South Carolina state capitol in Columbia. Photo from Wikipedia.

South Carolina House adopts State Department definition of anti-Semitism


South Carolina’s House of Representatives passed a bill endorsing the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as part of an effort to fight discrimination on college campuses.

The bill, which passed unanimously on Friday, defines anti-Semitism to include the State Department’s definition, which considers demonizing, delegitimizing or applying a double standard to Israel to be forms of anti-Semitism.

Under the South Carolina bill, the new definition would be used in probes of possible anti-Semitism at state colleges and universities.

The pro-Israel groups Stand With Us and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for For Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit that conducts research on campus anti-Semitism, hailed the measure.

“We applaud the South Carolina legislators for standing up against this growing anti-Jewish bigotry, and in a way that fully protects free speech on campus,” the Brandeis Center’s president, Kenneth Marcus said in a Friday statement.

Stand With Us said South Carolina has “taken a lead addressing the rise of anti-Semitism across the nation.”

The State Department definition has drawn criticism for deeming certain types of criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, a theme critics of the South Carolina bill echoed on Friday.

“This language would shut down legitimate debate on South Carolina campuses about policies of the state of Israel and would equate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism,” said Caroline Nagel, a professor at the University of South Carolina, according to The Post and Courier.

Labour court: Ethiopian rabbis suffered salary discrimination


Ethiopian rabbis and religious leaders suffered salary discrimination, an Israeli labor court ruled.

The rabbis and kesim – a traditional Jewish Ethiopian religious leader, will receive $13,000 in compensation from the Israeli government and some plaintiffs also will receive a pension that kicks in the day they retire, the Beersheba Regional Labor Court ruled Monday, according to reports.

The court found that both the government and the local religious councils were discriminatory against the 16 plaintiffs.

Last month, the government’s Religious Affairs Ministry said it would not extend the tenure of the Ethiopian community’s chief rabbi, Yosef Hadane, when he turned 67, the mandatory retirement age, next month. However, other rabbis have been granted automatic extensions once they reach retirement age.  The forced retirement reportedly was over the rabbi’s criticism of racial discrimination by the Chief Rabbinate against Israelis of Ethiopian descent, in particular his protest of their difficulties in registering for marriage in Petach Tikvah. Days later the decision was overturned by the ministry, which extended his tenure by six months, with the explanation that it would ensure uninterrupted service to the Ethiopian community.

Israeli Airbnb guest refused by British host because of ‘aggressive settlers’


An Israeli man said a British Airbnb host refused to rent an apartment to him because, the host said, Israelis don’t respect “basic human rights.”

Ben Kelmer, a Tel Aviv photographer, reserved a London apartment for a week in March through the online company, which has come under fire recently for listing properties in West Bank settlements. In some cases, the listings indicate that the properties are in Israel proper.

When Kelmer contacted the host with a question about public transportation, the host said he could not “even consider hosting you,” the U.K.’s Jewish News reported.

“This is how the world pictures you: aggressive settlers occupying land, destroying houses. In a few words: not respecting basic human rights,” the message said. “On that basis, I just cannot even consider hosting you, even if you pay me millions.”

Kelmer posted to Airbnb’s Facebook page: “We were served a healthy dose of Grade A, European bigotry and discrimination at its finest, poorly masked as so-called, socially-conscious political protest of the worst, most prejudiced kind, that is strictly reserved to Israelis.”

The company posted a reply saying it would investigate the matter. Another Facebook user commented on Kelmer’s post, saying, “Appalling and sadly, happens too often.”

In December, a 13-year-old Israeli girl received a somewhat similar rebuff from a British citizen. When Shachar Rabinovitch of Zichron Yaakov emailed Marsha Levine, a former academic at the University of Cambridge, with questions for a research project on horses, Levine responded that she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“You might be a child, but if you are old enough to write to me, you are old enough to learn about Israeli history and how it has impacted on the lives of Palestinian people,” Levine wrote.

Rabbinical bias against Ethiopians to be punished, religion minister says


Israel’s newly-appointed religious services minister said he would void the marriage authority of municipal rabbinates if they are found to be discriminating against Ethiopian Jews.

David Azoulay of the Orthodox Shas party spoke Thursday with Army Radio, following the station’s report about alleged delays by the rabbinate of Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv in the handling of requests by Ethiopian Jews to marry.

“I ordered the voiding of the authority to handle marriage issues by that rabbinate if the allegations are correct,” Azoulay said.

He was reacting to a an article published earlier that day about couples who have waited over nine months for their city’s rabbinate to approve marriage documents already certified by their Ethiopian-Israeli rabbi.

Civil servants from Azoulay’s office told Army Radio that they had looked into the complaints and deemed them to be unfounded.

In Israel, marriages are processed and performed by clerics employed by the state as judge and registrars.

Azoulay’s warning comes two weeks after riots broke out over a video in which a police officer was seen beating an Israeli Ethiopian soldier in uniform.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged that his new government will be more sensitive to allegations of bias against Ethiopians.

Transgender woman denied access to Western Wall


A transgender woman was denied access to both the women’s and men’s sections of the Western Wall.

Kay Long, who designs wedding dresses, evening gowns and costumes, on Monday visited the Western Wall with a friend visiting from Madrid.

When she approached the women’s section she was turned away by an Orthodox woman patrolling the site who said she is not a woman. She was not allowed into the men’s section because she does not look like a man and in any case would not wear a yarmulke.

“From an early age we are taught that if we place a note at the Kotel our prayers might be answered,” she wrote Monday using the heading “Dilemma” on her Facebook page, under a photo of her outside the Western Wall plaza with the Kotel in the background. “All that’s left now is to take a picture and say a prayer from afar with the hope that it will be answered. Because God is everywhere and loves us all.”

After hundreds of comments and likes, Long on Tuesday morning posted a clarification, saying that she had no intention of praying at the Western Wall during her visit, and believes that it is more important for the Orthodox worshippers to be there than for her to make a scene.

“Inside, I believe that God is everywhere,” she wrote, adding that she believes in a live and let live motto.

“The point is, I decided to respect humans wherever they choose to be, and they didn’t respect me,” she wrote.

“Your prayers will be answered because you are a pure person and more wise than all of those who prevent you from coming close to the Kotel,” one of her Facebook friends responded, who also decried “gross discrimination,” against transgender people in Israel.

 

After Gaza conflict, Israel’s Arab minority fears rising discrimination


Handcuffed to a wooden chair in the middle of the night, Rafat Awaysha still wasn’t sure what crime he had committed.

He had announced a demonstration against the war in Gaza in a July 11 Facebook post. Soon afterward, he received a call from the police, who came to his dormitory and took him in for questioning.
 
Released after an hour, Awaysha, the head of the Arab-Israeli Balad party student group at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, thought the ordeal was over. But at 3 p.m. the police returned.
 
“You have the right to express yourself in a democratic process,” Awaysha, 20, said. “You don’t need to be in an interrogation for 12 hours for participating in a protest.”
 
Awaysha was one of approximately 1,500 Arab-Israelis arrested for involvement in protests against Israel’s operation in Gaza, according to NGOs and Israeli media reports. Mossawa, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the equal treatment of Israel’s Arab minority, said that at least 70 Israeli Arabs were illegally fired, reprimanded or suspended from work for publicly opposing the war.
 
Reached by JTA, a police spokesman confirmed the total number of arrests but would not confirm or deny Awaysha’s account.
 
Arab-Israeli opposition to the recent conflict, which ended with a late August truce, brought the predicament of Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs into stark relief.
 
Community activists advocating for Arab-Israeli advancement and civil liberties say that most Arab-Israelis — even those  seeking to integrate better into Israeli society — opposed Israel’s Gaza operation because of the grave risk it posed to Palestinians there. An Aug. 11-12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank found that 62 percent of Israel’s Arabs opposed the war, as opposed to 24 percent who said they supported it.

Arab-Israelis “are not being patriotic enough for the Israelis, but at the same time they are called traitors by their own people because they are not joining the struggle against Israel,” Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes Arab-Jewish coexistence, explained one day after the conflict.

Throughout the war, Israeli-Arabs faced discrimination from the streets, where Jewish protesters chanted “Death to Arabs,” and from the halls of Knesset: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab-Israelis who participated in a one-day strike to oppose the war. Some Knesset members called for Balad lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, who was suspended from parliamentary activity for six months, to be punished even more harshly for several statements they called inflammatory. And last month, some right-wing Knesset members proposed a bill to demote Arabic from being an official language of Israel.
 
In a poll last year, the Israel Democracy Institute found that nearly half of Jewish-Israelis believed that Jews should have more rights than Arabs in Israel, and that nearly half would not want to live next to an Arab family.
 
Following the poll’s release, survey author Tamar Herman said, “Instead of focusing on citizenship and Israeli-ness, [Jewish-Israelis] find it easier and more convenient to focus more on their Jewishness.”
 
Sayed Kashua, a well-regarded Arab-Israeli Hebrew-language writer, made news this summer when he decided to move from Israel to Illinois. Kashua wrote about the transition in a Guardian Op-Ed titled “Why I have to leave Israel,”describing his fears for his family.
 
“After my last columns some readers beseeched that I be exiled to Gaza, threatened to break my legs, to kidnap my children,” he wrote. “I live in Jerusalem, and I have some wonderful Jewish neighbours, and friends, but I still cannot take my children to day camps or to parks with their Jewish friends. My daughter protested furiously and said no one would know she is an Arab because of her perfect Hebrew but I would not listen. She shut herself in her room and wept.”
 
 
For Arab-Israelis, the climate of fear and animosity had intensified even before the most recent conflict in Gaza. Earlier this year, a spate of so-called “price tag” attacks targeted their communities. Perpetrated by Jewish-Israeli right-wing extremists in response to perceived anti-settlement policies, the attacks ranged from graffiti on mosques and businesses to tires slashed on Arab-owned cars.
 
Tensions spiked when Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned alive a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, on July 2 in a revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June. Outraged by the incident, Arab-Israelis gathered in mass protests in Jerusalem and northern Israel. Demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires, and vandals damaged Jerusalem light rail stations in the eastern part of the city. Demonstrations continued across Israel throughout the war.
 
Thousands of Jewish-Israelis, it should be noted, protested alongside their Arab counterparts during the war — and a handful of those Jewish demonstrators were arrested.
 
“More and more young people feel the democratic methods of struggle adopted by the political leaders of the Arab community haven’t been effective,” said Jafar Sarah, Mossawa’s director. “More and more people will take the risk of using illegal methods,” such as riots and violence against property.
 
Following a demonstration by Arab-Israelis last week celebrating the Palestinians “Gaza victory,” Liberman said Israel should treat the demonstrators “as traitors and supporters of a terror organization, to put them to justice and to give them the ‘right’ to stand for a moment of silence, as they did during the demonstration, in jail cells.”
 
Biotechnology student Alaa Taha, 25, lost her job monitoring quality control at a plastics factory shortly after she was arrested at a protest on July 18. Her managers said they were firing her for an error committed months ago, Taha said, but she doubts that story. To boot, she said she still hasn’t received her the final paycheck or a letter of termination that would allow her to receive unemployment benefits.
 
“I don’t know what to say, but this is racism,” she said. “I went to a protest. I didn’t do anything. We just yelled and that’s it. This is a democratic state. Where’s the democracy?”
 
Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, an Israeli NGO that aims to advance equality for Arab-Israelis, sees a tug of war between democratic forces and anti-democratic forces.
 
“The democratic forces are now fighting back against the attacks against the Arabs,” he said. “Will they succeed in that struggle? I don’t know. The public has gotten to such difficult places that I hope it says it can’t be silent.”
 
Awaysha said that during his police interrogation, he was asked why his Facebook post called for violence (it didn’t, he said). After he was handcuffed to the chair, he said, an officer from Israel’s Shin Bet security service began to question him. When Awaysha tried to fall asleep in the chair after the interrogation, he recalled the police officer saying, “This isn’t a hostel.”
 
He was released in the early morning — and given a week of house arrest.
 
“They started saying, ‘We know where your father works, where your mother works, we know you’re a student,’” related Awaysha, a political science student who also was arrested last year for protesting a government plan to relocate Negev Bedouins. “They asked me to work with them. They didn’t get what they wanted.”

Ban backtracking on U.N. bias disappoints Israeli officials


Israeli officials said they were disappointed that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backtracked on his statements that Israel faces bias and discrimination at the world body.

Unnamed Israeli officials made their comments Tuesday to Israeli media outlets a day after Ban amended the remarks he made late last week to Israeli college students.

Ban told the students during a meeting Aug. 16 in Jerusalem that “unfortunately because of the conflict, Israel has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias — sometimes even discrimination.”

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Ban said, adding that Israel should be treated equal to the other 192 member states of the United Nations.

Asked Monday by a reporter at the U.N. what he intended to do about the bias, Ban retracted the remarks.

“No, I don’t think there is discrimination against Israel at the United Nations,” Ban said.

“The Israeli government maybe raised this issue that there’s some bias against Israel, but Israel is one of the 193 member states. Thus, Israel should have equal rights and opportunities without having any bias, any discrimination. That’s a fundamental principle of the United Nations charter. And thus, Israel should be fully given such rights.”

One unnamed senior Israeli official told Israeli media outlets that Israel was “disappointed” by the remarks.

“It’s clear that Israel has been systematically discriminated against at the United Nations, and the way to start dealing with that issue is first of all to recognize that there’s a problem,” he said. “The secretary’s comments on Friday in Jerusalem about the U.N.’s bias against Israel showed moral leadership, and we hope we’re not seeing backtracking.”

Shangri-La juror said to have hidden her Jewishness


In court papers filed Jan. 7, attorneys for the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner allege that of 12 members on the jury that unanimously found their clients guilty of discriminating in 2010 against a group of Jewish patrons, one juror concealed her own Jewishness during jury selection. 

The attorneys’ assertion appears in a 21-page memorandum supporting their motion for a new trial, one of a number of post-trial motions filed in recent weeks in the same Santa Monica courtroom where the jury’s unanimous verdict against the Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, was first handed down in August 2012. 

In the memorandum, the hotel’s attorneys state that the judge who presided over the trial made errors in law, that the evidence presented was insufficient to justify the final verdict and that the damages awarded by the jury to the 18 plaintiffs — more than $1.6 million in all — were excessive. 

But of all the arguments advanced in the memorandum, the lawyers’ assertions about “misconduct” behind the closed door of the jury room stand out. 

According to the memorandum, Juror No. 7, identified as Yerha Vasquez, “failed to disclose her religious background, Jewish, during voir dire,” the process of jury selection that takes place before a trial begins, which lasted more than three full days before the Shangri-La trial officially commenced. 

The hotel’s lawyers cite another juror as the source for this assertion. In a three-page declaration also filed in court by the defense, juror Debra Clint says that Vasquez “often cried during deliberations about her pain and her past history.” 

Clint’s declaration does not include any mention of Vasquez’s religion.

Steven Richman, a partner in the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, LLP, who joined the legal team defending the Shangri-La and Adaya after the conclusion of the trial, would not say how he first became aware of Clint’s concerns about what took place in the jury room, but he stood by the memorandum’s claim about Vasquez’s concealing her Jewishness. 

“She [Vasquez] did not disclose her religion or the fact that she believed that she had been harassed before,” Richman said in an interview with the Journal on Jan. 10. 

Clint, who signed her declaration on Nov. 21, 2012, also complained about another juror, identified only as “Ms. Schellpfeffer.” Clint describes Schellpfeffer as “aggressive, forceful and outspoken during deliberations,” and also makes the claim that Schellpfeffer came into deliberations wanting to “ ‘stick it to’ the Defendants.” 

Clint’s statement alleges that Vasquez “aligned herself with … Schellpfeffer, and agreed and voted with Ms. Schellpfeffer on whatever Ms. Schellpfeffer said.” 

The defense memorandum describes Schellpfeffer’s conduct as “a manifest refusal to deliberate,” but one juror’s allegedly dominating deliberations may not be sufficient grounds for a judge to grant a new trial, according to an expert on the topic. 

“That’s not a basis for overturning a verdict,” Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the law school at University of California, Irvine, said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

In their memorandum, the defense attorneys presented other reasons to grant a new trial. They argue that because the organization with which the plaintiffs were affiliated, the Los Angeles-based young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, is not a religious group, the Unruh Civil Rights Act should not apply to them. 

James H. Turken, the managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro LLP’s three offices in California who represented the plaintiffs at the original trial, disputed the defense’s interpretation of the Unruh Act. 

Because Adaya is said to have instructed her staff to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the Shangri-La’s pool, Turken said the identity of the organization sponsoring the party that Adaya disrupted is irrelevant. 

“They could’ve been there with the United Way,” he said. “If they were Jewish people and she made that comment, that would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

The defense’s motion for a new trial is scheduled to be heard in court on Jan. 31.

Shangri-La Hotel owner seeks new trial


The Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its partial-owner, Tehmina Adaya, who in August 2012 were found guilty in a jury trial of unlawfully discriminating against a group of young Jews, have begun the process of requesting a new trial. 

Attorneys for Adaya and the hotel filed three motions in California Superior Court on Dec. 24, including one outlining what they call legal defects in the previous judgment and another declaring their intent to request a new trial. A hearing on these motions is set for Jan. 31. 

The 19 plaintiffs accused Adaya of discriminating against them when she abruptly shut down a poolside party being held by the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) at the Shangri-La in July 2010. 

Jurors found Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law that ensures equal accommodations be provided by private businesses to all people regardless of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

Jurors awarded the plaintiffs statutory, compensatory and punitive damages amounting to more than $1.6 million. 

Adaya denied having discriminated against the group of plaintiffs in her testimony during the trial, and she reiterated her stance in a recent interview with the Journal.

“I didn’t do anything they accused me of,” said Adaya, standing in the main sanctuary at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena after a session at the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s annual conference in December. “Nothing. That’s not who I am.”

Adaya said she was unhappy with the performance by her lawyers during the trial; a new attorney, Steven Huskey, a partner at the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, is now leading the appeal effort.

“It’s certainly challenging to come in at this stage of the game,” Huskey said. “We think mistakes were made legally and in the pursuit of justice.”

The request for a new trial did not come as a surprise to James Turken, who represented the plaintiffs. “She has an absolute right to an appeal in the state of California,” he said. 

Turken represented the young Jewish plaintiffs on a contingency basis; in December, he filed a motion seeking $2.2 million in attorneys’ fees from Adaya and the hotel. Huskey said he intends to file a motion in opposition to Turken’s.

Despite the pending appeal, plans for a party to be held at the hotel by two Zionist organizations are moving forward.

The party is one of a number of compensatory gestures made by Adaya and the Shangri-La following the verdict. When the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) announced plans to stage a protest outside the hotel to express the “outrage” of the Jewish community, the hotel began negotiations with the group, and ZOA called off the protest after Adaya made contributions to two Israeli nonprofits. The hotel also agreed to host a ZOA party within one year.

Although ZOA closed its office in Los Angeles in November and dismissed Orit Arfa, its regional executive director here, Arfa said she is moving ahead with plans for a Purim-themed party on Feb. 24, staged under the banner of a new organization she has established, the Creative Zionist Coalition. ZOA’s Western Region, which is now based in San Francisco, will co-sponsor the event, Arfa said.

Hotel Shangri-La, ZOA find common ground


On Aug. 21, on the heels of a jury decision that found the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, along with one of its part-owners, had discriminated against a group of Jews during an incident in 2010, the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) sent out a notice that it was planning a protest in front of the Hotel Shangri-La on Aug. 26, to “express outrage.”

Then, on Aug. 24, the ZOA announced that it had canceled the rally after coming to an agreement with the hotel and its owner.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Hotel Shangri-La President, CEO and part-owner Tehmina Adaya condemned anti-Semitism and declared her support for Israel, even as she reaffirmed her intent to appeal the jury’s decision and maintained that she had never made any discriminatory comments to any of the plaintiffs who had brought the lawsuit.

[For more on the Hotel Shangri-La case, visit jewishjournal.com/thenon-prophet]

In the case in question, Adaya and the hotel were found to have violated the civil rights of 18 Jewish and non-Jewish plaintiffs when members of the hotel’s staff, allegedly acting on Adaya’s instructions, disrupted a pool party that had been organized by a pro-Israel group.

At the conclusion of their deliberations, the jury in California Superior Court ordered the hotel and Adaya to pay the plaintiffs a combined $1.65 million in damages, statutory payments and punitive damages.

The hotel’s press release — which made no mention of the ZOA’s planned protest — also announced donations from Adaya of $3,600 each to two Israeli foundations, the Koby Mandell Foundation, which supports Israeli victims of terror, and the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization, which supports wounded Israeli soldiers.

The ZOA announced the cancellation of the protest in a separate release, circulated just moments after the hotel’s statement was sent out.

“The mere fear of a protest evoked these concessions,” Steve Goldberg, chairman of the ZOA’s Los Angeles region and its national vice chair, said in an interview. “We actually got something tangible, as opposed to a group of people walking in front of a hotel.”

“I care deeply about the hurt, anger and misunderstanding that has resulted and I want the Jewish and pro-Israel community to know I condemn anti-Semitism,” Adaya is quoted as saying in Friday’s statement. “I welcome diversity and never made disparaging comments to anyone who attended an event here.”

However, one point in the hotel’s statement — an invitation from Adaya to “leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community” to attend a private event sometime in the next 12 months to be coordinated with the ZOA and hosted by the Shangri-La — has provoked criticism from one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Lou Sokolovskiy, who was awarded more than $115,000 by the jury, said in an interview that while he hadn’t intended to attend the canceled ZOA’s protest, he was “quite disappointed” that ZOA had agreed to host a pro-Israel event at the Shangri-La and had not demanded that Adaya apologize for her actions.

“That’s basically playing along with a public relations campaign that Ms. Adaya is trying to build and becoming a puppet in her hand,” Sokolovskiy said. 

ZOA’s Goldberg countered that the “vast majority of feedback” his group had received about the agreement with the hotel had been positive, and he called Sokolovskiy “one of fewer than a handful of malcontents.”

“We’re not giving her [Adaya] any cover,” Goldberg said. “We’re simply taking her money and giving it to pro-Israel charities.”

James Turken, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in their successful lawsuit, declined to comment specifically on the hotel’s agreement with ZOA, but called the hotel’s statement “clearly an effort at damage control” and “spin control.”

As an example, Turken pointed to the statement’s interpretation of the jury’s verdict. “While the jury found that the hotel did not have proper business protocols in place,” the statement read, “they did not claim or believe she made discriminatory comments to any of the plaintiffs.”

Yet the jury unanimously decided in the cases of each of the 18 plaintiffs that the hotel and Adaya had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and further found that in most cases, the hotel and its owner had acted maliciously.

The verdict made no comment about the hotel’s business protocols, Turken said, and he called the hotel’s portrayal, “100 percent false.”

“There’s no way to spin the verdict as anything other than what it was,” Turken said. “All that one needs to do is look at the court record. This isn’t something you can hide.”

Asked how the hotel had come to that interpretation of the verdict, Miles Lozano, the hotel’s director of PR/Marketing, wrote in an e-mail, “None of the plaintiffs claimed to have heard any discriminatory comments, it was based on hearsay from a former disgruntled employee who did not show up in court to testify.”

Sworn testimony from a deposition of that former employee, Nathan Codrey, was read into the court record for the jury during the trial. In addition, a number of plaintiffs who testified during the trial said under oath that while they had not heard Adaya make discriminatory comments, Codrey had reported to them on the day of the event in 2010 that Adaya had instructed him to “Get the [expletive] Jews out of the hotel.” At the time, Codrey was serving as the hotel’s assistant food and beverage manager. He was terminated from his position shortly after the event.


The complete text of both statements is below.

The Hotel Shangri-La’s:

Hotel Shangri-­La Owner Reaches Out to Jewish Community Makes Donation and Invites Pro-Israel Groups to Hotel

August 24, 2012, Santa Monica, CA -­‐-­‐-­‐ Tehmina Adaya, owner of the Hotel Shangri‐La, today publicly voiced her sensitivity to Jewish groups and Israel by announcing a plan that supports Israel, condemns anti-Semitism and embraces cultural understanding.

Ms. Adaya, who has always supported diversity, announced an equal donation of $3,600
to both the Koby Mandell Foundation (www.kobymandell.org) and Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization (www.zdvo.org) to reinforce her commitment to supporting Israel and appreciating diversity.

In addition, she extended a personal invitation to leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel community to attend a private event, hosted by the Shangri‐La, to be led by and coordinated with the Zionist Organization of America in Los Angeles within the next 12 months.

Ms. Adaya, a longtime Santa Monica resident and board member of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, is eager to clarify misinformation and improve relationships with Jewish leaders following a recent jury decision alleging discriminatory remarks.

“I care deeply about the hurt, anger and misunderstanding that has resulted and I want the Jewish and pro‐Israel community to know I condemn anti-Semitism. I welcome diversity and never made disparaging comments to anyone who attended an event here,” said Ms. Adaya. “I pride myself on having close Jewish friends and senior staff, employees representing 12 countries, and we welcome guests from around the world. While I regret I didn’t publicly address this sooner given my belief in my innocence, I support Israel and seek to enhance relationships with people of all backgrounds.”

Ms. Adaya plans to appeal the jury decision based on plaintiffs who attended an event for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, comprised of Jewish and non-Jewish supporters. She believes the claims were based on false information from a disgruntled former employee who did not show up in court to testify. While the jury found that the hotel did not have proper business protocols in place, they did not claim or believe she made discriminatory comments to any of the plaintiffs.

Opened in 1939, the 70-room oceanfront Hotel Shangri-­‐La has been a destination for international visitors throughout its long history.

###

The ZOA’s:

Protest in front of Hotel Shangri La CANCELLED!

August 24, 2012 – In response to Ms. Tehmina Adaya’s public statement today condemning anti-Semitism and expressing support for Israel, the ZOA is cancelling the community-wide protest that it had planned for Sunday, August 26, 2012, 11 am. Please alert everyone you know who was planning to attend the protest.

The ZOA has made this decision in light of a public statement (which can be found here) in which Ms. Adaya and Hotel Shangri La have expressed support for Israel and a condemnation of anti-Semitism; a pledge to give to charities that assist Israeli victims of terror and IDF war veterans; and a pledge to host an event for the Jewish and pro-Israel community of Los Angeles to be coordinated with the ZOA.

In the wake of the ZOA’s announcement on August 20, 2012 that it was leading a community-wide protest with regard to the civil rights violations against a group of Jewish young professionals at Hotel Shangri La, the ZOA was approached by Hotel Shangri La to achieve reconciliation.

Although, based on a finding of clear and convincing evidence, the jury held that Ms. Adaya and the Hotel acted with malicious intent in evicting the group of Jewish young professionals, we believe that her statement exhibits the Jewish value of teshuva, repentance. Thus, the main purpose of the protest, which was to express outrage at anti-Semitism as well as Jewish pride, has been sufficiently addressed. We look forward to working with the Hotel to hold a Jewish community event that also expresses Jewish pride and support for Israel.

We at the ZOA greatly admire the 18 plaintiffs, “the Santa Monica Chai,” who refused to be victims of anti-Semitism and who had the courage and determination to seek justice. They are true Jewish heroes. We at the ZOA are also grateful to all those whose willingness to join the ZOA in the planned protest led to the satisfying resolution we have reached with Hotel Shangri La. We are proud to have demonstrated that Jewish activism is alive and kicking on the West Coast and that anti-Semitism will never again be quietly tolerated.

Shabbat Shalom to the entire House of Israel,

THE ZOA WESTERN REGION

The story behind the Hotel Shangri-La anti-Semitism trial


It was late in the afternoon on Aug. 15, a Wednesday, when the jury delivered its verdict to a Santa Monica courtroom. The discrimination case that had been brought against the oceanfront boutique Hotel Shangri-La by a group of young Jews had been going on for nearly four weeks, and the jurors had taken five full days for their deliberations. It was so late in the day, in fact, that James Turken, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, and some of his clients who were still standing by, had to be let into the locked courthouse building in Santa Monica by a security guard.

And even though Turken was already hopeful that the jury’s prolonged deliberation might mean good news for his side, it wasn’t until the attorney took a seat in the courtroom that he found out for certain just how overwhelming their victory was.

A court employee had already begun reading the jury’s verdicts for each of the 18 individual plaintiffs, and, with each additional decision, the message became increasingly clear: The jury firmly believed Turken’s clients’ allegations that the hotel and its president, CEO and part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, had illegally discriminated against them, solely because they were Jewish.

The total amount in damages and statutory payments awarded to the plaintiffs on that day added up to about $1.2 million. On the following day, because the jury found the defendants had acted with “malice, oppression and fraud” against most of the plaintiffs, they would also impose a fine on Adaya and the hotel of $440,000 in punitive damages — bringing the size of the total penalties to more than $1.6 million.

But Turken was already elated on Wednesday.

“Home run,” Turken whispered to this reporter. “Home run.”

This story dates back to two years before, to July 11, 2010, when the plaintiffs, most of them affiliated with the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), all attended a pool party organized by the group at the Shangri-La.

The group had made arrangements for the event through an event promoter, Scott Paletz, who had been bringing people to the hotel’s rooftop restaurant since March of that year. Starting at 11 a.m. on that Sunday, the FIDF group had been allotted a cordoned-off area on the pool’s deck, where members had installed a pair of banners announcing their presence. At a check-in table in the courtyard, a blue shirt was displayed with the word “Legacy,” the FIDF program the group was fundraising for that day. It’s a program that brings the young relatives of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty for a month-long stay at a summer camp in the U.S.

Adaya, 48, a Pakistani-born Muslim, was also at the pool that day, there to watch the World Cup final game in her cabana. After examining some of the FIDF group’s promotional literature, Adaya instructed members of her staff to take a number of actions against the group — including forcing the FIDF group to take down its banners, literature and other evidence of the organization’s presence. Many of the plaintiffs testified to seeing hotel security guards inform some of the FIDF guests, all easily identified by the blue promotional wristbands they were wearing, that they were not allowed to swim in the pool, or even dangle their feet into the water. The plaintiffs also alleged they heard from a hotel employee that Adaya had made comments about wanting to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the hotel or the pool.

The hotel staff did not forcibly kick out the attendees of the FIDF party, but their actions, the plaintiffs said, ruined the party. Though it had been expected to last into the evening, the day ended when the plaintiffs left the hotel, around 5 p.m., according to testimony during the trial.

Many of the plaintiffs (most, but not all, of them Jews) also testified that they could not believe they were experiencing discrimination of this sort, at a chic hotel in Santa Monica, in 2010. But that’s precisely what they came to believe had happened, and they were able to convince the jury that Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a far-reaching California state law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

The law entitles all Californians to “the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever,” and though it was adopted in 1959, a time when the most egregious forms of discrimination were directed against African Americans and other people of color, the statute clearly applies to religious groups, as well.

None of the legal experts interviewed for this article could point to a previous case in which the Unruh Act had been used to affirm the rights of Jews in the way that it was in the Shangri-La case, however. (One case, Sinai Memorial Chapel v. Dudler, had been brought in 1991 by a Jewish plaintiff and cited the Unruh Act, but in that instance the plaintiff was accusing other Jews of discriminating against her because she came from Russia.)

“I don’t think it makes new law, because it simply affirmed that there was a violation of existing law,” Turken said of the Shangri-La victory. “But do I think the case is important? Yeah, I think it’s important. My clients wanted the defendants held up to the world and found liable — and that happened.”

Built in 1939, the Art Deco Hotel Shangri-La is situated on the corner of Ocean and Arizona avenues, with a pool set in an interior courtyard, protected from any winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. The clean, white exterior of the 71-room facility glistens in the Southern California sunshine.

Tehmina Adaya’s father, Ahmad Adaya, purchased the hotel in 1983. Reading a March 2010 post on her blog, tamieadaya.com, one might imagine the Shangri-La to be the Santa Monica equivalent of the Chateau Marmont.

“I had the privilege of growing up in and around an LA institution that as Hollywood’s ocean front hotel had a long history of being a hideaway for high profile figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, Diane Keaton, Madonna and Sean Penn,” Adaya wrote, not long after a $35-million renovation of the Shangri-La was completed in 2009.

But if the hotel does, in fact, aspire to a degree of exclusivity, some of the evidence presented in court appeared to belie that aim. When Adaya took the stand as a witness on Aug. 1, Turken asked her if a formal policy exists as to who is allowed to use the hotel’s pool. Adaya responded that a sign now stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool.

Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”

Attorneys defending Adaya and the Hotel Shangri-La maintained throughout the trial that the FIDF group had not made a formal arrangement with the hotel to hold its party there, and therefore the hotel and Adaya were justified in their actions.

Yet in cross-examination on the witness stand, Adaya retreated from some of her previous allegations about the plaintiffs. Adaya acknowledged that, contrary to the report prepared by the hotel’s head of security, the FIDF group was not behaving in a raucous manner. And when Turken asked Adaya about a lawsuit she had filed against his clients, in which she alleged that they had posted libelous and defamatory comments on various Web sites about her hotel following the ill-fated event, the hotel owner admitted that she had no evidence that it was Turken’s clients who posted the comments.

“But their friends did,” Adaya said.

Whether it was Adaya’s own apparent uncertainty about the Shangri-La’s policies — including those governing the relationship between the hotel and the separate company that in 2010 was running the hotel’s food and beverage concessions — that impacted the jury’s verdict, it is impossible to say. At the close of the trial, before jury deliberations, Adaya declined to speak to this reporter. Adaya also was not present in court when the verdict was announced, nor, despite a request by the court, did she appear to hear the additional penalties read on the following day. Follow-up requests for an interview with Adaya for this article, submitted to her representatives, were declined.

A number of members of the hotel staff were present in the courtroom representing her, accompanied by a recently hired communications counselor with a specialty in crisis communications. They spoke in her defense, saying she intends to appeal the ruling.

Ellen Adelman, chief business development officer at the Shangri-La for the past two years, said she had spoken to Adaya that morning, who, Adelman said, was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“I’ve worked for Tehmina Adaya for over two years, and I have always received the utmost respect from her,” Adelman, who is Jewish, said. Adelman described her boss as one of the “most open people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” and said that the hotel employs staff from “over 12 countries” and welcomed guests from “over 21 different countries” in July.

Standing next to Adelman was Miles Lozano, the hotel’s director of public relations and marketing. Lozano, too, is Jewish, a fact he also made sure to note in a conversation during the morning recess.

“I went to Crossroads School with [Adaya’s] children, her children attended my bar mitzvah,” said Lozano, who declined to state his age but appeared young enough that his bar mitzvah might not be such a distant memory. “I’ve always known Tehmina Adaya to be amazingly open-minded as far as religion or anything like that.”

As for the plans to appeal the ruling, Adelman said that Adaya “firmly believes in the judicial system, and she will appeal this.” Defense attorney Philip Black, meanwhile, wrote in an e-mail to this reporter on the day punitive damages were assessed that he was “mystified, perplexed and extremely disappointed in the jury.”

“Appeal expected,” Black added.

Hotel Shangri-La trial raises specter of anti-Semitism


Is the word “Jew” offensive? What about “f—-ing Jew”?

That rather provocative question was posed on July 27 by Philip Black, one of the attorneys defending the Muslim owner of the Hotel Shangri-La, a boutique hotel in Santa Monica, against a discrimination lawsuit brought by more than a dozen members of a local pro-Israel group, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Young Leadership Division in Los Angeles.

The plaintiffs, 18 Jewish Angelenos in or around their 30s, say that Tehmina Adaya, the Pakistani-born, L.A.-bred businesswoman who is part owner of the Shangri-La, discriminated against them when she allegedly shut down a pool party they were holding at the hotel in July 2010.

The jury trial, which began with opening statements on July 26 and is expected to last for two weeks, may hinge on what hotel employees knew about the pool party in advance and whether any had the authority to reserve the space by the patio for the freelance promoter who staged the event for the FIDF group.

But because part of what underlies the accusations against Adaya is that she allegedly told one of her employees on that Sunday two years ago that she did not “want any Jews in the pool” and that she “wanted those f—-ing people gone,” the trial itself is raising some big — and at times difficult — questions about Jews and anti-Semitism.

As might be expected, some of the exchanges grew heated on the first day of witness testimony. Defense attorney Black, during his cross-examination of plaintiff Ari Ryan on July 27, tried to illustrate for the jury that calling someone a Jew doesn’t make one an anti-Semite.

“Sir,” Black said, “you are a Jew.”

“Yes, sir,” Ryan, one of the co-founders of the FIDF young leadership group, replied. “Born and raised.”

“And that, sir, in and of itself, is not offensive,” Black said.

“It can be,” Ryan said, adding that it depended on the context and tone in which the word “Jew” was said.

“But ‘f—-ing Jew’ offends you.”

“Of course,” Ryan said.

Black immediately restated for the court that only one person — Nathan Codrey, who was, in July 2010, the assistant food and beverage director at the Shangri-La — is alleged to have heard his client say anything about the “Jews.” But Black’s intention seemed to be to illustrate for the jury that even if Adaya did say the word “Jews,” her utterance might not necessarily have been anti-Semitic.

That’s just one of many “Jewish” questions this case has touched on so far. In his cross-examination, Black also probed Ryan as to whether the FIDF — which supports all members of the Israel Defense Forces, including its non-Jewish soldiers — could be considered a “Jewish” group.

Nicholas Morrison, another plaintiff who began his testimony near the end of the day on July 27, was one of two members of the FIDF group in charge of planning events in 2010. Morrison told the court that in his one meeting with the member of the hotel staff responsible for booking events on the property, the conversation covered the basics — like towels and cabanas — but also the mission of the FIDF as a whole.

“I told her that our organization provide[s] aid to Israeli soldiers,” Morrison said, “that we are not buying bullets, not buying flak jackets.”

The defense is presenting Adaya’s actions in 2010 as those of a hotel owner with the right to restrict the use of its pool to registered guests and to those particular events whose organizers pay a site fee to the hotel. The FIDF group, which organized the event through an independent event promoter, did not pay a site fee to the Shangri-La.

“This was not a case of discrimination,” defense attorney John S. Levitt told the jury in his opening statement on July 26. While members of the FIDF’s Young Leadership division thought that they had arranged for their event to take place at the Shangri-La pool, Levitt said, no agreement had been made with the hotel’s management.

In Levitt’s words, the promoter responsible for that Sunday’s event — Scott Paletz, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case — had “sold [the FIDF members] a bill of goods.”

The Shangri-La pool has hosted at least one Jewish event in the recent past, a poolside party thrown by the Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in August 2009. 

But dismissing the charges of discrimination may not be so simple. The story the FIDF group’s members tell is one that has unmistakable undertones that hark back to some of the darkest chapters of Jewish history.

In his testimony, Ryan described watching the event’s attendees, who had each been issued a blue wristband upon entry, “being tapped on the shoulder and asked by security to leave the pool.”

The outcome of the trial is far from certain, not least because the plaintiffs — who sit clustered into a group of seats in the observers’ section of the courtroom — are young, white, articulate, apparently well off and not visibly injured. During his cross-examination of Ryan — who was described by the Los Angeles Times as “a real estate entrepreneur who lives in Westwood” — defense attorney Black drew special attention to the damages the plaintiffs are seeking. In Ryan’s case, a document introduced into evidence and signed by Ryan said he sought $150,000 in past and future medical expenses — despite his not having undergone any formal physical or psychological treatment.

Other plaintiffs may tell different stories when they take the stand — many are expected to testify at trial. And plaintiffs’ attorney James Turken intended to call Rabbi David Wolpe to testify as an expert witness on July 31.

“Anti-Semitism is bad and people ought not to practice it,” Wolpe wrote in an e-mail to The Journal on July 30, describing what he intended to say when he took the stand the next morning.

But convincing the diverse jury that the case is, in fact, one of anti-Semitic discrimination, may be an uphill battle. Two observers present in the courtroom on July 27, neither of whom was connected with a side in this case, both expressed doubts that the plaintiffs are suffering from emotional distress deserving of compensatory damages of more than $3 million.

Eli, an Israeli-born Santa Monica resident who gave only his first name, said he wasn’t certain that the plaintiffs had been discriminated against at all. 

Indeed Ryan, in his testimony, said that while he was at the Shangri-La, even he couldn’t believe he was being discriminated against.

“It was very surreal. …It took a while to set in because you just don’t expect that to be happening,” Ryan said.

Defense attorney Levitt described his client in his opening statement as someone who does not have “a discriminatory bone in her body.”

A Muslim, Adaya attended Catholic schools in Pakistan; after moving to the United States, she went to what was then called Westlake School for Girls, which had many Jewish students.

From his opening statement, it’s clear Turken also sees a possibility that the jury might doubt that his clients were victims of anti-Semitism.

“Every case has a theme, and this case is no different,” Turken said on the trial’s first day. “And the theme here is: Just because you can’t believe it could happen here doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

ZOA sued for discrimination, national president Morton Klein takes the stand in Beverly Hills court


Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein took the stand Thursday in a Beverly Hills courtroom as the final witness in a sex discrimination and wrongful termination case filed against the ZOA.

Julie Sager, who worked for the ZOA for seven years, including five years as national director of campus activities, based in Los Angeles, is accusing the ZOA of sex and pregnancy discrimination for firing her when she returned to work after a short maternity leave following the birth of her third child in May 2009. The ZOA counters that Sager was a problematic employee for some time. ZOA also notes that it accommodated Sager through three pregnancies while she was employed at ZOA.

The ZOA is an Israel advocacy organization with a budget of around $4 million.

Taking the stand on the last day of two weeks of testimony from both sides, Klein testified for the defense regarding Sager’s employment history. He also stated that he harbored no bias against pregnant women. In fact, he said, the opposite is true.

“No one could be more thrilled than me when Jewish women have children,” Klein said, choking up a bit. “I am a child of Holocaust survivors. I lost many first cousins, aunts, uncles, and three of four grandparents to Hitler, and I’m thrilled when Jewish woman have children … I wish they’d have more.”

The plaintiff contends that ZOA has fired three women shortly after they took maternity leave. ZOA countered that the women were all terminated for cause, and that many other women have held and continue to hold important positions at the organization. As an organization with fewer than 50 employees, ZOA is not federally mandated to have a maternity leave policy.

ZOA says that it had to eliminate Sager’s position because of budgetary stress following the Madoff scandal and economic collapse of 2008. But in a brief filed with the court, Sager’s attorney, San Francisco-based Charles J. Wisch, says ZOA filled the position immediately and maintained the same number of employees in the campus activities department.

“Julie Sager successfully built and ran ZOA’s campus department for over 7 years before ZOA fired her,” Wisch said. “[Her] record speaks for itself about her competency and effectiveness.”

Steven Goldberg, a national vice chair for the ZOA and president of ZOA’s L.A. regional board, said ZOA refused to settle, because it is “outraged at being falsely accused.”

“Any type of discrimination is sickening, but it’s also pretty sickening to make an accusation that is completely false, especially when it’s done so cynically,” said Goldberg, an attorney who was co-counsel on the case but stepped down so he could be called as a witness.

The damages the plaintiff is seeking are not specified the brief, except to say they include compensation for back pay; intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.
The trial, which is expected to rest on Friday, will be decided by California Superior Court Judge Richard A. Stone, who is presiding over the jury-less bench trial, as agreed to by both sides.

The timing of the verdict is at Stone’s discretion.

Texas Jewish man sues for discrimination


A Jewish man in Texas is suing his former employer over discrimination claims.

Sheldon Reichstein in his lawsuit against the Youth Advocate Programs Inc. alleges that various employees made discriminatory remarks about his race and religion, according to the Southeast Texas Record. A secretary allegedly said that Reichstein was treating her like a Hebrew slave.

Reichstein worked for the organization for 11 years before he was dismissed in April.

He was the company’s only white, Jewish administrator in the Harris and Jefferson counties of Texas, according to the suit.

The suit alleges that once the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed his complaint warranted a lawsuit, he was fired in retaliation.

Greater Washington JCC sued for discrimination


The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington is being sued for violating the American With Disabilities Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said July 20 that it is charging the Rockville, Md. center with demoting, rather than accommodating, an assistant nursery school teacher because of her disability, the Washington Jewish Week reported.

The teacher, Carole Schulman, has a hearing impairment.

Michael Feinstein, the JCCGW’s chief executive office, said Tuesday, “We haven’t been filed with a lawsuit at this time,” so he was unable to comment.

Despite diplomas, Ethiopian Israelis can’t find jobs


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Asaf Negat, 29, made his way to Israel from Ethiopia as an 11-year-old boy and worked hard to find his way in a new land and learn to speak a new language. Eventually, Negat graduated with a business degree from one of the country’s top universities.

However, since completing his studies in the summer of 2006, he has not found work in his field. Unemployed, Negat spends his days trolling the Web sites of banks and investment houses, seeking job openings and sending out resumes.

“It’s not exactly a hopeful situation,” said Negat, whose only job since graduation has been as a counselor at an absorption center for newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants. “It makes people like me feel pessimistic, especially when we look at our younger brothers and sisters who see what we are going through.”

Negat is not alone.

Of the approximately 4,500 Ethiopian Israelis who have earned university degrees, fewer than 15 percent have found work in their professions, according to a recent study. Instead, most end up working temporary public-sector jobs serving the Ethiopian Israeli community, remaining disconnected from the larger professional Israeli workforce.

Working in such jobs, which often are project-based and subject to elimination once funding runs out, these Ethiopian Israelis earn less than other college-educated Israelis. Ethiopian Israeli graduates earn an average of $1,375 a month, compared with $1,925 monthly for their Jewish Israeli peers, according to a joint study of the Israeli government and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

“On the one hand, one wants Ethiopians with academic degrees to help make changes in the community by working within it, but on the other hand, these jobs are not highly paid, often not very stable and don’t have much potential for promotion,” said Sigal Shelach, director of programs for immigrants and minorities at Tevet, a joint government-JDC-Israel employment initiative. “So there is a kind of vicious circle going on.”

Negat’s easy smile vanishes when he speaks of the challenges of breaking into the ranks of the educated Israeli middle class.

“We are the role model for the younger generation,” he said. “But how are they supposed to react when they go from being encouraged by our studies to watching us finish university, only to return back at home, stuck, with no work?”

It’s hardly the fairy-tale landing into the white-collar Israeli workforce many young Ethiopian Israelis imagine for themselves once they make it beyond a host of obstacles to start their university careers.

However, in Israel, where personal connections and unwritten cultural codes are especially strong, Ethiopian Israeli graduates face a significant disadvantage in finding jobs compared with their native-born peers. For one thing, they are less likely to have the professional network of connections a typical Israeli might have to land a job.

“They think they graduate and that will be it, but most of them don’t have help of where to go and what to look for,” said Danny Admesu, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as a child and now is the director of the Israeli Association for Ethiopian Jews. “Usually in Israeli families relatives work in different fields, they have connections and can give advice. You learn not just in university but by meeting people and parents’ contacts. But these people graduate and then don’t know what to do.”

Furthermore, many Israeli employers rely on assessment centers to screen potential job candidates before granting interviews. Some experts say the centers have unintentional cultural biases — for example, asking questions about aggressive decision-making styles and leadership that Ethiopian Israeli job candidates answer much differently than native-born Israelis.

To address that problem, the JDC is piloting a program for more culturally sensitive screening tests.

Compounding matters, many Ethiopian Israelis come from Israel’s periphery — outside the heavily populated center of the country — where jobs are scarce.

There is also the problem of racism, some say.

“We cannot shut our eyes to it and need to talk about it,” said Ranan Hartman, founder and chair of the Ono Academic College, one of a handful of Israeli institutions trying to address the problems facing Ethiopian Israeli graduates. “If we hide from it, it won’t be solved.”

Hartman said the school’s outreach to Ethiopian Israelis, which is supported in part by the Jewish Agency for Israel, aims to achieve nothing less than a revolution in the Ethiopians’ status in Israeli society.

“How do you inform society to respect the Ethiopian community? You do it by creating islands of excellence, and the success stories can then go and break stigmas,” Hartman said.

The college boasts among its Ethiopian graduates the first Ethiopian diplomat and accountant in Israel.

Now in its second year, the program has provided 200 students and graduates with intensive workshops in job searching, management and leadership skills, connected them with mentors and made high-level connections and introductions to help pave their way to interviews and, hopefully, jobs.

Supported by the Jewish Agency and the UJA-Federation of New York, the program coordinates its efforts with the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya and Bank Hapoalim. Yifat Ovadiah, general director of the organization, said its goal is to help place 1,000 Ethiopian graduates in highly sought-after jobs in their fields in the next five to seven years.

“The idea is that 1,000 people can help change perceptions,” Ovadiah said. “By having visibility in places like the country’s largest accounting and law firms, these people will be able to advance and become influential themselves.”

The group taps top Israeli executives — the CEO of Bank Hapoalim is among the group’s volunteers — to spread the word about the program’s high-quality graduates.

Negat is one of this year’s participants. He said the program is his lifeline to finding work.

At a meeting center at Kibbutz Shfaim, Negat joined several others for a workshop where he had a one-on-one counseling session with an experienced businessman. Under the shadow of an oak tree, Danny Heller helped Negat troubleshoot how best to approach employers as he tries to embark on a career in finance.

Heller, also addressed a larger group of business and economics students during the workshop, reminding them of how extraordinary their journeys have been — and to play that up during their next job interview.

“You have incredible life stories,” the businessman told the group. “You went through things most people never had to, and your abilities, the walls you had to break down, are what will bring you to your next job.”

Where’s the struggle?


I feel cheated. I’ve always been told that Judaism is all about the struggle — the struggle with God, with ourselves, with ideas.

I’ve been told that Judaism embraces the tension between opposing views; that a key part of being Jewish is the ability to hold onto, even nurture, this tension as a way of refining our character.

So, what happened?

When I see the coarse arguments currently raging over the issue of same-sex marriage, I don’t see any thoughtful or fascinating debates or any embracing of tension. I see two armies shooting at each other.

These two armies have one thing in common: They’re both absolutely sure they have the truth on their side.

Many proponents of same-sex marriage are so sure of themselves that they’ll accuse the other side of “hatred, discrimination and bigotry.” When I saw a neighbor a few weeks ago put up a sign that said, “No to Hate, No to 8,” the first thing that crossed my mind was: If these people can go so far as to accuse the neighbors who disagree with them of hatred, well, they must be incredibly sure of themselves. No inner turmoil there.

I can’t say I’ve reached that state of blissful certitude. That’s because for every heartfelt, passionate argument I hear in favor of same-sex marriage, I’ll hear something that complicates the argument, such as this from Carol A. Corrigan:

“If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box.”

Corrigan is not a Mormon missionary. She’s a justice of the California Supreme Court. She was one of three dissenters in the decision last May to overturn the result of Proposition 22 from March 2000, when 61 percent of Californians who cast ballots voted that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Corrigan also happens to be a lesbian, who would personally like to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land. But as she wrote in her dissent:

“We are in the midst of a major social change. Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some, the process is frustratingly slow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy the people should be given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference. That is the way democracies work.

“Ideas are proposed, debated, tested. Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But when ideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered.”

Does that sound like someone who’s full of hatred, discrimination and bigotry?

Similarly, I came across a scholarly and respectful essay from professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University titled, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The Bible is never mentioned. Instead, strictly from a secular and ethical viewpoint, Somerville delves into the many layers of the issue, always recognizing the opposing viewpoint. And without a trace of self-righteousness, she advances, slowly and carefully, her belief that “society needs an institution that represents, symbolizes and protects the inherently reproductive relationship.”

I would love to see all proponents of Proposition 8 show the same appreciation for the complexity of this issue.

As I see it, the key point is not whether one agrees or disagrees with Corrigan and Somerville, but rather, recognizing that there’s a lot more thoughtful debate on this issue than meets the eye.

Frankly, when I see the increasingly vitriolic attacks being launched against people who exercised their democratic right to vote on a proposition, all I’m thinking is: They’re losing me.

One person who certainly didn’t lose me was Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of the IKAR community. Over coffee at Delice Bakery the other day, she made arguments in favor of same-sex marriage that were compelling and genuinely moving.

What moved me the most was the way she made her arguments — without any hint of anger or condescension, but with kindness, reason and heartfelt anecdotes. She didn’t feel the need to use scare tactics. She was against using words like “hate” to characterize the opposition, because, as she said, that kind of language doesn’t “open the heart.”

My conversation with Brous made me reflect on my own approach. Because I’m driven by curiosity as much as ideology, I have a tendency to immerse myself in both sides of an issue — even if I usually lean one way or the other.

I admit that I’m often tempted to just go over to my side, pick up a gun and start shooting. And sometimes I do. But then I ask myself, does the community need another partisan shooter, or does it need someone who can encourage all shooters to put down their guns and try to speak with the calmness and sensitivity of a Carole Corrigan, a Margaret Somerville or a Sharon Brous?

Maybe that’s the real struggle. Instead of trying to “convert” other people to our beliefs, we should struggle to convey those beliefs in a way that won’t alienate, demean or patronize the other side.

Even when — especially when — we’re absolutely sure that we are right and they are wrong.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

It can’t happen here


A coalition of black and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 California ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews.

Flush from the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, the leaders say they want to extend the ban to Jews whose emphasis on in-marriage, they say, contravenes Scripture and promotes intolerance and segregation.

“In-marriage is against Scripture,” said one organizer. “We are all God’s children. It sends a message that one group’s blood is too good to mix with another group’s blood.”

“What are we,” the organizer added, “chopped liver?”

Defending what is bound to be a controversial measure, the organizer said strong support for the passage of Proposition 8 in the black, Latino and Mormon religious communities proved that, in four years, more “so-called civil rights” could be reshaped by popular will.

As evidence, he cited pro-Proposition 8 statements from Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, who leads the 22,000-member Crenshaw Christian Center.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Price on behalf of Proposition 8. “Let us stand with God in saying the definition of marriage must not change.”

At the urging of their church leaders, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, donated an estimated $22 million to promote Proposition 8 and backed Web sites urging voters to support it.

A letter sent to Mormon bishops and signed by church President Thomas S. Monson and his two top counselors called on Mormons to donate “means and time” to the ballot measure.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children,” Monson wrote.

The authors of the anti-Jewish marriage initiative say when leaders believe they have Scripture on their side, they can get their followers to fix any flaws in any constitution.

“People choose to remain gay, and people choose to remain Jewish,” said an organizer. “Why should the majority of us be forced to honor that choice?”

The Jewish prohibition against intermarriage is commonly attributed to a biblical passage, Deuteronomy 7:3: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”

But one church leader said they have an entirely different interpretation of this passage.

“It only applies to Hitties and Amorites,” he said, “and I don’t see a lot of them around.”

By his calculation, the Torah only prohibits intermarriage if the children that result from such a union are turned away from their Jewish faith.

“Moses married Tziporra, who was the daughter of a Midianite priest,” said the preacher. “Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a convert. Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from Haman in the Purim story, was married to the Persian, non-Jewish King Ahashverus.”

“Don’t tell me the Bible doesn’t understand intermarriage.”

Asked whether he wasn’t simply asking voters to impose their interpretation of the Bible on a minority group, one black church leader countered, “Well, what do you think we did with Proposition 8?”

The organizer admitted that the initiative to ban Jewish-Jewish marriage was the first step toward other initiatives to ban kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision, two widespread Jewish practices that the Christian gospel does not follow.

Defending this plan, one organizer cited Pastor Beverly Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International’s defense of her support for Proposition 8: She wasn’t saying no to gays, she told the press, but “yes to God” and doing what “the Lord Jesus Christ” would do.

“We think the same rule should apply to all laws, not just marriage laws,” said one organizer. “We’re not saying no to Jews. We’re saying yes to Jesus.”

Organizers know they will face a tough battle — but just among Jews. Some 78 percent of Jewish voters in Los Angeles opposed the ban on gay marriage, and just 8 percent supported Proposition 8, according to exit polling by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

Meanwhile, a relative handful of Mormon, black and Catholic leaders stood against their churches on Proposition 8. Contacted by The Journal, these leaders said their position was rooted in Scripture and the principle of the separation of church and state. They said they hoped their small example would convince more of their church members to oppose future attempts to curtail civil rights.

But Proposition 8’s supporters said they feel the wind at their backs, and they are going forward with their next initiative. Asked how he could possibly succeed in denying the civil rights of a minority based on one narrow interpretation of the Bible, one organizer summed up the feelings of the Jewish-Jewish marriage opponents.

“We did it once,” he said. “We can do it again.”



Yes, this is satire. No such proposition is in the works, or even a gleam in any group’s eye. The Jews have not been singled out for discrimination, just homosexuals. So why worry?




Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention: ‘It can’t happen here!’

Turning a page in the history books


Proposed USC-Dubai journalism school concerns faculty and community


Faculty members at the USC Annenberg School for Communications are deep into a controversy that should be of interest to the Jewish community.

It concerns a proposal from USC for a $3 million contract for Annenberg to work with the American University in Dubai to create a journalism and communications school in the Middle Eastern nation.

Some on the USC faculty are concerned that Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will discriminate against student applicants and faculty who are not Muslim, including Jews. Critics also cite past United Arab Emirate opposition to Israel.

What makes this of interest to local Jews — even those not connected to the home of the Trojans — is the close connection USC has forged with the Jewish community over the years. The Jewish presence among students, faculty and the board of trustees is strong, USC’s Hillel is bustling and the university also has the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, which works with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, as well as the Shoah Visual History Foundation. In addition, Jews are among USC’s financial supporters.

The current university is far different than the old anti-Semitic USC. That era was recalled in a 1996 article by The Jewish Journal’s Tom Tugend, who described the school’s pre-World War II quota system that was “strikingly simple. One Jewish student was admitted to the medical school, one to the dental school and one to the law school.”

Today, Jewish faculty members are divided over the Dubai proposal. “So many of the people involved in this are Jewish,” said Ed Cray, a veteran journalism professor.

According to a proposed memorandum of understanding, Annenberg would receive $1 million a year for three years to provide the American University and its Mohammed bin Rashid School for Communication with curriculum advice and faculty assistance. Annenberg would also work with its Dubai partner to set up an international conference center and think tank there.

The memorandum states that neither USC nor the Rashid school would “discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, veteran status, marital status or any other category protected by law in employment or in any of its programs and/or activities.” But it’s unclear how this clause would be enforced.

Annenberg dean Ernest J. Wilson III told me that USC will be “providing training to a significant part of the journalists who will be distributing information all through the Middle East and into India.”

Annenberg professor Philip Seib, principal director of the project, said in an article on the Annenberg Web site, “The news business is much less mature in Arab countries…. We’re eager to contribute to the enhancement of journalistic fundamentals … by fostering appreciation of American journalism values — everything from ethics to professional production skills….”

Faculty critics with long memories recall a proposal in the 1970s for a USC Middle East Studies Center financed entirely, Tugend reported, “by Arab oil money.” The Jewish community, fearing creation of a nest of pro-Arab, anti-Israel academics, protested, and the proposal was killed.

A vocal opponent of the Dubai plan is professor Jonathan Kotler, who was joined by a half-dozen colleagues. He told me he was concerned about UAE support for the PLO and its “civil rights record … in its treatment of foreigners, women, children and gays….” And he noted that Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, has been sued for forcing young boys into slavery to serve as jockeys in the popular sport of camel racing. The Dubai communications school was named for him.

“I don’t think we should get into bed with such a person,” he said, and he believes the proposal “besmirches the name of the university and the Annenberg school.” He was particularly concerned about past United Arab Emirate support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he considers a supporter of jihad and terrorism.

“As a Jewish American, I am offended,” he said.

Murray Fromson, an emeritus journalism professor and a longtime foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and CBS, sees it differently.

Fromson, who every year visits his daughter Aliza Ben-Tal, assistant to the president of Ben-Gurion University, in Israel, told me this is not a Jewish issue unless Dubai discriminates against Jews or academics who are involved in communications programs in Israel. “It’s a Jewish issue if we start a program in Israel and they [Dubai officials] say we can’t do it,” Fromson said.

He said his years as a reporter overseas taught him the value of such programs, a view that was reinforced when he headed a USC program in Mexico, in the days when the PRI political party clamped down on dissent in a brutal way, and the government bribed the press.

His students there learned about a free press. “Two of our students were among those who got the National Assembly to adopt a First Amendment [free press guarantee],” he said.

I’ve taught at Annenberg on and off for several years. As a part-time Trojan, here’s what I think:

Like Fromson, I believe a program such as this can do much good, even in a country with a poor human rights record. But USC should insist on ironclad anti-discrimination clauses in the contract to prevent the Arab rulers of Dubai from discriminating against Jews and other non-Muslims.

Will herstory repeat itself?


With the recent on-court fracas of the WNBA, the historic presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton and the real potential for both parties to nominate a woman for vice president, it’s probably worth our while to consider where we have been, where we are and where we may go in regard to gender equality, both in Torah and in our time.

In the book of Numbers, we encountered the five daughters of Tzelophechad who took the unprecedented stand of coming before Moses and the priests to stake their claim to fairness following their father’s death: “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27:4)

Moses consults God who replies, “The plea of Tzelophechad’s daughters is just: You should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter” (Numbers 27:7-8).

Imagine the courage of these women who chose to stand before the entirety of the Israelite leadership — all of whom were male — to seek out nothing more than a fair claim on their father’s inheritance.

This week, in the very last chapter of Numbers, in the very last paragraph, we once again meet up with these five brave women, however in this narrative, the story takes a twist. This time, it is the family heads of the daughter’s clan (e.g., men) who “appealed” to Moses and the rest of the leadership, concerned that “if they marry persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they marry; thus our allotted portion will be diminished” (Numbers 36:3). Don’t mistake the kvetch — this is not about interfaith marriage, but about Israelite men potentially losing charge of property because, as we might imagine today, an Ashkenazi marries a Sephardi Jew. And what’s the verdict from God? “The plea of the Josephite tribe is just….They may marry anyone they wish, provided they marry into a clan of their father’s tribe” (Numbers 36:5-6).

Once again, the “ayes” have it — or in this case, the men.

These women, whose name, “in the shadow of fear,” does not describe their actions but rather the world they lived in, could not get what they deserved without somehow being limited in their rights. Notwithstanding the significant progress women have made in so many areas of Western life, we have to wonder: Will America — will we men — ever live up to its founder’s Herculean promise of “liberty and justice for all” now for more than 50 percent of its citizens?

Consider that the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. At the time of the EPA’s passage, women earned just 58 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. By 2006, that rate had only increased to 77 cents, an improvement of less than half a penny a year. Minority women fare the worst, with African American women earning 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men; for Hispanic women that figure drops to merely 52 cents per dollar.

We could imagine those facts relate primarily to low-income wages, but sadly the disparity grows with professional achievement: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2007 female financial advisers earned 53.7 percent of the median weekly wages of male financial advisers, and women in sales occupations earned just 64.8 percent of men’s wages in equivalent positions.

In this land of seemingly unlimited opportunity, we as Jews cannot stand idly by to the reality that if working women earned the same as men (those who work the same number of hours; have the same education, age, and union status, and live in the same region of the country), their annual family incomes would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Poverty cut in half — think of how that would change life for everyone in America.

Across oceans, the plight of mothers, daughters and sisters is often far worse. Human Rights Watch reports that as a direct result of inequalities found in their countries of origin, women from Ukraine, Moldova, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Burma and Thailand are bought and sold, trafficked to work in forced prostitution, with insufficient government attention to protect their rights and punish the traffickers.

This is not to say women aren’t “making it” in a man’s world: We’re blessed with hundreds of tremendous female rabbis and cantors, educators and executives and, according to Forbes, a global count of 99 female billionaires (caveat: the other 1,026 are men). In our homes and shuls, in our workplaces and communities, let our descendant daughter’s ancient plea for justice be a clarion call to us men to ensure that we “walk the walk,” turning the story of women standing “in the shadow of fear” to a herstory that values our differences while ensuring no less than equality for all.

Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein is one of the clergy at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and serves as its director for the Center for Religious Inquiry.

Briefs: Methodists don’t ‘divest,’ Jewish groups mobilize for Myanmar, Reno TV anchor sues


Methodists Reject Divestment Proposals

Methodists overwhelmingly defeated measures calling for divestment from companies that allegedly enable Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. The resolutions, targeting companies like Caterpillar, which manufactures tractors, and Motorola, which manufactures security systems, had drawn much media scrutiny before last week’s United Methodist Church General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Jewish groups were even more offended by a background document prepared in connection with the motions than they were by the notion of divestment itself. According to Jewish groups, the document was dismissive of Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism and ventured into “replacement theology,” the belief that Christianity has superseded Judaism.

An alliance of grass-roots church activists, who nurture ties to the Jewish community, helped defeat five divestment resolutions, often in the early stages of the conference. The activists also helped pass resolutions opposing the proselytizing of Jews and promoting Holocaust awareness and the fight against anti-Semitism.

Ethan Felson, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy umbrella group bringing together national and local organizations, attended the conference. He credited outreach by Jewish groups across the country to sympathetic Methodists and called the defeat of the resolutions a “turning point.”

“The church has spoken that they don’t want this one-sided approach to their witness,” Felson said Friday, the final day of the conference. “This wasn’t about a national campaign, it was about community to community. This was about relationships.”

U.S. Orthodox Rabbis Assail Israeli Rabbinical Court on Nullifying Conversions

American Orthodox rabbis slammed the decision by an Israeli rabbinical court to nullify conversions by an Israeli Orthodox rabbi.

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) said Tuesday that the ruling, which retroactively nullified the conversions performed under the auspices of Rabbi Chaim Druckman, was “entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice,” is a violation of “numerous Torah laws” and constitutes a “massive desecration of God’s name.”

“The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court,” according to a statement by the organization.

According to the RCA, it has received assurances from Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar that the ruling by the Rabbinic Court of Appeals has no legal standing.

The episode is the latest to rouse concerns over who is authorized to perform conversions recognized by the Jewish state.

In February, the RCA announced an agreement with the chief rabbinate recognizing 15 American courts and some 40 Orthodox rabbis in North America authorized to perform conversions. A group of liberal Orthodox rabbis said the agreement represented a capitulation to the increasingly stringent standards of the Israeli rabbinate.

Jewish Groups Mobilize For Myanmar

Both the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and B’nai B’rith International have opened disaster relief funds to send aid to the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, formerly called Burma, where at least 22,000 people have been killed and millions left homeless after the May 3 cyclone.

The JDC’s International Development Program, which responds to natural and manmade disasters providing immediate relief and long-term assistance, collects funds on a nonsectarian basis. The JDC is helping some of the region’s estimated 10 Jews.

The B’nai B’rith disaster relief fund will allocate $10,000 to help IsraAID send 10 relief workers, including paramedics, doctors, nurses and water specialists, to Myanmar. The team is cooperating with the local United Nations office and Israel’s embassy in the region.

Tel Aviv-based IsraAID, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, is an umbrella organization of more than 35 Israeli and Jewish nongovernmental organizations active in development and relief work.


For more information, contact the JDC at www.jdc.org or (212) 687-6200; or B’nai B’rith at www.bnaibrith.org/support/disaster_relief.cfm.

To donate to the LA Federation’s Emergency Relief Fund, call (323) 761-8200 or send a check to: The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90048. Please make checks payable to The Jewish Federation with the words “Myanmar Relief Fund” in the memo line.

To contribute to AJWS, visit www.ajws.org, or call (800) 889-7146. Checks can be sent to: American Jewish World Service, Burma Relief, 45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018.


London Mayor Critical of Israel Loses Bid for Re-election to Third Term

Ken Livingstone, a frequent critic of Israel, was beaten in London’s mayoral election.

The Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson received 53.2 percent of the vote last Saturday to 46.8 for Livingstone, the Labor incumbent. Johnson was sworn in the same day.

Livingstone has accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and refused to apologize after comparing a Jewish journalist from London to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The first person to serve as the mayor of London, a post created in 2000, Livingstone served two terms.

Johnson has worked to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been a supporter of Israel. He opposed a call last year by Britain’s University College Union to boycott Israeli colleges and universities.

During a trip to Israel in November 2004, Johnson visited Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market shortly after a suicide bombing and toured the West Bank security fence, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Judaism Trumps Nationality Among Israelis

Jewish identity takes precedence over national identity for most Israelis, a poll found.

According to the survey in Tuesday’s Israel Hayom newspaper, 65 percent of Israeli Jews identified primarily as Jews and only then as Israelis, whereas 14 percent said the reverse. Nine percent said they don’t know in which order they identify.

Asked whether they want Israel to be more Jewish or more democratic, 47 percent said the former and 43 percent the latter, with the rest undecided.

The poll reflected mixed feelings among Israeli Jews about their country’s future as it celebrates its 60th Independence Day, though most made clear they would not want to live elsewhere.

Asked to rate their “personal mood” on an ascending scale of one to 10, the average number given was seven. The “national mood” was a more gloomy 5.8.

‘Teenism’ gives young adults an undeserved rep


Teenagers. The word strikes fear into the hearts of most parents and adults. I bet you get shivers down your spine as you’re reading this. Though most teenagers are perceived as reckless, raucous, recalcitrant, rowdy and riotous, the truth is that for the most part, teenagers exercise a natural responsibility that is occasionally eclipsed by their more immature moments. It is because their wild outbursts draw more attention that they are blown out of proportion and overshadow the maturity that teenagers portray most of the time. While the adult perception of youthful rebellion may seem justified, it can be damaging and hurtful to those who pride themselves on being as mature as any adult.

Nowadays, biases against blacks or homosexuals are tiptoed around, while biases against teenagers are left unchecked, proliferating everywhere, because hardly anyone gets taken to court for discriminating against a teen. Since every adult has been a teen once in their lives, they believe they’ve had enough personal experience to speak about all teenagers, when really they are merely projecting their own past onto all teenagers. Parents who went wild in their youth will watch their children like a hawk, never trusting them, accusing them of being disrespectful not because of hard evidence, but because that’s how they were when they were young. Often young adults are given a blanket diagnosis of being stuck-up and caustic, anti-parent, anti-school, anti-everything. From parenting magazines to primetime television, teens are portrayed as a pack of self-centered ingrates who let their emotions run wild with abandon, and it’s time someone said something about it.

Are teenagers reckless? Of course. That is, some of the time. But in our modern world, applying ideas that are true “some of the time” to every case is no longer acceptable, even in as small a way as believing all teenagers are rebels.

Of course, other discriminations are much more pressing in nature. Racism has more dire consequences than believing that your teenager is hot-blooded, when he is not. But discriminations against teens still deserve attention because of the simple fact of how many people are being discriminated against. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 20.2 million people in America aged 15 to 19, and they are 7 percent of the population. So be careful what statements you make, or what biases you might allow yourself to believe. Your ideas about teens will reflect greatly in your treatment of them, and the consequences of this (whether good or bad) could be much more far-reaching than you realize.

Almost as much as people falsely believe teenagers are terrible, people falsely believe that adolescence (and especially childhood) is the best time of a person’s life, when worries are few and far between. But this just isn’t true. In 1998, about a third of all victims of violent crime were ages 12 to 19, and almost half of all victims of violence were under age 25 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice). In addition, one in eight teenagers suffers from depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. (And, sadly, the sixth leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 14). As Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) once said: “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Adolescents face almost all the same problems that adults do and engage in the same unhealthy quick fixes, but it is only young adults who must handle these things sans experience. Without the bedrock of age and wisdom to tread on, high schoolers are left to trail-blaze through their lives haplessly, like the first pioneers of the American West.

A massive leap has occurred in our modern world, far wider than generation gaps of old. The epidemic of multitaskism, the intensity of grade-amassing and the all-around increase in schoolwork has created a miasma of anxiety for the American student, making all previous generations of schooling look like cakewalks in comparison. Those who want to answer the clarion call of college must prepare themselves for an Olympic level of competitiveness. A few examples: Yale’s acceptance rate this year was 9 percent, down from 11 percent in 2006, while Stanford’s rate reached the lowest in it’s history at 9.5 percent. In addition, tuition for four-year colleges has gone up 35 percent in the past six years, making the fight for financial aid all the more arduous.

Obviously, there isn’t much we can do to alleviate this situation. It is the face of our modern reality, for better or for worse. But there is something that can be done.

As with a lot of things, the most helpful solution is a simple change of attitude. Life for teens will always be a little on the rough side, but perhaps treating them with less pigeon-holing and more empathy is all that’s need it to smooth it out.

Justin Morris is in the 10th grade at Shalhevet School and a columnist for the Boiling Point newspaper.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Are magnet schools LAUSD’s last hope to keep Anglo kids in the system?


It’s not yet clear whether last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on school desegregation will affect the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), but the questions the decision raises certainly resonate across the Jewish community. In the year 2007, is desegregation still a worthy goal or is it time to move on?

As a parent of three children who have attended magnet schools in Los Angeles, this is not a theoretical concern. It’s about the future of my kids.

Unlike the remarkable racial and ethnic diversity that defines Los Angeles as a city, our public school system has become increasingly homogeneous, defined by the large and growing Latino population. Just 9 percent of the total K-12 enrollment is white.

Enter the magnet school program. Many white parents value magnet schools as the only viable public school option where their child can receive a quality education and not be the only white kid in the room.

LAUSD created magnet schools in the 1970s as a strategy to promote desegregation on a voluntary basis. After the heated and divisive battles over “forced” busing (where Jews figured prominently on both sides of the issue), magnets were designed to use voluntary choice, rather than coercion, to promote integrated school environments.

This premise still holds today. These specialized school programs are often so outstanding that they inspire parents of all racial backgrounds to send their kids outside of their home neighborhoods.

Because magnet schools were created and funded as a strategy to promote desegregation, rules were established to maintain a ratio reflecting the district’s larger population of white students on the one hand and kids who are among the “predominantly Hispanic, black, Asian and other non-white” populations on the other.

A lottery, based on a complicated point system, determines which applicants are accepted to each magnet school. Based on the long waiting lists and intense angst of parents who struggle to master the point system, magnet schools have proven very popular and successful.

In many parts of L.A., parents will lament that “our local school is OK, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable with Johnny being the only white kid in his class.” One can see how they would feel drawn to a nearby (or not so nearby) integrated magnet school, where their child is much more likely to find they are one of many white students.

In addition to providing a more integrated enrollment, the magnet schools have achieved strong academic results. Magnets are often called the “crown jewels” of LAUSD. Yet it is the very success and appeal of such magnet programs nationally that have raised the recent constitutional question about the rights of those kids who are turned away, largely because of their race.

Every year, many white students apply to specific magnet schools but are not selected, in part because the total white enrollment would fall outside the targeted ratios of the LAUSD desegregation program. This could be summarized as the “one white kid too many” scenario.

From the perspective of that child and his or her parents, they are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin. This was part of the context of the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases.

The annual lottery to admit kids to L.A. magnet schools produces winners and losers, and race is definitely a factor. I believe the larger public benefits warrant this “downside,” but that is easy for me to say, as someone who has successfully placed my kids in magnet schools. But beyond the personal, there are important benefits for all from this program.

Magnet schools may be the only hope for retaining the remaining white enrollment in LAUSD. If they were to be eliminated, how many white families would make a renewed commitment to their local neighborhood school, where few other white students now attend?

To be sure, there have been some success stories where a small band of motivated parents have led efforts to “bring back the community” to their local school. But how many who do not have the benefit of such localized efforts would consider the end of magnets to be the “last straw” and follow their neighbors off to private schools? How many might move away from L.A. altogether?

By now it is fairly apparent to most observers that the future of Los Angeles will be defined by the needs and priorities of the Latino community. As Jews, we should be concerned that our large public school district serves primarily Latino kids, most of whom will never meet a Jewish child in their school careers.

Our own kids and the city as a whole are better served by an inclusive school system that is representative of the whole population. A city whose children are educated in segregated ethnic and religious enclaves will not be prepared to navigate the challenges and opportunities generated by the city’s overall diversity.

While these issues are compelling in many parts of the Jewish community, they may simply be moot in the larger sense. Most Jews and other whites have already left public schools and no longer see this as their particular problem, as evidenced by the stunningly low voter turnout for the heated recent school board election in the Valley. Still, there is some irony — and maybe even some hope — in the fact that the winning candidate, Tamar Galatzan, is Jewish.

At the same time, civic leaders in the Latino, African American and Asian communities have also moved on from the question of desegregation. Drawing in more white students is far less important to them than securing the resources and effective instructional programs to serve kids of color.

Due to many legal complexities, it remains unclear whether the LAUSD magnet schools will be affected by the recent court ruling. But even if the status quo remains, it would be a mistake to let the issue pass without a conversation about the relationship and engagement of the Jewish community with our public schools. Looking to the future, should we press to create viable public schools as an option for our own children or is it simply too late?

Mark Slavkin, vice president for education at the Music Center, served as a Los Angeles Board of Education member from 1989 to 1997.

Conservative Supreme Court rulings vex Jewish advocacy groups


Following a string of conservative rulings in the closing weeks of this year’s Supreme Court session, some Jewish officials are suggesting that they may be forced to abandon their decades-long strategy of relying on the courts to protect liberal gains on a host of issues.

For decades, many Jewish groups counted on the top court to correct what they saw as the excesses of legislatures and chief executives across the country. But with the close of the court’s first full term with two recent conservative arrivals, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Jewish groups say the situation has reversed itself.

Not only has the Supreme Court thoroughly abandoned a decades-old tradition of upholding the liberal gains of the 1950s and 1960s, it has become the premier bulwark of conservatism now that Democrats have retaken Congress and the White House is weakened to the point of impotency.

“To put it in historical perspective, we were quite sanguine when cases would come up, with the sense we would get a decision in our favor,” said Jeff Sinensky, legal counsel to the American Jewish Committee. “Looking forward, it’s likely that the majority, now headed by Justice John Roberts and with Justice Samuel Alito coming on the court, have a fundamentally different perspective than the Jewish community.”

Sinensky and others cite four decisions that have especially roiled the community over the last year since Alito replaced Sandra Day O’Connor, who carefully hewed to the center, as the court’s swing vote on several hot-button issues:

  • The court ruled in April that a ban on late-term abortions did not violate a woman’s right to privacy, rolling back in part the gains of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • In May, the court imposed a tough 180-day limitation on an employee’s right to claim pay discrimination.
  • Last month, a 5-4 majority of the justices ordered school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. to end voluntary busing programs that sought to integrate schools that had become segregated through demographic trends.
  • Also last month, the court ruled that taxpayers have no standing to stop the executive branch from spending federal funds on faith-based programs, a decision that would hamper efforts by Jewish groups to wage legal challenges on such matters.

Not every Jewish group was unhappy with those decisions. Two Orthodox groups, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, praised the ruling on faith-based programs. In fact, Agudath argued that it didn’t go far enough, saying it should have eliminated challenges to congressionally mandated religious spending as well.

“There’s not a whole lot of logic for the distinction between executive branch decisions and congressional decisions,” said David Zweibel, Agudath’s general counsel.

Agudath also praised the abortion decision, but Zweibel stressed that the Orthodox community was not necessarily embracing a more conservative court. He noted that Orthodox lawyers in the past had been on the “liberal” side of arguments, for instance in expanding laws combating discrimination.

“To say we’re conservative or liberal is wrong,” Zweibel said.

For most of the Jewish communal stalwarts on jurisprudence, “disappointment” was the term that kept cropping up to describe the recently completed Supreme Court term.

“We were 0-for-3 this term,” said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), referring to the ADL’s three friend-of-the-court briefs: the abortion case, the taxpayer case and the desegregation case.

According to Lieberman, the significance of the cases ran deeper than the losses. In each of the three cases he cited, the Supreme Court had gone out of its way to reverse lower court rulings.

“It’s really going to be important going forward to pick our forums,” Lieberman said. “The court system may not be the best way to vindicate rights going forward.”

That prospect, of an activist conservative court seeking to correct what it perceives to be a liberal taint on jurisprudence, led other Jewish groups to the same conclusion.

“There’s a concern about finding the right cases to bring to the court,” said Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. He cited the faith-based funding case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“The Hein case is a great example of how a case is not necessarily one that the litigators would have chosen as the first case on the president’s faith-based initiative,” Pelavin said.

Jewish groups signed on as friends of the court in the case because of the potential that the justices would overturn precedent, Lieberman said, but generally believed the case was not worth the risk — a sense vindicated by the court’s finding. As a result of the decision, Lieberman said, only those people directly affected by funding for faith groups could challenge the law.

“What you’re asking for is someone who is among the least, the lost, someone with an alcohol addiction, a drug addition, someone who has no job, to come forward,” he said. “It’s so unlikely that someone falling through the safety net is going to say, ‘I need that methadone treatment program, but I resent saying a prayer for it.'”

Another strategy is to advocate for legislation on the local, state and federal levels tailored to circumvent the court’s reasoning. “It may be that a local ordinance is the next way to protect the workplace,” Lieberman said. “It may be state law, it may be Congress or the executive branch.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Jewish liberal who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he expects to take a legislative-based approach to dealing with the court’s ruling that employees seeking to file lawsuits charging discrimination in pay, must do so with the 180-day period.

“Congress must make its intent clear: Anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened — not weakened,” said Nadler, the chairman of the civil liberties subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, in introducing legislation last week that would expand the 180-day limit.

Sammie Moshenberg, who directs the Washington office of the National Council of Jewish Women, said her organization’s strategy of directly opposing some judicial candidates has been vindicated.

Despite their concerns about the direction of the court, some other Jewish groups opted not to oppose President Bush’s judicial nominees, arguing that a president deserves leeway in placing his or her preferences on the court.

In 2001, according to Moshenberg, when NCJW first started opposing judicial nominees, “We said these people serve for a lifetime [and] make incredibly important decisions that affect us for the rest of our lives.'”

The federal bench and the Supreme Court, Moshenberg said, “have really been the backstop for our constitutional rights throughout history.”

Golan’s Druse live with hope and anxiety


Under a darkening sky in the northernmost corner of the Golan Heights, a small crowd gathers at the town square in this Druse village late in the afternoon and unfurls a few Syrian flags.
 

Fight Against Campus Bias Gets Boost


If you’re a Jewish college student, you no longer have to tolerate anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing on your campus. You are protected under our federal civil rights laws. These were the landmark conclusions of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency that analyzes information about discrimination and reports its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress.

In November 2005, the commission held its first-ever hearing on the issue of campus anti-Semitism. One topic was the Zionist Organization of America’s precedent-setting civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine, who have faced a pattern of anti-Jewish hostility that university administrators have known about but have failed to adequately address. Based on the hearing, the commission recently issued historic findings and recommendations that both Jews and non-Jews can applaud.

According to the commission, the problem of campus anti-Semitism is “serious.” In addition to name-calling, threats, assaults and the vandalism of property, hatred toward Jews is being expressed on campus in subtler ways. Zionism — the expression of Jewish rights and attachment to the historic homeland of Israel — is being unfairly mischaracterized as racism. Israel is being demonized and illegitimately compared to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, and its leaders are being compared to Hitler.

At UC Irvine, annual campus events (titled, “Anti-Zionist Week” and the misnomer “Israel Awareness Week”) have been regular opportunities to attack Jews, Zionists and those who support Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Signs have equated the Star of David with the swastika and depicted it dripping with blood. Speakers have portrayed Jews as overly powerful and conspiratorial; one referred to “the Jewish lobby” as a “den of spies.”

At San Francisco State University, fliers depicted a baby with the caption, “Palestinian Children Meat — Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” The commission rightly condemned all this conduct as anti-Semitism, finding that “[a]nti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”

The commission also recognized that Jewish students face harassment inside the classroom. Many academic departments present a one-sided, anti-Israel view of the Middle East conflict, squelching legitimate debate about Israel. According to a Jewish student at Columbia University, her professor said that she had no claim to the Land of Israel because she had green eyes and therefore could not be a Semite. In response to such incidents, the commission recommended that academic departments “maintain academic standards, respect intellectual diversity and ensure that the rights of all students are fully protected.”

According to the commission, “severe, persistent or pervasive” anti-Semitism on campus may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI requires that colleges and universities ensure that their programs and activities are free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.” Otherwise, they risk losing their federal funding. The commission recognized that Jews are protected under Title VI because they are an ethnic group sharing a common ancestry and heritage.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education ensures that colleges and universities comply with Title VI. The commission recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism.

The commission also urged university leaders to denounce anti-Semitic and other hate speech. Some have already done so: When a cartoon mocking the Holocaust was published in a Rutgers student newspaper, the university president publicly recognized that although the publication was constitutionally protected, it was hurtful to the community and inconsistent with the university’s values. He urged the students involved to take responsibility for their actions and succeeded in getting them to apologize for the hurt they caused to the community.

Not all university leaders have exercised the same moral leadership. Some have remained silent in the face of anti-Semitic speech and conduct, justifying their silence by saying that offensive behavior is constitutionally protected. Of course, we must all stand up for free speech and vigorous debate — especially on a college campus, where the exchange of ideas should be encouraged. But hateful, degrading and demeaning speech is hateful, degrading and demeaning, no matter where it occurs.

We can’t lose our common sense about what is hateful and harmful, just because it is expressed on a college campus. If college officials remain silent, they help perpetuate the bigotry. And their silence contributes to making the targets of the hate feel even more marginalized and unwelcome.

What should you do if you are experiencing anti-Semitism on your campus, to the point that the environment feels hostile or intimidating?

First, you should try to resolve the problem internally by working with university officials to create an atmosphere that is tolerant and respectful. While colleges and universities must uphold the right of free speech, they have a legal obligation to provide you with an educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. If working with university officials fails and the hostile environment persists, then you can and should file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (www.ed.gov/ocr).

More information is forthcoming. The commission has recommended that OCR conduct a public education campaign, and it will be distributing its own materials to inform students of their rights. Hillel directors should be getting the message out to college administrators and to their Jewish constituents. The Zionist Organization of America will be undertaking its own nationwide effort to inform Jewish students and college administrators that anti-Semitism is illegal and that students have legal tools to fight it.

Whatever your campus experience, if you are a Jewish student, it’s important to know that the Civil Rights Commission has staked out its position firmly supporting your right to be free from campus anti-Semitism. You have the right to obtain your education in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and that does not intimidate or harass you because you are Jewish or support Israel.

Susan B. Tuchman, is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, and testified at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ hearing on campus anti-Semitism on Nov 18, 2005. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

 

Lift The Ban on Gay Blood Donors


When students arrived at Milken Community High School on the morning of Jan. 10, they were confronted by a large banner reading: “Did you know homosexual males cannot give blood?”

That was the start of a student-led Equal Blood Campaign to press the FDA to lift its blanket ban on all gay blood donors.

Day One of the campaign sparked some initial shock. The ban came as news to many, and the campaign rapidly gathered more and more supporters. In addition to posters around campus, the school’s bulletin, which is read daily in small advisory groups, featured campaign related statistics and facts.

The FDA developed its initial policy regarding gay men in 1983 because at that time there was no technology to screen blood for the HIV virus, which was then known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Since the ’80s, the disease GRID has been renamed AIDS and is seen as an epidemic affecting millions of people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations.

Yet today, in 2006, when all donated blood is tested for the HIV virus, the policy remains the same — excluding homosexual males from donating blood.

The campaign ended with a bang when on the day of the blood drive, Jan. 12, more than 250 students and faculty sported stickers reading: “I don’t discriminate against blood.”

The petition to the FDA was signed by 270 people — almost half of the high school student body. It is important to understand that the nature of the Equal Blood Campaign was in no way against the blood drive. The campaign in fact was in association with the blood drive.

Students decided to support the Equal Blood Campaign because they agreed that the FDA policy is outdated and reveals the stigma that AIDS is a “gay disease,” and until this policy changes, the dangerous assumption that all homosexuals have the HIV virus will remain. In addition, we feel that the FDA is ruling out a source of potentially life-saving donated blood.

Blood products in short supply, and many favor lifting the ban. According to the FDA, an estimated 62,300 homosexuals would donate blood if the ban was lifted.

The FDA policy arises out of a fear of passing on infected blood. Of the 12 million units of donated blood each year, 10 HIV infected units slip through, accounting for two to three cases of donor transmitted HIV infections per year.

The main reason that HIV positive blood slips through is because there is a window of up to three months after a person contracts HIV where the virus is not always detected.

But while banning gay men, even those in long-term monogamous relationships, the policy says nothing about heterosexual men and women who have unprotected sex with multiple sex partners and who have unknown HIV status (rigorous questionnaires at blood donor sites do take these factors into account).

We feel even if not completely abolishing the gay ban, the FDA should change the policy from banning all men who have had sex with men, to banning any person who has had unprotected sex with any person within the past three months. Not only would this weed out promiscuous and more likely infected individuals from giving blood, but it gives the opportunity for gay men having safe sex to give blood.

In its most recent evaluation of the issue, the FDA narrowly voted to maintain the ban on blood donations from homosexual men. The vote was 7-6 to maintain the ban, which states that any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 may not donate blood.

I, along with my campaign co-leader, Amanda Meimin, truly feel the Milken Equal Blood Campaign — one of the first of its kind in a high school — was a success. We turned heads and not only changed views but also helped people to find a view. Ultimately we would like to see other schools adopt the Equal Blood Campaign and we’d like to see the FDA change its policy.

The past has taught us that we can generate tolerance through destroying generalizations. Our battle begins with the stereotype that AIDS is a “gay disease.” We want to make people understand that just because they may not be gay, the issue still pertains to them. Discrimination exists everywhere and has touched everyone at one point or another. The Milken Equal Blood Campaign is about raising awareness, making change, and empowering youth to make their peers aware of homophobia in our society.

Lisa Hurwitz is a sophomore at Milken Community High School. To get involved in the Equal Blood Campaign, contact her at lhurwitz@mchs.mchschool.org.

South African Judge Inspires Redemption


When he turned 6 in 1941, Albie Sachs received a birthday card from his father, Solly, a union leader in South Africa. The card read: “Many happy returns, and may you grow up to be a soldier in the fight for liberation.”

It would be less a wish than a prophecy. The younger Sachs would grow up to become a leading civil rights lawyer and activist as South Africa successfully struggled to free itself of the taint of legally sanctioned racial segregation and the violence it took to deprive the nation’s black population of its basic human rights.

Today, Sachs is a justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, appointed to the bench in 1994 by President Nelson Mandela and playing a leading role in writing the nation’s new constitution after the fall of apartheid. But like many soldiers, Sachs was injured in the fight. He was jailed without trial twice and spent months in solitary confinement. He lived in exile in Mozambique for decades. In 1988, he was almost killed when agents of South Africa’s security forces planted a bomb in his car. The attack left him without sight in one eye, tore off his arm and required a grueling rehabilitation, during which time Sachs had to learn to walk and write again.

This month, Sachs is in the U.S. sharing his experiences — and his message of how societies can rebuild in the aftermath of violence and injustice — during a series of community conversations sponsored by the educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves, supported by a grant from the Allstate Foundation. On Jan. 23, Sachs will arrive in Los Angeles for a talk at the SGI World Culture Center.

Sachs says his Jewish heritage has played a part in informing his activism. His parents — like most of South Africa’s Jews of that time — fled pogroms in Lithuania as small children with their families. The family’s experience of escaping violence and discrimination fostered Sachs’ parents’ political activism, which in turn ignited his own commitment to justice.

“They had a freedom-loving spirit that came through to me,” Sachs says of his parents.

He recalls that the only book he was allowed to have in solitary was the Bible.

“I was struck by the Old Testament,” he says. “Some parts are very punitive — smiting every man, woman and child, every cat and dog,” he says.

But then there is also the opposite: the words of hope in the Song of Songs, the Psalms and the prophets, Sachs says. Faced with the contrast between redemption and anger, Sachs chooses redemption.

Sachs recounts the time he met with the man who organized the car bombing that almost cost him his life. The man was about to go before South Africa’s famed Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I didn’t feel I was ‘forgiving’ him,” Sachs says. “I was trying to establish a human relationship. He won’t be my friend, but if he sat next to me on the bus, I’d say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?”

Of his assailants, Sachs says: “We’re sharing one country. That’s much more powerful than vengeance.”

Justice Albie Sachs will speak at the SGI World Culture Center, 525 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, on Monday, Jan. 23, 7-9 p.m. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call (626) 744-1177 ext. 22.

Laureen Lazarovici is a writer and social activist who lives in Los Angeles.

Alito Protects Minority Rights


It’s axiomatic that Jews tend to view all news through the lens of “but is it good for the Jews?” It’s therefore no surprise that this filter now is being brought to bear on my former boss and mentor, Judge Samuel Alito Jr., who has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Based on my experience working closely with Judge Alito, I can answer unequivocally that yes, Judge Alito will be good for the Jews — and, by extension, for all Americans.

I’m a pro-choice, registered Democrat who supports progressive candidates. I’m also a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and an observant Jew who is active in my community. Notwithstanding numerous areas of commonality I have with the liberal groups opposing Judge Alito’s nomination, I wholeheartedly disagree with their position on the nomination.

First, while the Jewish community may be suspicious that certain statements made when Judge Alito worked in the Reagan-era Justice Department show him to be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative intent on enacting a conservative agenda, I believe such fears are misplaced.

Regardless of Judge Alito’s personal beliefs or positions that he advocated while a litigator with the Justice Department, he takes great pains to set aside his personal opinions when judging. To be frank, he did such a good job of setting aside his personal beliefs that I did not know what they were when I clerked for him.

In this era in which nearly everything is subject to partisan politicization, it is hard to understand that someone can put aside one’s personal views. Yet Judge Alito is so committed to the judicial process, including the principle of respecting prior precedent, that he succeeds in doing so.

Contrary to attempts to paint Judge Alito as a conservative ideologue, I can attest to the fact that Judge Alito is an open-minded judge who does not come to cases with preconceived notions. One time, while working on a criminal appeal, I made the mistake of commenting that the case should be fairly easy to decide in favor of the government, in light of the extremely slipshod brief submitted by defense counsel.

Even though he was a former federal prosecutor with considerable experience with criminal cases, Judge Alito rebuked me for my attitude, and made it known that we were to carefully read all briefs and the appellate record, and conduct any additional research needed to ensure that all parties received fair hearings before the court of appeals. Like Judge Alito, we were expected to keep an open mind and not prejudge any case.

Second, in areas of religious freedom, Judge Alito has a proven record of being sensitive to the needs of minority religions. It’s often said that Jews are the canaries in the mineshaft of civilization: One can tell how well a civilization is doing by the way it treats the Jews.

I would extend that metaphor to all minority religious groups. Judge Alito has considerably more sensitivity to members of minority religions than some of the conservative justices currently serving on the Supreme Court.

The current Supreme Court standard for determining religious discrimination cases under the First Amendment’s “Free Exercise” clause is Employment Division v. Smith, in which Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that a law that does not target religion does not violate the First Amendment. In other words, if the statute is not targeting a religious practice, it’s constitutional even if it has the effect of banning that practice.

Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism declared that the Smith line of cases would “go down in history with Dred Scott and Korematsu as among the worst mistakes this court has ever made” — Dred Scott was the case that held that slaves were not people and Korematsu was the case that allowed the U.S. government to intern Japanese-Americans without suspicion of wrongdoing during World War II.

By way of contrast, Judge Alito has written numerous opinions protecting the right of minority religious groups to be free from religious discrimination. One example of his greater sensitivity to religious discrimination cases is a case involving Muslim police officers in Newark, N.J. In that case, Judge Alito held that the city violated police officers’ Free Exercise rights by requiring them to shave their beards in violation of their Sunni Muslim religious beliefs.

In another case, Judge Alito wrote an opinion stating that a university could not discriminate against a Shabbat-observant professor, since “criticism of an employee’s effort to reconcile his or her schedule with the observance of Jewish holidays delivers the message that the religious observer is not welcome at the place of employment.”

In another case involving a member of a Native American religion, Judge Alito wrote that a civic ordinance may not “target religiously motivated conduct either on its face or as applied in practice.”

The American Jewish community owes its vibrancy and continued viability to the constitutional protections of the First Amendment. These cases clearly demonstrate that Judge Alito is more protective of the rights of members of minority religions than some justices currently on the court.

As someone who believes that the Jewish community is best served by judges who limit their roles to deciding specific cases and not enacting their personal agendas, I’m convinced that Judge Alito is by far the best person for this position. Is he good for the Jews? Absolutely.

Jeffrey Wasserstein was a law clerk for Judge Samuel Alito Jr. from 1997-1998. He currently is a principal in the law firm of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C., in Washington.