Yosemite Rim Fire damages Tawonga Jewish summer camp


The largest wildfire in California’s history has led to the evacuation of a Jewish summer camp and destroyed at least one of its buildings.

The Yosemite Rim Fire triggered the cancellation of Camp Tawonga’s annual Keshet LGBTQ Family Camp, San Francisco’s j. weekly reported.

On Friday, Tawonga Executive Director Ken Kramarz said in a post on Facebook that one cabin had burned, and that downed power lines, fallen trees and “active fire” had made the last 1.5 miles of road to the camp impassable.

Earlier last week, camp director Jamie Simon-Harris emailed the board of directors and board alumni to report that the fire line was holding and flame retardant had been dumped on all “essential structures,” according to a report in the j. weekly.

“As Shabbat arrives tonight, I urge every Tawongan to pray for the safety of the firefighters,”  Kramarz wrote on Facebook.

In 1999, a forest fire destroyed several buildings on the perimeter of the camp, according to the j. weekly.

The fire is burning over 143,980 acres and is only 7 percent contained. On Monday, the fire destroyed the Berkeley Toulumne Family Camp, a city-owned camp for residents, the Bay City News reported.

In July, a falling tree at Camp Tawonga struck five counselors, killing one and severely injuring two others.

Shopping center construction damaging historic Lviv synagogue


The Jewish community in Lviv, Ukraine, has warned that construction of a new shopping center could seriously damage a historic synagogue next to the site.

Construction on the shopping center in downtown Lviv began on July 23 next to the Jakob Glanzer synagogue. Reports in the local media carried photographs and a description of the construction, and said drilling under the foundation of the building already had caused cracks to appear in the synagogue walls.

On Tuesday night, the Jewish Cultural Association of Lviv posted a YouTube video showing young people lighting candles at the synagogue to protest the construction. Earlier, the Jewish community sent a letter to the mayor and the chief architect of Lviv with questions regarding the reason and legal background of the construction work. A protest banner was hung declaring that the synagogue, built in the 1840s, is a protected architectural monument.

One of two surviving synagogues in Lviv, the Glanzer synagogue was used after 1988 as a Jewish cultural center, but suffered damage in a hurricane in 2010 and has been undergoing restoration.

During restoration work earlier this summer, previously unknown wall paintings were discovered in the synagogue. They include at least three large pictures situated on the southern wall under the women’s galleries depicting, according to partly readable inscriptions, Babylonian rivers, the Jerusalem Temple and the Western Wall.

Italian Jewish community to raise money to cover earthquake damage


The Italian Jewish community launched a campaign to raise money for synagogues and other Jewish properties that were damaged in earthquakes that struck northern Italy last month.

“The Jewish communities in the towns, along with their members, were affected by the occurrences,” the Union of Italian Jewish Communities said in a statement. It said several major Jewish properties were “severely damaged” in the quakes.

“The community of Italy is trying to estimate the damages caused by the earthquake and to evaluate the cost,” the union said. “This estimation is difficult since new waves of earthquakes are happening and might be happening more in the future.”

Quakes on May 20 and May 30 killed at least 24 people, left thousands homeless and caused widespread damage to art and architectural heritage.

According to a report released by the union at the end of last week, synagogue buildings in the Italian cities of Ferrara, Modena, Mantova, Sabbioneta and Soragna suffered damage.

In Mantova, roof tiles were displaced, cracks appeared in some walls and plasterwork, and stucco decorations fell away. In Modena, the tympanum over the entrance to the synagogue was damaged as well as the railing in front of the bimah; the floor shifted and was cracked.

At the 18th century synagogue in Soragna, walls, the entrance to the women’s gallery, the ark and other features were damaged. The synagogue is now a Jewish museum.

“UCEI anticipates that the immediate and long-term needs will be profound and is coordinating with its in-country representatives to respond as well,” the community organization said.

Wind closes synagogues, schools


Gusts that peaked at 97 miles per hour whipped through the Los Angeles area Wednesday night, downing trees and power lines and leaving some synagogues and Jewish schools with minor damage and no power.

Hardest hit was the Pasadena area, where the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, B’nai Simcha Community Preschool in Arcadia and the Weizmann Day School all remained closed on Thursday. The mayor of Pasadena declared a state of emergency for the area.

The unusually fierce Santa Ana winds sent a tree crashing through the bedroom of the home of a Mount Washington member of Chabad of Pasadena, but the family was not hurt, according to Rabbi Chaim Hanoka of Chabad of Pasadena. Trees branches and debris were scattered around the Chabad building, but Hanoka did not detect any damage to the building, though he saw danger in live wires that dangled over some streets on Thursday. Many fires were reported in the area.

[Photo by Rabbi Joshua Grater

At Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC), large tree limbs and branches littered the grounds, roof shingles had been lifted off, and a chain-link fence came down.  The window in the school principal’s office was blown out, but no structural damage occurred.

The synagogue lost power around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, it leader, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, said that if power were not restored by Friday morning, he would be forced to cancel Shabbat services.

“We were supposed to have a big Shabbat dinner tomorrow night, but now we have 15 pounds of chicken rotting in the refrigerator,” Grater said.

A 60-foot tree in front of Grater’s home was completely uprooted, he said.

The Weizmann Day School, an independent Jewish elementary school with an enrollment of 67 children that rents space from PJTC, informed parents Wednesday night that the school would likely be closed the next day, according to principal Lisa Feldman. At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, another message – sent via a room-parent phone tree, as well as texts, Twitter, emails and Facebook – confirmed that the school would be closed Thursday. A teacher stood outside the school at drop-off time just in case some without power didn’t get the message, but no parents showed up, Feldman said. Pasadena public schools and about 10 other school districts in the area also were closed Thursday.

Photo by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Hanoka of Chabad said he had delivered food to several families who were without power and were trapped in their homes by toppled trees.

Around 300,000 Southern California residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon.

In Los Angeles, large trees splayed across several streets in the Pico-Robertson area. Maimonides Academy had a felled tree in its yard, and no power in the half of the school that resides in West Hollywood, while the half of the building on property in the City of Los Angeles had power.

Eitan Trabin, executive director of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said he is grateful that there was no serious damage to the temple and no one was hurt, especially seeing what had occurred around the neighborhood.

Trabin said, however, that he is bracing for more winds forecast through Friday.

“Whatever progress they make now in repairs and cleanup might be set back with the winds tonight,” Trabin said.

National Cathedral, damaged in quake, will hold services in shul


After their building took a battering from Tuesday’s earthquake, parishioners from Washington National Cathedral will instead worship in a Washington synagogue.

Due to earthquake damage, the church canceled services, including a Saturday dedication event for the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, while the building undergoes assessments. In the meantime, Washington National Cathedral will hold its Sunday services in the Washington Hebrew Congregation buildling.

Washington National Cathedral sustained what it called “significant damage” after the earthquake, losing ornate capstones from the church’s central tower, which at its peak is the highest point in Washington, D.C. There were also cracks in the flying buttresses in the area around the altar, the church said in a statement.

The cathedral’s dean, the Rev. Samuel Lloyd III, noted in a statement “the need to take every measure to ensure safety.” He also thanked the Washington Hebrew Congregation and its rabbi, Bruce Lustig, “for inviting us to hold services there for the next two Sundays.”

Thailand Chabad House again damaged by floods


A recently renovated Chabad House in Thailand has been ravaged again by flooding.

Heavy rains and flooding this week once again put the Chabad House in Koh Samui under water. The center recently completed a $50,000 renovation after floods in November destroyed electrical equipment, furniture, books and computers.

Rabbi Menachem Goldshmid told Chabad.org on Monday that he managed to remove the center’s Torah scrolls before water covered the first floor.

Goldshmid, who runs the center with his wife, Sara Hinda, said he working to help members of the local Jewish community, as well as the dozens of Israeli backpackers who visit the area each year.

The rabbi has not yet been able to enter the building to assess the damage.

Hearing-Loss Growth Speaks Volumes


Catherine Strick didn’t know she was losing her hearing until five years ago when she went for her first annual physical and took a routine hearing test. Now, the 44-year-old accountant readily admits she has trouble hearing, and says people are quick to notice.

“My husband gets frustrated,” she said. “The people I work with are always repeating themselves. My cellphone is on maximum volume so people can almost hear my conversations.”

There are many reasons why people experience hearing loss — congenital ear deformities, tumors, chronic diseases, side effects of some medications, viral infections of the inner ear, and blunt trauma. However, the majority of hearing loss cases can be attributed to the simple act of growing old. As the population ages, the National Institutes of Health says hearing impairment is a growing public health concern. Nearly 28 million Americans alone currently have trouble hearing, according to the NIH, and that number is expected to double by 2030.

In addition to age, noise is also to blame. Baby boomers are experiencing hearing loss earlier than previous generations as a result of too much time spent listening to loud music, living in noisy, urban environments, and working in fields like construction or welding.

“Every time people are exposed to loud noises for sustained periods of time, they are at risk of losing hair cells in the inner ear or cochlear,” said Dr. Hamid R. Djalilian, an assistant professor of surgery at UCLA. “Stereos and personal music devices turned to a loud level can cause damage to hearing over time. Once people get to the age of 50 and 60, when the age-related hearing loss starts, they have already lost many hair cells and the cumulative effect starts affecting them more severely.”

The normal ear contains about 15,000 hair cells, said Dr. John House, president of the House Ear Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization in Los Angeles. The hair cells are nerve endings that, like the pianos on a keyboard, control the high and low frequencies of sound.

“These nerve endings convert vibration to an electrical impulse which travels to the brain where it is interpreted as sound,” he said.

Hearing loss often takes up to 10 years to be detected because damage to the hair cells occurs over time.

“As we age, we lose hair cells, especially in the higher frequency range, and it’s those higher frequencies that help us distinguish words,” said Dr. Andrea Vambutas, medical director of the Apelian Cochlear Implant Center at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.

Progress to combat the effects of hearing loss is being explored on many fronts. “At the House Ear Institute, we are doing research into hair cell regeneration,” House said. “Some day we’d like to be able to regrow those little hair cells and reverse hearing loss.”

Although research has shown that hair cells can be regenerated in deaf animals, Djalilian says it will be years before tests are done on humans.

Cochlear implants, are surgically implanted devices that include a headpiece, speech processor, receiver and an implanted stimulator. They are generally used in people with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. The implants take over all the work of transmitting external sound to the brain. In the next five years, newer models are expected to restore hearing in frequencies that conventional hearing aids do not help, meaning more people will benefit.

An auditory brainstem implant that bypasses the ear and hearing or auditory nerves altogether, and is implanted directly on the brainstem, is offering hope to patients who are deaf as a result of tumors in both auditory nerves. It includes an external microphone and battery pack, but Vambutas says hearing different sounds at high or low frequencies is still difficult.

People who experience the most common age- or noise-related hearing loss can benefit now from the significant advances that have been made with digital hearing aids. They are smaller, and more powerful, audiologist Barbara Olsen said, and can be programmed to suit an individual’s hearing loss. They reduce background noise interference, which was common among older analog models, and cancel out annoying feedback. Newer ones can also adjust automatically to the environment the wearer is in, whether it’s a noisy office or a quiet living room.

“It makes it more palatable for people,” she said.

Despite the newer technology, only 25 percent of people who need hearing aids actually wear them.

Jean McCarthy of Sayville, N.Y., was hesitant to wear a hearing aid until three years ago because her mother had such a difficult time with the old, larger analog type.

“I went through so much with my mom. If she walked in a room with four or five people in it, she could hardly stand it. Everything was magnified. Every noise sounded 10 times louder than it was. I really didn’t want to deal with it.”

In fact, McCarthy didn’t seek help until her children convinced her to. Now, that she wears a digital hearing aid, the 74-year-old retired school nurse said, “I’m amazed at how wonderful it is.”

Vanity is another reason people won’t wear hearing aids.

“Most people don’t like wearing hearing aids because they don’t want to appear old or deaf,” Djalilian said. The cost of hearing aids can also be prohibitive. Most are not covered by insurance, and can run anywhere from $400 to $3,000 per ear depending upon the hearing aid.

Unfortunately, avoiding treatment can impact not only the individual, but also their loved ones, said Richard Carmen, an audiologist and author of “How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships” (Auricle Ink Publishers). Relationships become strained when there is constant miscommunication and self-denial of a condition that is easily treated. “It leads to a tremendous amount of frustration. That wears down family relationships very quickly.”

Rosemary Briggs of Massapequa Park, N.Y., got her hearing aids after “my husband said you’ve got to do something. It’s getting everyone upset that you’re not hearing.”

Now, nearly 20 years later, she says her children still get frustrated with her: “My children should be more patient.”

Strick, who is one of Briggs’ daughters, agrees. “I should realize that I know what it’s like for me, but I don’t,” she said.

And despite her own awareness, Strick says she still isn’t ready to wear a hearing aid herself.

“It’s like wearing glasses. When you start wearing them, you say this is amazing. But then you become so dependent on the glasses that you can’t function. Say I wear a hearing aid and I can’t hear without it. What happens when I go to the beach or swimming in the pool? Will I not be able to wear them and then I won’t be able to hear my kids? My feeling is, until it gets to the point where it’s really bad, I won’t do it.”

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

Preventing Hearing Loss

Like eating right and daily exercise, taking care of your hearing is part of living a healthy lifestyle. Here’s what you need to do to protect your hearing and prevent hearing loss in the future:

• Turn down the volume when listening to the stereo, using iPods and other personal music devices. If you’re using headphones or tiny earbuds that fit in the ear canal and the music can be heard by people other than you, it’s probably too loud.

• Wear ear plugs or other protective hearing devices during rock concerts or noisy events like car races. Protect your ears when playing or working in noisy environments like hunting, during construction, or at home, mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower or chain saw.

• Ask your physician for regular hearing exams.

• See your doctor immediately if you experience sudden hearing loss.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

False Endorsement Allegations Continue


 

The campaign to re-elect Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn is struggling to contain damage from newly emerging allegations that it falsely claimed endorsements from local Jewish leaders.

Four more community members have inspected Hahn endorsement letters and declared their signatures on them to be forgeries, bringing the total of alleged forgeries to eight since the issue first came to light last month.

The total of bad endorsements may well surpass 30, said community sources, but this claim has not been independently verified.

The Hahn campaign has denied any wrongdoing and continues to insist that the forms were provided by the late Joe Klein, a longtime Hahn backer who served as head of the city’s Planning Commission. Another community member, Alan Goldstein, has stepped in to repair the harm, urging angered Jewish leaders to reconsider supporting the incumbent mayor.

The furor arose out of Hahn campaign ads that listed more than 100 Jewish endorsements. The ad ran twice in The Jewish Journal prior to the March primary. In the primary, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa placed first and Hahn finished second, just ahead of challenger Bob Hertzberg. Villaraigosa and Hahn will meet in the May 17 runoff. Hertzberg, who is Jewish, was the candidate favored by most of the Jewish endorsers who said their names were misused. The matter did not surface publicly until a March 18 article in The Jewish Journal.

The latest development is that four additional Jewish community leaders, when shown their Hahn endorsement letters, insisted that their signatures were obvious fakes.

The four are Joseph Kornwasser, chair of National Bank of California; Irving Bauman, president and COO of Sunmar Health Care; Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director of Maimonides Academy; and Rabbi Nachum Sauer, rosh kollel of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.

“Someone has scribbled my name here,” Bauman said. “I’ve never seen the form to begin with.”

“This document is not authentic. It is not my signature,” Sauer wrote in an e-mail to The Journal after seeing his name.

Kupfer also wrote in an e-mail he had never seen the form before and never signed it, but believes Klein may have mentioned it to him at some point.

A sore point in this saga has been the Hahn campaign’s insistence on blaming any problems on Klein, a beloved leader in the Orthodox community who has been universally praised for his integrity (even by the Hahn campaign), and who died in June 2004.

Several individuals incorrectly named as Hahn endorsers say Hahn supporter Goldstein, a local businessman who owns the Shalom Retirement Home and was a close friend of Klein’s for decades, contacted them.

One person who says he got a call is Rabbi Steven Weil. Weil said he was contacted shortly after he complained about his name being used in Hahn ads without permission. At the time, Weil knew only about the published endorsement; he didn’t realize that his signature appeared on a Hahn endorsement form until The Journal showed it to him — and Goldstein didn’t tell him, Weil said.

Goldstein apologized about the published endorsement, telling Weil, “We had the names from years ago and we just assumed,” according to Weil.

In an interview this week, Goldstein confirmed that he spoke with “one or two people” after the endorsement controversy began.

“I was curious to see if they changed their minds,” he told The Journal.

Goldstein denied that he was acting on behalf of the Hahn campaign.

“Nobody asked me to do anything,” he said.

Goldstein added that he remembers Klein collecting endorsement forms in 2003 and early 2004. In fact, he signed such a form himself. He insisted that nobody in the Hahn campaign could possibly have forged them.

“The mayor’s campaign did not know these people or have access to them,” he said.

Hahn campaign consultant Kam Kuwata would not discuss Goldstein’s specific role with the campaign, adding his view that there was no reason to write anything more about the issue. Kuwata had provided The Journal with copies of the questionable endorsement forms, but last week called The Journal a “tool of the [Villaraigosa] campaign.”

Hahn’s campaign suffered a widely anticipated setback this week when former mayoral candidate Bernard Parks, who lost in the primary, endorsed Villaraigosa. Support from the African American Parks, an ex-police chief, could sway some black voters.

Meanwhile, both campaigns continue an aggressive play for the Jewish vote that went with Hertzberg in the primary. Hahn and Villaraigosa each appeared at last week’s fundraiser for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Neither candidate spoke at the event for the pro-Israel lobby group. The candidates competed only in the applause meter, and in that category the edge went to Villaraigosa. The same thing happened at a San Fernando Valley event honoring Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

But Hahn had the spotlight to himself during an event at the Museum of Tolerance. There he joined Jewish leaders in accusing London’s mayor of anti-Semitism for remarks he made in February likening a Jewish newspaper reporter to a German concentration camp guard (see briefs page 28).

At a press conference, Hahn released a letter to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in which he wrote, “Unless and until Mayor Ken Livingstone of London apologizes for his comments … he will not be accorded or offered any official welcome to the city of Los Angeles, and I am urging my fellow mayors to do the same.”

 

Rabbi Consoles Hurricane Survivors


Rabbi Isaac Jeret, president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI), and members of Adat Israel in Naples, Fla. headed out to a Naples beach to observe Tashlich on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Everyone stared in shock before the service began.

The beach was gone.

"This was a community that spent millions of dollars repumping the beaches with sand, and there was none," said Jeret, who led High Holiday services at Adat Israel. "There were a lot of people in tears at the beach. It was the first time they had seen the erosion."

The beach was one of the many casualties of this hurricane season, which, according to the Miami Herald, is the worst the state has experienced since 1886. The triple-threat of hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan walloped Florida within a five-week period, leaving 65 people dead and doing billions of dollars in damage to homes and buildings. Entire communities were bereft of citizens as millions evacuated their homes to escape the storms.

For the Jewish community, Ivan meant shuttered synagogues on Rosh Hashanah. Many of the synagogues in Ivan’s path in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle canceled their Rosh Hashanah services altogether. Those that stayed open had significantly smaller turnouts than in years past, and some were without electricity.

In Naples, Adat Israel, an unaffiliated Conservative synagogue, considered canceling its services because so many of their congregants evacuated the city. Naples was directly in Charley’s path, but it escaped being hit. And although it was not directly in the path of Ivan or Frances, cities like Port Charlotte only 70 miles north, were hit hard, and many Naples residents boarded up their houses and fled.

Adat Israel decided to stay open, and bring Jeret from California to lead the services. Prior to taking the job with BBI, Jeret was a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, a synagogue in Palm Beach, and he helped the Naples community build their synagogue.

"We felt that even if there was a small group of people here who wanted or needed [Rosh Hashanah services], we needed to provide them," said Sheri Samotin, the synagogue’s president.

Adat Israel attracted about 60 people.

"We are used to approaching the High Holidays with a sense of concern. This community approached the High Holidays for refuge," Jeret said. "The mood I encountered [in the synagogue] was one of spiritual exhaustion, the likes of which I had never seen."

Instead of giving a traditional sermon, Jeret opened up the floor to the congregants to talk about what they had been through with the hurricanes. He did this, he said "under the dark cloud of tropical storm Jeanne," which has now killed nearly 700 people in Haiti.

"They needed to talk," Jeret said. "They were entering the High Holidays with real fear for the existence of the community, fear for their homes and their lives. One of the kids said to me that it was extremely hard for her to go to sleep for the past week, and her parents were standing next to her, and they said it was hard for them, too. The fear of anticipation was far worse than the actual event."

"The discussions lasted about one hour each, and I usually don’t give sermons for longer than 12 minutes," he said.

By the second day, Jeret said the conversation shifted to strengthening the Jewish community and the Jewish experience in Naples.

Jeret said that many of the buildings in Naples were relatively new and able to withstand the fierce winds and the rain, but all over the city he saw palm trees with their tops snapped off and other landscape damage.

He will return to Naples this week to lead Yom Kippur services at Adat Israel.

"What I really learned from the congregation was the sense of the resilience of humanity," Jeret said.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

Muslim Hate Is Self-Inflicted Harm


The Arab and Iranian complaint that they are threatened and victimized by the Zionists is fascinatingly twisted. In fact, they do themselves considerable damage through their own anti-Semitism. Two recent examples come to mind.

United States taxpayers paid for the liberation of Iraq, and are footing the bill to rebuild the country. Anyone from a rather large list of eligible countries can bid on the billion-dollar U.S.-funded rebuilding contracts. But while the list is large, it is not comprehensive. Nations that hindered our efforts to liberate Iraq failed to make the cut. France and Germany, for example, are conspicuously ineligible.

But there is a more newsworthy, yet less-noticed story about the eligibility list: Israel is not on it. Why?

The two major purposes of our foray into Iraq were to fight terrorism and to make Iraq a democracy. In the volatile and strategically important Middle East, Israel is the most democratic nation. One would think that if Iraq is to become a stable, liberal democracy, we should foster a good relationship between it and Israel, from which it could learn so much about free expression, multiparty politics, minority rights, an independent judiciary, religious freedom and all the other ingredients of a healthy, free society.

Israel’s exclusion becomes particularly galling in light of the fact that Saudi Arabia — the nation most responsible for Sept. 11, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Moslem Brotherhood terrorism — is allowed to bid on Iraq reconstruction contracts. We ousted Saddam, in part, because he was getting cozy with Bin Laden. Now that we ousted him, the Binladen Group, a huge Saudi Arabian engineering concern, can bid on a taxpayer-funded contract to rebuild Iraq, but an Itzik of Tel Aviv cannot — even though Itzik of Tel Aviv is more likely to bring humane values (as well as Western building standards) to a Baghdad construction site than the Binladen Group.

President Bush is considered by many a friend of the Jewish State, so the fact that he has stiffed Israel requires explanation. The likeliest reason is simply that he believes the Arabs, including Iraqis, would object. Substituting a short-sighted pragmatism for principle, Bush lets the most unreasonable voices in the Middle East dominate, to the detriment of Iraq. Congress should look into this.

The second example of anti-Semitism becoming a self-inflicted wound comes from the terrible earthquake in Bam, Iran. The losses in life and property are virtually beyond imagination. Iran, overwhelmed, has welcomed aid from the four corners of the earth, including from the United States, without reservation. Oops, one reservation: help from the "Zionist entity" was rejected.

Israel is the most technologically advanced country in the Middle East, and the most prepared to deal with large-scale disaster (let’s not discuss why). There is no possible doubt that Israel’s participation in the rescue efforts would have saved lives.

The government of Iran preferred that its citizens die, rather than accept the hand of the Jewish State stretched out in compassion. In view of the fact that Israel has never done any harm to Iran, this is insane.

Peace will come to the Middle East if, and only if, the Arabs and Muslims end their pathological hatred of Israel. Everything else is a side issue. The United States must use its newly enhanced stature in the region to insist on an Arab/Muslim change of heart, and help it along.

On Sun., Jan. 25, at 3 p.m., DFI-LA will sponsor a program titled, "Iranian Reformers and Israel." For more information, call (310) 285-8542.


Joe Ribakoff is a member and Paul Kujawsky is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. The views expressed are theirs and do not necessarily represent the views of DFI-L.A.

Upsetting the Bipartisan Applecart


It is a troubling paradox: Israel may be protected from new pressure from Washington by the upcoming presidential election, but that protection could foreshadow long-term damage to U.S.-Israel relations.

The reason: more and more, the pro-Israel effort is getting sucked into the quicksand of bitter partisan politics.

In today’s take-no-enemies political climate, the bipartisanship that has been the goal of pro-Israel activism in Washington — a goal steadfastly pursued, if not often attained — is in dire jeopardy.

The good news for pro-Israel lobbyists is that President George W. Bush and his political team see strong, smooth U.S.-Israel relations as a political necessity. Two big reasons: Jewish money and Jewish votes.

With his poll rankings sinking, the President is counting on a record war chest to blow past the Democratic opposition next year. Increasingly, re-election strategists see Jewish money as an important piece of the funding puzzle. Bush’s support for a hawkish government in Israel, they believe, will be a strong selling point with pro-Israel donors.

Even the wildest optimist among the Republicans doesn’t expect Bush to win a majority of Jewish votes. But a jump to 30 percent — in 2000, Bush won only 19 percent — could prove critical, especially in a state the Democrats remember with trepidation: Florida.

Maintaining a cordial relationship with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is seen as a catalyst for that kind of financial and electoral bounce from Jewish donors and voters. Republican Jewish activists are already hitting hard on the Democratic challengers for being soft in their support for Israel.

Even more important, smooth relations with the Sharon government are necessary to keep Evangelical Christians in line. In recent years, the religious right has made support for Israel its top foreign policy priority. The Evangelicals say they simply feel called by God to support Israel, but apparently the Lord has a special preference for Israel’s right wing; even Ariel Sharon isn’t hawkish enough for many of today’s new breed of Christian Zionist.

There’s no danger the religious right will turn to the Democrats next year, but Bush needs a high and enthusiastic turnout from them, and winning amens from their top leaders for his support for Sharon can contribute to that cause.

Those political factors point to relatively smooth U.S.- Israel relations in the short run — not an insignificant development at a time when world opinion is overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. But the auguries for the future aren’t so reassuring.

In an increasingly polarized America, there is a growing danger that Israel will get whipsawed by a partisan balance that can change with staggering speed. For decades, pro-Israel activism has tried to steer a deliberately bipartisan course. The idea was that support for Israel should never be associated with any particular faction, providing a layer of insulation for those inevitable times when the political winds change direction.

True, politicians in both parties sometimes tried to gain an advantage by using Israel as a political club to bash their opponents. But for the most part, there was an acknowledgement that support for Israel should not be Democratic or Republican , liberal or conservative.

That could be changing.

Conservative Republicans, who now ardently support Israel, are increasingly using support not just for Israel but for the most right-wing factions there as a litmus test that they hope and expect most Democrats will fail. The religious right is one of the most polarizing forces in the nation today; Americans are either for them or bitterly against them, with middle ground hard to find. To the extent that support for Israel is now linked to this faction, the Jewish State could be dragged into the center of one of the "culture wars" that increasingly dominate American political life.

It’s revealing that some of Israel’s biggest boosters today — former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the Rev. Pat Robertson — are slashing, controversial figures who have brought the same aggressive stance to their support of the Sharon government. That association could discourage even loyal supporters of Israel on the left and add to the erosion in the bipartisan foundation built so carefully by the pro-Israel lobby.

And what will happen when the volatile Israeli electorate turns to left-leaning leaders? Will the Evangelicals still support an Israel that aggressively seeks land-for-peace agreements with the Palestinians?

This isn’t to say that support from the right should be spurned. But it should be balanced by much more energetic and sustained pro-Israel outreach to other factions, starting with the liberal Democrats who once comprised the pro-Israel base in Washington.

The Jewish community itself needs to avoid being caught up in the venomous political environment of the day. There is an important place in the Jewish community for the political right, which is enjoying its day in the sun — but also for groups on the left, which seem to be in full retreat.

Partisan leaders can afford to play zero-sum games with Israel; the Jewish community, concerned more about Israel’s future in a troubling time than about scoring political points, needs to take a different approach.