Sanders: It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said that while he does not think he will be the party's nominee for the Nov. 8 election, he will likely speak at the Democratic National Convention in July, according to an interview with C-SPAN.

“It doesn't appear that I'm going to be the nominee,” Sanders, a U.S. Senator from Vermont, said in the interview, which is set to air on Wednesday. “If for whatever reason they don't want me to speak, then whatever. But I do think I'll speak at the convention.”

Hawaii’s Jewish senator in limbo


Saturday night was arguably the biggest night in Brian Schatz’s political career, as the results of Hawaii’s Democratic primary would determine whether he would remain Hawaii’s senior United States senator, or whether he would go down in defeat after less than two years in office. (In overwhelmingly Democratic Hawaii, the general election is expected to be little more than a formality.) Win or lose, he would know his future.

Except that Saturday came and went, and Schatz’s future remains murky. Though Schatz, who is Jewish, leads primary opponent Colleen Hanabusa by 1,635 votes, the results are up in the air, and may remain so for weeks to come. That is because two precincts in the Puna district of Hawaii’s Big Island were unable to vote thanks to damage from Hurricane Iselle, and will have another three weeks in which to mail in absentee ballots.

This marks just the latest bizarre turn in Schatz’s short and politically turbulent Senate tenure. In December of 2012, Schatz, then the lieutenant governor, was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the death of legendary and long-serving Sen. Daniel Inouye. The appointment was particularly controversial because Inouye, in a letter, had asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to appoint U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to fill the vacant seat. Like Inouye, Hanabusa is a Japanese-American. Abercrombie’s decision to appoint his own political ally, Schatz, was perceived as a snub not only to the revered Inouye but to Hawaii’s politically influential Japanese-American population.

Oddly, Schatz’s appointment made him the state’s senior senator, as he took office roughly a week before Hawaii’s other, newly elected senator Mazie Hirono.

Hanabusa then challenged Schatz in the Democratic primary. Schatz quickly garnered support both from President Obama, beloved in Hawaii as a native son, and from liberal groups across the country. He raised more money than Hanabusa, but the race was generally regarded a toss-up going into election day — and it remains so afterwards.

In balance, the odds likely favor Schatz. As Jeff Singer of the left-leaning but statistically rigorous Daily Kos Elections points out, Schatz’s current margin, and the fact that the remaining precincts have 8,255 eligible voters, mean that Hanabusa would have to win an overwhelming margin of the remaining votes to triumph. However, Schatz leads in the neighboring precincts by a 52-45 margin.

Schatz’s patron, Abercrombie, has not been so fortunate. He was obliterated in the Democratic primary by a 66-31 margin, in part because of the Inouye-Schatz-Hanabusa kerfuffle.

 

Egyptian military’s anti-democratic moves may benefit Israel


Egypt’s military coup is now nearly complete.

That may be distressing for Egyptian democracy, but it could help the Israel-Egypt relationship.

Sunday’s decision by military rulers in Egypt to rewrite the country’s constitution – a move that strips much of the power of the Egyptian presidency — confirms what many skeptics had warned about since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011: This wasn’t so much a revolution as a military coup.

It was the Egyptian army that played the decisive role during the 2011 uprising, siding with the people against the regime and overthrowing Mubarak. It was the military’s leaders who then assumed control of the country. And it was the army that again intervened this week in the middle of a presidential election that would have delivered control of the country to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi.

A few days before this weekend’s presidential vote, in which Morsi edged Ahmed Shafik, a former Mubarak-era prime minister and air force general, the military dissolved the country’s Islamic Brotherhood-dominated parliament. It did so by declaring that up to one-third of the legislators were elected illegally. The Brotherhood controlled 47 percent of seats in the body after Islamist parties captured more than 65 percent of the votes In Egypt’s first real democratic elections six months ago.

The moves against the parliament and the presidency make clear that Egypt’s military rulers are unwilling to cede power to a democratically elected government, especially if elections empower the Muslim Brotherhood.

“With this document, Egypt has completely left the realm of the Arab Spring and entered the realm of military dictatorship,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said in widely quoted comments.

“It is a soft military coup that unfortunately many people will support out of fear of an Islamist takeover of the state,” Bahgat told The Associated Press.

That may be bad news for democracy and the Egyptian revolution, but it could be good for Israel.

Ever since Mubarak was overthrown, Israeli leaders have wrung their hands over increasingly bellicose signals from its neighbor to the south, once a key ally and broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Leading Egyptian political figures have threatened to cancel or promised to “review” the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

In April the state-owned Egyptian gas company canceled its contract to supply Israel with natural gas; its pipeline to Israel has been attacked 14 times since the country’s revolution. Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against Israel, including a deadly one on Monday.

If the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of Hamas, were to have taken control of Egypt, Israelis feared that things could get much worse.

After Israel was struck last Friday by Grad rocket attacks, unnamed Israeli security analysts told Haaretz that the Muslim Brotherhood had encouraged the attack. It’s not clear whether the analysis is true or who actually launched the rockets. Neither was it immediately clear who was behind a border attack on Monday that killed an Israeli contractor; Israeli forces returning fire killed two of the attackers from Egypt.

Despite this latest move, it’s far from clear whether Egypt’s military rulers – led by army Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, or SCAF – have successfully fended off the challenge by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many Egyptians have denounced the dissolution of parliament and unilateral rewriting of the country’s constitution by the military leaders as illegal.

“The SCAF has become a state above the state with wide legislative and executive powers, a veto on constitutional and other political matters, and stands immune to any challenges,” a liberal member of Egypt’s Parliament, Amr Hamzawy, wrote in Arabic comments posted to Twitter and then reported by Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram. “We need to use all peaceful means to challenge this dangerous scenario, as it is a national duty and a necessity.”

Still, the election gives the Brotherhood’s Morsi some modicum of authority. Whether the Brotherhood will use that authority to challenge the army or seek some sort of accommodation with Egypt’s military rulers remains unclear.

Democratic hopefuls talk Israel in bid for Harman’s seat


For politicians today, making it to Washington often requires them to explain their views about what should happen to Jerusalem.

That was the case at the Hermosa Beach Community Center on April 20 when four of the 16 Democratic candidates running in a May 17 special election for the open seat in California’s 36th Congressional District met in a debate on U.S.-Israel and Middle East policy organized by Democrats for Israel (DFI).

Jane Harman, who was among the most ardent pro-Israel voices in the legislature and held the seat for 16 of the past 18 years, announced she would leave Congress to take an academic post in February, just three months after winning re-election in 2010.

For Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who have each raised and spent more than any of the other Democratic candidates, the DFI debate was a chance to tout their pro-Israel credentials.

Marcy Winograd, a teacher who took 41 percent of the vote when she faced off against Harman in the 2010 Democratic primary, used the opportunity to restate her own preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely the establishment of a single non-sectarian state that would grant equal voting rights to Israelis and Palestinians. Many observers, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), have said that Winograd’s position would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

And for Dan Adler, a businessman who has never held political office and formalized his candidacy just before the filing deadline, the debate was a chance to introduce himself as a well-informed and passionate supporter of Israel, albeit one with an uphill fight on his hands, as he is running against better-known and (at least two) better-funded opponents.

Since none of the candidates at Wednesday’s forum has held an elective office with foreign policy responsibilities, the event was, for the 100 people who attended, a unique chance to hear how the candidates think about the issues.

“We thought that voters deserve as much information as possible about the candidates,” DFI President Leeor Alpern said, explaining the reason for holding the debate.

With the obvious exception of Winograd, it was occasionally hard to find differences between the candidates’ positions.

Moderator Conan Nolan of NBC 4 asked questions on a variety of subjects, covering Israeli settlements in the West Bank, sanctions against Iran and even one question about whether President Obama should have consulted with Congress before engaging American military personnel in the NATO-led strikes against the government forces in Libya.

In response to a question submitted in advance over the Internet, Hahn, Bowen and Adler all said that Israel had the right to defend itself against an attack from Iran. Winograd pointed out that Israel, unlike Iran, already has nuclear weapons, and that perhaps Israel was more likely to be the aggressor.

Asked what they would do if, as a member of Congress, a bill came before them attempting to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel — a strategy referred to as BDS — the trio of Israel supporters all said they stood against it. Winograd, for her part, said she supported BDS against “companies that profit from the Israeli occupation,” noting that she, as a teacher, supported the current effort to divest the funds that support California teachers’ pensions from such companies.

Some differences—in tone, if not in substance—did emerge between Adler, Bowen and Hahn over the course of the 90-minute debate.

Hahn said repeatedly that to resolve the conflict, Israeli and Palestinian leaders needed to come back to the negotiating table. She called the focus on settlements unhelpful, but also said that the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in March 2010 to announce the approval of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem “probably didn’t help the peace process.”

In response to the same question, Bowen sounded slightly more critical of Israel — but only slightly. “Support of Israel does not mean that we forego our right to critique her,” Bowen said.

Later in the debate, Bowen brought up the subject of settlements again. “Settlements are not conducive to the peace process,” Bowen said. “But neither are rockets.”

In talking about settlements, Adler, too, talked about the need for a negotiated peace and emphasized that, although West Bank settlements were a problem, they were not the problem.

“There are two different kinds of settlements,” Adler said in a comment that illustrated his nuanced understanding not just of the geography of the West Bank, but of Israeli internal politics. “There are the settlements of one person standing in the middle of a Palestinian community, requiring a ring of Israeli IDF soldiers to protect him or her, and then there are suburbs of Jerusalem and other places.”

“The settlements are not the problem,” Adler added, “although the settlements are mishandled by the Israeli government. The issue is how can direct negotiations happen when both parties—or possibly three necessary parties—are not all willing to sit at the same table. And pretending that settlements is the issue is naïve and ultimately detrimental to the process.”

For Bowen and Hahn, the similarities between their positions on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were not surprising in light of a position paper written by Hahn and co-signed by Bowen outlining five points of support for Israel.

The points included support for the peace process, the annual $3 billion of U.S. security assistance to Israel and sanctions against Iran. It also included opposition to a unilaterally declared Palestinian state and a lengthy condemnation of “anti-Israel political rhetoric” that was focused on statements made by Winograd, who was, at that time, not yet a candidate in the race.

Hahn sent the letter to Bowen on Feb. 18, and Bowen signed the letter that same day, the LA Weekly reported. One week later, Winograd formally declared her candidacy.

On Wednesday evening, Winograd told The Jewish Journal that her opponents’ joint pro-Israel pledge was part of why she chose to run. “It definitely played a role. I was also concerned because I wasn’t hearing from either candidate that they were committed to voting against future war supplementals,” Winograd said, referring to bills that must be passed by Congress to continue funding the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Speaking before Wednesday’s debate, Hahn said she sent the letter to Bowen “to take the issue [of support for Israel] off the table.”

But Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant, said most political observers saw it as a move by Hahn to cut into Bowen’s base. “Most people believe that the Hahn campaign sent the letter to really get Winograd in the race, so that there would be two Westside Democrats in the race,” Hoffenblum said.

Winograd came as close as she did to winning the Democratic nomination in 2010, Hoffenblum said, because she was running against Harman. In May’s special election, however, “the anti-Harman vote has many places to go,” he said.

At Wednesday’s debate, Nolan asked the candidates whether Harman, who supported the war in Iraq and defended the use of wiretapping without a warrant, was too moderate for her district, which stretches from Venice to San Pedro.

Adler, who called Harman’s work in defense and intelligence “very, very commendable,” couldn’t be said to be an anti-Harmanite. Bowen, however, took on Harman’s legacy when she said she didn’t think it was overly burdensome to require the federal government to get a warrant before tapping a person’s phones. Hahn distinguished herself from Harman by pointing to her opposition in the L.A. City Council to the war in Iraq.

“The question is does she [Winograd] play the spoiler, and does she take enough votes away from Bowen so that a Republican comes in second,” Hoffenblum said.

As for Adler, Hoffenblum said he was facing an uphill battle. “He’s unknown,” Hoffenblum said. “He’s going to have to raise a ton of money.”

With nothing else on the ballot, voter turnout is expected to be low for this special election. And with 16 candidates running, it’s hard to imagine a single candidate winning an outright majority. In that likely scenario, the top two vote-getters would face off in a second round of voting, to be held on July 12.

No matter who wins the special election, a brand-new Citizen’s Redistricting Commission is already working to redraw the lines of the congressional districts across the state.

“All of these people are running in a district that won’t exist in 2012,” Hoffenblum said.

Kennedy seen as giant on domestic issues, Soviet Jewry


U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is being remembered in the Jewish community for his huge impact on domestic issues such as education and health care, but also as a giant in the Soviet Jewry movement.

Kennedy “was one of the earliest, strongest champions on behalf of Soviet Jewry,” said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia. “He was always proactive and didn’t wait for NCSJ and other organizations to come to him—he was always looking to see where he could make a difference.”

In his 2006 book, “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,” Natan Sharansky specifically mentions Kennedy as the first Western politician to meet with refuseniks “in a midnight meeting that was kept secret from the KGB until the very last moment.”

And Levin noted that whenever Kennedy met with Soviet officials, in Washington or in the Soviet Union, he would bring lists of those he wanted to see released.

“He never forgot we were talking about individuals and families,” Levin said.

Kennedy also will be remembered as a strong champion of Israel. Jewish organizational officials noted that he was a stalwart supporter of foreign aid, opposed arms sales to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, and was a strong backer of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also publicly rebuked President George H.W. Bush when he linked settlements to U.S. loan guarantees for the emigration of Soviet Jews, and was a leading voice in speaking out against the Arab boycott of Israel.

Israeli official rushed to praise Kennedy, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the senator “an American patriot” and “a great friend of Israel,” according to media reports.

And Israeli President Shimon Peres said Kennedy’s death was “a very big loss to every sensitive and thinking person the world over.”

“Kennedy was a clear friend of Israel the whole way, and in every place that he could help us he did help,” he added.

The late senator drew praise from a broad range of Jewish organizations, including both the Orthodox Union and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. They noted that he had worked on a vast array of domestic issues over his 47 years on Capitol Hill, from religious liberty bills such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to his efforts on children’s health insurance.

In a statement, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, Nancy Ratzan, said: “We were honored to work by his side on so many critical issues: Family and Medical Leave, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights, the Americans with Disability Act, hate crimes prevention, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, health care, the increase in the minimum wage, and numerous judicial nominations—to name a few.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement that the “greatest tribute” to Kennedy would be to enact comprehensive health insurance reform.

“On the little stuff and the big stuff, he was always there for us,” said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Boston JCRC. “There wasn’t an issue he wasn’t on top of.”

With the Republican base on the ropes, all eyes are on Florida — again


Most Jews live in three states, two of which, New York and California, are already in the bank for Sen. Barack Obama.

It’s the third one, Florida, that has the presidential campaigns in a frenzy. There are roughly 650,000 Jews in Florida, out of 18 million residents. Concentrated in South Florida in three counties (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade), they are older, high-turnout voters with whom the Democrats have a big edge.

This is familiar territory. Unless tens of thousands of Jews had a sudden epiphany in 2000 that revealed Pat Buchanan to be a friend of the Jews, Al Gore won the election with a groundswell of Jewish votes that were interpreted incorrectly because of the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County.

In 2000 we didn’t know how important Florida Jews were until it was too late. In 2008, elderly Florida Jews are political rock stars. Sarah Silverman has a ” target=”_blank”>Jackie Mason has recorded an online countervideo to make the Republican case. Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” has had two segments featuring a ” target=”_blank”>making calls to Jewish voters that in all innocence ask if it would bother the voter to “know” that Obama has supported the PLO. That this stuff works is testimony to the challenge of a young black candidate, not yet well-known in the Jewish community, and to the complex undertow of recent black-Jewish tensions. Remember that many Florida Jews moved there from New York City, with its long and difficult history of black-Jewish conflict.

Indeed Florida itself seemed out of reach for Obama until a few weeks ago. But as in all the battleground states, the Wall Street crash and bailout transformed the campaign and a raft of new polls give Obama a small but significant lead in Florida.

If Obama wins Florida’s 27 electoral votes, it’s over. If Sen. John McCain holds Florida, he still has a chance. So it looks as if Florida and its Jewish bloc are back in play.

The surrogates are all over the place, with Sen. Joe Lieberman plugging McCain and Obama pulling in former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Florida Rep. Robert Wexler and Middle East expert Dennis Ross. Joe Biden is very popular with Florida Jews, and he is pulling his weight. With the advantage of the Republican brand, and McCain’s own familiarity, he does not need as many surrogates as Obama.

So why did McCain’s economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, pick this moment to tell the Wall Street Journal that McCain plans to pay for his health care plan by taking blocks of money from Medicare and Medicaid? Politically, this makes no sense in Florida, where an attack on Medicare, joined to McCain’s support for private accounts in Social Security, could shake loose thousands of older voters.

McCain is on a precipice with those voters, many of whom are trying to decide whether to take a risk on the unfamiliar and cast a vote for the young black guy instead of the older white guy everybody knows. The older the voter, the more difficult the decision. Why then would McCain make it an easy choice?

I imagine that while Holtz-Eakin spoke accurately, his timing reflects the chaos within the McCain campaign, especially in regards to economic policy. But the substantive explanation might lie in the pressure on McCain to explain his health care plan, under which he proposed to provide tax credits for Americans to buy private insurance while removing the tax deduction for employer-based health care.

This approach leaves the taxpayer paying more in payroll taxes for the pleasure of navigating the private market (with its well-known aversion to insuring anybody who might someday get sick or is sick now). So the McCain people said that there would be no payroll tax increase. But how to pay for the new tax credit? Thus the decision to take it from Medicare and Medicaid. From their standpoint, they get to further the privatization of health care and still avoid the charge (fatal with the Republican base) of raising taxes.

Put more simply, it seemed safer to risk losing older voters in Florida than to risk the Republican brand of no new taxes, hoping that those Floridians won’t have heard about the interview or will believe when told that Holtz-Eakin was talking out of turn, or will just be confused because the whole thing comes across as such a complex muddle.

Because, if the McCain camp doesn’t find a way around this, how can it continue to attack Obama for raising taxes?

The problem for any Republican nominee is that what pleases the base (e.g. Sarah Palin, privatization, lower taxes) may end up turning off everybody else. If McCain loses Florida, that may be the lesson for his party. The base can never be fed enough.

McCain would have probably been better off with no health care plan rather than one that eviscerates employer-based insurance and cuts Medicare and Medicaid. But it’s too late now.

Now, the question is whether the Obama campaign can boil down for Florida voters the peril to Social Security and Medicare from a McCain-Palin administration. This is a job for Bill Clinton, the one Democrat who can reduce complex policy issues to a story about a frog sitting on a fence post. Clinton really hurt Paul Tsongas on the Social Security issue in the 1992 Florida Democratic primary.

The Republicans meanwhile plan to push farther and deeper into the attacks on Obama as a “friend of terrorists,” as a “different kind of American” and more. It is already ugly out on the campaign trail, and reporters in the field are feeling the heat of the rising anger of a Republican base on the ropes.

This is Florida 2008. Fasten your seat belts.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is spending the semester in Paris as the Fulbright-Tocqueville Chair at the University of Paris VIII.

Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions


DENVER (JTA) — When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama’s Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same — which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

“The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country,” Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, advised the committee in July. “We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language.”

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring “change we can believe in” — but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week’s convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders — chief among them former President Bill Clinton — lining up to vouch for Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform’s foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

“Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, “Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East.”

“That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region — a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah,” it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby’s line.

The platform emphasizes Obama’s preference for tough diplomacy: “We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: “keeping all options on the table” — continuing the Bush administration’s implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama’s pledge to end the war in Iraq — an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush’s faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

“We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy,” it says. “At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.”

The L.A. Times ‘frames’ the Presidential race


image
Last Sunday (July 13), the Los Angeles Times ran an article on the 2008 campaign that I feel bound to comment upon. It was in the right hand column, front page, prime location. It was a perfect example of something called framing. The title: “” title=”his own take on the Times”>take on the Times and owner Sam Zell



Handicapping the 2008 Presidential Race


Just one year after the congressional elections, we are nearing the first caucuses and primaries. California votes on Feb. 5. While Jews are expected to vote for the Democratic nominee in large numbers, Republicans hope to cut into that margin, and also to compete for campaign donations.

For the Republican candidates, who must be conservative enough to win the nomination, the key to any chance of Jewish support will be to then “pivot” toward the center. Republicans are still loyal to their unpopular president and expect their potential nominees to support him. Democratic candidates, meanwhile, temper their opposition to the Iraq war with a hawkishness on Iran that provides some protection in a Jewish community attuned to Iran’s threat to Israel.

So let’s take a look at the top tier candidates in each party and how they might do with Jewish voters.

The Republicans

Rudy Guiliani

Former New York City mayor Guiliani has surprised everybody by his steady lead in national polls. He has built his campaign around his response to the Sept. 11 attacks. As mayor of New York, Guiliani did extremely well with mostly Democratic Jewish voters, who liked his law-and-order stance, his disdain for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and his liberalism on gay rights, immigration and abortion. Orthodox Jews were particularly pro-Guiliani. His refusal to disavow his pro-choice position on abortion can only help him with Jewish voters if he gets the nomination.

He has major liabilities, however. In addition to his personal life and the indictment of his friend and ally Bernard Kerik, Guiliani has had to go far right to gain absolution for his social liberalism. That has meant giving full-throated support to Bush and maximum sway to a blustery authoritarian streak a mile wide. But what wins the confidence of the religious right might hurt him with Jewish voters.

Mitt Romney

Unlike Guiliani, Romney announced a nicely timed conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. Romney would start at a disadvantage with the heavily pro-choice Jewish community.

Romney has embraced the simplistic foreign policy mantra that has now entrenched itself on the Right, that the United States is surrounded by a global “Islamofascism” movement more powerful than Nazi Germany. Religiously tolerant Jewish voters will probably not be much bothered by Romney’s Mormon religion. Romney has strongly tied himself both to Israel and to confronting Iran. He remains close to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Romney can gain some ground with the bipartisan health care plan that he helped pass as governor of Massachusetts. His plan presents a dilemma because it is much like Hillary Clinton’s plan. In the run-up to the nomination, Romney is distancing himself from his own plan and attacking Clinton’s as government-run health care. He is instead embracing the unpopular Republican position of health-care tax credits. But if became the nominee, he would be unique among Republicans in his ability to talk knowledgeably about health care, and could narrow the Democratic advantage on that issue. Once again, can he pivot?

John McCain

John McCain had great potential for support among Jewish voters. Stubbornly independent, willing to cross party lines in the Senate, an articulate voice on campaign finance reform (for which Jewish voters are a principal constituency) and an opponent of torture, McCain might have struck some gold with Jewish voters, despite his strong pro-life record. But McCain calculated that to win the nomination he had to embrace Bush. He has ended up the nowhere man of the campaign, tied to Bush’s most unpopular moves but not quite trusted by the right wing. He did not help himself with Jewish voters when he tried to appeal to the religious right by saying that the presidency should be held by a Christian.

Despite his support for the war, McCain remains the only foreign policy grownup in the Republican field. His friendship with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has built some good will with moderate and conservative Jews. McCain remains an appealing candidate should he manage to emerge from a relatively weak field.

Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee

Thompson and Huckabee are running as the true social conservatives, hardly a position designed to appeal to Jews, and each is still a factor in the race. Thompson’s sluggish campaign and lack of policy sophistication can be unnerving, especially to Jewish voters who admire well-informed and articulate candidates. Huckabee is a highly appealing personality, with the kind of color that stands out in a drab field. He may emerge from the pack and could reach the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton

The first female candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House, Clinton was once the right wing’s symbol of the ’60s “counter culture.” Now she is the least liberal Democrat in the race.

Some Jewish voters still harbor doubts about her pro-Israel credentials. In 1999, she kissed the wife of Yasser Arafat who had just given a speech criticizing Israel (Clinton said that the speech had not been translated). The Clintons were both treated with suspicion by pro-Israel organizations when the president pushed for a peace settlement at the end of his presidency. When she ran for the senate in New York in 2000, she was taking on the nation’s toughest Jewish audience.

According to Kristen Lombardi, writing in the Village Voice, though: “Among Jewish leaders, you’d have to search far and wide to find anyone who claims Clinton isn’t a friend of Israel.” That’s a far cry from her first race in 2000. Her foreign policy hawkishness, especially on Iran, has helped.

Out here in California, she is more vulnerable from Jews on the left, on the issue of the Iraq war and whether she is too hawkish in foreign policy. However, she is probably safer with Jewish voters being a hawkish Democrat than in flirting too much with the antiwar constituency, which sometimes concerns Jews on the issue of Israel.

Barack Obama

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in October, Ronald Brownstein pointed out that Obama is running the typical “reform” campaign in the Democratic primaries while Clinton is running the more traditional working-class campaign. That analysis helps explain both why Obama is running so well and getting such good media coverage, but also why he is having difficulty cutting into Clinton’s lead.

New approaches in Iraq could <I>help</I> Israel


For Israel and its American supporters, the Iraq War has scrambled the Middle East in ways that are difficult to navigate.

Once people hoped that the Iraq
War would make Israel safer. The neocons, who cooked up the invasion and sold it to a president desperate for historic glory that would surpass his father’s, considered Israel’s security to be an excellent side benefit of their splendid little war.

For those who missed the first part of this seemingly endless movie, the immensely popular invasion of Iraq would spark a democratic and moderate upsurge in the Middle East. Regimes would be toppled by popular revolts, whose leaders would have Bush’s name on their lips as they called simultaneously for democracy and accommodation with Israel.

Soon the rulers of Iran and Syria would fall and would be replaced by pliant, pro-Israel regimes. Even moderate Arab governments would be rejuvenated by democratic reform from within. Peace would surely follow, for which American military intervention would receive history’s credit.

We can put aside for now the question of how people who believed this nonsense ever came to lead the greatest nation on earth — and, in fact, still run it — are apparently going to blow off both their recent electoral defeat and the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and “double down” their bet by increasing U.S. military forces in Iraq.

But because of their strong rhetorical support for Israel, the damage done to Israel’s regional interests by the Iraq War was masked. Israel is still America’s most ardent admirer and loyalist. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently extolled Bush’s leadership, and Israel may be one of the few places left on earth where Bush is popular. But has the war made Israel safer?

Several outcomes have emerged from the Iraq War. One is that as long as Bush is president, the United States is politically radioactive in the Middle East. The other is that Iran, Israel’s most formidable foe in the region, has been strengthened. No longer facing a hostile Iraq and profiting from America’s unpopularity, Iran has greater freedom of action than before.

America’s allies in the region are confused and alarmed. Saudi Arabia fears that Americans may withdraw quickly from Iraq, leaving their fellow Sunnis to annihilation by the Shiites allied with Iran. The Saudis recently summoned Vice President Dick Cheney to Riyadh to hear their concerns and have suggested that they would use military means if necessary to protect the Sunnis in Iraq.

Meanwhile, someone in the Bush administration implied that the United States is considering picking the Shiites in the civil war in Iraq in order to crush the Sunni insurgency. That plan could place the United States on a collision course with all of its Arab allies in the Mideast, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

One casualty of even speculating about picking sides is the loss of trust in the steadiness of American foreign policy. Of course, that very steadiness is what the Bush inner circle has long detested, seeing themselves as visionaries eliminating a “false stability” in the Middle East. As George Will acidly noted, at least that goal has now been achieved.

The antics of the Bush administration have motivated all sorts of experts and advisers with plans to help him gracefully exit from his Iraq fiasco. James Baker, an unpopular figure among many friends of Israel from his days as the first President Bush’s secretary of state, took charge of the salvage effort called, the Iraq Study Group. Among its recommendations were that the United States talk with Iran and Syria.

But the report also suggested that a deal on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria could help build a better framework for peace. Pressure on Israel to make deals with Syria in order to help the United States exit Iraq may be asking a little too much.

Israel is now stuck between Iraq and a hard place; those in the administration who most uncritically support Israel don’t know what they’re doing, and those who have better ideas are more critical of Israel.

And so, we are left with what to do about Iran. The Bushies long felt that they could defeat Iran in the same rosy scenario they used with regard to Iraq. In their heady early days, they saw the Iraq War as a precursor to regime change in Iran and Syria (along with their other nemesis, North Korea).

They are dealing with Iranian exiles who tell them that we would be greeted as liberators. At the least, they are certain that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be a great and easy success.

Given the failure of this group to execute even the most basic elements of any of their policies, it is hard to have a lot of faith in that confidence. Finally, they presumably believe that Israel will deal with Iran if America can’t.

Every one of these scenarios with Iran is based on the absolute certainty of military success. No political or diplomatic concerns are raised or respected.

Yet Carl von Clausewitz provides several useful cautions. He once wrote, “No one starts a war — or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so — without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” And, “War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.”

The argument for engaging our toughest enemies in the Middle East is plain to just about everybody except the Bush inner circle. They have long seen diplomacy with opponents in parent-child terms, a carrot given for good behavior and a stick for being bad. Why get dessert if you haven’t eaten your vegetables?

Political engagement and diplomacy, however, do not preclude military action as a last resort. They do assure that war will indeed be a last resort. And they offer possibilities for long-term change, such as strengthening the hand of domestic reformers.

Letters to the Editor


Chamberlain Ad

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Adlof
North Hollywood

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

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

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

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

Marc Stanley
First Vice Chair
National Jewish Democratic Council

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

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

Marc Rogers
Thousand Oaks

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

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

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

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

Joel Geiderman
Chairman
Larry Greenfield
Director
Republican Jewish Coalition, California

Illegal Jewish Immigrants

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

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

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

Marshall GillerWinnetka

The Jews Didn’t Do It

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

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

Rabbi David Baron vs Mad Mel in Yom Kippur Pulpit Match


When I initially heard that Rabbi David Baron had approached Mel Gibson to give him the opportunity to apologize for his anti-Semitic remarks, my immediate reaction was that Yom Kippur was a perfect occasion to bring him before his congregation to atone (“What I Really Asked Mel Gibson,” Sept. 1).

I firmly believe that our tradition teaches us that forgiveness between human beings during the Days of Awe is an extremely important tenet of our faith and is to be encouraged. Giving Gibson such an opportunity would have allowed him to start on the path to understanding why he spoke his inexcusable words and why his conduct when arrested was inappropriate.

I neither saw Rabbi Baron’s approach to Gibson as one offering the latter a “pulpit” nor as an act of publicity seeking. I viewed it as his providing Gibson with the opportunity to apologize and take responsibility for his actions thereby allowing the Jewish community to start the process of forgiveness depending on the degree of his contrition.

Geoffrey M. Gee
Los Angeles

Sept. 11 Conspiracies

I was appalled to read all the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories responsible for Sept. 11 (“Conspiracy Theories Continue to Blame Jews and Israel,” Sept. 1). I can only hope that most Americans believe these theories are strictly propaganda and pure falsehoods. It seems whenever there are tragedies in the world the Jews will be the blamed.

Michael Levi
Santa Monica

At 35, I am not young, and I’m no longer an activist per se, but I am anti-war, and I’m intelligent enough to take offense at the characterization of “young anti-war activists” as conspiracy theorists. This ad hominem is particularly inappropriate when the latest polls say more than 60 percent of Americans are now anti-war.

And while Syracuse U.’s Michael Barkun may be correct that conspiracists show a profound distrust of governmental authority, it’s worth mentioning that these authorities have led us into an illegal and immoral war based on lies about weapons of mass destruction and false links between Iraq and Sept. 11.

Kezia Jauron
Sherman Oaks

Dems vs GOP

Even if the local chapter of Progressive Democrats of America voted to recommend that the United States cut off military aid to Israel during the Hezbollah bombardment (“GOP Sees Israel as Way to Woo Democratic Jews,” Sept. 1), this is not reflective of the overall view of contemporary Democrats.

When it comes to supporting Israel’s military actions, I will be happy to compare Democratic members of Congress: Reps. Howard Berman, Jane Harman, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman to such Republican members as Reps. Darrel Issa and Dana Rohrabacher. Democratic primary voters in Georgia just ousted anti-Israel Rep. Cynthia McKinney from Congress. I haven’t yet seen Republican primary voters in Texas do the same to anti-Israel Rep. Ron Paul.

The Democratic Party leadership realizes that true liberalism cannot survive in this world if we are beset by powerful terrorist forces such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In fact, considering that these groups are primarily religious fundamentalists, nothing could be further from them than today’s Democratic Party in the United States.

The small minority of leftists, who do not comprehend the importance of backing a loyal ally in a kill-or-be-killed struggle against a barbaric enemy that opposes everything that modern liberalism stands for, are abandoning the strong anti totalitarian tradition of the party of Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey, JFK and Bill Clinton.

Democratic Party leaders understand that a world in which modern freedom thrives-including equal rights for women and an increasing secularization of governments-requires a vibrant, prosperous and safe Israel. It is unfair to judge our party by a small group that fails to see the connection between world peace and the vanquishing of murderous fundamentalists such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Edward Tabash
Beverly Hills
Past President
Democrats for Israel Los Angeles

Methinks the Democrats protest too much.

If they are truly pro-Israel, they would celebrate the substantive support for the Jewish state from the GOP.

Howard Waldow
Beverly Hills

President Bush’s long standing and unwavering support for the State of Israel is well documented (“GOP Sees Israel as Way to Woo Democratic Jews,” Sept. 1). While most Jewish Democrats I know cheer strong Republican support for Israel, some Democrat politicians are defensive and even harsh in questioning GOP motives regarding Israel.

The Republican case for Jewish votes is solid support for Israel and an equally solid program in other critical areas. The GOP proposes vital anti-terror measures, resolute action against radical Islam and, on the home front, tort reform, necessary immigration reform and continued strong economic growth.

Democrats too often are seen as obstructing and criticizing rather than offering substantive, workable solutions.

As the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, the message of the Republican Party resonates with today’s Jewish community. That is why the Jewish Republican movement continues to grow in Southern California and throughout the country.

Richard Sherman
President
Republican Jewish Coalition
Los Angeles Chapter

It is getting close to the time when the only people who will need to cut and run are Jewish democrats, especially those who hold office. Wake up and smell the coffee. Those aren’t burnt bagels you’re smelling.

Perry Smulson
Tarzana

Liberal Jews are delusional about the Democratic Party. Republicans are more supportive of Israel because they are able to understand the moral difference between a good and democratic Israel and the evil of Islamic Fascism. If Rob Eshman is truly troubled by the lack of support among Democrats he should switch parties and stop being dishonest about the direction the Democratic Party has taken over the last 25 years. How Jews can support the Democratic Party today is baffling. In particular the moral decay of the Democratic Party in California is absolutely disgraceful.

Why doesn’t The Journal write about SB 1437 and SB 1441 which the Democrats just passed. Do California Jews believe in sexualizing our elementary school children? Jews need to open their eyes and be honest about the tremendous damage the Democrats are causing our state. Hopefully the governor will veto this destructive legislation.

Dr. Sabi Israel
West Hills

True Heroes

Your article about CAA’s Matt Altman’s inspired plunge into Northern Israel (when the country was facing such an onslaught) reminded me of a similar plunge made by Beverly Hills Police Special Tactics Sgt. Walt Gordon who volunteered in Kiryat Shmona (“TV Agent Casts Himself in Reality Show: Lebanon War,” Sept. 1). In Israel, he saw for himself the extraordinary phenomenon of people dropping everything to help in some way.

What Altman and Gordon did is nothing short of heroic, because they also dropped everything. They took their thoughts beyond upbeat words (which are extremely valuable, too!) into the realm of physical action.

In order to outshine this bitter wave of hatred come from so dark a cluster of extremists, we are all going to need to follow their example.

Why not by calling for a non-military service brigade where we can serve in either the United States or in Israel?

Think about what that would do for our mindset as a nation. Shouldn’t there be some choice other than strict military service as a way to do as these “regular folk” have done?

In the meantime, I suggest we support Altman’s actions.

Benyamin Ben Avraham Yosef
via e-mail

Pain and Pleasure

Rob Eshman is correct to point out that “no one knows what works” in “captivating” the crucial younger Jewish demographic (“Pain and Pleasure,” Sept. 1).

Let’s start with what does not work. Agendas don’t work. Insincerity doesn’t work. That’s why people are so turned off by any program or event that smacks of “I love you for what you can do for me.” Well-meaning program directors often assume they know what “their market” wants, when the truth is they don’t — or worse, they don’t care. The result is big rooms, small crowds and a lot of left-over cookies.

What does work? For starters — the opposite of the above: No agenda. Care about me. Give me what I want. At the same time, young Jews deeply yearn for acceptance of who they are, a chance to connect meaningfully to other Jews and kind and patient guidance in exploring their Jewish heritage.

Rabbi David Ordan
Director of Outreach Programming
Aish Hatorah Los Angeles

I must immediately tell you how thrilling this week’s column is. I may not have the ability to analyze the brilliance of this writing, but it is, as many other columns are, fantastic, informative, detailed, a product of your clear view and responsive intellect. This one is tender, many-faceted and, to me, humorous.

What a portrait — I wish I could say more about it, but, I am sure you have professional colleagues who can.

Just, thank you for so many other exciting, uplifting, challenging — and somehow heartbreaking — Thursday “reads.”

Renee Merar Geffen
Santa Monica

At Risk

I am rather disappointed that such a sophomoric article would appear from the pen of the editor-in-chief (“At Risk,” Aug. 25). Your almost utter dismissal of the risk of terrorism smacks more of politics than of reality. Statistics are wonderful things to manipulate arguments with. Unfortunately, they often have no relevance to the situation at hand. The one in a million chance means nothing to the victim of a terrorist attack. To him or her, it’s a probability of one. To the survivors, it’s a cause for anger that something wasn’t done about it.

Emanuel R. Baker
Los Angeles

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

10 Ideas For Creating Meaningful Volunteer Assignments


Any organization’s program and operational decisions should stem from the philosophy, beliefs and vision that are its reasons for being in the first place. These basic values, however, are often assumed, yet rarely articulated.

It is a worthwhile exercise to identify the values about volunteering in your organization. This helps executives, frontline employees and volunteers themselves think about why volunteers are involved at all. It also helps to create meaningful volunteer assignments, providing a framework for staff and volunteers to work together.

Discussing values about volunteering also puts civic engagement into a broader social context. It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily how-tos of managing a volunteer program that we lose sight of the fact that volunteering is bigger than our one setting, or even this one point in time.

1. Participation by citizens is vital to making democratic communities work

Participatory democracy is based on the value that it is a good thing for citizens to participate in running their communities and in making sure that things happen the way they want. This is the heart of volunteerism and is why, in a free society, volunteering is a right, not a privilege. (This is not to be confused with the parallel right of any agency or individual to refuse the services of a prospective volunteer.)

Volunteering generates a sense of ownership. People who get involved feel connected to others and affected by the outcome of their “sweat equity.” It’s the complete opposite of the attitude “that doesn’t concern me.”

2. Volunteers are more than free labor

First, volunteers are not “free.” There are costs to an agency for their support and tools, as well as out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the individuals donating time.

Most important, when placed in the right positions, volunteers bring a value-added component that actually changes or is lost when a paid employee does the same work. For example, legislators and funders are more receptive to the advocacy of someone not on the organization’s payroll — the perception of credibility that comes from lack of self-interest.

Similarly, some clients, such as children or probationers, may feel that paid workers see them as “just someone on their caseload,” while a volunteer is a “friend.”

The point is not that volunteers are better than employees. It’s that sometimes their status as volunteers can provide a useful difference. Therefore, volunteers can be vital to an organization and an asset even aside from the financial concerns of staffing.

3. Equal respect is due to work that is volunteered and work that is paid

Regardless of the perceptions just discussed, the value of work is determined by its intrinsic quality and impact. Work done by employees does not automatically have a higher value than that done by volunteers (and is also not of lesser value). The contributions of paid and volunteer workers are compatible, collaborative, and integrated.

Even more important, the skills and dedication of the person doing the work are not determined by the presence or absence of a paycheck. There are extraordinary volunteers and extraordinary employees. The potential for excellence always exists.

4. Volunteer involvement is a balance of three sets of rights: those of the client/recipient; those of the volunteer; and those of the agency

Despite wrangling over employee and volunteer points of view, each situation defines which perspective takes precedence. In most cases, the bottom line should be what is best for the recipient of service. But there are also agency and other long-term considerations. The key is not to presuppose that one perspective always outweighs the others.

5. Volunteers, as citizens of a free society, have the right to be mavericks

The way that genuine social change occurs is that a few pioneering volunteers are willing to be ostracized (even jailed) for their actions. While an agency has the right to refuse a placement to a volunteer, that individual has the right to continue to pursue the cause or issue as a private citizen. In fact, that’s exactly what leads to the founding of new organizations and institutions, changes in the law, and even changes in cultural mores (just consider how MADD transformed attitudes about drinking and driving).

This right to see things differently also raises an ethical consideration in how we develop assignments for volunteers within our agencies. Do we expect to keep volunteers always “under control?”

6. Volunteering is a neutral act — a strategy for getting things done

Volunteering is not inherently on the side of the angels, nor is it an end unto itself. It is a means to accomplishing a goal and is done by people on both sides of an issue. Volunteering is a method that allows people to stand up for their beliefs.

7. The best volunteering is an exchange in which the giver and the recipient both benefit

Volunteering should not be confused with charity or noblesse oblige — those who have so much, give to those who have so little. Because volunteering puts the time donor directly into the service delivered, the impact of the activity reverberates back to the volunteer in ways much more complex than writing a donation check. Further, when volunteers also benefit from their service, they have even more motivation to do a good job, which means better service to the recipient, and an upward spiral of reinforcement.

8. Volunteering empowers the people who do it

Volunteering empowers volunteers, both personally and politically. On the personal level, volunteering contributes to individual growth, self-esteem, sense of control, and ability to make a contribution to society. At the community level, the collective action of volunteers who share a commitment to a cause is extremely powerful — real clout for real change.

9. Volunteering is an equalizer

When people volunteer, it is often more important who they are as human beings than what they are on their resumes. In a volunteer role, people can rise to the level of their abilities regardless of their formal qualifications: teenagers can do adult-level work, those with life experience can contribute to client service without a master’s degree, etc. Similarly, when running in a fundraising marathon, the corporate CEO and the school custodian are indistinguishable, as are all members of a nonprofit board of directors who share the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of this position whether they are employed in professional capacities or represent grassroots perspectives.

10. Volunteering is inherently optimistic and future-oriented

No one gives time to a cause they feel will fail. In fact, the whole rationale for volunteering is to assure the success of a cause. So, while people may take a paying job that is relatively meaningless if the salary is enticing, the reward for volunteered service is accomplishment.

This also means that people volunteer with a vision of the future, often in hopes of a better future in which a problem or disease will be conquered, communities will be safe and inclusive, and the world will be in harmony. This may sound terribly mushy (which may be why such a value is not expressed every day), but it is ultimately true.

Susan J. Ellis is president of Energize, a training, publishing and consulting firm specializing in volunteerism. Her Web site is

Worst Fears Come to Pass for Foes of Gaza Pullout


Librarian Stephanie Wells so opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza last summer that she moved to the disputed territory just three weeks before troops moved in. She stayed to the bitter end.

Among the most committed in the fight against the withdrawal, the Los Angeles resident said she flew halfway around the world and took a two-week leave of absence from her job to show her support for the settlers. She’d hoped that taking a stand, both literally and physically, would help derail the planned evacuation. She believed that pulling out of Gaza would embolden Palestinian terrorists and go down in history as one of Israel’s gravest mistakes.

Less than a year after Israel’s withdrawal, Wells and other Los Angeles-based disengagement opponents view what’s happening in Gaza as their worst fears coming to pass. Far from acting as a catalyst for peace, they say, Israel’s “abandonment” of Gaza has been greeted with Qassam rocket attacks, terrorism and the murder and abduction of Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians have elected a government headed by Hamas, a party committed to Israel’s destruction and classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Israel last week re-entered Gaza to quell violence emanating from a crowded and impoverished territory teeming with Islamic extremist and other terrorists.

“We had people who were willing to be the front line in Gush Katif, and now the front line has moved into Israel proper,” Wells said. “And what did Israel get for [the unilateral withdrawal]? Hamas is in charge, and Israel is being shelled daily.”

Disengagement proponents respond that terrorism has been an ongoing problem and did not suddenly appear after Israel’s evacuation. They also dispute the argument that Palestinians voted for Hamas as an endorsement of the group’s terror tactics. Instead, they say, Palestinians had tired of the then-ruling Palestinian Authority’s corruption and turned to Hamas to send a message of frustration and as a signal of the need for a government they believed would be more responsive and competent in serving their needs.

Leaving Gaza also made sense morally, said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

“For Israel to remain a democratic and Jewish state, it cannot occupy and control millions of Palestinians indefinitely,” he said.

The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined to comment for this article.

The majority of Israeli and American Jews believed that the occupation of Gaza came at an unsustainable political, economic and moral price. And despite the “I told you so implications” of some who opposed the move, there is no widespread public support for going back into Gaza.

Nevertheless, many opponents of the withdrawal here in Los Angeles and elsewhere look upon the unfolding events in Israel as a tragic consequence of last year’s pullout.

Jon Hambourger, founder of L.A.-based SaveGushKatif.org, at one time the biggest U.S. organization committed solely to keeping Gaza in Jewish hands, believes that nothing good has come from the withdrawal. He believes it has boosted the standing of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestinian society, which claim that suicide bombers and Qassam rockets forced the Jews to retreat in fear. With Israel out of Gaza, new terror groups have moved in to fill the vacuum, including Al Qaeda, Hambourger said.

“The unilateral withdrawal didn’t bring peace, it brought war,” he said.

Hambourger, like many of the mostly Orthodox Jewish members of his organization, believes God entrusted the Jews with stewardship over Gaza and the West Bank, which they call Judea and Samaria. As such, Hambourger largely opposes the concept of trading land for peace, especially since he so distrusts the Palestinians.

Still, he thinks Israel made a terrible strategic mistake by giving away Gaza without demanding anything in return. At the very least, Hambourger said, the Jewish state should have insisted that the Palestinians cease publishing officially sanctioned newspapers and school textbooks brimming with anti-Semitic invective.

Wells, the L.A. resident and SaveGushKatif member who moved to Gaza, believes an Israeli school where she spent some time during her stay in Gush Katif has since become a terrorist training camp.

For settler advocates, the aftermath of the Gaza pullout has only intensified their opposition to ceding another inch of Israeli territory — disputed or otherwise — to the Palestinians, whom they consider an implacable foe bent on Israel’s destruction.

“The lesson is obvious: A pullout from Judea and Samaria will result in another terrorist state within Israel,” said Larry Siegel, a SaveGushKatif member, who in 2003 raised $140,000 for Israeli terror victims.

“The Israeli government is basically in a state of war right now for having given away Gaza,” added Shifra Hastings, another SaveGushKatif partisan. “There is no justification for giving away any more.”

 

Jewish Voters to Play Key Primary Role


In Democratic districts on Los Angeles’ Westside and in the Valley, next week’s primary will not only determine the Democratic winner but also the person who will almost certainly win in the fall’s general election. And Jewish voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, will play a key role in the outcome.

The local Jewish community has a relatively small percentage of genuine right-wingers. But otherwise, there’s a wide spectrum of opinion, from pro-labor liberals, such as Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), to moderate, pro-business Democrats like Bob Hertzberg and moderate Republicans like Steve Soboroff and Assemblyman Keith Richman of Granada Hills. Both Soboroff and Hertzberg did very well with Jewish voters when they ran for mayor in the 2001 and 2005 mayoral primaries.

Ideological division among Jews also plays out geographically, with Valley Jews generally more moderate than Westside Jews. The Daily News tends to reflect the moderate-to-conservative side, while the L.A. Weekly holds to the liberal corner, with the L.A. Times in the middle of this broad swath.

At the federal level, the ideological diversity among Jews and Jewish politicians is less overtly apparent much of the time. That’s because opposition to the highly partisan Bush administration has created unprecedented unity among Democrats. It is politically unsafe within the party to be too accommodating or friendly to this White House.

This has created problems for Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. No Democrat has been more worshipful of the Bush Iraq strategy, nor a more useful tool to the White House’s foreign policy propaganda. As a result, Lieberman, who is Jewish, now faces a strong primary challenge from Iraq War critic Ned Lamont.

An echo of Lieberman’s struggle has emerged here, in the 36th Congressional District, which includes Venice, Manhattan Beach and San Pedro. It’s represented by Jane Harman, another Jewish Democrat perceived as a foreign policy hawk. By no means as pro-Bush as Lieberman, Harman nonetheless outraged many Democrats by seeming to back the Bush domestic spying program. Now, she has a liberal Jewish opponent, Marci Winograd, in her heavily Democratic district.

The 36th once was a swing district, and Harman’s moderation was essential to her survival. Redistricting in 2002 has since made the 36th safely Democratic, making her liberal critics less forgiving.

As a result of these primary challenges, both Lieberman and Harman have been at pains to highlight their disagreements with Bush. Harman recently referred to the Bush administration as “lawless.” Adding to Harman’s woes is Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is considering bumping Harman from her senior post on the Intelligence Committee.

It helps both Harman and Lieberman that their challengers are underfunded and that the party establishment has rallied to each of these incumbents. For that matter, Jews are likely to understand better than other Democrats the cross-pressures on foreign policy, such as support for Israel, that frequently make Jewish Democrats more hawkish than might otherwise be true. Yet Lieberman’s egregious Fox News attacks on Democrats — as insufficiently supportive of Bush — seem likely to alienate even many natural backers, while Harman’s affinity for the viewpoints of the intelligence agencies also has introduced some doubt.

At the state level, Jewish voters will choose in the Democratic primary for governor between Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, neither of whom is Jewish. The more traditionally liberal Angelides, backed by most of the union and liberal blocs in the party, presents himself as the one leading Democrat who was opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger when the governor was popular. He also defines himself as the person willing to call for higher taxes on the rich. The L.A. Times has endorsed Angelides. The L.A. Weekly’s endorsement has not been announced as of this writing.

Westly, endorsed by the Valley’s Daily News, says he is the moderate alternative on taxes and other issues and that he can best defeat the governor. Both are well regarded in the Jewish community as friends and as supporters of Israel. But, of course, so is Schwarzenegger.

Had this election been held last year, when Schwarzenegger seemed bent on destroying his own governorship with his turn to the right, any decent Democrat could have prevailed. This year, Schwarzenegger has begun to substantially rehabilitate himself with the center and even parts of the left.

An example is how he has mended fences with much of the education establishment. He had originally provoked the ire of educators and their unions when he reneged on an agreement to repay school funds he’d borrowed during an earlier budget cycle. But the harsh political fallout and the state’s improved tax revenues have prompted him to start redeeming his original promise.

This year’s budget includes a down payment on the school funds he had used for other purposes. He also has appointed Democrats to high posts. And he has fought with the Bush administration on some issues. He’s even started to work effectively with the Democratic Legislature, whose leaders will campaign at his side this fall for a bond measure to improve the state’s infrastructure. And he has stopped running his mouth as though his primary mission were to appease right-wing talk radio.

These are the kinds of moves that will appeal to moderate Jewish voters, who have long been willing to vote for moderate, pro-choice Republicans. This is troubling news for the winner of the Democratic primary.

What could still beat Schwarzenegger in the fall is a massive Democratic turnout in the congressional races that is aimed at crushing the Bush national agenda. Then, too, Schwarzenegger’s past attacks on Democrats and their values may have left some lingering animosity. The “governator” dug himself a deep hole last year, and he has not necessarily climbed all the way out.

The moderate-liberal split also plays a role in the campaign to replace Fran Pavley in the coastal 41st Assembly district. Barry Groveman, Julia Bromley, Lelly Hayes-Raitt, and Jonathan Levey are the main contenders. All are touting their progressive environmental credentials.

Groveman, the mayor of Calabasas, is the only one of the four who does not live in liberal Santa Monica. He has the backing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and centrist Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver.

Groveman and Levey have dominated in fundraising, while Bromley, president of the Santa Monica school board, boasts endorsements from Pavley and popular state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles). Levey has won both the Times and the L.A. Weekly endoresements. Groveman received the Daily News endorsement.

Another race of local interest is the one to replace Paul Koretz in the 42nd Assembly District, which cuts across from Los Feliz through West Hollywood to the Westside and includes part of the Valley. One candidate, former L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer, lost a close race to Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney in 2001. He’d previously served as executive director of Bet Tzedek. His rival, Abbe Land, is a former member of the West Hollywood City Council and former co-chief executive of the L.A. Free Clinic.

These two progressive and very formidable Jewish candidates cannot be easily separated by the liberal-moderate rubric. Feuer has won the backing of outgoing incumbent Koretz, as well as from both The Times and the L.A. Weekly. Land has endorsements from L.A. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and from Goldberg and Hertzberg. Both Feuer and Land have a host of labor endorsements. (In the interests of transparency, I should note that Feuer is a friend whose campaign I support.)

Then there are the Jewish incumbents who face no serious challenge. Preeminent among them are county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Yaroslavsky continues to work effectively, if often invisibly, in the mixture of power and obscurity that marks the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Waxman has been an outspoken and highly effective critic of the Bush administration and may become a central player in national government should the Democrats win back control of the House. The vision of Waxman with subpoena power must keep White House aides up at night.

One Jewish Republican deserves comment. Assemblyman Richman is running for state treasurer in the primary. Richman, endorsed by the Daily News, has been a force in building bipartisan alliances in Sacramento and was popular enough in the Valley to lead the field in the campaign to become the Valley’s “mayor.” In that same 2002 election, Los Angeles’ voters defeated Valley secession.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how Jews respond to Proposition 82, the initiative to provide free preschool to all California children through a tax on the wealthiest Californians. Generally, Jewish voters are extremely supportive of any education measure, especially school bonds. Many progressive groups support Proposition 82. While the L.A. Chamber of Commerce also supports it, most of business is against it.

The Times has called for a “no” vote, arguing that there are more cost-effective ways to cover those who do not have access to preschool. The Daily News also is opposed. The L.A. Weekly favors Proposition 82.

Supporters contend that Proposition 82 may be the last best opportunity to reach the goal of universal preschool with standards. While Schwarzenegger opposes it, his ally and friend, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, is a big supporter. The measure is very close in the polls, and Jewish voters may play a key role in determining the result.

Once these primaries are over, the internal dynamics of the Jewish community’s politics will become less visible, at least until the next set of primaries. Of course, as November approaches, there will be talk about how many Jews might vote Republican. But given the unifying Democratic hostility to Bush, don’t bet on it.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

Trouble Mars Pope’s Trip to Auschwitz


Eleven years ago, at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, misunderstandings between Poles and Jews ran so deep that even a rabbi’s desire to say the Mourner’s Kaddish reportedly disturbed some Polish politicians.

In fact, there were so many debates over the tenor of the event that two separate ceremonies were held: one for Jews, the other arranged by the Polish government.

At last Sunday’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI, not only was Kaddish recited, but a whole new Catholic sensitivity to Jews was on display — even as Poland struggles to battle xenophobia and anti-Semitism, sometimes from Catholic sources.

When meeting former inmate Henrik Mandelbaum, who was forced to burn the bodies of his fellow Jews in the Birkenau crematoria, the normally reserved Benedict kissed him on both cheeks.

Poland’s chief rabbi, U.S.-born Michael Schudrich, said Kaddish in the presence of the pope and the country’s top elected leaders, and recalled those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the gas chambers.

Forced in his native Germany to join the Hitler Youth as a teen, Benedict said: “The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth.”

But Schudrich noted that the pope “stopped short of decrying anti-Semitism, and although his visit was a wonderful gesture to us all, not mentioning anti-Semitism was a glaring omission.”

The chief rabbi’s sentiments were echoed by a number of Jewish observers, including Auschwitz survivor Kalman Sultanik and Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

The pope’s visit came at a time when Polish-Jewish relations are soaring. The country has the largest number of and best-attended Jewish festivals in Europe, countless Catholic-Jewish initiatives and massive government financial support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, expected to open in Warsaw in 2009.

However, the specter of anti-Semitism has not been erased in the country that was home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities before World War II.

Less than one month ago, an extreme-right Catholic party whose politicians have a long history of anti-Jewish and anti-gay positions joined the coalition government at the request of Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz.

The League of Polish Families is presided over by Roman Giertych, the country’s new minister of education. Giertych is formerly head of the All-Polish Youth, whose members have been photographed giving the Nazi salute, according to media reports. The league has its roots in the National Democratic movement, which advocated violence against Jews in the 1930s and was led by Giertych’s grandfather.

In dozens of interviews, Jews and non-Jews said they worry that Giertych’s rise had empowered the small segment of Polish society that is intolerant and xenophobic.

Several high-profile acts of anti-Semitism leading up to the pope’s visit upset Poland’s Jewish community, estimated at up to 10,000 in a country of 38 million.

Schudrich was, for the first time in his 15 years in the country, assaulted Saturday coming out of synagogue, when a man hit him in the face and attacked him with pepper spray, shouting, “Poland is for Poles.”

The previous Shabbat, some young men shouted anti-Semitic slogans at the rabbi and other worshippers.

Schudrich connected the ascension of Giertych and the league, which garnered 8 percent of the vote in the 2005 parliamentary elections, with these events and other recent incidents, including anti-Jewish threats sent by text message to Jewish student leaders and the stabbing of an anti-fascist by skinheads in Warsaw.

“There is a price to letting in extreme rightists into the government. It empowers xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic members of society,” Schudrich said.

 

Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes


When former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine agreed to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), he hoped to infuse it with the passion and purpose of its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, the JCRC — which is one of the major voices and faces of The Federation to the non-Jewish world — was a high-profile entity. It took up the cause of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopia’s Jews. It was assertive locally, too, whether in denouncing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 or reaching out to non-Jewish communities in need.

But something has happened during the John Fishel era at The Federation.

Critics say that starting in the mid-1990s, the JCRC slowly began losing its voice and shirked a core mission: to be as visible and forthrightly active as possible.

As Levine saw it, the community relations committee could once again become a powerful voice by taking principled stands on controversial public policy issues, thereby strengthening coalitions with African American, Latino and other ethnic groups.

Levine’s appointment came at a time when JCRC staff morale was low. The committee had largely abandoned public policy advocacy in favor of its more traditional roles of ardently supporting Israel, reaching out to other religious and ethnic communities and lobbying for government dollars for social programs. Under Fishel, the JCRC has seen its influence, as well as staff and budget, shrink.

“John Fishel doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it,” said Howard Welinsky, a former JCRC chair. He said that Fishel constantly pushed to downsize the JCRC during Welinsky’s two-year term in the late ’90s.

But Fishel’s view is that the political climate simply evolved. The JCRC has “a unique function,” he said, but the community itself no longer always coalesces, through the committee, as one voice. There are no longer such issues of broad agreement, such as support for Soviet Jewry.

“I think it’s become much more difficult for the JCRC to define what becomes an issue of Jewish concern,” Fishel said.

To be sure, JCRCs across the country have seen budgets shrink as federations’ resources dipped. After the successful immigration to Israel of nearly 1 million Soviet Jews — a Herculean undertaking that community relations councils around the nation helped orchestrate — several JCRCs experienced periods of “searching for meaning,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York-based parent organization for 125 community relations councils nationwide.

Which is why the appointment of former Rep. Levine was so welcomed. Given his political connections in Sacramento and Washington and his energy and dedication, JCRC supporters believed Levine would restore the committee’s lost luster.

When the Israeli embassy contacted Levine, seeking JCRC public support for Israel’s planned withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza, he set about building consensus. Although Levine eventually succeeded in putting the JCRC on record as favoring the withdrawal — a position shared by the majority of American Jews — he said he felt frustrated that it took so long for The Federation to sign off on the public pronouncement. And by this time, The Federation was following the train of opinion shapers, rather than leading it.

Time was, the local JCRC, with The Federation’s blessing, took controversial stands on issues of the day, said Steven Windmueller, the committee’s director from 1985 to 1995. In those heady times, the JCRC opposed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and spoke out in support of abortion rights, he said.

Although those positions angered some Jews in the community, Windmueller said the committee’s views reflected those held by the majority of the Southland’s liberal-leaning Jews. The JCRC’s willingness to take those and other positions, Windmueller said, attracted scores of young people to the committee, which served as a gateway to the Jewish community for many. Some later went on to became Federation donors, he added.

About a decade ago, however, the L.A, Federation, like some others around the country, began discouraging the local JCRC from venturing into controversial public policy matters, Windmueller said. With competition for charitable dollars heating up, many federations concluded that the risk of alienating conservative donors outweighed the benefit of taking liberal stands. Increasingly, most JCRCs left political advocacy, whether liberal or conservative, to other groups.

In Southern California, that void was filled by the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), among others. Ironically, the PJA’s willingness to fight against sweatshops and the exploitation of hotel workers along with its boldness in embracing the sort of left-of-center causes once championed by the local JCRC has helped swell its ranks to 3,500. With half its members under 30, the alliance, which just opened a second office in the Bay Area, has succeeded in reaching a demographic coveted by Fishel’s Federation.

“What we find is that pursuing a positive, progressive Jewish response to the issues of the day is profoundly inspiring , especially to young people who one day will be our community leaders and donors,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Two of the nation’s most robust JCRCs are among the most politically liberal. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has a staff of 24 and a $3 million budget, while the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council employs 20, with a budget of $2.1 million. By contrast, the local JCRC has five full-time and two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Unlike Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco have taken bold policy stands recently, with San Francisco, for instance, coming out in favor of same-sex civil marriages.

A left-leaning JCRC wouldn’t fly everywhere, but the formula has consonance with liberal Los Angeles.

Levine had expected the L.A. JCRC to take positions on ballot initiatives, legislation and other political issues, provided he could build consensus. But The Federation’s new chairman of the board, Michael Koss, worried about alienating donors. Koss said he also thought the JCRC would benefit if led by someone who was not strongly identified with either liberal or conservative politics. Koss, who had the authority as Federation chair, did not reappoint Levine. The former congressman, for his part, said he had no interest in a second term given the lack of support.

“Losing Mel Levine for the JCRC or anyplace Mel puts his hat is a loss,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair.

Fishel said he respects Levine but added that Federation chairs make their own appointments. Fishel’s critics counter that it’s his job to show leadership.

Koss tapped corporate attorney Ron Leibow as Levine’s successor. Leibow, former chair of The Federation’s Planning and Allocation Committee, said he plans to revitalize the JCRC and has made reaching out to ethnic groups, especially Latinos, a priority.

Those involved with JCRC are determined to make a positive difference. Under new JCRC Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, the committee has added paid staff and seen its budget increase. Several JCRC programs have grown in importance. The Holy Land Democracy Project, for instance, has helped teach thousands of area Catholic high school students about Israel, while, simultaneously, tightening links between Jews and Catholics. The JCRC continues to take elected leaders on trips to Israel — to expose them to the Jewish state and to Jewish issues.

But a recent, tentative step back into the political fray was telling, when the JCRC encountered some Federation resistance and withdrew, for now, a pro-immigrant statement. The scenario unfolded in mid-May, when the JCRC board approved a statement saying that it supported better border security but opposed legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants. The statement also favored normalizing immigrants’ status, insiders said. JCRC members had hoped the resolution would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community, she said.

The Federation board, however, barely approved the JCRC resolution, so the JCRC has pulled back, while it develops new wording that could attract more support, Schwartz-Getzug said.

That the JCRC still hasn’t come out with a statement weeks after one of the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in U.S. history reflects the committee’s — and, by extension, the Federation’s — cautious approach. Critics might go farther, arguing that this reluctance to take a public stand on immigration illustrate that those institutions no longer speak for the local Jewish community.

“If the Federation isn’t going to take a position on something as important to the Latino community as immigration, even after the huge marches all over the nation, then what in the world do they have to say to the Latino community?” commented Michael Hirschfeld, formerly the top JCRC staff member. Hirschfeld was himself the focus of an earlier JCRC furor: His unexpected 2003 dismissal, after 24 years with the JCRC, generated a firestorm of criticism, and a few calls for Fishel’s resignation.

Levine believes that until Fishel’s Federation either allows the JCRC to become independent or have more autonomy, the committee will serve as little more than an administrator of such programs as KOREH L.A, a well-regarded tutoring program.

“The CRC and Federation are no longer a meaningful political force in the structure of Los Angeles,” said Levine, now a partner in international law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “That’s unfortunate.”

 

Pupils Vote Yes on Democratic School


Under a classroom’s fluorescent lights, students and teachers scramble to find seats. An important “Parliament session” is under way as together, they hammer out a plan for allocating the school’s activities budget.

The scene is the Hadera Democratic School in Israel, where students take an equal role in deciding not only how and what to study but how the school is run.

As they debate how to spend the $27,000 activities budget, one student writes in neat letters at the top of the blackboard, “order of speakers.” A debate soon breaks out over how much money to spend on the school’s music department, and whether it’s worth purchasing additional acoustic equipment.

Next, the drama teacher asks for additional funds to allow students to see professional theater productions.

One by one, everyone in the room is heard. After much wrangling, a budget is produced for the school year.

The Hadera Democratic School, which receives funding from both public and private sources, was the first of its kind in Israel. Since its founding in 1987 in this city about 60 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, 23 other schools have opened around the country based on its model of democratic education, in which student participation and choice is emphasized.

With its relatively large number of democratic schools, Israel is considered a groundbreaker and leader in the field internationally.

There is growing interest in alternative schools in Israel, where the public school system is mired in a crisis born of poor teaching and disciplinary problems. The Hadera Democratic School has 350 students, with hundreds more on a waiting list.

Most of the students are secular and come from a variety of economic backgrounds. Scholarships help students from poorer families pay the annual tuition of approximately $1,200.

Among the school’s most famous alumni is Gal Fridman, the windsurfer who won Israel’s first Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn, the democratic schools focus on respecting the individual. There is close teacher-student interaction, and teachers — called “educators” by the students — mentor 15 students, in addition to their classroom duties.

With their elders’ help, students guide their own education. The goal is to instill in children the notion that they’re responsible for their choices.

There are no required classes, no grades or required tests. Staff and students are treated as equals and share in school decisions, sitting on a variety of committees that range from the school parliament to a teacher selection committee and a field trip committee.

Teachers say the committees are a key part of the education, teaching students how to analyze situations and make choices: “All these things they normally never have a chance to do,” said Aviva Golan, one of the teachers.

On the field trip committee, for example, it’s the students who hire the bus, organize the food and choose where to go.

Golan, who taught in a traditional school before coming to the Hadera Democratic School, no longer believes in conventional education.

“It’s bankrupt, and I believe children only learn from choice, not when they’re forced,” she said.

At traditional schools, she said, “I saw how I fought with kids instead of teaching them — the whole time telling them to be quiet. I believe kids need to move and play. It’s where the real things happen for them.”

The school itself hums with activity. Everywhere, students — from preschoolers to high school seniors — seem to be on the move. One girl reads a novel on a wooden bench. There are children juggling in the courtyard, while others bounce on pogo sticks.

On break, a group of boys plays soccer in the long sandy field in the center of the campus’ brightly painted buildings. Other students work in the computer lab, housed underground in a concrete bomb shelter.

Mike Moss, 17, came to the school as a disgruntled 11-year-old who was bored and restless in his regular school. He soon felt stimulated in the Hadera school and became active in the music and drama departments.

“I feel I would not be doing half the things I am doing here — preparing for matriculation, the music, the friendships — if I had stayed at regular school,” he said.

However, the Hadera school isn’t for everyone, Moss explained. He said students at the school need self-discipline and open minds.

Chen Shoham, 17, said the school has taught her to take responsibility for her education and her life.

“It’s about freedom as an individual and freedom of choice,” she said. “I do what I want and what I need to do. I’m responsible for my life.”

Shoham sits on the budget committee and helps oversee the budget requests each class submits.

“I’ve learned about priorities,” she said.

Traditional subjects such as math, English and history are taught, but it’s up to the students to decide if they’ll take them. Those who want to can study for the high school matriculation exam, which they need to pass with the highest possible marks to get into college.

The school’s principal, Rami Abramovich, said the students do well on the matriculation exam, but the school doesn’t keep data on how many students pass, because it doesn’t consider the matriculation exam a proper measure of whether a student has been educated well.

Students at the school speak of the value of learning outside of class — from philosophical conversations about the meaning of life to playing in a jazz band.

In contrast to the mainstream Israeli school system, there’s hardly any violence at the Hadera Democratic School.

“It’s because kids don’t feel the need to rebel against anything,” Shoham said.

Parents say they’re relieved to have found a setting where their children can thrive academically and socially.

“We think that regular public schools limit children,” said Hadass Gertman, a performance artist whose 8-year-old daughter attends the Hadera Democratic School. “We heard of children going through very bad experiences in public school, and we wanted her to enjoy learning, to enjoy school.”

Sitting outside the small, detached concrete building where he teaches 4- to 6-year-olds, Ron Vangrick spoke of being drawn to the job after growing disappointed with the mainstream educational framework.

“Education is going through a deep crisis because of a lack of relevance of what were once traditional goals,” such as treating others with respect, he said.

He believes that the unique atmosphere at the Hadera Democratic School contributes to the learning process.

“There’s a feeling of home here,” he explained. “It’s a relatively small place. There’s an atmosphere of living within a tribe. Kids of different ages are together and interact with respect and warmth. There is a feeling of childhood that is very powerful here.”

Abramovich, the principal, said the school works because it allows children to discover their own strengths. There’s learning in everything, he said — from the geometry of passing the ball on the soccer field to the negotiations behind staging a school play.

“Every child has his path and rhythm,” he stressed. “It’s a matter of finding it.”

 

Lieberman War View Triggers Backlash


Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has earned the appreciation of a Republican administration he has resolutely defended on the issue of the Iraq War. One prominent Jewish activist described Lieberman’s “powerful sense of mission” in supporting the war.

But that steadfastness also has triggered a political backlash for Lieberman. He got a dose of it in Los Angeles last month and could have a fight on his hands this year to win a third term, a race that was initially expected to be a cakewalk.

At a fundraiser last month in Bel Air that included some top Jewish givers, Lieberman faced a decidedly mixed reception. Some participants applauded his staunch defense of the war as public opposition continues to grow — but many others expressed concern.

At the Bel Air meeting, “some were overwhelmingly supportive of his stance, and some deeply unconvinced and skeptical,” said one participant. “Most interestingly, he was so consumed by his sense of mission that he could not distinguish between the two.”

Lieberman’s defense of the war stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish majority. A recent American Jewish Committee poll indicated that 70 percent of Jews now oppose the administration’s Iraq policies, although that number was considerably lower in Lieberman’s Orthodox community.

Lieberman’s defend-the-war mission has also sent up some storm clouds at home.

Former Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), the man Lieberman unseated in 1988, has told Connecticut newspapers he may run against Lieberman on an anti-war platform if no other strong candidates emerge. Weicker — who later served as Connecticut governor — said he could run as an independent.

Lieberman could also face a Democratic Party challenger running on an anti-war platform.

Some Democrats have been further angered by persistent rumors that Lieberman may be tapped to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said, “It’s hard to believe Lieberman has to worry about holding his seat,” but added that Weicker could be “a perfect protest vehicle” if anti-war sentiment continues to rise.

“And a truly contentious (Democratic) primary could open the way for a GOP challenge in the fall, especially since GOP Gov. Jodi Rell will sweep to victory,” he said.

Sabato said while he would “put solid money on Lieberman’s reelection, whatever the obstacles,” Lieberman’s national ambitions are a thing of the past.

“He crashed and burned in 2004, and now he’s on the ‘wrong’ side of Iraq in the Democratic Party,” he said. “It’s over for him. Ironic, isn’t it? He was almost elected vice president in 2000, which would have made him the logical presidential nominee for the Dems in 2008. But close only counts in horseshoes.”

 

Letters


Katrina Efforts

Since my return from Mississippi, I have been told that as a community we have done all there is to be done by offering new beginnings to evacuees who have left their homes in New Orleans (“Going in After Katrina,” Sept. 16). We have sent lots of money to the ravaged communities and to charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, that are engaged in providing first responders. We have sent funds to the Jewish federations in the affected communities. In doing all of that we have discharged our responsibilities, or have we?

Have we truly discharged our duties by sending monies? What about offering to send some of our Hebrew School teachers to take over the classes for the teachers who need to reconstruct their lives? How about offering to restock the libraries of the synagogues, Hebrew schools and Jewish centers that have lost everything? How about encouraging our bar and bat mitzvah students to twin with their peers in the affected communities? How about sending volunteers to help the nursing home residents?

Gila Katz
Executive Director
Klein Chaplaincy Service

Where’s Rabin?

As I entered synagogue last Shabbat morning, several of my friends commented to me on the extensive Page 1 article, complete with color picture, in that morning’s Los Angeles Times on the 10th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and its implication for Israeli society. Most of us agreed that the Rabin assassination was surely one of the most important moments in Jewish history in our lifetime.

Imagine my surprise when I returned home after services and looked at The Jewish Journal that had arrived. The cover was about the upcoming California elections (Cover, Nov. 4).

I am an avid consumer of much of news available in the general media and look to The Jewish Journal for news on the Jewish world. Increasingly the Journal is not providing that.

Perhaps you should reexamine your editorial policies.

Mara Levy
Santa Monica

Rabbinical Commentary

I would also love to see a haftarah commentary in addition to the Torah commentary (Letters, Nov. 4). However, I do not think having commentary from the three major movements would be beneficial. I like the way that you have different rabbis write the commentaries, and in this way you can give us the perspectives of the different movements.

Thank you for all you do to produce this wonderful newspaper!

Cathy O’Krent
Via e-mail

Making History

Mazel tov to Steven Spielberg and to USC for creating a permanent home for the Shoah Visual History Foundation (“Shoah Foundation Makes USC Its Home,” Oct. 28). Spielberg’s 10 years dedicated to creating a lasting tribute to those who survived the Holocaust will help ensure that the world will never forget. We all share responsibility to play a role in this effort.

To that end, Beth Chayim Chadashim (www.bcc-la.org) is proud to host a communitywide commemoration of Kristallnacht, the infamous Nights of Broken Glass, precursor of the Shoah. We will honor Holocaust survivor Olga Grilli, born in Chotebor, Czechoslovakia, who gave her testimony to the Shoah Foundation several years ago. Grilli was rescued on a Kindertransport at age 11 and survived the war in England, ultimately immigrating to the United States.

Our discovery of that testimony at the Shoah Foundation set in motion a series of events that will culminate Friday, Nov. 11, in reuniting Grilli with a Torah scroll from her hometown — a Torah that her uncle and grandfather once held.

We are grateful to Spielberg, the Shoah Foundation and USC for preserving and helping us to bring to life this important part of Jewish and world history.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards
Beth Chayim Chadashim
Stephen Sass
Sylvia Sukop
Event co-chairs

Shul Attraction

David Suissa’s opinion piece, suggesting that cantors surprise congregants by mixing up melodies is a wonderful idea and, though not new, is a suggestion that I, and no doubt most my colleagues, have been doing week in and week out, for many years (“A Surprise Might Attract More to Shuls,” Nov. 4). There are two questions, however, that I would ask regarding this suggestion: a) is this what our members want and b) would this, in fact, draw more people to synagogue?

The answer to the first question is maybe. In a recent survey of my congregation, over half the respondents stated that they prefer when the chazzan, “sings the traditional melodies.” While what is traditional for one Jew is not necessarily traditional for another, clearly when people do come to synagogue, they like to participate in the liturgy, singing a prayer to a musical setting to which they are familiar.

The second question is one that cannot be answered in one Jewish Journal article, or even 100. Suissa is correct — liberal synagogues today compete with Starbucks to attract attendees. We also compete with soccer games, a sale at the mall and general Jewish apathy. Some Jews are attracted to synagogues that offer a niche service on a monthly basis; no doubt participation at these services would drop precipitously if they occurred each and every Shabbat.

When the celebration of Shabbat on a weekly basis becomes a priority for members of the non-Orthodox Jewish community (the community to which I proudly belong) the struggle to attract more people to synagogue will finally conclude.

Chazzan Keith Miller
Kehillat Ma’arav-The Westside Congregation
Santa Monica

Still Smarting

Don’t despair, Amy (“Still Smarting,” Nov. 4). There are men, such as myself, who prefer strong, intelligent women.

David Wincelberg
Beverly Hills

Still Silent

I, too, lament the changes on Fairfax Avenue (“Fairfax Shops Feel the Squeeze,” Oct. 21). But I’ve heard nothing about the famed Silent Movie Theatre, as prominent a landmark on Fairfax Avenue since 1942 as Canter’s and the Farmers Market, and the only theater of its kind in America!

Eddie Cress
Sylmar

Wrong Conclusion

I fail to see the logical link in Leonard Fein’s “Rosa Parks’ Message for Today” (Nov. 4). Parks and Southern blacks of her time faced massive injustice of all types based on racist laws and customs. From this undeniable fact Fein jumps to the “persistent, grinding poverty that still exists in our country….” Is he suggesting that poverty is state sanctioned, or that “ignoring” poverty is the same as the official discrimination, the lynchings, denial of education, segregation and disenfranchisement that were characteristic of the pre-civil rights era?

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Too Far Left?

I was just wondering if you ever got tired of (or actually, had even noticed) that reading The Jewish Journal is like reading the talking points of the Democratic National Committee. You and others who write in these pages are always lamenting the low affiliation rates among American Jews and are brainstorming about how to increase it. I’d like to suggest you consider taking the politics out of Judaism.

It is a fundamental reality of modern American Jewish life that becoming involved in any Jewish organization is tantamount to joining the left-wing of the Democrat Party. I challenge anyone who seriously disagrees with this statement to come up with even one issue on which any major Jewish organization and the Democrat Party disagree. Furthermore, the vast majority of liberal Jews who are actually proud of these positions (of which, I freely concede, there are many) are, at heart, secular humanists, who truly believe religion is the opiate of the masses and that it is the root of much evil in the world. It should not surprise anyone that recruiting people from this group to join religious organizations is difficult at best. Judaism does not equal the Democrat Party, and I’d like to provide two brief examples to illustrate my point.

1) Tzedakah. While we can all agree that tzedakah is a prime Jewish value, everyone reading this letter should be aware that Maimonides elucidated eight levels of tzedakah. The lowest form is a handout (welfare, food stamps) while the highest form is teaching someone a trade so that they don’t need tzedakah. This approach is exemplified by (Women’s American) ORT, which raises money to build schools to teach people a trade.

2) Abortion. The halacha is clear that abortion is permissible to save the life or health of the mother. A valid halachic argument can even be made that psychological distress counts as harm. But how in the heck did we get from the halacha to being against parental notification when a minor child wants an abortion? I would like to suggest that the entire point of knowing that a minor child is having high-risk unprotected sex is precisely so that the grown-ups can intervene and change the behavior, not keep it secret. The tiresome argument about rape or incest is a red herring; I am a practicing pediatrician who has to deal with far-too-many teen and preteen pregnancies (and sexually transmitted diseases), and I can literally count on one hand the number of times rape or incest were involved. Besides, if we even suspect the minor is being abused or will be abused, we immediately notify the police and the Department of Child and Family Services who intervene and, in loco parentis, represent and protect the child.

In conclusion, perhaps if Jewish clergy and Jewish organizations returned to teaching Jewish values and left how best to live those values in daily life up to individual Jews, perhaps you’d see an increase in affiliation rates and in your paper’s circulation.

Dr. Rabbi Andrew L. Teperson
Palmdale

 

Democrats’ Plans Must Factor in Israel


As public support for the war in Iraq continues to deteriorate and as the Bush administration’s political situation trembles on the precipice, Democrats are beginning to stir. Pushed by a party base that has long detested what it sees as timorous accommodation to Bush, national Democrats are trying out themes and approaches that they hope will bring them back to a share of national power.

The most comfortable territory for newly emboldened Democrats will be domestic policy, and that is why the Hurricane Katrina disaster has been such a political turning point. But Jewish voters will certainly hope that a thoughtful, effective foreign policy that helps preserve Israel’s security will be a prominent part of that turnaround.

Democrats thrive on domestic policy. But for Jewish voters, foreign policy, or at least Middle East policy, is literally a form of domestic policy. For most voters, foreign policy extends only as far as locations where American troops are suffering casualties, which means Iraq and Afghanistan today. American Jews are well aware of the Iraq and Afghanistan situations, but are also watching Israel’s back with great care.

In this sense, Jewish voters are not the simple party-line Democrats that they seem to be. Because of their great commitment to Israel, Jews attentively observe the two parties not only on the usual issues that divide them, but on Israel’s security as well. For Jewish voters, therefore, the best Democratic foreign policy is not to be just anti-Bush. It is to restore the grand tradition of a strong, respected and admired America, while maintaining this nation’s special relationship with Israel.

When the Iraq War was first launched, it was greeted positively by Israel’s political leadership, which saw the defeat of one of its enemies. It is hard to imagine today, though, that the likely creation of a pro-Iranian state in Iraq is good news for Israel.

But while the war has turned out to be an even bigger catastrophe than its critics had predicted, Jewish voters are rightfully wary of linking together sentiment against the Iraq War with anti-Israel feelings. Outside the United States, criticism of the Iraq War goes hand in hand with criticism of Israel.

For decades many in the Middle East have resented America’s close and domestically bipartisan ties to Israel, and for that there need be no apology here or in Europe or in the Middle East. The gross misjudgments and lies that paved the way to Baghdad are the work of one single administration, not a bipartisan consensus of presidents from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton. But the Bush administration’s single-minded pursuit of war and its boneheaded inattentiveness to postwar reconstruction have done little to redeem the promise to make Israel safer.

Few Americans have been watching the internal machinations of Israeli politics in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal, but we can be certain that Jewish voters are watching. The twists and turns of Israeli politics have forced progressive American Jews to take a long second look at one of the left’s political demons: Ariel Sharon.

Vilified by the Likud right wing, Sharon is hanging onto party leadership and his coalition government by a thread, and by his viable threat to form a new party with centrist and leftist parties. To sophisticated observers of Israel’s evolving politics, the peace community in Israel has a major and surprising interest in the political survival of Sharon, who is vilified by progressives outside Israel.

What does this all mean for a Democratic foreign policy that can provide an alternative to the Bush program?

From the standpoint of Jewish voters, it would be best not to revisit all post-World War II American foreign policy, but only the dangerous side road that has been Bush’s policy since Sept. 11, 2001, of pre-emptive war, unilateralism and the Iraq War. The bipartisan idea of a strong America that does not seek war, but is not afraid to fight one, is a far better position than simply being anti-war. And it is crucial to those who support Israel that Israel’s safety not become entangled in the effort to disengage America from the excesses of the ideological Bush foreign policy.

The Democrats need to develop a bench of foreign policy specialists who could advise a presidential candidate and could staff a Democratic White House. Such a group would help reassure Jewish (and other) voters that Democrats are serious about world leadership, which is essential to Israel’s security.

It helped Republicans immensely that in the early 1970s, a number of Jewish defense intellectuals (once known as Henry “Scoop” Jackson Cold War Democrats) moved from the Democrats to the Republicans, providing intellectual heft to the Republican foreign policy program. These were the years when the smallest proportion of Jews voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. Such specialists might have warned John Kerry in 2004 not to propose that Jimmy Carter and James Baker be his Middle East envoys, because they would have foreseen how Jewish voters would react negatively to both names.

When it comes to Israel, it may be painful for Democrats to admit, but in one area Bush may have been right, and the generally thoughtful Clinton wrong, and that is in the last-ditch pursuit of a peace agreement for its own sake.

Near the end of his presidency, Clinton was pushing extremely hard for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But many Israelis, even on the left, had already come to believe after the collapse of the Oslo accords that Yasser Arafat was a fraud who would never deliver peace. The Bush group, dedicated in all things to doing the opposite of Clinton, even when Clinton was right, in this case avoided the peace process and backed the Israeli government position against Arafat. And then when Arafat died, the process opened up through Israel’s own political process.

Therefore, Democrats ought to consider continuing that in which Bush was right about Israel, while undoing the catastrophic damage he has done to the world, to the United States and Israel in Iraq. And in so doing, Democrats will prove that they are more than the anti-Bush, and that it is Bush who is the anomaly in American foreign policy.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is spending the fall as a visiting scholar at the USC department of political science.

 

School Bond Measure Gets Failing Grade


I have a picture on the wall of my office. It was taken at about 4 a.m. in 1998. I’m in the picture with a group of Democratic and Republican legislators. We look tired; we’ve been up late for a number of nights. But there’s also a glint of celebration.

That was a happy and proud moment. We had just negotiated Proposition 1A, which put $9.2 billion of school bonds on the ballot. This bipartisan breakthrough opened the way for three successful state school bonds that raised $34 billion for school construction.

I’ve also supported local school bonds, and the state and local money that voters entrusted to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is being used to build schools all over the city.

I don’t take this progress lightly or for granted. But building for seats is not the same as building for reform. To date, L.A. Unified has done the former but only paid lip service to the latter. And I find myself moving to an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position on the question of the school district’s bid to pass $3.985 billion in school bonds this November.

In truth, the public was promised more and has a right to expect more: that pre-K and after-school programs, as well as adult education, libraries, health-care access and recreation, would be programmed by design into each new school.

Our expectation was that the billions in bond proceeds would create safe learning centers within revitalized and healthy neighborhoods.

Instead, as it now stands, this costly investment is doomed to return little. We are losing more than half our students as dropouts, and these new schools are not poised to alter that outcome or even to dramatically improve the fate of the undereducated grads who stick it out. Our new schools must be more than just rain-free warehouses.

The school district is blowing it — squandering a historic opportunity and, in the process, perpetrating an ethical crime on the thousands of students whose future it is failing.

The competent and relentless former Navy men and real estate pros who now erect schools in Los Angeles just drive like a freight train toward the goal of building seats — without regard to the design and programming of these schools, without regard to what we know about how children learn, without regard to the relationship between educational achievement and the health and vitality of the neighborhoods in which these students live.

Look at the schools about to open. Too many of them are huge — when we know that children learn more successfully in small schools. We’re told the district will do better on the next round, but we’ve heard empty promises from the school district before.

The district also earns a failing grade on joint planning. Now is the time, with schools rising all over the city, for the school district to work with the city, health agencies, nonprofits, parks departments, housing developers and community groups to build schools that are planned as the center of communities. LAUSD sees collaborative planning with community input as too time consuming and expensive.

Yes, collaboration is harder than building schools as though they’re islands walled off from a hostile sea. But thoughtful, joint planning pays off for generations to come.

One good example is in San Diego, where a collaborative planning process — which involved a school, along with other services and development — transformed blighted City Heights.

There are one or two exceptions to the L.A. malaise, including a new school in Westlake, just west of downtown, that involves collaboration with a Boys & Girls Club, the city and an affordable-housing developer.

But such joint planning stands out for being so rare. And outside entities that have tried to collaborate with the district’s bureaucracy can tell horror stories of how difficult it’s been. On the district side, there’s no real energy, interest or aptitude applied to the necessary re-imagining of schools.

I don’t speak for my friend, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, although I do know he shares my passion for improving the schools of Los Angeles. But as for me, I’m just tired of this same old, same old.

I’m tired of just going back to the voters and asking them to pass more money to just build more classroom seats. This bond measure represents the same old cookie-cutter: Grab the cash, pull the wool over the voters’ eyes and not learn from your experiences.

We know what we need to do. We need to make schools smaller and anchor them in neighborhoods, so that there will be more grandmothers than cops on our campuses. Chicago, New York and Providence, R.I, have shown the way.

Let’s make this bond — L.A.’s fourth since 1997 — reflect truly important educational and community values. In this bond, we must limit the enrollment at a school, absent compelling reasons. And if the school site is larger than 500, it must be divided into separate facilities with separate principals. And there must be guidelines regarding joint use, possibly including a joint-powers authority set up between the city of Los Angeles and LAUSD.

We can incorporate these principles and guidelines into the bond.

District officials can easily take action at a school board meeting before the November special election. They can mandate that bond proceeds be spent for small schools that are planned and constructed as the centers of their neighborhoods. Until such changes are made, I must oppose this school bond measure — with the greatest reluctance and a heavy heart.

I am not, however, checking out of the issue. If this school bond passes, I will continue to pressure school board members to spend wisely. But I’d rather they alter course and get it right now, so I can change my mind and support the bond.

Until then, a resounding “no” is the best way to send the school district a message that may benefit children down the road.

Attorney and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg ran for mayor of Los Angeles this year and has served as an adviser to both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Examining the Jewish Vote


Like many Jews, Paul Kujawsky is a vociferous supporter of Sen. John Kerry. But at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in the Valley, he stands out as such an anomaly that his rabbi refers to him as “the one Democrat in the shul.”

The reason? Kujawsky is Orthodox. According to a recent poll by the American Jewish Committee, 60 percent of the Orthodox vote is going to President Bush. Orthodox Jews tend to be more sympathetic with the Republican Party’s positions on gay marriage, abortion and school vouchers, and they also see Bush as the strongest supporter that Israel has ever had in the White House.

According to the poll, while Kerry commands 69 percent of the overall Jewish vote, his support in the Orthodox community is just 26 percent.

Jay Footlik, senior adviser for Middle East and Jewish Affairs for the Kerry/Edwards campaign, told The Journal the campaign had been reaching out to Orthodox groups, and has met with representatives from the Orthodox Union, the Agudah, and the National Council of Young Israel.

Janna Sidley, the Democratic National Committee’s political director and community liaison for California and Jewish community liaison for Kerry-Edwards, said that the campaign had “overall community support” in the Jewish community. However, she could not give any figures on how many Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles supported Kerry, because the campaign did not track support across denominational lines. However, Kerry supporters in the L.A. Orthodox community believe they are few and far between.

“I get a lot of teasing for supporting Kerry,” said Kujawsky who is president of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles. “In my [Orthodox] synagogue most of the people are Bush supporters, even though they remain Democrats. I haven’t counted [how many Orthodox Kerry supporters I know], but if I had to, I could probably round up a minyan.”

“We put a Kerry sticker in our living room window in Pico-Robertson, and we got a lot of comments from people,” said Daria Hoffman, a member of B’nai David Judea who, along with her husband, Yechiel, will be voting for Kerry this election. “A friend who goes to Anshei Emes said, ‘What’s the deal with the Kerry bumper sticker?'”

Kerry’s Orthodox supporters say that his stand on Israel is as strong as Bush’s, and that Bush’s support is more hype than deed. Further, they say the Orthodox position on abortion, which permits it if the mother’s health is endangered, is more in line with left-wing, pro-choice views than right-wing ones.

Footlik also said that Orthodox Jews should support Kerry because, if he is elected, they will receive more governmental assistance for their large families.

“I think that Bush’s support for Israel is one of the biggest myths that the community has propagated,” Hoffman said. “I don’t think Bush has done that much for Israel over the past four years. I mean, he made a few speeches, but nothing much has been accomplished.”

“I don’t believe that there is anything in the Torah that tells you which political party to support,” Kujawsky said. “There is nothing in Orthodoxy that demands you be a Republican, and it’s a misunderstanding that all Orthodox Jews are politically conservative.”

“While it is true that Orthodox Jews tend to be Republican,” he continued, “obviously when you have someone like Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is obviously Orthodox and a Democrat, plainly there is a long tradition of Orthodox Jews supporting democrats.”

DNC, ‘Daily Show’ and Davening


So an Orthodox Jew is not the Democratic vice presidential nominee this year, like in 2000. And the wife of the vice presidential nominee is not named Hadassah. Yet, despite the absence of such central Jewish characters at the 2004 Democratic National Convention this week, Jews — young ones from California among them especially — were visible and active in Boston this week in numbers.

In the hallways, down on the convention floor and in hotel lobbies, the buzz among Jewish activists was not over the presidential candidate John Kerry, but over a party resurgent.

A 12-year-old Jewish girl from Oakland, Ilana Wexler, brought down the house on Tuesday night with a peppy speech to delegates calling for a change in leadership. Wexler, who founded a grass-roots group called kidsforkerry.org, took on Vice President Dick Cheney for using an expletive several weeks back with Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

“When our vice president had a disagreement with a Democratic senator, he used a really bad word. If I said that word, I would be put on a timeout. I think he should be put in a timeout,” Wexler said to thunderous applause.

Outside the entrance to the Fleet Center was parked the temporary home of L.A. native and recent college graduate Lindsey Berman. She’s the national bus tour manager for the Rock the Vote bus, which is roaming the country, sponsoring events aimed at persuading young people to register to vote and become more active in politics (see box).

Over at Boston University, Rob Kutner, 32, who spent several years living in Los Angeles, was busy mining speeches from the convention for comedic material that he could turn into jokes for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which broadcast the entire week from Boston.

Gil Tamary, Washington correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 news, said he could not walk 10 feet without being stopped by someone saying, “Shalom,” or some other Hebrew phrase after noticing the Hebrew on his microphone. Politicians flocked to a Jewish kickoff event Sunday night to tout their pro-Israel record (former congressman and chairman of this year’s convention Bill Richardson), muse on shared U.S.-Israel values (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) and energize the crowd to get out the vote. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, encouraged young Jews to run for higher office. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York drew the loudest cheers.

On Monday night, perhaps only actor Ben Affleck got more stares on the Fleet Center floor than the gathering of more than two dozen Jews chanting the Book of Lamentations at the start of Tisha B’Av. And throughout the week there were more than 25 events sponsored by Jewish organizations including a party for young, Jewish professionals Wednesday night at Boston’s Aria club sponsored by L.A. media mogul Haim Saban. On Monday, a lunch for Lieberman sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council conflicted with an American Israel Public Affairs Committee lunch for women congressional leaders, causing consternation among some who wanted to attend both and were forced to choose.

“It’s a little sad sometimes that our organized Jewish community doesn’t work in more concert,” said Howard Welinsky of Los Angeles, who participated in the drafting of the Democratic platform.

Welinsky attended the convention with other Los Angeles Jews, among them Carmen Warschaw, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Barbara Yaroslavsky.

Of all the events, the Tisha B’Av gathering was most striking. Right after former President Bill Clinton wrapped up his remarks Monday night, and the thousands packed onto the floor and into the seats up high filtered out to the evening’s festivities, the group, many wearing yarmulkes, others wearing baseball caps, gathered onto the floor of the stadium — literally.

“It was a surreal experience to be sitting on the floor of the convention having a solemn service, while behind us was Ben Affleck and [the Rev.] Al Sharpton,” said Kenneth Baer, 31, a former speechwriter for vice president Al Gore who volunteered to help review and rewrite remarks of speechmakers.

Amos Hochstein, 32, a former congressional staffer who now works for a political and governmental relations firm in Washington, said, “It was a remarkable moment that I could never expect as a Modern Orthodox Jew who is also active in American politics.”

“To combine those two is such a powerful statement. I can’t think of any other country in the world where you would find on the floor of the convention — literally sitting on the floor of the convention — only a moment after speeches by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, you would hear people chanting Eicha [Lamentations] and davening maariv [evening service]. It was an extremely moving moment,” Hochstein added.

Many there were focused on John Kerry and the prospects of him perhaps succeeding Bill Clinton as the Democratic Party leader and defeating President George W. Bush in November.

“I want to see him step up and lead the party,” said Shana Tesler, 32, a lobbyist in Washington and a former Clinton White House staffer. “I think he’s getting comfortable in this new role for himself.”

The Daily Show’s Kutner told The Journal in an interview that he was “frustrated” by Kerry.

“I don’t think he has the best political instincts,” he said. “He can’t crystallize an issue into a focused message. He can’t just answer a simple question with a simple message. It’s his election and he’s not taking it.”

Asked if he thought Kerry could generate enthusiasm among voters, Kutner said, “No. But what he represents can.”

Balancing Acts of Faith and Pork


The question: How Jewish vs. how democratic should the Jewish State of Israel actually be?

That was really the question before Israel’s Supreme Court.

More than a legal question, it led to serious and heated debate. The answer would be a defining factor in the very nature of the state itself. It came to the fore as the court was asked to decide if three cities, Jerusalem included, could ban the selling of pork.

The ruling: That cities cannot outright forbid the sale of pork and should respect communities that are predominantly religious but may sell pork in other areas of the city.

Israel is unlike the United States when it comes to the separation of religion and state. In the United States, the separations are fiercely guarded. So much so that there are raging, obsession-driven debates even over the issues of the role of God in the Pledge of Allegiance — one of the holiest of holies for America’s citizens — and the inclusion of the word “God” on currency.

Things are simpler in Israel. There is a fluid boundary between religion and state. In Israel, the balance is not between religion and state, it is between religion and democracy.

The creation of a Jewish — democratic — state, with each element given equal weight (i.e., Israel) is best viewed as a laboratory experiment. The effort to blend the Jewish and the democratic into a state is a constant balancing act, a tug-of-war, a struggle between the more Jewishly inclined and the more democratically inclined elements of the society.

The Supreme Court ruling is certainly not the end of a long story, it is merely another chapter.

For those Israelis who are in favor of banning the sale of pork products, the argument is more about symbols than it is about religion. Historically, that was true and it is still true today.

The Romans, for example, threw pork into the Temple in order to desecrate it. During pogroms, Jews were held down as pork was forced into their mouths.

Playing the music of Wagner in Israel, as world renowned and acclaimed as it is, is another such example and subject of debate. The notes on the page do not resonate with music but with memories of Nazi Germany, Nazi culture, Nazi racism, the Nazi reign of terror.

As Western as Israel is and Israelis try to be, Israel is still Jewish. Saturday, not Sunday, is the Sabbath — the official, not just religious day of rest. Holidays are set by the religious, lunar calendar, not the solar or secular calendar. English is spoken and almost everything is translated into English (even more than in Arabic), but Hebrew is the official language.

All of these were choices — reasoned, thought out, deliberate choices made by the founding, primarily European-born, fathers of the state. The choices were made for a reason — to recreate a Jewish existence in the biblical, ancestral homeland of Israel.

The founding fathers of Israel were staunchly secular, and yet they understood and encouraged the role of religion for a Jewish state. They provided for deeply Jewish, religious and cultural trappings within the society. They realized that it was the Jewishness of the state that would frame its character and inform its democratic attitudes.

The founding fathers of the United States, in contrast, were staunchly religious. Yet, they were skeptical of the role of institutional religion, because they understood the role that religious culture would play in the formation of their state.

By examining the blend of religion and state in the democratic and cultural experiment called Israel, we can better understand worldwide developing democracies of today. Even more, the only chance for reforming and democratizing Arab states will be through a blend of religion and democracy, just as seen in Israel.

Remember, in Arabic, there is no language for even simple pleasantries that does not invoke the name of God, of Allah. A simple “how are you?” or “good morning” is always answered with “praise God” or “thank God.” Even the most secular of all Arabs respond that way, they have no alternative.

The West has high hopes for reforming Iraq and other countries of the Middle East. In order for those hopes to be realized, it is essential that Westerners realize that whatever is created, it will be a blend of each country’s religion alongside democracy.

Israel’s Supreme Court understood. Western lawmakers and leaders must understand, as well. Not to understand is to doom any and all reform to failure.


Micah D. Halpern is a political and social commentator and author of “What You Need to Know About: Terror.”

Simply Wrong


The Republicans are praying that President Bush’s embrace of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan will sway the Jewish vote.

It is a simplistic way of looking at things, although totally in line with the presidential campaign’s simplistic discussion of Israel. For example, there’s no difference between Bush and Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, on Gaza and the permanence of West Bank settlements.

When Tim Russert asked Kerry on "Meet the Press" whether he agreed with Bush, the senator replied: "Yes."

As the Los Angeles Times’ Ron Brownstein put it, "Kerry probably hasn’t answered an important question in so few words since his wedding day."

You have to feel sorry for the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which is trying to make a cutting-edge campaign issue of such uniform thinking. The RJC Web site, after parsing words and phrases, insists there is "a significant difference" between the two. The coalition apparently hopes American Jews will spend the summer and fall parsing every Israel-related statement of Bush and Kerry and then cast their vote in single-issue fashion for the president.

I think it’s demeaning to suggest that I would cast my ballot on a single issue — whether a candidate supports the Sharon plan, a plan that plenty of Israelis oppose. I don’t want to join the Bush-Kerry footrace to jump on the Sharon bandwagon. That’s not how I vote. Life, politics and Jews are too complicated for single-issue voting.

To investigate this theory, I headed up to that center of complexity, UCLA, where students were celebrating Israel Independence Day April 26.

It was a happy occasion. Students, carrying the flag of Israel and wearing blue-and-white Israel 56 football jerseys sang and danced, their enthusiasm undiminished by the noontime heat of Bruin Plaza.

Interspersed with the music were a few speeches, nothing heavy but enough to hint at feelings more complicated than the simplistic formulations of the presidential campaign

Without getting specific, one speaker talked of how when "we disagree, it shows the freedom to disagree." The meaning was clear, at least to me: Not everyone in the crowd shared the Bush-Kerry love affair with the Sharon plan, but everyone agreed that what Israel represented was freedom to dissent, to participate in a democracy.

Another speaker making the same point in a different way was Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA Hillel. He did it by reading from this passage from the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel:

"The State of Israel … will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

It sounded as though the words were a rebuke to politicians who see the Jewish community moving in lockstep and to Jewish organizational leaders who advocate such behavior.

I got another lesson in the shadings of Jewish opinion on the campus a few days before, when I talked with Ross Neihaus, president of Bruins for Israel.

Neihaus, who came to UCLA from Skokie, Ill., got active in response to a wave of anti-Israel activity by Muslim students that made the campus a pretty tense place.

"It became our goal to take back the campus," said Neihaus, as we chatted in the Hillel lounge.

My first impression was that Neihaus was a hardliner. But as we talked, I saw Neihaus’ views were more complicated than I had thought.

For example, he attends meetings of an Arab student society every week. Occasionally, he’s encountered a chilly reception, but he persists. In the meetings, he tries to see things from "their viewpoint. Their activism comes from real emotion, and they think they are acting morally."

In the minds of presidential campaign strategists, there’s no place for those who try to understand other points of view. Simplistic tactics reign on both sides. Both the Bush and Kerry team figure this is the way to win the Jewish vote and Jewish donors.

But there are other issues that will determine the vote of UCLA’s Jewish students. The Iraq War is one. Dwindling government aid to education is another. The UCLA campus, along with public universities and colleges around the country, is caught up in that issue.

The same is true for other Jews. The overwhelming majority of us stand strong for Israel. But I, for one, don’t want to be insulted by presidential candidates thinking that’s all I care about or to be counted as a member of the Sharon team.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic
life appears on the first Friday of each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles
Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist
for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Kerry’s Lead Alters GOP Jewish Strategy


More and more, it looks as though the precipitous plunge of former Vermont governor Howard Dean will deny the Republicans what they wanted most this year: a liberal Democratic patsy for President Bush to trounce on Nov. 2.

The rise of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the Democratic front-runner, with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as a respectable second, will alter a lot of plans in Bush-Cheney re-election headquarters, and that includes plans for harvesting Jewish votes. Kerry’s rise means an even more targeted Jewish GOP strategy, combined with an ongoing effort to pry Jewish campaign contributors loose from the Democrats.

It’s important to note at the outset that the GOP was never planning to mount an all-out offensive to win Jewish votes nationwide for the simple reason that with relatively few Jewish votes in play, the results would not justify the costs.

Almost every analyst agrees that Bush, benefiting from his unusually close relations with the current Israeli government and his leadership in the war on terror, will fare much better among Jewish voters than he did in 2000, when he won a paltry 19 percent of the vote. But almost no analyst, including top GOP strategists, believes he has a chance to do much better than 30-35 percent.

That’s a significant increase, with the potential to have a critical impact in a handful of states. But it’s hardly the political revolution that some pundits have predicted.

Many Republicans believe Kerry will cut into those predicted gains. Kerry, with a solidly pro-Israel record in the Senate, is expected to bring back to the Democrats some Jewish swing voters who may have been drifting to the GOP. That drift, most analysts say, would have been the greatest if Howard Dean had been the Democratic front-runner.

Dean quickly retreated from his September demand for a more balanced U.S. approach to the Middle East, but the damage was done. Such statements made him a prime target of the Jewish right, and his positions gave some middle-of-the-road Jews who put Israel high on their list of political priorities the jitters.

Kerry has not been a pro-Israel leader, but he has voted consistently for the positions advocated by the pro-Israel lobby. In addition, he has the aura of experience that leads many Jews in the political center to believe he won’t try to shake up U.S. policy in the region.

The dramatic change in the Democratic race will reinforce this year’s Jewish-GOP strategy, which will be a limited and very focused one.

Many Jews are concentrated in states where the president is unlikely to run well, and where even a significant Jewish shift is unlikely to make any real difference. That includes Maryland, New York and possibly California.

In a few other states, Bush is expected to do well in what could be very close votes — and big Jewish populations there are very much in play and very much desired by the Republicans. Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are the states most frequently cited by GOP strategists.

The plan is obvious: focus on Jewish voters in those few swing states where the Jewish vote could make a real difference. In the rest, rely simply on cadres of Jewish Republicans and groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as Bush’s reputation as a friend and supporter of Ariel Sharon, to produce gratifying but modest gains.

The GOP approach to Jewish voters in those targeted states will be equally narrow. It will start and end with Israel and terrorism. The president will be portrayed as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House and the leader most capable of waging a sustained, effective war against terrorism.

Republicans understand that mainstream Jews are simply not going to line up with them on domestic issues, especially the anti-government, anti-social welfare and faith-based approaches that the Bush campaign will have to ratchet up to please its conservative base.

At the same time, party activists say they will intensify their ongoing effort to pry more Jewish campaign donors from the Democrats. This is a win-win proposition for the GOP. The extra money is nice for the party, but even nicer is denying it to the Democrats, who are much more dependent on Jewish givers.

The Republicans understand the growing gap within the Jewish community, with community leaders and big political givers generally more conservative than the overall Jewish population. That represents a universe of opportunity for the GOP, and party strategists are already exploiting it.

The Jewish vote, itself, is changing much more slowly. The Republicans see a positive trend in their direction, but it will be years before they can even hope for Jewish majorities in most elections. Major impediments remain to their recruitment of Jews, starting with the GOP love affair with the Christian right.

That relationship may win the approval of Orthodox activists, but polls continue to show most American Jews fear the religious right and see it as a political adversary, not an ally.

Two Cents Plain


Have you ever sat down in restaurant, scanned both sides of the menu, then flipped to the back hoping there’d be another row of choices? That’s how I’ve felt after watching every Democratic debate of Campaign 2004. I’m not particularly impressed with what’s offered, but there’s no column three.

"It would be kind of amusing," one long-time Democrat told me after the last debate, "if it weren’t so damned important."

Whether you decide to vote for President George Bush or his opponent come November, it’s in the nation’s interest to have a real debate that presents fresh ideas, a clear vision of how to repair America’s deepest ills and a detailed plan that has a snowball’s chance of getting there. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s only one man out there doing that, and his name isn’t Clark, Dean, Kerry or Edwards. It’s Matt Miller.

In his new book, "The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Liberals Can Love" ($26, Public Affairs), Miller presents and supports a remarkable thesis: For two cents on the national dollar, every American could have health insurance, every school could be repaired and stocked with the best teachers and every full-time worker would get a real living wage.

Take universal health care: Miller eschews both the liberal single-payer plan and the let-them-eat-HMOs approach that leaves 40 million Americans uninsured. He proposes new tax subsidies for the purchase of private health insurance policies from among competing private plans. This is almost identical to plans put forward by former Democratic candidate Bill Bradley and George W. Bush’s father. For about $80 billion, liberals would get coverage for all, but have to give up the fantasy that private industry could be circumvented. Conservatives would get an efficient market system, but have to give up the idea that government’s can’t or shouldn’t provide health care to all.

The beauty part of Miller’s idea is that he’s figured out how to pay the bill. Two percent of the Gross Domestic Product works out to $220 billion. Even with all that investment, federal spending would remain about what it was under President Ronald Reagan. Miller doesn’t add spending, he shifts priorities. For example: out go egregious examples of corporate welfare (savings: $25 billion), in comes a 60 cents-per-gallon gas tax to detox our oil-addicted nation (revenue: $60 billion). Miller would cancel the portion of Bush’s tax cut going to the well-off (savings: $70 billion) and channel some $30 billion now going to the poor through bureaucratic programs into direct cash wage supplements that give poor workers more of a living wage.

Perhaps just as important, Miller figured out how to get the swinging pendulum of the left-right debate to hang plumb. Miller, a columnist who is also "The Center" of KCRW-FM’s "Left, Right and Center" radio talk show, has put forward a policy for the era of the metrosexual: tough and caring, idealistic and pragmatic, centrist but hardly pareve.

"He has synthesized a lot of different ideas, and each one has been systematically thought through," Milken Institute economist Glenn Yago told me. "The ideas are post-partisan."

Miller, 41, seems to be of a piece with that description. Raised in Rye, N.Y. and Greenwich, Conn., Miller is the son of a Headstart teacher mother and a businessman father. His mother leaned toward traditional liberal Jewish Democrat, his father Republican.

"That’s why I come by the third way honestly," he joked.

His career has included private enterprise, government service (he was a Clinton administration economic aide), and of course punditry.

Now, though, Miller wants to found a movement. What we need, Miller told me, is "a critical mass from both parties that could lead from the center out." But Miller’s ideological dispassion, which is so appealing, may be too cool to rouse the rabble. For all the book’s exposure, there is still a good chance that Miller’s ideas won’t catch fire much beyond the top 2 percent of the population.

Miller’s Web site (www.twopercentsolution.com) offers a grass-roots opportunity for meet ups, those Internet-facilitated gatherings that provided the kindling for Howard Dean’s campaign, but so far 14 people have signed on. (By way of contrast, 304 have signed on for the "Ralph Nader in 2004" meet ups, heaven help us.) No doubt the "leadership and followership" that Miller hopes his ideas will generate will come from a certain swath of our society, and I suspect American Jews will form a large part of it.

An American Jewish Committee poll released this week offers further proof. The annual opinion survey found that 51 percent of Jews identify as Democrats, 16 percent as Republicans and 31 percent as independents. Some 44 percent describe themselves as liberal, 27 percent as conservative and the rest as "moderate, middle of the road." Single decimals on either side placed themselves on the far right or far left. A people born in the Middle East has migrated back toward the middle, though there has been precious little leadership or rhetoric there to grab on to.

Enter Miller, with a plan uniquely suited to the kind of educated, well-off people who would vote for Clinton but go almost 40 percent for Schwarzenegger, who join country clubs and the American Civil Liberties Union, who drive SUVs across town to celebrate Earth Day. It’s hardly surprising then that Miller is himself a child of that People.

"I’ve tried to combine the best of liberal and the best of conservative thinking," he told me. "The debate has been that these are utopian liberal dreams, and that’s just not right. If we want to do it, we can do it."

He’s right, we can.

Matt Miller will speak about his book at the Los Angeles Public Library on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. For more information call (213) 228-7025.

Dean’s Judaism Ties Span Decades


In the middle of a rowdy rendition of “I Have a Little
Dreidel” at the Sobelson family Chanukah party in Concord, N.H., Howard Dean
walked in and declared himself the cantor. 

The Democratic presidential candidate recited the blessings
over the candles in near-perfect Hebrew in a dining room crowded with campaign
staffers. 

“It’s another Jewish miracle,” Carol Sobelson exclaimed. 

After more songs and a reprise of the Chanukah blessings for
Israeli television, Dean passed out doughnuts and cake. It was just a regular
Chanukah for Dean, the former Vermont governor later said, “except there’s
usually only four of us, instead of 54 of us.” 

Dean’s most immediate connection to Judaism is his Jewish
wife and the couple’s two children, who identify themselves as Jews. But Dean
said he has been connected to the religion for decades. Dean never considered
converting to Judaism, but he said the family did ponder the prospect of
joining the Reform synagogue in Burlington, Vt., though they “never got around
to it.”  

The candidate’s ties span from a college friendship with a
Zionist activist and frequent political appearances at Vermont’s synagogues, to
lighting the menorah and participating in other Jewish rituals at home. 

“We light the menorah. We have about three of them; we sing
the prayers,” Dean revealed recently as he was being driven from the Chanukah
party back to his hotel. “We always like the first night the most, because we
like the third prayer.”

Dean asked the Sobelsons if he could chant the “Shehecheyanu,”
the blessing for a first-of-the-season event, even though it was the third
night of Chanukah. He got permission from Rachel Sobelson, 19, his New
Hampshire campaign office manager and daughter of the hosts, who said it was
OK, because “it’s the first night that Howard Dean is at the house.” 

Dean is spending a lot of time in New Hampshire, and it’s
paying off. He has a healthy lead in polls the state, and political pundits
have all but anointed him the favorite to win the Democratic primary campaign.

The candidate stopped by the Manchester, N.H., Jewish
Federation Dec. 21 to pass out Chanukah presents for children. He brought two
of his own childhood favorites — an air hockey game and the electronic board
game, Operation. 

Dean’s first spiritual home was the Episcopal Church, but he
became a Congregationalist after fighting with the Episcopal Church in Vermont
25 years ago over a bicycle path. Rivals say the switch signaled a cavalier
approach to worship, but Dean said his move was prompted by his former church’s
arrogance. 

“We were trying to get the bike path built,” Dean told ABC’s
“This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “They had control of a mile and a half
of railroad bed, and they decided they would pursue a property-right suit to
refuse to allow the bike path to be developed.”

Born Nov. 17, 1948, in East Hampton, N.Y., Dean had a
prep-school education and grew up in New York City and at a country house on
Long Island. His first connection with the issues and concerns of the Jewish
community came when he enrolled at Yale in 1967 and became friends with David
Berg, a fellow student, who was a former president of Young Judaea.

“My memory is that Howard was unusually interested,
respectful and accepting of that whole part of who I was,” Berg, a psychologist
in New Haven, Conn., said from Burlington, where he was visiting his daughter,
a staffer in the campaign, and the Deans, with whom he spent Chanukah. 

In college, Dean was unafraid to discuss Middle Eastern
politics in the tumultuous period following the 1967 Six-Day War. 

“It was a prickly topic of conversation, and I confess to
being prickly in conversations in that regard,” Berg said. “Howard was not
afraid to have those conversations, not from a critical point of view, but from
a curious point of view.” 

Their friendship developed over the years, and Berg
counseled Dean on his interactions with the Jewish community — for instance,
when he attended the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and
married a Jewish woman. Dean chose Einstein, the medical school of Yeshiva
University, simply because it was the best school available to him, but the
selection clearly impacted his education on Jewish issues. 

“I used to commute with a woman who was Orthodox and kept
kosher, so I learned a lot about the dietary laws and more ritualistic parts of
Judaism,” Dean said. 

Berg said Dean felt very comfortable in the environment at
Einstein. 

“I remember us sitting down and talking about kashrut at the
dining hall at Einstein,” he said. “He wasn’t afraid of making a mistake; he
wasn’t treating it like going to a foreign country.” 

These days, Dean slips into Jewish terminology like a set of
comfortable old clothes. Before a November debate in a Des Moines, Iowa,
synagogue, he circulated among congregants and chatted amiably about how hard
it was for Burlington’s Orthodox shul to get a minyan together until Chabad
Lubavitch came to town.

When Dean began to date his future wife, Judith Steinberg, a
fellow student at Einstein, Berg broached the issue of intermarriage. 

“I had slightly mixed feelings about it from the Jewish
side,” Berg said. “There was some of my mother in me saying, ‘This is a Jewish
person marrying a non-Jewish person.'” But, he said, “I got over that quickly.”

Dean’s family had little problem with the fact that he was
marrying a Jewish woman, the candidate said. 

“I think the reason it wasn’t an issue in my family was
because my father was a Protestant and my mother was a Catholic, and when they
got married, that was a very big deal,” Dean said. “My father, I think, was
determined not to put me through the experiences he went through when he
married outside his faith.” 

Dean’s mother bonded with his future wife over a shared love
of The New York Times Book Review, which no one else in the Dean family read.
However, while the Deans welcomed Steinberg, “there were a few
insensitivities,” the candidate said. The first time Dean brought his future
bride home for Christmas in East Hampton, Dean’s uncle served ham. Steinberg
doesn’t keep kosher, but Dean still found it inappropriate. 

And there was some frustration in the Steinberg household
that Judith was marrying a Christian.

“It was a little bit of an issue for Judy’s grandmother,
because she was of the old school,” Dean said. “But she loved me, and I loved
her.” 

Steinberg’s grandmother would tell Dean stories about
escaping pogroms in Poland and coming to the United States by herself at age
17. 

“We were very close, even though she would have been happier
if I were Jewish,” Dean said. 

Steinberg’s parents were less concerned.  Steinberg, who
Dean said is “not political at all,” has given few interviews and does not
campaign with her husband. The campaign did not make her available for comment,
but her spokeswoman, Susan Allen, has said that Steinberg views time spent with
reporters as time taken away from her patients. 

The Deans soon settled in Vermont, where they began a medical
practice and a family. The couple has two children: Annie, who is studying at
Yale, and Paul, who is a senior in high school. 

“From early on, he was committed to them both to giving them
some Jewish education,” Berg said, noting that Dean would take the children to
synagogue. Neither child had a bar or bat mitzvah or much formal Jewish
education. Dean has said he allowed both children to choose their religion, and
both now identify as Jewish. 

The family celebrates Passover and the High Holidays at
home. Many in Vermont’s Jewish community tell of how Dean skipped an appearance
with Vice President Al Gore in the mid-1990s to travel to New York to be at a
Passover seder with his family. 

“It is a household in which their Jewish heritage was never
denied or soft-pedaled,” Berg said. But Berg also acknowledged that the Deans
don’t practice Judaism as he would define it. 

“Religion was never a central feature of their family life,”
he said. 

Rabbi David Glazier, who leads Burlington’s Reform synagogue,
Temple Sinai, said he is not really sure what the family’s religious practices
are. A Congregationalist in a family where everyone else sees themselves as
Jewish is hard to define, he said. 

“The paradox is between himself and what the Jewish
community is,” he said. 

Glazier first met Dean briefly when the rabbi was asked to
give an invocation in the state Senate, and Dean, then the lieutenant governor,
was presiding.  Dean was thrust into the governor’s office in 1991 with the
sudden death of Gov. Richard Snelling. Glazier’s synagogue invited Dean to
speak one Friday night to express its appreciation for the smooth transition. 

By that time, Dean had become a full-time politician, forced
to give up completely the family medical practice that he had scaled down after
being elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1982 and after
becoming lieutenant governor in 1986. 

When he attended political events at the synagogue, Dean
would remark that he felt very comfortable, Glazier said, and once said he
would like to join the temple. Dean said he left the decision about joining the
temple to his wife, and that the family did not get around to affiliating. Berg
suggested that as a mixed-faith family, the Deans were not made to feel
particularly welcome at the synagogue. 

Glazier said that about half the members of his congregation
were not born Jewish, and that his synagogue does extensive outreach to
interfaith couples.

“How much more welcoming can we be?” he asked, concerned
that Dean’s campaign was bad-mouthing his congregation to justify the
candidate’s lack of public displays of faith. Glazier said he tried not to ask
Dean about his family’s religious practices or encourage them to join the
synagogue.  Glazier said Steinberg occasionally comes to the synagogue to pick
up “ritual things she needs.”

Glazier also has tried to get Dean to participate more in
the Jewish world, offering him a Hebrew Bible to use at his gubernatorial
swearing-in. But Glazier, one of three religious leaders who gave prayers at
Dean’s gubernatorial inaugurations, said he hadn’t seen Dean use it. 

“I think he wants to do right,” Glazier said of Dean. “I
think he wants to find a spiritual home but not disturb the context of his
home.” 

Dean said he doesn’t see much difference between his
family’s beliefs and his own. 

“I have a pretty ecumenical approach to religion,” Dean
said. “There is a Judeo-Christian tradition and there are different doctrinal
aspects and different beliefs, but the fundamental moral principles are very
similar between Judaism and Christianity.” 

He does, however, wish his children knew more about
Christianity, having experienced it little beyond Christmases at the home of
Dean’s parents in New York. Dean, himself, said he does not attend church often
but prays every day.  

Democratic Races Poses Hard Choices


Jewish voters are an important constituency in national elections, concentrated in such electoral vote-rich states as California, New York, Florida and Illinois. However, they are even more important in the struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination, comprising an important share of the vote in key Democratic primaries. For Jewish Democrats, the 2004 nomination race is providing some very difficult choices.

While a majority of Jewish voters are Democrats, they are not always pleased with the most liberal choice on the menu. That dynamic is multiplied when Jewish voters question the commitment of the candidate to core Jewish concerns: opposition to anti-Semitism and support for Israel.

If the Democrats nominate a presidential candidate who is a strong supporter of core Jewish issues, the Democrats should be able to count on Jewish voters against President Bush, a very conservative Republican incumbent. On most issues, Bush offers almost nothing to Jewish voters. He is pro-life on abortion and extremely conservative on just about everything else.

But Bush has worked hard to woo the most pro-Israel elements in the Jewish community with his largely uncritical support of the Likud Party’s approach to diplomacy and with his vision of remaking the map of the Middle East. For that reason alone, Democrats cannot take Jewish voters for granted in 2004.

Jewish voters view national security issues through a special lens. To Jews, an America strong in world affairs is a critical element in Israel’s survival. A guilty, cautious America is not good for Israel.

While Jews are unlikely to be impressed by Bush’s swaggering, unilateralist foreign policy, Jewish voters will not be comfortable with a weak United States that equivocates in its support of Israel. If America as bully is the only strong America being offered, it may be a reluctant but appealing choice.

In both 1972 and 1980, Jewish voters strayed from their historic loyalty to Democratic presidential candidates. In 1972, George McGovern was seen as weak on foreign policy. By contrast, Richard Nixon’s strong support of Israel pulled some Jewish voters away from the Democrats.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter, despite his great success in the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, was seen by many Jewish voters as trying too hard for "balance" in the Middle East. He lost a bloc of Jewish voters to a more pro-Israel candidate, Ronald Reagan.

With Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992 and 1996, the Democrats restored Jewish support to nearly FDR levels. Both were centrists, with strong records of support for Israel.

President George H.W. Bush had unnerved Jews by portraying himself as the victim of a pro-Israel lobby, and anti-Jewish comments attributed to presidential adviser James Baker added to the negative impression.

Unlike his father, the current president will leave no daylight between himself and Israel’s government. Therefore, Democrats have to be particularly sure to hew to the Clinton-Gore approach that begins with strong support for Israel but a more nuanced, diplomatic approach to Middle East politics than Bush offers. Let Bush have the far right on Israel, and let the Democrats hold the center and the left.

For this reason, the surge of Howard Dean to the leadership of the Democratic field is disturbing to some Democratic activists. Dean is a genuine phenomenon, born of the reluctance of Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., to aggressively challenge Bush after he took power in 2001.

A steaming, boiling well of grass-roots rage at Bush has been left to stew for three years, without a voice in the nation’s capitol. Dean was the only candidate to grab hold of that feeling, and he is riding its power into a nearly commanding position in the nominating race.

Dean’s comment that the United States "ought not to take sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have been meant as a contrast with Bush’s hard-line approach, but to many Jewish voters, it will smack of McGovern and Carter. Dean’s comments earned him an unusual rebuke from 34 members of Congress. If he is going to avoid taking the party to another landslide defeat, Dean will have to more fully develop these early views and to understand how words like "balanced" resonate with Jewish voters.

The rest of the field has plenty of choices with whom Jewish voters will be comfortable: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark. It seems quite trendy this year to have Jewish relatives: Kerry’s grandfather, Clark’s father, Dean’s wife and of course Lieberman’s whole family.

But right now there are too many candidates to effectively block Dean. If one alternative to Dean emerges once the primaries are under way, then Jewish voters may become pivotal in determining the nomination.

In Florida, Clinton dispatched Paul Tsongas in 1992 by letting elderly Jewish voters know about his opponent’s views on Social Security and Medicare. The Medicare issue may also hurt Dean, but he is much stronger than Tsongas, and there is no Clinton in the race.

Any alternative to Dean, however, must be able to energize the Democratic grass roots as powerfully as Dean has, by a scathing attack on the Bush administration, while maintaining the Clinton-Gore center-left stance on foreign policy and the Mideast. Electability, alone. will not be enough and has surely been insufficient for Lieberman.

Even if Dean wins the nomination, it is not too late for him to avoid being tarred with the brush of McGovernism. He can work hard to reassure Jewish voters — and, in fact, all voters — of his stance on foreign policy and the Mideast. A strong America, but not a bullying unilateralist America, is still an appealing vision that a Democrat can run on.

While Jewish votes are not enough to hand the presidency to a Democrat, no Democrat will even be competitive if Jewish voters are lukewarm or worse. How the Democratic candidates deal with the Jewish community will tell us a lot about whether they are ready to take power from the Republicans in 2004.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton.