Ethiopian-Israelis, police clash in Tel Aviv during demonstration

A demonstration in Tel Aviv by thousands protesting police brutality against Ethiopian-Israelis degenerated into violence.

As evening fell on Sunday, protesters in Rabin Square threw bottles at mounted police and clashed with officers. At least 41 police officers and demonstrators were injured; several protesters were detained by police.

Police used anti-riot measures including stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas to halt the violence. Protesters overturned a police car, sparking a fire, according to reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a call Sunday evening for calm and the restoration of order.

“All claims will be looked into but there is no place for violence and such disturbances,” he said in a statement.

The rioting began hours after what started as a peaceful rally.

Chanting “Every violent policeman needs to be put away” and “Whether black or white, we’re all people,” the Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters launched their protest in the afternoon at the Azrieli Center, a central mall and office complex. They then filled the adjacent major intersection, blocking traffic, before moving on to Route 2 and the Ayalon highway, two major roads.

The rally followed a Thursday night demonstration in Jerusalem that also turned violent. Separate beatings of two Ethiopian-Israelis by Israeli law enforcement, both filmed, spurred the protests. One of the victims is a soldier.

At Sunday’s demonstration, the protesters held signs reading “Being black is not a crime” and “We demand a fair and just society.” Some waved Israeli flags. Throughout the protest, people crossed their hands above their heads, as if being arrested.

Several Israeli lawmakers joined the demonstrators, including Arab Joint List head Ayman Odeh and party member Dov Khenin, as well as Stav Shaffir of the Zionist Union Party and former Yesh Atid lawmaker Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first female Ethiopian lawmaker.

Earlier Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv sent a message to American citizens in Israel to avoid the area of the demonstration due to the violent nature of the Jerusalem rally.

“This demonstration has the potential of drawing large crowds. A similar protest held in Jerusalem on Thursday lasted several hours and turned violent, resulting in injuries, arrests, and property damage. We advise US citizens to avoid the area and to monitor local media for updates,” the embassy message said.

The rally came as the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Netanyahu will convene a discussion with Ethiopian community representatives and planned a meeting with Damas Pakada, the soldier who was filmed being beaten last week by two policemen.

Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and representatives of several government ministries and the Union of Local Authorities are also scheduled to attend the meeting.

Hundreds rally for Pollard release at U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv

Hundreds of demonstrators calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The demonstration on Sunday night was led by Pollard’s wife, Esther.

“How is it that in spite of all the gestures that Israel is making at the request of the U.S., the Americans are not willing to make the smallest, most minimal gesture towards Israel, the release of one prisoner?” Esther Pollard said.

Teenagers from the national religious camp made up much of the rally’s crowd, according to The Jerusalem Post. Israeli lawmakers from the government coalition and the opposition also were in attendance.

Pollard is in the 29th year of a life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel while a civilian U.S. Navy analyst. He is up for parole in less than two years.

Earlier this month Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser, said in an interview that Pollard should be released. He is among an increasing number of figures involved in the U.S. government when Pollard was given his life sentence in 1987 who now say the sentence should be commuted.

The calls to release Pollard have intensified in the last year, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both U.S. political parties.

Ethiopian Israelis demonstrate against discrimination

Hundreds of Israelis of Ethiopian descent and their supporters protested in the southern Israeli community of Kiryat Malachi against housing discrimination.

Tuesday night’s demonstration, with estimates of up to 2,500 participants, came after what the Ethiopian residents of the city say is a pattern of refusal to sell or rent housing to them.

A residential committee of a block in Kiryat Malachi reportedly signed residents to a contract committing that they would not rent or sell to Ethiopian Israelis.

In a meeting Wednesday, just hours after the end of the demonstration, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver told an Ethiopian activist to “Say thank you for what you got.” Landver immigrated from Russia in 1979.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday instructed his adviser on Ethiopian immigrant affairs, Alali Adamsu, who met Tuesday night with the organizers of the demonstration, to act to eradicate racism against Ethiopian immigrants.

“We are full of admiration for Ethiopian immigrants. In the face of obstacles and difficulties, they came here and are integrating into Israeli society, which we are encouraging in every possible way,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued from his office. “Racist phenomena are infuriating and have no place in Israeli society. The ingathering of exiles from Ethiopia and everywhere else in the world is an inseparable part of the character of the State of Israel.”

On Sunday night, at least 18 cars in Kiryat Malachi were spray-painted with graffiti against Israelis of Ethiopian descent and the haredi Orthodox, according to reports.

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli demonstrate for social justice

More than 400,000 Israelis demonstrated in cities across the country under the banner of social justice in what some say was the largest protest in Israel’s history.

A crowd estimated at 300,000 showed up in Tel Aviv Saturday night for what organizers had billed as a nationwide “March of the Million.”

Israeli media reports variously put the number of protesters who gathered in Jerusalem at between 40,000 and 60,000. Tens of thousands more turned out in Haifa, and sizable demonstrations were also held in more than a dozen other Israeli cities, from Eilat in the south to Kiryat Shmona in the north.

“Mr. Prime Minister, take a good look at us: We’re the new Israelis. We want only one thing: To live in this country. We want not only to love the State of Israel, but also to exist here respectfully, and to live with dignity,” Itzik Shmueli, chairman of Israel’s National Student Union, said in his address to the main rally in Tel Aviv’s Hamedina Square, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“My generation always felt as though we were alone in this world, but now we feel the solidarity,” one of the protest movement’s young leaders, Daphni Leef, told the crowd, according to Haaretz. Leef’s decision this summer to pitch a tent in central Tel Aviv to protest the high cost of housing kicked off what has become a mass movement calling for change on a wide variety of issues.

While the demonstrations’ organizers have tried to keep politicians and political parties at a distance, Saturday’s ralies were embraced by a variety of Israeli politicians who are critical of the current government. Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist Kadima Party, urged Israelis to attend the protests on her Facebook page.

Pro-Palestinian march in Paris sparks anxiety

PARIS (JTA) — Deborah, 20, almost didn’t attend a rally in support of Israel the day after a massive pro-Palestinian march erupted into a riot in the heart of the French capital’s luxury shopping district.

“After yesterday, I was two seconds away from not coming. You never know what can happen,” Deborah said on her way Sunday toward the Israeli Embassy, where nearly 4,000 people gathered to sing Israeli songs and defend Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Deborah, a French Israeli citizen who asked that her last name not be used, chose to attend despite concerns for her safety after the virulent anti-Israel march numbering 21,000 held Jan. 3. Complete Gaza CoverageDuring the march, cars and Israeli flags were burned, and 10 riot police were injured in clashes with 400 to 500 youths wearing kaffiyehs and carrying Palestinian flags. The violence took place in Paris near the landmark Galeries Lafayette department store and Place de la Madeleine.

Tens of thousands participated in anti-Israel protests across France on Saturday. Some of the largest demonstrations reached 15,000 in Lyon, according to police.

A pro-Palestinian group that includes France’s Communist Party organized the movement. Its leader, the increasingly popular Olivier Besancenot, told the French daily Nouvel Observateur that Saturday’s marches showed that “France’s opinion cannot be summarized by the opinion of [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy, who rolled out the red carpet” for Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini during her recent Paris visit.

Sarkozy, who was scheduled to head to the Middle East on Monday in an effort to negotiate a cease-fire, has blamed Hamas for the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.

As Deborah approached the heavily guarded, flag-waving Jewish contingent Sunday, she consistently reassured her mother by cellphone of the significant police presence. She understood her mother’s concerns, Deborah said, because “I have a lot of friends who were afraid to come today. But I had to come for my country.”

A Paris police spokeswoman said security was high for the pro-Israel event because of developments in the Middle East but was not altered in reaction to the earlier rioting in Paris.

No negative incidents were reported at the pro-Israel event. Still, Deborah was one of many participants at the march organized by CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France), the Jewish umbrella group, who said they left behind friends who were “afraid” of publicly siding with Israel a day after they saw Haussmann Street covered in broken glass.

Two stores were looted and several vandalized by youths who ran through the streets with metal bars, jumping on cars and smashing windows on stores, cars and a parked bus. Families with young children and elderly members participating in the anti-Israel rally fled in fear.

Those who turned out for the pro-Israel rally said they were eager to defend the Israeli military, but many also came to express their outrage and concern at the previous day’s events.

“They shouted, ‘down with the Jews’ and ‘down with Israel.’ It was horrible. They are anti-Semites!” said Namy, 47, about the pro-Palestinian rally. She declined to give her full name.

Namy’s comments quickly triggered a storm of commentary from other supporters of Israel standing nearby, who complained about what they described as the lack of security Jews felt in France.

“This happened right in the middle of Paris,” Namy said. “They broke one store window after another, all up Haussmann Street. We had to hide in our apartments.”

The previous day’s anti-Israel march passed through a district where many less-religious French Jews live and own businesses.

In addition to the violence and damage — one of the burned cars was a police vehicle — anti-Israeli slogans and signs comparing the Star of David to swastikas were common among protesters. According to the French Press Agency and the daily Le Parisien, at least two Israeli flags were burned, while France and its president were repeatedly called “accomplices” to Israeli “assassins.”

Bystanders also heard protesters utter slurs against the Jewish religion. The French press did not cover such incidents, focusing instead on the violence and damage.

A veiled young woman holding a child stamped her foot repeatedly on a paper Starbucks coffee cup after her friend said that “Starbucks is Jewish.” Many in the crowd wore traditional Muslim clothing.

Crowds also booed as they passed a poster of French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy on the cover of a Jewish monthly, the Jewish Tribune. Participants said they booed at the image because “the magazine is Jewish and because of Carla.”

“The media didn’t talk about it,” Namy said of such anti-Jewish sentiments at the violent protest.

Joel Mergui, president of France’s largest religiously oriented Jewish organization, the Consistoire, said at the rally, “To see Israeli flags burn is … worrisome,”

Mergui and a CRIF delegation met with the Israeli ambassador to France, Daniel Shek, following the pro-Israel rally to reiterate their support for the Jewish state.

During the rally Sunday, France’s chief rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, declared, “Israel fights for its freedom and the survival of its people; there is no desire to destroy another people.”

Bernheim also said it was important for French Jews and Muslims to get along and “trust” each other.

VIDEO: Gaza raids bring Hamas picketers to Israel Consulate

VideoJew Jay Firestone was at the dueling demonstrations in front of the Israel Consulate on Wilshire Blvd. Tuesday night and filed this report:

Thousands protest Ahmadinejad in New York — no Clinton, no Palin [VIDEO]

NEW YORK (JTA)—Thousands of protesters filled Dag Hammarskjold Plaza opposite the United Nations for a rally against Iran’s president, who came to town to address the General Assembly.

“The message to him is please go home,” Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said at Monday’s demonstration. “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, go home and stay home. We don’t want you here.”

Wiesel called for U.N. members to declare Ahmadinejad persona non grata and to exit the General Assembly hall in protest when he speaks Tuesday afternoon.

“In truth, the proper place of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not in the U.N.,” Wiesel said. “His place is before an international tribunal which will charge him with inciting crimes against humanity.”

The Jewish-sponsored rally was meant to highlight the Iranian regime’s threats to Israel and the rest of the world with its pursuit of nuclear weapons, as well as its Holocaust denial, and to send a message to Ahmadinejad, organizers said.

Rally speakers stayed on message, slamming the visiting Iranian leader and warning of the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to the United States, Israel and the world.

There was little sign of the

Jewish groups gear up for Ahmadinejad’s trip to N.Y.

NEW YORK (JTA) — With hundreds of world leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, slated to come here next week for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly, Jewish groups will be campaigning both privately and publicly against the Iranian regime.

The centerpiece of the public effort will be a mass protest rally Sept. 22 at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, across from the United Nations.

Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, will be among the featured speakers, according to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is organizing the demonstration.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, leaders of a handful of Jewish groups will take advantage of the opportunity to meet with presidents, prime ministers and top diplomats to press issues of concern to Jews.

“It’s an annual diplomatic marathon with leaders who descend on New York each year for the opening of the G.A.,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “We have 60 to 70 private individual meetings scheduled. At each meeting, the Iran question is at the top of the agenda.”

The efforts come as chances dim for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, given that Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, oppose new sanctions.

Jewish groups will be lobbying world leaders to enforce existing U.N. sanctions and take further steps against Iran wherever possible. They will urge countries to cut trade with the Islamic Republic, pass new laws against doing business with Iran and strengthen the coalition of nations actively trying to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The effort already is under way in Washington, where Jewish groups are lobbying Congress to close legal loopholes that allow U.S. businesses to conduct some trade with Iran.

Concomitant with the behind-the-scenes diplomacy, which is also conducted throughout the year, in part with visits by Jewish organizational leaders to capitals around the world, Jewish groups are going public, too.

They are trying to publicly shame oil companies that do business with Iran in a bid to cripple the oil trade that helps sustain the Tehran regime, highlight what Jewish groups say is Ahmadinejad’s genocidal threats, and educate the general public about Iranian-sponsored terrorism and the threat of a nuclear Iran.

The Anti-Defamation League has been waging a public campaign against oil companies with business in Iran by issuing a steady stream of news releases highlighting their activities. Among the companies are Shell and the Austrian energy giant OMV, which are planning to be part of a conference in Tehran in October to promote gas export opportunities with Iran. The Swiss government also is actively increasing its oil trade with Iran.

On the genocide issue, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs will host a half-day conference in Washington on Sept. 23 highlighting Tehran’s abysmal human rights record and the forecasts of Israel’s destruction by Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to address the General Assembly that day.

Though attendance at the Washington event, “Conference on State-Sanctioned Incitement to Genocide: What Can Be Done?” will be limited to approximately 120 participants, organizers are hoping the invitation-only crowd of members of the U.S. Congress and their staffers, the media and Washington’s foreign diplomatic corps will help sway those in positions of power to join the coalition of nations actively opposing the Iranian leader’s genocidal incitement.

“The idea is that Ahmadinejad is in violation of the most important human rights convention, the genocide convention, and as a result should be treated accordingly,” said Dore Gold, the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “There has been a growing number of voices who accept this determination.”

That same argument will be made much more publicly a day earlier when thousands of people are expected to converge on midtown Manhattan for a rally to protest Iran’s policies. In addition to Palin, featured speakers are expected to include U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Iranian dissidents, black ministers and Jewish leaders.

Organizers will be busing in demonstrators from as far away as Toronto and Montreal, and synagogue groups, schools and community groups all have been broadcasting the message to constituents to come out for the rally, which is scheduled to kick off at 11:45 a.m. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York is organizing the event in conjunction with the Presidents Conference.

Jewish groups held a similar demonstration last year during Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York for the 2007 General Assembly. During the visit he also spoke at a forum at Columbia University.

Ahmadinejad this year is expected to attend a Sept. 25 break-fast Ramadan dinner, known as an iftar, hosted by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization.

The Quaker group and the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, where the iftar is to be held, did not respond to JTA inquiries about the event.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said the point of the rally is to send a message to world leaders and to Ahmadinejad himself.

“He knows all about it; last year in every television interview he made reference to it,” Hoenlein said of last year’s protest. “It was covered pretty widely in Iran, which is very important for us. We’re not going to be silent when someone threatens to destroy the United States and Israel, when his country engages in the persecution of women, minorities, human rights and children.”

When Ahmadinejad delivers his speech at the General Assembly the following day, Israel’s representatives likely will exit the plenum but leave a note taker behind, as they did last year.

Israeli President Shimon Peres will address the General Assembly the next day, on Sept. 24. Israeli officials declined to discuss the details of his speech.

For all their efforts, Jewish groups’ ability to get governments around the world to tighten the screws on Iran has its limits.

“What leverages are there to apply against these governments except moral suasion?” said the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, Michael Schneider. “We don’t have a big stick that we can use.”

Harris said the argument to make is not that stopping Iran is a moral imperative for Israel or the Jewish people, but that a nuclear-armed Iran threatens the world.

“A key to diplomacy is to try to persuade someone else not that it’s in your interest, but why it’s in their interest to act,” Harris said.

“On Iran, we think there’s an abundance of evidence of why this is a regional and global problem: A nuclear Iran would create an entirely different and more dangerous geo-strategic environment generally, and a nuclear Iran would surely trigger a collapse of the nonproliferation treaty, and a number of other countries would go down the nuclear road in response to Iran,” he said. “Those arguments are compelling arguments whether you’re Israel’s closest friend or not.”

VIDEO: Tel Aviv rally protests religious persecution in China

Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy lead rally protesting Chinese persecution of Falun Gong and China’s involvement in Sudan

Sunday rally planned to support Israel

Exclusive video: Dueling demonstrations –Muslim students led by Amir Abdel Malik Ali, Imam of Masjid Al-Islam in Oakland and a pro-Israel crowd in front of the Israeli Consulate Friday noon. Rabbi Daniel Bouskila leads the singing of “Ya’aseh Shalom.”

Exclusive video: Press conference at Israeli Consulate, Friday afternoon, March 7. Speakers, in order: Consul General Yaakov Dayan, City Councilman Jack Weiss, Rev. Billy G. Ingram, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila.

UPDATE FRIDAY 1:40 p.m.:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Young Israel of Century City are holding a memorial rally on Sunday, March 9 at 4 p.m., in honor of the eight yeshiva students killed in a terror attack at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem.

The rally is set for Young Israel of Century City at
9315 W. Pico Blvd.

Invited to the memorial rally are City Councilman Jack Weiss, Mayor Antonio Villairaigosa and Israel Consul General Jacob Dayan.

The gathering is “to demonstrate outrage at what happened in Israel, to show solidarity with Israelis, and to protest the international outcry [saying] that Israel has overreacted in its defense,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Rabbi of YICC.

StandWithUs and others will demonstrate in support of Israel in front of the Israeli Consulate at noon on Friday in response to a protest scheduled at the same time by the UC Irvine Muslim Student Union.

The protests will come one day after a terrorist attack on Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in west Jerusalem, in which eight people were killed and dozens wounded.

Los Angeles Jewish organizers are calling upon the community for a strong opposition presence at the local protest.

“Please come and show your support for Israelâ€(tm)s right to defend herself,” Allyson Rowen Taylor, an L.A. community organizer unaffiliated with any organization, wrote in an email blast sent out on Thursday. “Over seven yeshiva student murdered today in Jerusalem while the Arabs cheer,” she wrote about the students from Mercaz Harav, a religious Zionist yeshiva in Jerusalem killed Thursday.

“Itâ€(tm)s clearly going to be an out-of-context demonstration,” Roz Rothstein, president of StandWithUs, said of the MSU protest. “They will undoubtedly fail to recognize the reason that Israel was led to have to go into Gaza — these rockets are being launched indiscriminately everywhere,” she said, referring to the hundreds of rockets that have hit Israel since the withdrawal. “Israel has a right to protect her citizens.”

In response to the Jerusalem shooting, Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City and the Religious Zionist of America in Los Angeles are encouraging Los Angeles area rabbis in their Shabbat sermons to say tehilim for the murdered students, and to read their names aloud. A spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of America said the group is considering a rabbinical mission to the Jerusalem yeshiva to console the families and students there.

Iranian Muslims Key to Pro-Israel Rally

More than 2,000 Southern California Iranians from various religious backgrounds gathered in Westwood last weekend to demonstrate against calls for Israel’s destruction by Iran’s new president. Participants held high the flags of Iran, Israel and the United States as they marched along Wilshire Boulevard near the Federal Building.

Speakers as well as marchers denounced comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, during a televised state-run anti-Zionism rally in Tehran on Oct. 26, referred to Israel as that “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the map.”

Leaders around the world condemned Ahmadinejad’s statement, but the Iranian expatriate community in Los Angeles decided to send its own unambiguous message.

“The beauty of what’s happening is that it has been initiated by the Iranian community — the non-Jewish Iranian community,” said Ali-Reza Morovati, general manager of KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran,” a Persian-language satellite and Internet radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts around the world.

Representatives of eight Southern California-based Persian language media outlets — two newspapers, four television programs and two radio stations, all owned by Iranian Muslims — have condemned the Iranian president. Each of the outlets published or broadcast a joint letter decrying the statements against Israel. The letter was especially significant because it marked the first time that the local Iranian Muslim media displayed public support for Israel. These media organizations had never, in the past, openly criticized similar anti-Israel rhetoric coming from Iranian government officials.

Nearly 20 Iranian Muslim journalists and political activists signed the letter that characterized the criticisms of Israel as the “mad hallucinations of Ahmadinejad,” whose view “does not reflect the true sentiments of the people of Iran. Ahmadinejad does not speak for Iranians!”

“We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people,” said Assadollah Morovati, the owner of KRSI. The 80-year-old Morovati started the station 18 years ago with the specific goal of bringing down Iran’s Islamic regime. He said listeners inside Iran and elsewhere around the world have frequently called to voice their strong dissent for Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel comments.

“The Iranian people and Jews have shared a history of 2,500 years from the time of Cyrus the Great, who gave them freedom,” said Morovati, who’d served in Iran’s parliament prior to the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. “Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel.”

Before the revolution, Iran was one of Israel’s closest allies in the Middle East; the regime of the late Shah of Iran enjoyed strong political and trade relations with Israel.

The rally’s participants evoked a strong affection for the late and deposed Shah of Iran, whom many émigrés said protected Iran’s Jewish community. The flag of the Shah’s regime was held aloft by many as the true flag of Iran. Under the present government, Iranian Jews face constant intimidation — as do nontraditional Muslim women and those criticize the government.

Some local Iranian Muslim media personalities said they signed the letter to take a stance against Iran’s totalitarian government — and not because of any specific affinity for Israel.

“We are not necessarily defending Israel — their government is more than capable of doing that on its own — but we wanted to point out the absurdity of comments made by those in Iran’s current government,” said Homayoon Hooshiarnejad, owner of Asre Emrooz, a daily Persian-language newspaper based in the San Fernando Valley.

The reaction to Ahmadinejad’s comments from Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community leaders has been cautious — their comments in the past have been used by Iranian government officials as an excuse to seek reprisals against the nearly 15,000 Jews still living in Iran.

“At a time when Iran is under suspicion for pursuit of nuclear weapons, it is extremely difficult to find any wisdom in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s threats against another country which is perceived to be a nuclear power,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation.

Additional reporting by David Finnigan.


Fight Against Hate Hits High School


For Jewish students attending colleges like UC Irvine, Duke University or Columbia University, the shock of moving away from home is often only equaled by the shock on encountering virulent anti-Zionism on campus.

From firebrand anti-Israel speakers to demonstrations calling for divestment from the Jewish state, American universities have increasingly become bastions of anti-Israeli sentiment that occasionally bleed into anti-Semitism. Many newly minted freshmen are unprepared for such a hostile environment and often feel besieged or worse, experts say. That Muslim student activists often know more about the Middle East conflict and present their case more persuasively than Jewish students do only exacerbates their frustration.

That’s why some Jewish groups have now trained their sights on reaching out to high school students. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, for instance, has just begun publishing a weekly online newsletter for high school students called the Israel Highway ( At Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, seniors enroll in a semester-long course on Israel advocacy that features guest speakers and an in-depth history of Zionism and the creation of Israel. After years of educating Jewish university students, organizations like Jewish National Fund, the American Jewish Committee and StandWithUs are teaching high school students how to become foot soldiers for Israel and Judaism.

“When students get to campus, there’s a lot of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment that they aren’t exposed to before leaving home,” said Michelle Beller, high school coordinator for Caravan for Democracy High School Edition, a new program created by Jewish National Fund (JNF), Media Watch, American Friends of Likud and other groups. “Rather than not knowing how to respond, we want to infuse them with knowledge about Israel and give them tools to [fight back]. If they don’t do it, who will?”

The Zionist Organization of America has begun offering advocacy training for high school students partly so they aren’t “susceptible to being taken in by the lies of the Arab propaganists [at universities] who call Israel a human-rights abusing horror,” ZOA National President Morton Klein said.

Caravan for Democracy High School Edition made its official debut Oct. 17 in Los Angeles at a JNF conference. An estimated 120 Southland-area juniors and seniors from Tarbut V’Torah, Milken and other religious and secular campuses participated. The event featured sessions on Israeli history and advocating for the Jewish state and included a speech by Ra’anan Gissin, senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In a reflection of Caravan’s growing influence, 350-area high school students attended its second Los Angeles event last November. Natan Sharansky, minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs delivered the keynote speech. StandWithUs, working in conjunction with Caravan, will host on advocacy event for high school students an April 17.

Caravan, which has already offered programs in San Francisco, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, plans to sponsor 25 advocacy sessions around the country for Jewish teenagers in the first half of 2005.

Like Caravan, StandWithUs now focuses an increasing amount of its energy on high school students. During the past 18 months, the group has held advocacy sessions at 35 area high schools, including Shalhevet, Milken and Taft.

At such events, StandWithUs speakers typically tell students about the anti-Israel sentiment they can expect to encounter on campus and how to combat it, said Roz Rothstein, the group’s executive director.

To supplement the high school visits, StandWithUs has begun sponsoring events outside of the classroom to create a community of young pro-Israel activists. In early March, the executive director of Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus, met over pizza at UCLA with 60 high school students to discuss anti-Semitism in the Palestinian media, among other topics. Future events might include concerts, dinners and movies — combined with advocacy sessions — that would deepen the knowledge and develop closer links among the pro-Israel high school students, Rothstein said.

Whereas Caravan and StandWithUS focus on high school students, a program sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) emphasizes those who teach them.

The AJC, in conjunction with Solomon Schechter High School of New York, created Israel Knowledge, Advocacy and Responsibility (IKAR) three years ago, a program that offers lesson plans, visual aids and lecture materials. Among IKAR’s suggested topics for discussion are defending Israel in the media and spotlighting its standing as the sole democracy in the Middle East. Other subjects include the refugee crisis that followed Israel’s creation and the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, said Rebecca Neuwirth, AJC’s director of special projects.

“There’s not very much out there for high school-aged students,” she said. “We’re trying to change that.”

For more information on IKAR, visit For more information on the April 17 StandWithUs event, visit



Three Men Arranged for Murder of Israelis

Three men facing possible death sentences for the murder of two Israelis were arraigned in L.A. County Superior Court on Nov. 10.

During a brief court appearance, the men, handcuffed and wearing blue prison jumpsuits, pleaded not guilty to the killing of Benjamin Wertzberger and Adar Neeman, two longtime friends from Rishon L’Zion.

The two Israelis were last seen alive on Dec. 2, 2002, as they planned to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Their bodies were not discovered until September of last year in a shallow grave in the Mojave Desert near Barstow.

The suspects, Shane Huang, Benjamin Frandsen and Nicholas Turner, have each been charged with two counts of murder under special circumstances of multiple murder.

Deputy District Attorney Karla Karlin, the prosecutor, said that the special circumstances “make them eligible for the death penalty, although my office has not yet decided whether to seek capital punishment.”

Wertzberger, 24, also known as Ben Berger, came to Los Angeles four years ago hoping for a career as a disc jockey. According to court records, he became involved with drug dealers shortly after his arrival.

Neeman, 25, traveled to Los Angeles, at Wertzberger’s invitation, one month before the planned trip to Las Vegas.

Superior Court Judge Michael Hoff set the trial date for Jan. 6 at the Van Nuys Courthouse. Karlin estimated that the trial will last about one month. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Marines’ Westwood ‘Invasion’ a Mistake

Two U.S. Marine light armored vehicles (LAVs) appeared at an anti-war demonstration in front of Westwood’s Federal Building on Tuesday night.

Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER), a group that opposes the war in Iraq and supports Palestinian rights, reportedly organized the protest at the corner of Veteran and Wilshire boulevards. The Marine vehicles, which are essentially light tanks with tires instead of treads, had their cannons uncovered and were manned by soldiers in battle gear.

Surprised protesters, many with signs decrying the invasion of Fallujah in Iraq, blocked the LAVs with their bodies and exchanged words with the soldiers before the LAPD cleared the path.

“It’s a whole lot of nothing,” officer Kathy Simpson, a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman, told the L.A. Times. “The tanks were there for Veterans Day. They ride in the parade and wave.”

Authorities said the soldiers apparently lost their way and were driving around the Federal Building trying to find the correct address.

The protesters’ pictures and videos of the encounter soon circulated on the Internet, sparking a brief uproar over the needless display of force at a rally. The Marine base at Camp Pendleton denied that was their intention. – Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer

ADL Briefs Law Enforcement on Hate Crimes

The Anti-Defamation League hosted about 100 police and other law enforcement officials for a Nov. 4 briefing on domestic terrorism.

Mark Pitcavage, an Ohio-based hate crimes expert and director of the ADL’s fact-finding department, was the main speaker at the daylong police briefing, which brought officers from Glendale, San Bernardino, the Los Angeles Unified School District, California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles Police Department’s major crimes division to the Santa Monica Boulevard offices of ADL.

“Extreme ideologies create extreme actions,” Pitcavage said.

Police also learned that unlike typical criminals, whose crimes often are narrowly focused, extremists commit a wide variety of crimes to finance their revolutionary visions.

And while foreign terrorists plot against the United States, homegrown extremists are being welcomed in the Middle East. Pitcavage said that since Sept. 11, racist essays written by Louisiana neo-Nazi David Duke have been widely reprinted in the Arab media. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Controversy Erupts in Shooting at Fence

Talk about trading places. Last month, Gil Na’amati finished
his three-year stint of compulsory military service after serving in Israel’s
artillery corps and spending time operating in the West Bank. Now the
22-year-old kibbutznik is the poster boy for Palestinian grievances against Israel.

During a demonstration last week by Palestinians and Israeli
left-wingers against Israel’s West Bank security barrier, Na’amati was shot by
soldiers, who until recently might have stood shoulder to shoulder with him at
a checkpoint. An American activist also was lightly hurt in the clash.

“I was in the military and am familiar with the rules of
engagement. What I did was not even close to something that I think would
warrant opening fire,” Na’amati said from his hospital bed, where he was
recovering from leg and hip wounds. “It’s unbelievable.”

The sentiments were echoed around the country after last
week’s incident at a section of the security fence outside Kalkilya. It was the
first time an Israeli Jew had been targeted by forces meant to protect Israelis
from Palestinian terrorism.

The shooting was the latest incident to divide the country
in the ongoing dispute over how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians and some left-wing Israelis have complained that the fence
disrupts Palestinian civilian life and livelihood, while Israeli officials have
maintained that it is a necessary bulwark against terrorism.

Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, ordered an
investigation of the shooting, which occurred when Na’amati and fellow members
of a fringe pro-Palestinian group, Anarchists Against the Fence, were
protesting, along with the International Solidarity Movement. They attacked the
barrier with wire cutters.Â

Police questioned Na’amati under warning, meaning that his
statements could be used against him if he is prosecuted for causing damage to
the fence, unruly behavior and violating a military order prohibiting entry to
the area next to the fence.

Na’amati’s father, Uri, said he advised his son to exercise
his right to remain silent. The investigator decided not to press the wounded
man for answers at this stage, in light of Na’amati’s medical condition, the
Israeli daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported.

Ya’alon made no secret of where he believed blame for the
incident lay. The protesters “masqueraded as Arabs, mingled with Palestinians
and entered the Palestinian side of the fence illegally,” he told Israel Radio.

The commander of the force involved reportedly told
investigators that he thought it was a group of Palestinians trying to break
through the fence into Israel, and that it might be a diversionary tactic aimed
at allowing a terrorist to infiltrate the fence at another location.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim said soldiers followed
orders by first shouting warnings and firing shots over the protesters’ heads,
before aiming at their legs. Witnesses disputed the account.

Television footage showed soldiers taking aim at the
protesters from approximately 50 feet away, despite clear appeals to the
soldiers in Hebrew not to shoot. The footage had a major impact on public

Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security
service, said any orders to shoot the unarmed protesters were illegal and
should have been disobeyed. His viewpoint was endorsed by Avshalom Vilan, a
former commando, member of the liberal Meretz Party and a founder of the Peace
Now movement.

“In a proper country, you don’t shoot civilians,” Vilan

At least one newspaper said the issue wouldn’t have been a
matter of such great debate had it been a non-Jew who was injured.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” an editorial in Israel’s daily
Yediot Achronot said. “If a Palestinian” had been shot, “it probably would not
have merited even one line in the newspaper.” Â

Athens and Baghdad

The legacy of Athens was not only the glory of Western democracy. It was also the brutality of Roman tyranny. And the legacy of Baghdad is not only Wahhabi obscurantism and viciousness. It is also religious tolerance and a this-worldly spirituality.

Islam may have been born in Mecca and Medina, but it matured and flowered under the civilization that issued from noble Baghdad. Civilization is never static. It changes with the seasons of history. An inward-looking America of a century ago would hardly be recognizable to a student of American foreign policy since World War II.

Civilizations wax and wane but never stop evolving. Since this is so clearly the case, I can’t understand why so many self-appointed pundits of Islam are convinced that Islam and democracy don’t mix.

Who would have thought in 1945 that Japan would become one of the world’s most powerful, liberal democracies only two decades later? Centuries of militarism and despotic rule there were turned around in a generation. It is hard to conceive of a return to the collective mentality of imperial Japan in my children’s or their children’s generation.

It is true that Islam is not a "democratic" religion. But then, I know of no religion that is. Certainly not Christianity, with its divinely appointed hierarchy. And not Judaism, which derives its legal tradition from God — not from the Sanhedrin.

The bottom line of democracy is the freedom of every individual to vote one’s conscience, and that tenet is missing equally from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has been argued that democracy in the West required that people experience the repeated and violent failures of feudalism to prove its worth, and the subsequent catastrophes of fascism and communism to confirm its value.

I don’t believe it’s a stretch to point out that the Muslims of the Middle East know very well how feudalism, fascism, communism and theocracies have failed them miserably. So what is to prevent Arab Muslims from diving enthusiastically into democracy?

The answer is their taste of the bitter fruits of democracy itself. Democracy has worked best in tandem with capitalism, and capitalism has always required expanding markets, greater supplies of resources and cheap and dependable labor.

These requirements have convinced many in the business world to exploit less-developed areas for their resources, their labor and their purchase power. There is nothing wrong with exploitation — but there are two meanings to the term. One meaning is utilization, development and management. The other is abuse, mistreatment and manipulation.

In the search for a fast and easy buck, our capitalists have too often read exploitation the wrong way. The amazing thing about this is that we have managed to remain largely immune from the effects of our grand schemes.

Sept. 11 was our wake-up call. It hit us hard and it hit us where it really hurts. So as any nation would, we responded. With our superior technology and firepower, we managed to destroy two threats to our immediate security. First, it was the theocracy of Afghanistan, and now, the secular tyranny of Iraq.

We must now follow our display of military prowess with a responsible demonstration of our conviction that democracy works. We need to teach the Iraqis, as we did the Japanese, that we will accept nothing less than full capitulation and reversal from tyranny and violence.

But as any teacher knows, effective teaching fails when students can see the disconnect between teaching and personal example (and students can always see when there is a disconnect between teaching and example). This is the root failure of European colonialists. They educated indigenous elites on the principles of democracy and social justice, but set personal examples of racism, negative exploitation and autocracy.

Which message was the one that was learned?

We can teach effectively only by example. That means that America must demonstrate to the Iraqis and the entire Muslim world that our war was not a clash of civilizations or just another excuse for exploitation, but rather a demonstration of what American values are all about.

We need to prove that democracy can work for everybody; that it is not only a Christian or a Western experience. It may mean a slightly poorer bottom line for our businesses in the short term, but the long-term results will more than make up for it.

Reuven Firestone is professor of medieval Judaism and Islam and the director of the Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institue of Religion in Los Angeles.

A Scream Looking for a Mouth

The anti-war forces in America have blundered, and it’smaking them lose the war — for our hearts and minds.

The problem is the demonstrations. By their very nature,public rallies of this sort tend to reduce issues to black-and-whiteoversimplifications, fueled by a need to dramatize and emotionalize for maximumeffect.

Unfortunately for the demonstrators, this issue is hardlyblack and white. Anyone who has scanned editorials over the past few months cantell you that this is a heart-wrenching subject, with strong arguments on bothsides. But angry demonstrators who yell, scream and demonize President GeorgeW. Bush with signs like “Bush is the real terrorist” end up undermining theircredibility and, ultimately, their cause.

For anti-war demonstrations to be effective, they need aclear bad guy, no strings attached. Bush is not that guy. You can criticize himall you want — for failing to make his case for war, not giving sanctionsenough time, being arrogant, etc. — but you can’t look like you hate him morethan an evil tyrant who has murdered and tortured thousands of his own people.

Therein lies the blunder. The anti-war demonstrators seem tohave forgotten the one person who would have made a fabulous target for an”anti” rally: Saddam Hussein. Against that kind of evil, it would be perfectlyacceptable to simplify and dramatize. I can’t imagine ever accusing someone ofexaggerating a critique of Saddam Hussein.

I can even see the signs: “Saddam Must Go,” “Free the 30Million Iraqis,” “Iraqi Women’s rights,” “We don’t need another Hitler,” “Nonegotiating with Evil” and so on. You can disagree with the decision to go towar, but you can’t disagree that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who must go.

By choosing to demonize Bush, the anti-war forces have lettheir hearts rule their minds. They have forgotten what the majority ofAmericans intuitively understand: that there is another, more vicious war goingon — the war that Saddam Hussein has waged on his own people for decades. Thatwar may not be as visible on CNN, but it’s real, and it’s disingenuous to looklike you ignore it.

All this makes me wonder if there are other factors behindthis seemingly blind and single-minded hatred of Bush. We live in aconsumer-based society where we are used to being pandered to and seduced,where we judge personalities more than we judge issues. But Bush doesn’tseduce. It’s quite possible that his morally righteous, cowboy personality is atotal turnoff to these anti-war demonstrators, and they can’t see past thatunpleasant veneer to give him any credit for noble intentions.

It’s also true that public demonstrations have always had aromantic pull for those looking for a more meaningful and dramatic life. Andgoing against war is as romantic and dramatic as it gets. Who cares if we areexaggerating or simplifying or demonizing? In a feel-good culture, yellingagainst war can feel really good.

The side effect of all this yelling is that it kills honestdebate. It’s easier to yell than to think. Thinking, balancing and debating maybe the more appropriate course, but it won’t get you on the evening news. Theresult is the appearance of a polarized world, where you are either for oragainst, no questions asked. That’s not democracy at its best.

I have a suggestion for demonstration-seekers. If you’regoing to yell against something in three-second sound bites, pick a true evilto yell against that requires little or no nuance. Otherwise, if you’regenuinely against the war and you’re a scream looking for a mouth, scream for somethingpositive like peace. It may be superficial and naive — especially now that thewar is well underway — but at least you won’t lose the credibility that comesfrom demonizing the wrong demon.

David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa MillerAdvertising, and founder/editor of OLAM magazine and the activist site He can bereached at

Increasing Tensions

As the violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enters its second month, there is a growing fear that it will escalate and embroil the entire region.

“It is absolutely mandatory that this conflict should not turn into an interreligious war,” Avishai Braverman, president of Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, said this week. “If this turns into a religious war, we shall have an apocalypse.”

Events of the past few days have provided ample fuel for those who believe that the violence will become a more wide-ranging religious conflict. Millions in neighboring Muslim countries have staged massive demonstrations against Israel and the United States.

These protests have taken on a distinctly religious tone, with militants calling on the faithful to rescue the Al-Aksa mosque, the holy shrine to Islam on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

The demonstrations in Egypt and Jordan could threaten the stability of those regimes, which continue to maintain peaceful – albeit strained – relations with Israel.

This week, however, Israel’s most problematic neighbor seemed to be Lebanon. Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon staged demonstrations at the border fence with Israel, reminding the world of a time bomb still ticking away within Lebanon.

Lebanon’s president, Emile Lahoud, spoke at last week’s Arab summit in Cairo of the need to allow 350,000 Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they abandoned during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

According to observers, he did not issue the call because he is a champion of the refugees’ rights, but because he worries that the time bomb will explode within his country instead of Israel.Along with the refugee problem, Israeli officials are also concerned about what Hezbollah’s next move may be.

This week, the Israel Defense Force warned of a possible resumption of terrorist attacks along the country’s northern border.

The commander of Israel’s northern forces, Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said Monday that there is reason to believe Hezbollah will try to open a second front in addition to the ongoing clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

This second front was also on the mind of some Palestinians. Demonstrators marched this week in the West Bank town of Ramallah chanting: “Hezbollah, hit Tel Aviv.”

Israel has reportedly pressed Washington to add Lebanon to its list of countries supporting terrorism, a move that would considerably limit Lebanon’s business contacts with the United States.

The Israeli move is being seen as part of an effort to force the Lebanese government to take steps that would prevent Hezbollah from heating up the border.

If this does happen, Syria could be dragged into the conflict. Israeli officials, including the deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, warn that they will hold Syria responsible for any Hezbollah attacks.

Among those who caution that the current violence could embroil the wider region is professor Shimon Shamir, a former Israeli ambassador to both Egypt and Jordan who is one of the nation’s leading experts on the Arab world.

Indeed, he believes that this is a specific goal of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who would like nothing better than to see the broader Arab world come to the aid of the Palestinian cause.Luckily for Israel, Egypt and Jordan are not playing along with Arafat.

Just as luckily, the untested new Syrian leader, Bashar Assad, does not yet seem strong enough to escalate the situation – although he may let Hezbollah do the job for him.

Shamir warned that Israel should not rely for long on the ability of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah to keep a lid on the overheated streets of Cairo and Amman.

“There is a limit to their powers,” warned Shamir. He added that the worse the situation in the West Bank and Gaza becomes, the more Mubarak and Abdullah would have to bow to the demands of hard-liners within their own countries.

Some experts, however, do not believe the current violence will take on a regional dimension. Observers like Ephraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University said this week that while people should treat the situation with caution, they should not overreact.

“Israel should not be afraid of escalation,” said Inbar, who added that if Israel responds to attacks from Palestinian gunmen, “there will be no escalation in the neighboring Arab countries, because they, too, understand that there are things” that demand a response.

And what would the Palestinians do if, indeed, the Arab world does not come rushing to their aid? This is a difficult question, because Palestinian society is not monolithic.

For one, there are forces competing for the leadership. Along with Arafat, who enjoys the greatest popularity among his people, there is also Marwan Barghouti, leader of the armed militias, as well as the militant leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Beyond their competition for the hearts and minds of the populace, there is also the fact that among the Palestinian people there are different responses to the ongoing violence.

“Many Palestinians believe there is not enough shooting,” said Oded Granot, Arab affairs analyst for the Ma’ariv newspaper. “But on the other hand, there are just as many Palestinians who believe that Arafat should have handled the crisis differently, more wisely.”

Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, said in a television interview over the weekend that Arafat no longer controls the territories.

He is among those who believe that younger and more militant types – people like Barghouti and local Hamas officials – are solidifying their power bases.

Ayalon’s observation stood in sharp contrast to the repeated statements by Israeli policymakers that Arafat can order quiet in the territories within a matter of hours.

When all is said and done, it is too early to tell whether Arafat is still as powerful as some believe him to be, or whether the present violence – like the 1987-1993 intifada – is being orchestrated on the street.

Pushing Each Other’s Buttons


Predictably, it happened again. Conservative and Reform Jews choseto demonstrate their right to worship at the Kotel in their way, menand women together. This time, however, the worshipers had officialclearance. But their permit did not help. Sadly, but alsopredictably, Orthodox Jews prevented them from praying in their way.Passions flared. The scene became ugly. Religious extremists,unconcerned about Torah prohibitions against striking another person,became violent. Hurt and humiliated, the non-Orthodox worshipers wereforcibly removed by the police. And, of course, the media had beenprepped. The cameras were ready. They captured the tears of thevanquished and the jeers of the violent. The angry scenes wereflashed across the world.

Effective Demonstration

I do not doubt that the only motive of most of the Reform andConservative worshipers was to experience Tisha B’Av in the precinctsof the Temple, whose destruction they had come to lament.

But I do have a sneaking suspicion that the organizers of theservice had something else in mind also.

I am a veteran of political demonstrations. During the apartheidera in South Africa, I learned how to get the most attention for thestruggle against racism. I simply had to figure out which buttons topush in order to enrage the other side and make it react violently.It was easy to do. It transformed the demonstrators into innocentvictims, and their attackers (usually the police) into vicious thugs.The media was always advised that a good story was in the making.Sympathy for the victims and odium for their powerful attackers wereinstantly seen on television screens around the world. Obviously,these tactics served a holy purpose — the eradication of anauthoritarian, intolerant and evil system.

Which Orthodox buttons did the Conservative and Reform workers atthe Kotel push? What irreconcilable principles were at stake?

Principles in Conflict

The non-Orthodox worshipers asserted two principles by coming tothe Kotel to pray in their way. They wished to demonstrate thatJudaism’s holiest site belongs equally to all Jews, that it is not anopen-air Orthodox synagogue. They also wished to demonstrate thattheir mode of worship is as valid as gender-separated Orthodoxprayer.

Their Orthodox opponents were motivated by equally powerfulprinciples. Worship in the ancient Temple had always beengender-separated. In the 30 years since the liberation of the Kotel,this ancient tradition had been honored. The insistence on mixed,egalitarian worship in the Kotel precincts was regarded as no less anact of chutzpah than would be the forcible intrusion of asimilar group into an Orthodox synagogue for non-Orthodox worship.

These were the buttons. These were the principles. All theingredients for a good television story were present.

Tisha B’Av Tragedy

The violence at the Wall could not have come at a worse time. Thenews of the battle between the Jews in Jerusalem broke while I wasteaching my congregants the Talmudic account of the destruction ofthe Second Temple. The Talmud asserts that the destruction was theresult of causeless hatred between the Jews of that generation. Is itnot tragic that hatred should characterize the contemporaryobservance of Tisha B’Av? Have we learned nothing from our history?

The Talmud also records a dispute between a certain RabbiZechariya and the Sages. Under normal circumstances, both parties inthis dispute would have agreed that the imperatives of the Torah areabsolute and that there is no room for compromise on halachicprinciple. But, on this occasion, the Sages felt that even venerableprinciples should be compromised for the sake of the common good.Rabbi Zechariya refused to allow the Sages to take the initiative inbending the law to save the Jewish people. The Talmud records thathis insistence on placing principle above peace caused the Temple tobe destroyed and the Jewish people to be exiled.

Alternative to Confrontation

We have witnessed the bitter consequences of the refusal tocompromise this Tisha B’Av. Neither side would budge. Like adysfunctional family, each pushed the other’s buttons, and theconflict escalated.

May I suggest a workable compromise. The southern section of theKotel has been newly excavated and is the site of a beautifularchaeological park. There is no tradition of gender-segregatedworship there. It is far from, and out of the line of vision of, thefar more numerous Orthodox worshipers at the other end of the Kotel.Bat mitzvah services are already held there. It could easily bededicated for Conservative and Reform prayer. All Jews could worshipG-d in their own denominational way.

Am I optimistic that this kind of solution will be acceptable?Although it makes sense, I do not believe that it will happen.Demonstrators have more to gain from political conflict than fromspiritual tranquillity. Confrontation alone will keep the strugglefor denominational acceptance alive and in full view of unhappy Jewsaround the world.

Therefore, I predict that there will be more confrontations, morevictims and more violence.

But I am hoping against hope that I am wrong. The Jewish peoplecannot afford to relive the Tisha B’Av experience. The State ofIsrael cannot afford more wrenching conflicts. The Jewish Diasporacannot be made to stand up against the Jewish State. Perhaps saner,gentler counsel will prevail and an intelligent compromise will beoffered and accepted.

Abner Weiss is rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation of BeverlyHills.

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