.

Sharon, Abbas Court White House

As the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process inches forward, leaders of both sides are looking to upcoming audiences with President Bush to exert pressure on the other and give the "road map" peace plan some momentum.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each will seek to persuade the American leader to lean on the other side to move faster — and Bush will be ready to lean on both, Israeli analysts believe.

With domestic criticism growing regarding America’s imbroglio in Iraq, Israeli analysts believe Bush wants progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to help justify the strike against Saddam Hussein. If toppling the Iraqi dictator is seen to have paved the way for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation — and, with it, a better chance of pacifying the Middle East as a whole — the administration can argue that the war was worthwhile, the argument goes.

Bush, therefore, will want to resolve as many of the disputed issues on the table as he can. For the Palestinians, most important are releasing prisoners, dismantling settlement outposts, freezing construction of Israeli settlements and Israel’s West Bank security fence and easing restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Israel will ask Bush to demand that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups and decommission their weapons and not make do with the groups’ tenuous cease-fire.

Most analysts agree that little progress will be made without concerted American intervention.

More importantly, in their strategic thinking, both Abbas and Sharon put a premium on ties with America. Even before he took over as prime minister, Abbas advocated the use of American and international pressure on Israel, rather than terrorism, to achieve Palestinian goals.

Sharon, who is to meet with Bush on July 29, sees American support as the key to Israel’s position in the world. He believes that ties with the Bush administration must be carefully nurtured and that Israel should seek prior coordination with Washington whenever appropriate, especially in dealing with the Palestinians. In Sharon’s view, it is absolutely vital that the Palestinian issue not be allowed to erode Israel’s ties with Washington.

Of course, there will be tactical maneuvering by both prime ministers, but their meetings with President Bush should be understood in a wider strategic context.

Abbas reportedly will highlight two key issues in his White House meeting on Friday: getting more Palestinian prisoners released and stopping construction of the security fence. He will argue that if Israel is really serious about turning over a new leaf, it should release all Palestinian prisoners, even those with "blood on their hands," i.e., those involved in terror attacks.

On the security fence, the Palestinians have noted the recent sharp differences between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials believe Abbas hopes to use the issue to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States and get the Bush administration to pressure Israel to stop building it, on the grounds that it takes in large swaths of the West Bank and thus prejudges a final territorial accommodation.

Abbas also reportedly will urge Bush to pressure Sharon to put more West Bank cities under Palestinian security control. He argues that unless he has real achievements to show the Palestinian people, his shaky position as prime minister in P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s shadow will be further weakened. Indeed, Abbas hopes his high-profile meeting with Bush will itself give him more standing and credibility on the Palestinian street.

Abbas also apparently intends to use his American sojourn to win support in Congress, the media and the American Jewish community, and has scheduled meetings with key figures in all three groups.

According to aides, Sharon’s main goal will be to convince Bush that the Palestinians must be held to their commitments in the fight against terror. Sharon, they say, will suggest linking further prisoner releases to Palestinian dismantling of militia groups and the collection of illegal weapons.

Sharon will point out that two months have elapsed since the road map was launched at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in early June. During that time the Palestinians have not taken serious action against Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and Israeli intelligence sources say the terrorist groups continue to arm themselves under cover of the cease-fire. It is time for the Palestinians to act, Sharon will insist.

Sharon hopes to deflect American pressure on Israel by releasing a large group of prisoners and dismantling more illegal West Bank settlement outposts before his meeting with Bush.

As for the fence, Sharon will repeat what he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week: "I am a simple farmer, and I tell you plainly the fence is only a security obstacle to stop suicide bombers, and not in any way a political border."

Sharon has agreed to Palestinian demands to set up a joint Israeli-Palestinian team to agree on a list of prisoners to be released. Though the terrorist groups have made the prisoner release a condition of their cease-fire, it is not one of Israel’s obligations under the road map. However, Israeli officials believe that releasing prisoners may help Abbas’ public stature.

Out of sensitivity to the pressures on Abbas, Sharon has agreed to release some detainees who are members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In deference to Israeli public sentiment, however, he is refusing to release prisoners with blood on their hands.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

New Shot Fired in Media Bias War

The never-ending debate over the existence of left-wing bias in the media got a boost a few days ago with the revelation that the editor of one of America’s top daily newspapers had evidently joined the ranks of critics of the “liberal media.” A leaked memo from Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll discussed “the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct’ newspaper” and noted that “occasionally we prove our critics right.”

The specific target of his displeasure was a front-page story about a new Texas measure requiring women who seek abortions to receive counseling about abortion alternatives and abortion’s alleged risks. The article, Carroll complained, showed a clear slant in favor of the law’s pro-choice critics.

Conservatives generally responded to the story with a mix of, “What else is new?” and, “We told you so.” Meanwhile, some liberals voiced concern that the media were bending over backward to appease their right-wing critics.

These reactions are fairly typical. To most people on the right, the liberal slant in news coverage on television networks and in the major newspapers is a self-evident truth. To most people on the left, it’s a right-wing canard that much of the public believes, simply because it’s repeated often enough — for instance, in books such as last year’s best-seller, “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News,” by Bernard Goldberg, and “Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right,” by Ann Coulter.

The latest book to charge into the battle of the media, “What Liberal Media?: The Truth About ‘Bias’ and the News,” by Nation columnist Eric Alterman, attempts to give ammunition to the liberal side. According to Alterman, liberal bias in the major news media did exist once but withered away with the start of the Reagan years. He argues that in the past two decades, conservative complaints on the subject have been either deluded or manipulative — a way to intimidate the media into favoring the right for fear of being accused of favoritism toward the left.

Like many liberals, Alterman deplores the prevalence of conservative opinions on talk radio, in television punditry and even in print commentary. But in all these cases, the audience knows what it’s getting: political opinion, not straight-up news coverage. Goldberg and other critics argue that truly insidious bias comes wrapped in the cloak of neutrality, when reporters confuse their biases with facts. Thus, the Los Angeles Times story on the Texas abortion law referred to “so-called counseling.”

Actually, Alterman concedes a major part of the conservative critics’ case. He writes that most elite journalists are “pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-separation of church and state, pro-feminism, pro-affirmative action and supportive of gay rights,” and that coverage of these issues tends to reflect those views. On the other hand, he asserts that the media lean rightward on economic matters and tend to be tougher on Democrats than on Republicans in their political coverage.

Media criticism is a tricky business. It’s relatively easy, without resorting to outright distortion, to produce phony or dubious evidence of bias by focusing on particular articles or TV stories — or even portions of stories — while ignoring other things that do not fit one’s argument. To some extent, both sides in the media wars resort to such tactics.

What’s more, there’s some truth to the cliche that bias is in the eye of the beholder. Many of my liberal friends hold the media guilty of fawning on George W. Bush and demonizing Bill Clinton; my conservative friends believe the opposite.

In many ways, conservative and liberal critiques of media bias mirror each other. Both are skewed by the critics’ often extreme ideologies. To Coulter, journalists who have once worked for liberal politicians, such as New York Mayor John Lindsay, are members of the “far left,” comparable to the John Birch Society on the right. To Alterman, conservative pundits such as George Will and Bill O’Reilly are radical rightists, whose counterparts on the left would be unreconstructed Stalinist Alexander Cockburn and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Both sides are also given to using media bias as a convenient excuse for the political failures of their camp. In my view, the conservatives, for all the flaws and the hyperbole, make a stronger case. Nonetheless, complaints about the liberal media often smack of a right-wing version of the “victim culture,” which conservatives, themselves, have so heartily mocked.

The dispute over media bias is unlikely to be settled any time soon. For the readers and viewers, a strong dose of skepticism toward both sides might be the only healthy response.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at the Boston Globe.

Do the Jews Need Geraldo

Geraldo Rivera has rediscovered his Jewish roots, and he declares the Jews "need" him back.

Rivera, 59, the flamboyant TV reporter, recently announced to the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post that he is planning to marry TV producer Erica Levy, 29, in a Reform ceremony in New York this summer.

Rivera, whose mother is Jewish and father is Puerto Rican, told The Washington Post that "the Jews need me right now," apparently, according to the Inquirer, to help sort out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rivera could not be reached for comment, but he told The Washington Post that he is going to "take this whole Judaism thing seriously" from now on.

While this is his fifth wedding, Rivera said it’s his first in a synagogue or church. He celebrated a dual bar mitzvah in Israel with his oldest child, Gabriel, now 23.

Rivera has come under fire for some of his TV work in Israel and the Palestinian territories for Fox News. The media watchdog groups and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), blasted Rivera in 2002 for his reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Although uninformed coverage of the Israel-Palestinian crisis is common, Rivera’s combination of inanity and incessant self-reference to his own feelings, reactions and experiences has prompted particular audience disgust and derisive criticism from other journalists," CAMERA said.

That April 2002 criticism came after Rivera said that although he had been a lifelong Zionist and "would die for Israel," Palestinian suffering was turning him also into a "Palestinian-ist."

Rivera and Levy are due to wed this August at the 128-year-old Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The guest list at the ceremony and reception, to be held at the tony Four Seasons, is said to include the likes of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Upon learning of Rivera’s Jewish wedding, Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, said, "He’s not going to be a Palestinian-ist anymore?"

While a Jewish marriage "doesn’t always necessarily guarantee level-headed reporting," she added, "I certainly hope he has a long and happy marriage and that it helps inform his reporting."

Knesset to Get First Openly Gay Legislator

Activists in Israel’s gay and lesbian community are hailing the upcoming swearing in of the Knesset’s first openly gay member, calling it a breakthrough in their efforts for greater recognition.

When the Knesset reconvenes in November following its summer recess, Uzi Even, a Tel Aviv University chemistry professor, will become one of the Meretz Party’s 10 lawmakers. He will succeed veteran legislator Amnon Rubinstein, who is retiring from politics.

“This is a day of celebration for the gay and lesbian community, but also for the free and civic society in Israel,” said Itai Pinkas, chair of the Association of Gays and Lesbians in Israel. “Those who for years tried to push the community outside the public discourse will now get a declared homosexual as a Knesset member.”

Rubinstein was to have been replaced by the next person on Meretz’s roster, businessman Benny Temkin, who is currently in Mexico. But Temkin announced he would decline the position for personal and family reasons.

The seat then passed to Even, 61, who was next on the list. At a news conference, Even said he would focus on science, technology and education. He also promised to lobby for gay rights.

“I am proud to be a Knesset member and represent the community that sent me there,” Even told the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv. Labor Party Knesset Member Yael Dayan, who initiated the first Knesset conference on gay and lesbian issues 10 years ago, in which Even participated, welcomed his appointment to the Knesset.

Dayan invited Even to head a parliamentary subcommittee on gay issues that would function under the auspices of her Committee for the Advancement of Women. Legislators from fervently Orthodox parties condemned Even’s appointment.

Shas legislator Nissim Dahan called the appointment “a black day for the State of Israel.” Even dismissed the criticism. Once the media hype blows over, he said, Shas “will have no problem cooperating with me in the Knesset. My vote will be equal to that of every other legislator.”

Even, who lives with his longtime partner, has played a key role in advancing gay rights in Israel. In 1993, when the army found out that Even was living with a man, it removed him from his job as an intelligence officer.

He later was invited to address the Knesset about discrimination against gays in the army. Orthodox lawmakers walked out when he spoke, but his efforts eventually helped outlaw such discrimination. Within months, a regulation prohibiting discrimination against gays in the armed forces was signed by then-army Chief of Staff Ehud Barak.

Even later successfully sued Tel Aviv University to get the same benefits for his partner, Amit Kama, a communications professor, that the school extended to faculty spouses. Even and Kama also were among the first homosexuals to become foster parents in Israel, when they took in a 15-year-old whose family had thrown him out for being gay. The social welfare authorities and the boy’s biological parents approved the arrangement.