In Israel, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul calls for end to foreign assistance


U.S. Sen. Rand Paul called for a reduction of foreign assistance during a visit to Israel.

Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes foreign assistance, including defense aid to Israel, on Monday told the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies that the United States will always be Israel's friend but that “it will be harder and harder to be a friend if we are out of money.”

Paul is one of four new Republicans appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He said the United States should start cutting its foreign assistance by ending foreign aid to countries not friendly to Israel.

Israel receives about $3 billion a year in military aid from the United States. The majority of the aid must be spent in the United States.

Paul, who arrived in Israel on Sunday, is scheduled to meet on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. He is scheduled to travel to Jordan on Tuesday to meet King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The senator is visiting Israel with a group of evangelical Christians and is also scheduled to tour the Galilee.

Unlike his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a perennial presidential contender who has laced his arguments against assistance for Israel with harsh criticisms of the Jewish state, the younger Paul casts his opposition to assistance as a matter of independence for Israel from undue American influence.

The Foreign Relations Committee sets the Senate's foreign policy agenda, although the primary voice on foreign assistance remains the Senate's Appropriations Committee.

Paul is believed to be considering a presidential run in 2016.

Obama enacts visa program for religious workers


President Barack Obama enacted a three-year extension to a visa program for religious workers.

Obama on Sept. 28 signed the law, passed by Congress with overwhelming margins earlier in September, extending the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program until Sept. 30, 2015.

The legislation, first passed in 1990, has a built-in sunset provision and has been reauthorized seven times.

The law, which is particularly important to small Jewish communities in remote areas, makes available up to 5,000 permanent immigrant visas each year for religious workers of various denominations.

The small Jewish communities often find it difficult to fill positions and rely on the visas to bring in rabbis, cantors, kosher butchers, Hebrew school teachers and other religious workers.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)  praised the bill’s passage and its enactment, with special praise for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who led sponsorship.

“This is an important step in ensuring that the Jewish community can keep the dedicated and experienced teachers and other foreign religious workers on whom we rely,” said Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS.

Bill would ban entrance of hostile foreign government officials


Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has sponsored a bill designed to ban entry into the country by officials of any foreign government complicit in violating the rights of imprisoned Americans.

Nicknamed Jacob’s Law, the bill was written in honor of Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn who has been in prison in Bolivia since June 2011 for allegedly doing business with people in Bolivia who are wanted there for links to drug trafficking and money laundering.

Ostreicher invested millions in a rice-growing venture in eastern Bolivia.

The Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act, its official name, “is in direct response to several reports about U.S. citizens being held in foreign prisons around the world while their fundamental due process and human rights are being flagrantly violated,” Smith said in a statement to JTA.

“American citizens on travel anywhere around the world need to know that the United States will go to bat for them when they are being denied fundamental human rights or basic due process rights by foreign government officials who abuse the rule of law,” Smith said.

Ostreicher continues to maintain his innocence. Smith visited him in prison in June and also met with Bolivian officials on behalf of the father of five and grandfather of 11.

According to Smith, Ostreicher is imprisoned on the premise of guilty until proven innocent and has not been shown any evidence against him.  Also, Ostreicher has had almost $50 million worth of agricultural and financial assets stolen from his business.

Jacob’s Law has five cosponsors, including one Democrat and four Republicans.

LAST LOOK: Where do McCain and Obama stand on the issues?


DOMESTIC POLICY

ABORTION

Abortion is an area of sharp disagreement between the two candidates. Obama said during the Oct. 15 presidential debate that he believes Roe v. Wade was “rightly decided,” although “good people on both sides can disagree.” He added that “women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers are in the best position to make this decision,” and that the Constitution “has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, anymore than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum.”

At the same debate, McCain called Roe v. Wade “a bad decision” and said that decisions on abortion should “rest in the hands of the states. McCain says on his Web site that the ruling should be overturned. McCain has backed a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother, and he said at a presidential forum in August that his administration will have “pro-life policies.”

Obama in the same debate said he is “completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial birth or otherwise, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life.” He voted against a ban in the Illinois state Senate because it did not contain such a clause.

McCain has voted to ban such procedures, and at the debate said that exceptions for the health of the mother had “been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.” This trend, he said, represented “the extreme pro-abortion position.”

Obama said at the August presidential forum sponsored by Pastor Rick Warren that “the goal right now” should be “how do we reduce the number of abortions” and talked about ways for those on both sides of the aisle to “work together” to reduce unwanted pregnancies. He said at the Oct. 15 debate that such efforts should include “providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.”

McCain says on his Web site that he will “seek ways to promote adoption as a first option for women struggling with a crisis pregnancy” and that government must help strengthen the “armies of compassion”—faith-based, community and neighborhood organizations—that provide “critical services to pregnant mothers in need.”

The Republican nominee has criticized Obama for voting against legislation in the Illinois Senate that requires the state to provide legal protection and medical treatment to any fetus that survives an abortion. At the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said the bill in question would have “helped to undermine” Roe v. Wade and “there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it.”

Obama has said that he does approve of the version of the bill that passed the Illinois Senate in 2005—after he had gone to Capitol Hill. That legislation had a specific clause stating that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to affect existing federal or state law regarding abortion.”

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

The Obama campaign has run an advertisement claiming that McCain has blocked embryonic stem cell research, but independent fact checkers have deemed the ad untrue. In fact, support for embryonic stem cell research is one issue on which the candidates essentially agree.

McCain and Obama later voted for legislation that would have allowed federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments. McCain has called his vote on the bill “very agonizing and tough” and said he went “back and forth, back and forth on it.” It finally came down to the fact that “those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status.”

Prior to the 2004 vote, the Arizona senator was one of 14 Republican members of Congress who signed a letter asking President Bush to lift federal restrictions on the research.

In response to a questionnaire from a coalition of scientists and engineers last month, McCain said, “While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress.”

McCain differs from both his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the Republican Party platform on the issue. The platform, adopted at the GOP convention, calls for an expansion of funding for research into adult stem cells but a ban on the use of human embryos for research.

In response to the same questionnaire from Sciencedebate2008, Obama was more emphatic than McCain on the issue. The Democrat said he will “lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”

Obama and McCain do disagree on the prospects for research on adult and other kinds of stem cells. McCain has expressed hope that advances in adult stem cells could make the debate over embryonic stem cells unnecessary, but Obama said embryonic stem cells are “the gold standard” and any research on other types of stem cells should be done in parallel.

SUPREME COURT

The presidential candidates demonstrated their contrasting views on the Supreme Court in August when they were asked by Pastor Warren which of the sitting justices they would not have nominated. Obama named two justices from the court’s conservative wing, saying Clarence Thomas was not qualified at the time of his nomination and Antonin Scalia because “he and I just disagree.”

McCain named twice as many justices, citing the four commonly identified as the left wing of the court—Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens and David Souter—because he disapproved of their “legislating from the bench.” But as a senator McCain voted for Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer—Stevens was nominated before he was elected to the Senate. At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he voted for them not “because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated.”

Obama as a senator has voted against both Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. He said at the Warren forum that “one of the most important jobs” of the Supreme Court “is to guard against the encroachment of the executive branch” on the “power of the other branches,” and Roberts has been “a little bit too willing and eager to give an administration” more power than “I think the Constitution originally intended.”

McCain was also a member of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” formed to break an impasse over judicial nominations in 2005. The Democratic senators in the group agreed not to filibuster judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances,” while the Republicans pledged not to vote for the “nuclear option”—a maneuver that would have allowed a majority of the Senate to change the rules requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster. Obama declined to join the group, and said in a newspaper interview in May that he didn’t think “it was a particularly good compromise” because “the Republicans got everything they wanted out of that.”

On his Web site, McCain says that he will “nominate judges who understand that their role is to faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat.” He also stresses the importance of federalism and separation of powers in his judicial philosophy.

At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he believed “that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test” on abortion, although he added that “I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade would be part of those qualifications.”

Obama has said that qualifications for the high court go beyond academic and professional accomplishment.

“What makes a great Supreme Court justice,” he said in a November 2007 primary debate, is “not just the particular issue but it’s their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority” and “those who don’t have a lot of clout.”

Sometimes, he added, “we’re only looking at academics or people who’ve been in the [lower] court. If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that’s the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.”

More recent, during the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said he would look for judges “who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.” The Democrat also rejected a “strict litmus test” on the abortion issue.

FAITH-BASED SOCIAL SERVICES

Obama and McCain both want to continue President Bush’s faith-based initiative providing federal money to religious groups to perform social services. But they differ on one key point: Obama has said he would not allow religious groups receiving government funds to discriminate in hiring, while McCain has concurred with Bush in saying he would.

In a July interview with The New York Times, McCain said, “Obviously it’s very complicated because if this is an organization that says we want people in our organization that are Baptists or vegetarians or whatever it is, they should not be required to hire someone that they don’t want to hire in my view.”

And in a response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, McCain said, “I would permit faith-based organizations to improve their volunteerism numbers by allowing them to hire consistent with the views of the respective organizations without risking federal funding.”

Obama in a July speech laid out a vision for his Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that would include an allocation of $500 million a year specifically for faith- and community-based efforts to bolster summer learning programs for 1 million children. He said in the speech that Bush’s version of the faith-based initiative “never fulfilled its promise.”

A summary of the Obama plan released by his campaign states that recipients of federal funds “cannot discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs” and “must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Obama also said he would undertake a pre-inauguration review of all executive orders related to the faith-based initiative, especially those having to do with hiring. He also said he would consider elevating the director of the initiative to a Cabinet-level post.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Both candidates have expressed support for the principle of the separation of church and state. But McCain sparked controversy in a September 2007 interview with Beliefnet in which he said, “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” He quickly added that all religions are welcomed, “but when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.”

A spokeswoman later said that McCain believes “people of all faiths are entitled to all the rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to practice their religion freely,” but that the “values protected by the Constitution” are “rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all he intended to say to the question, America is a Christian nation, and it is hardly a controversial claim.”

In response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, Obama called the separation of church and state “critical” and said it has “caused our democracy and religious practices to thrive.” On the same questionnaire, McCain said, “choosing one’s faith is the most personal of choices, a matter of individual conscience. That is why we cherish it as part of our Bill of Rights.” He added that “all people must be free to worship as they please, or not to worship at all. It is a simple truth: There is no freedom without the freedom of religion.

Obama told a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer in July 2007 that “whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.”

Asked by the AJC whether they would back legislation directed at strengthening the obligation of employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice, both candidates expressed support.

I believe firmly that employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious practices,” Obama said. “I would support carefully drafted legislation that strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect religious freedom in the workplace.”

“I am committed to ensuring that no Americans are discriminated against in employment because of their religious beliefs. I will support any legislation that improves our commitment to a pluralistic society, both inside and outside the workplace.”

As to vouchers for private and parochial schools, Obama said he is against them because he believes “we need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support.”

McCain supports voucher plans, arguing that “it’s time to give middle- and lower-income parents the same right wealthier families have—to send their child to the school that best meets their needs.”

FOREIGN POLICY

IRAN

Obama and McCain both back isolating Iran to bring an end to its suspected nuclear weapons program and have said that the military option should remain on the table. This summer, senior surrogates from both campaigns signed onto a position paper from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy advocating intensified U.S.-Israel dialogue aimed at preventing an Israeli attack on Iran.

The campaigns differ on how to isolate Iran and the degree of engagement with the Iranian government such an effort would prohibit. McCain has criticized Obama for suggesting he’d be willing to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In response, Obama has compared McCain to Bush, accusing both of hurting America’s standing in the world by turning their backs on diplomacy.

The Obama campaign has committed itself to the full list of sanctions currently advocated by Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, including targeting Iran’s central bank, getting the five major players in the re-insurance industry to boycott Iran and stopping the export of refined petroleum to Iran. The McCain campaign expresses generic support for sanctions but has resisted sharing details. In the Senate, Republicans have blocked sanctions legislation without explaining why. The Bush administration opposes the AIPAC/Israel list in part because, the White House claims, the list would upset sensitive efforts to bring the Europeans, Russia and China on board with the effort to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.

Obama campaign officials say that after rallying international support for tighter sanctions—a top priority that would take place as soon as February, they say—they would start reaching out to Iranian officials with “carrots.” These incentives would be aimed at getting the Iranians to end uranium enrichment. No one says so out loud, but the implication is that one such carrot would be to recognize Iran’s preeminence as a regional power, giving it veto power over military decisions in the region. Other incentives would include expanded trade.

McCain’s campaign does not speak of such incentives; rather, it emphasizes isolation and sanctions as the means to bring Iran around. It also favors isolating Iran through a “league of democracies.” That formula would exclude China and Russia, undercutting a key element to Israel’s strategy on Iran, which is to cultivate Russia and China. Overall, McCain’s strategy suggests confrontation with Russia, particularly over the expansion of NATO.

Last year, Obama opposed a non-binding amendment that would have designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist entity. Obama was not present at the vote, but 76 senators favored the amendment, sponsored by Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), including top Democrats. The amendment was also backed by AIPAC.

McCain favored the amendment, and his campaign has accused Obama of pandering to the Democratic base, noting that his primaries rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) voted for the amendment and suffered the consequences.

Obama said that he backed similar language in different legislation but opposed the amendment because it tied Iran to attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq—language that he said could be used by the Bush administration as a pretext to launch an attack on Iran. Obama has said he supported Bush’s subsequent issuance of the executive order declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity and subject to relevant U.S. sanctions.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

Both campaigns have endorsed a two-state solution, voiced strong support for Israel, called for U.S. backing of Palestinian Authority leader Mahoud Abbas and signed on to the policy of boycotting Hamas. They have also counseled caution and exuberance when it comes to the Bush administration’s late-term push for peace.

In the Obama campaign, Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, favors intensified involvement in the peace process, and has advocated—in the context of his own writing, not as a campaign spokesman—open pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Dennis Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator and the Obama campaign’s top adviser on Israel, says that an Obama administration would be fully engaged in brokering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But, he adds, it would avoid setting any artificial timelines for a deal. Ross says that Palestinian statehood would be impossible as long as Hamas terrorists control the Gaza Strip.

Two top McCain advisers, historian Max Boot and diplomat Rich Williamson, have expressed the same concerns as Ross, but they say the Israeli-Palestinian track will not be a top priority. The GOP running mate, however, has sounded a different note: Gov. Sarah Palin said a McCain government would sustain the Bush administration effort launched by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said that reaching a two-state solution was a top priority. McCain himself has promised to be the “chief negotiator.”

Both candidates back an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while leaving the city’s final status to Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

Obama stumbled when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in May that he would strive to keep the city undivided and Israel’s capital. Palestinians, and Arabs in general, were infuriated by Obama’s remark, leading to clarifications from Obama’s campaign claiming the candidate “misspoke.”

What Obama meant, the campaign and the candidate said, was that while Obama doesn’t want to see Jerusalem divided, the city may well be shared one day by Palestinians and Israelis and that Jerusalem’s final status should be left up to negotiators. McCain’s backers used the clarification to portray Obama’s remarks as inconsistent. On substance, however, the campaigns’ positions are identical.

McCain, however, has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem right away; Obama has not. Many candidates-turned-presidents have made such pledges in the past; none have delivered.

SYRIA

Syria is an issue where there are clear differences between the candidates.

Some in the McCain campaign, like the Bush administration, have made clear McCain would discourage the Israeli-Syrian negotiations currently taking place under Turkish auspices. The thinking is that the negotiations allow Syria to maintain some degree of hegemony in Lebanon, which the United States opposes.

The Obama campaign says this opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks preempts Israel in its ambitions for peace. However, Kurtzer, in a private capacity, has warned Syrian officials that they should not expect deep U.S. involvement until the talks truly are at an advanced stage. That would consist of Syria showing a serious effort toward meeting the key Israeli demand that it peel itself away from Iranian influence.

—- Jewish Telegraphic Agency

McCain for America — and Israel


As a patriotic Jewish American, I care deeply about Israel’s wellbeing and security, as well as that of our own country. In having to choose between the two presidential candidates, I find myself looking closely at their statements, record of accomplishments and the people

who advise them now and those they were influenced by in the past. I do this with America’s future foremost in mind and what we could expect their policies would mean to Israel going forward. This measuring rod is critically important in the face of the unprecedented national security challenges that we will face in the next few years.

Today, the choice for the pro-Israel community is clear — Sen. John McCain is the one. I regret that my choice is not shared by more of my co-religionists, but I believe that too many fail to appreciate the growing menace of Islamic extremism to the United States and Israel, voting Democratic more out of habit than self-interest or deep conviction.

I realize that for many Jewish Americans, Israel’s and America’s safety and security appear to be a lower priority than certain social issues, such as preserving abortion rights. I’ve heard this expressed often by those who sincerely feel that the next president’s Supreme Court appointments are more crucial than how a president will face up to the jihadist threat to Israel and the United States. If McCain had made the abortion issue a defining one of his public life, then this concern might have some validity. But this is not the case. Instead, McCain has focused his energies on issues pertaining to our national security and understands how to deal with the threat to America and free peoples around the world.

Sen. Barack Obama might be the choice of those Jewish Americans who have an “it’s all Israel’s fault” mentality and who feel anti-Semitism today is the result of Israel’s own actions. But for Jews who are troubled by the moral equivalence argument sustained by our State Department and some mainstream media like The New York Times, it is time to review a predilection to support Obama because he is a Democrat and seriously consider voting for McCain.

In my years in Washington going back to my first job in the JFK administration, I have worked for a liberal Democratic congressman and a liberal Democratic Senator. But I am much more closely aligned today with the diminishing number of Democrats who are considered centrists of the Joe Lieberman-Henry “Scoop” Jackson variety. The loudest voices now in the Democratic Party belong to the Michael Moores, Dennis Kuciniches and the moveon.org progressive types who are enamored with Obama.

When Lieberman, now an independent Democrat, endorsed McCain for president, he said, “I have worked with Sen. McCain on just about every national security issue over the past 20 years…. I have seen Sen. McCain time and time again rise above the negativism and pettiness of our politics to get things done for the country he loves so much.”

This resonates with me and contrasts starkly with the shallow background and thin resume of McCain’s opponent. Obama’s boosters credit him with transcending race and by extrapolation, everything else, including divisions of region, class, party, generation and ideology. But his very lean record in the Senate to date indicates none of this. Aside from winning elections and writing two books about himself, what accomplishments can he point to?

Comparisons between Obama and the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy also come up short. Actually, it is McCain, not Obama, who, like Kennedy, was commissioned as a naval officer, awarded the Purple Heart and decorated for helping his comrades. And McCain, much like JFK, has pledged to fight for freedom around the world and not to retreat from our enemies. This is certainly what we need today, more than meaningless slogans like “change we can believe in” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Many in Congress have excellent Israel-related voting records. Obama, in his very brief career, is among them. But some of these same legislators also appear reluctant to confront the growing menace of Islamofacism and the threat it presents to America’s vital interests in the Middle East and to Israel’s survival. Only one presidential candidate repeatedly states that “the transcendent challenge we face today is the menace of Islamic extremism.” McCain asserts this to all kinds of audiences and at all times. McCain offers a clear choice to voters on Nov. 4, as he acknowledged the grim reality of today’s world.

One can respect Obama for his ambition, his meteoric rise and his rhetorical skills. But his equivocation on issues like Jerusalem, public campaign financing and the success of the surge in Iraq are disturbing, as is his approach to dealing with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When not scripted, he has spoken of the “legitimate grievances” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Also worrisome is his ultraliberal voting record in the short time he has served in the U.S. Senate. He has been ranked as having the “most liberal” voting record in the entire U.S. Senate — a record that does not fit with one who claims to be a “unifier.” A unifier might be expected to come from the middle of a party, the place that gave us the constructive and bipartisan Senate “Gang of 14,” which forged a compromise on judicial appointments. Obama was nowhere to be seen in that group. And it is McCain, not Obama, who has pledged to appoint members of both parties to his presidential Cabinet.

Another primary concern is Obama’s meager national security record. Instead of arriving at well-established positions through years of intensive deliberation and consideration, he will have to rely more heavily on a group of advisers — some 300 by his own count. Given both the backgrounds of several of the more permanent people who have counseled him to date and the endorsements he has received from an infamous list of Israel bashers, this is surely not a promising sign. One speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee cannot make up for off-the-cuff remarks that paint an entirely different picture.

If one believes we live in a very dangerous world with unprecedented challenges, the choice before the American people and the Jewish community should be an easy one. On that fabled “day one,” Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, China, global terrorism, Middle East oil and, almost incidentally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be at the top of the new president’s agenda. Given the two candidates’ records, experience and core values, the choice for the pro-Israel community and the American people should not be a difficult one. McCain for president.

Morris J. Amitay, a Washington, D.C., attorney, is a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and founder of the pro-Israel Washington PAC (www.washingtonpac.com).

McCain advisors: No to Syria talks, little interest in Middle East peace process


LEESBURG, Va. (JTA)—A McCain administration would discourage Israeli-Syrian peace talks and refrain from actively engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

That was the message delivered over the weekend by two McCain advisers—Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s special envoy to Sudan—during a retreat hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Lansdowne Resort in rural Virginia.

One of Barack Obama’s representatives—Richard Danzig, a Clinton administration Navy secretary—said the Democratic presidential candidate would take the opposite approach on both issues.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine over the summer, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted that in his presidency he would serve as the chief negotiator in the peace process. But at the retreat, Boot said pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian deal would not be a top priority in a McCain administration, adding that as many as 30 crises across the globe require more urgent attention.

Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks a mistake.
He also cast Israel’s talks with Syria as betraying the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

“John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon,” Boot said.

Williamson was slightly more nuanced in addressing the issue of how the message would be sent.

“Israel should not be dictated to in dealing with Syria or dealing with Lebanon,” he said, addressing Israeli and some pro-Israel resentment in recent years at pressure by the Bush administration to stifle such negotiations. “Hopefully as friends they will listen to us.”

That Williamson was endorsing such views at all signified how closely the McCain campaign has allied itself with neo-conservatives. A veteran of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, Williamson in other circumstances would be more closely identified with Republican “realists” who have vociferously eschewed the grand claims of neo-conservatives to a new American empire.

Yet here he was echoing their talking points on several fronts.

McCain until the last year or so has kept feet in both the realist and neo-conservative camps. The session at Lansdowne appeared to suggest that the Republican presidential nominee has chosen sides, opting for policies backed by the outgoing Bush administration and its neo-conservative foreign policy architects.

Both McCain advisers insisted, however, that their candidate was synthesizing the two camps as a “realistic idealist.”

McCain would be a “leader who will press for more liberal democratic change ” and “is realistic about the prospects of diplomacy and just as importantly its limits,” said Boot, echoing what has become the twin walking and talking points of neo-conservatism: a muscular foreign policy and an affinity for promoting democracy.

Surrogates for Obama, an Illinois senator, re-emphasized their commitment to stepping up U.S. diplomatic efforts. Danzig said an Obama administration would revive the idea of a special envoy for pursuing a peace deal.

The “appropriate level of presidential engagement requires that the United States designate someone whose energies are predominantly allocated to this,” Danzig said.

Someone like Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now leading efforts to build a Palestinian civil society, might fit the bill, he added.

Surrogates from both campaigns appeared to agree on the need to further isolate Iran until it stands down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. Each side emphasized that it would keep the military option on the table and enhance sanctions.

It was clear that each campaign had devoted a great deal of attention to the issue. Officials from both campaigns signed on to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy policy paper this summer that called for closer U.S.-Israel coordination on Iran, borne out of concerns that Israel’s leadership was getting closer to contemplating the option of a strike.

Williamson and Richard Clarke, the former top anti-terrorism official in both the Clinton and current Bush administrations who spoke for Obama, described the near impossibility of taking out a weapons program that is believed to be diffuse and hidden in population centers. Clarke added the possibility of covert action against Iran, without details—a first for either campaign.

The sole difference was over Obama’s pledge not to count out a meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who has denied the Holocaust and rejected the legitimacy of Israel’s existence.

“What could such a meeting possibly accomplish?” Boot challenged.

Danzig replied that it would make it easier for Obama to rally worldwide support for sanctions.

“These things require a community of nations,” he said.

Danzig cast Obama’s emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy in terms of Israel’s security, a pitch tuned to the Washington Institute’s pro-Israel orientation.

“The threats and dangers are more substantial than they were eight years ago,” he said.

McCain’s advisers attempted to deflect comparisons between McCain and Bush. In trying to turn such comparisons against the Obama campaign, Boot noted that eight years ago he favored “another presidential candidate with not much experience in national security policy”—George W. Bush—“and we’ve seen the implications.”

The Washington Institute crowd, hawkish in its predilections and likelier to favor McCain’s foreign policy, would nonetheless only allow the McCain surrogates to take the character and experience issue so far.

Fred Lafer, the institute’s president emeritus, pressed Boot on why McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a foreign policy novice, as his running mate if he was committed to national security.

Boot said “she has as much” foreign policy experience as Obama, prompting cries of “No!” and “what?”

Biden, Palin lead campaign clash on Mideast


ST. PAUL (JTA)—The two vice-presidential candidates led the way Wednesday as the Obama and McCain campaigns worked to draw clear battle lines on Iran and Israel.

In a highly anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention, Alaska Gov. and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin mocked U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for saying more than a year ago that as president he would meet the leaders of pariah states unconditionally.

“Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay—he wants to meet them without preconditions,” she said during her acceptance speech Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center here.

Palin’s address followed a speech by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the most popular candidate among Jewish GOPers in the primaries. Giuliani warmed up the crowd with swipes at Obama, including an assertion that the Democratic nominee had flip-flopped on the issue of Jerusalem.

“When speaking to a pro-Israeli group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem, like I favor and John McCain favors it,” Giuliani said. “Well, he favored an undivided Jerusalem—don’t get excited—until one day later when he changed his mind.”

Earlier in the day, the Democrats launched their own Middle East-related attack when Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), used a 20-minute conference call with members of the Jewish media to blast the Bush administration and McCain, the Republican presidential nominee and longtime Arizona senator.

Biden blamed the Bush administration’s sluggish diplomatic efforts for slowing up Israeli-Palestinian talks and paving the way for the ascendancy of Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. The Democratic vice presidential candidate argued that the administration has failed to respect Israel’s autonomy, citing reports that the White House at one time directed Israel not to engage in talks with Syria. And he appeared to reject the administration’s reported efforts to block Israel from taking military action against Iran.

“This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” Biden said. “I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.”

That said, Biden added, the Bush administration could have done much more on the diplomatic front to help avert the potential need for military action.

Taken together, Biden’s press call and the GOP convention speeches underscored the ramped-up efforts by both campaigns to paint the other side as promoting a reckless foreign policy that would endanger Israel and undermine U.S. interests.

They come as polls suggest that Obama commands about 60 percent of the Jewish vote—a solid majority, but at least 15 points below the percentages recorded by recent Democratic presidential candidates.

Even as both sides attempted to draw stark distinctions on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, it was unclear if any exist. The clearest gap appears to be on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

McCain has said he would do so when he enters office. In response, the Obama campaign accused McCain of lying.

The last two presidents made the same promise during their campaigns, but neither Bush nor Bill Clinton over the past 16 years ever even made an attempt to actually carry out that promise.

On the wider question of Jerusalem’s final status, however, it’s not clear that the candidates disagree.

Obama felt the need to clarify comments he made on the issue to thousands of pro-Israel activists in June, but both he and McCain have expressed essentially the same views: They share Israel’s concerns and say ultimately the two sides must decide the matter in negotiations.

Though for years the Bush administration was reluctant to dive into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, McCain has pledged to do so. Both he and Obama favor a two-state solution, place most of the blame on the Palestinians for the failure to reach one, and back efforts to isolate Hamas and shore up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Iran, however, the disagreements appear more pronounced—between Obama and the Bush administration and between the two presidential campaigns.

In mocking Obama’s stated willingness to meet with the president of Iran, Palin was echoing a longstanding line of attack against Obama employed not only by Republicans but by Obama’s main rival in the Democratic primaries, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Since Obama first made the remark during a primary debate more than a year ago, he appears to have backtracked, saying he would require extensive preparations before such a meeting.

Still, Obama and Biden have stuck to the view that hard-nosed talks between the United States and Iran could ultimately lead Tehran to change its behavior—and, failing that, make it easier to build international support for tougher sanctions and possible military action against the Islamic regime.

McCain, on the other hand, has scoffed at the notion that talking with top Iranian leaders would do any good. At the same time, McCain has opposed several congressional measures backed by Obama that supporters say would place increased economic pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear pursuits.

Biden argued during the conference call that the net result of McCain’s positions is that he’s offering a choice between “unacceptable status quo or war.”

“There’s nothing in between with the McCain doctrine—nothing,” Biden said. “That is no option. That is a Hobson’s choice.”

In her speech Wednesday night, Palin expanded the Iran debate, arguing that the energy policies she favors—in particular, expanding oil drilling in the United States, especially Alaska—would help diminish the Iranian threat.

“To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries,” Palin said, “we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas.”

(Editor Ami Eden contributed in New York to this report.)

Allosemitism (noun) — Jews as the perpetual ‘other’


WEIMAR, Germany (JTA)—I learned a new word this summer—“allosemitism.”

Coined by a Polish-Jewish literary critic named Artur Sandauer, the term describes a concept with which I am quite familiar—the idea of Jews as the perpetual “other.”

Allosemitism can embrace both positive and negative feelings toward Jews—everything, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman put it, “from love and respect to outright condemnation and genocidal hatred.”

At root is the idea that, good or bad, Jews are different from the non-Jewish mainstream and thus unable to be dealt with in the same way or measured by the same yardstick.

The word cropped up during a recent symposium on Jewish and Roma (Gypsy) cultures that I attended here as part of a project called, significantly, “The Other Europeans.”

It was gratifying to find a term that so aptly describes the ambivalent ways in which Jews are regarded. And it was amazing to me that I hadn’t come across it earlier, considering all my reading and writing on the subject, not to mention my experiences over the past decades as a Jew in Europe.

We all know about anti-Semitism and the historic demonization of Jews. But anti-Semitism can be counterbalanced by an idealization of Jews and Jewish culture that also can be divorced from reality.

“People who think Jews are smarter than everyone else don’t have Jewish relatives,” my brother Frank likes to quip.

The Other Europeans project examines some of these issues by focusing on the relationships between Jewish and Roma cultures, particularly in the realm of music.

The project statement doesn’t use the term “allosemitism.” Instead it describes Jews and Roma as having “transcultural” European identities “in both fact and imagination.”

This, it states, has led to the condemnation of both groups as “rootless,” “parasitic,” “degenerate” and worse, as well as to continuing anti-Semitic and anti-Roma outbursts. At the same time, it notes, “the same transcultural character of Yiddish and Roma music is romanticized and embraced by contemporary ‘world music’ pop culture, which frames it as subversive and transgressive and therefore ‘hip.’ “

The Other Europeans project is the brainchild of the musician Alan Bern, an American who has been based in Berlin since the 1980s.

It is sponsored by three Jewish culture festivals—the Weimar Yiddish Summer Weeks, which Bern directs; the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, Poland, which this year marked its 20th anniversary; and the KlezMORE Jewish Music Festival in Vienna.

All three present and teach Jewish music and culture to a predominantly non-Jewish public.

Bern, a key figure in the klezmer music revival over the past two decades, is a thoughtful observer of the sometimes uneasy cultural dynamics between Jews and non-Jews in Europe.

“You define culture through interactions,” he told me during one of our many conversations. “What defines something is often the point of view from which you regard it.”

How to define what is “Jewish” provides endless fodder for debate in post-Holocaust, post-communist Europe. Jews are few here now; Jewish communal life, though reviving in some places, is in flux; and Jewish cultural expression is often embraced or even perpetrated by non-Jews.

Strict halachic definition may suffice for the religiously observant. But for Jews and non-Jews alike, that has always told only part of the story. And indeed, as experienced so drastically in the Shoah, definitions of what, or who, is Jewish often come from the outside.

Is there, as the concept of allosemitism implies, a “certain Jewish something” that does so set Jews apart?

The Jewish Museum in Munich has mounted an exhibit this summer actually called “That Certain Jewish Something.” It takes a creative and rather provocative approach to explore the intangibles that can imbue objects, situations and even individuals with a sense of Jewishness.

The museum called on the public to bring in an object the people felt had “a certain Jewish something” about it with a written statement about why they had chosen that item. More than 120 people, most of them non-Jewish or with only distant Jewish roots, answered the call. All the objects were delivered on one day, June 22, and then arranged in display cases with the stories behind them.

The resulting, wide-ranging collection, as the museum puts it, provides “a multifaceted view into a very personal and modern picture of Judaism.” Some of the objects are explicitly Jewish: menorahs, an old container for matzah, kitschy shtetl figurines, family silverware marked for meat and dairy, a Ten Commandments paperweight, a comic book called “Shaloman.”

But for many of the items—a flashlight, a rock, a tablecloth, a necklace, books, paintings, an ordinary pair of sneakers—“that certain Jewish something” is revealed only through their meaning to those who selected them.

A set of faded snapshots shows a smiling, bespectacled fellow attending a party in a Mexican costume. The man who brought them in had found the snaps when he moved into a new apartment, and they apparently showed the previous tenant, a Jewish man who had passed away.

An 11-year-old boy brought in a shirt from the Bayern-Munich football team because he had read that the team’s president before World War II had been a Jew.

The ordinary pair of sneakers belonged to a Jewish man. They in fact are a tangible symbol of the force of his faith: He wears them to the synagogue on Yom Kippur, he wrote, as they are made of cloth, not leather, which is prohibited on the holiday.

That allosemitic, “certain Jewish something” is in what they represent, or how they are represented, not in what they actually are.

Spectator – A Night at the Hebraic Opera


Opera fans don’t mind watching theater unfold in a foreign language. So perhaps Molière fans will enjoy seeing his work performed in Hebrew.

That’s one of the hopes of Ori Dinur, director of “The Imaginary Invalid,” Molière’s 17th century comedy about a hypochondriac and his machinations, playing in Hebrew at the University of Judaism on Feb. 16.

“If you know Hebrew a little bit or you just love theater and you want to enjoy something different, it’s enough to have synopsis in your hand,” said Dinur, 40. The Israeli writer-director-teacher adapted Natan Alterman’s complex translation into a simpler Hebrew play so that even more basic Hebrew speakers can understand it.

The cast is comprised of 11 Jewish actors of different backgrounds, including Iran, Yemen, Russia, Poland, Morocco, Gibraltar and the United States. All but one of the actors — Jordan Werner — are Israeli. The 31-year-old Floridian, just a year in Los Angeles, can read Hebrew from his Jewish day school upbringing but barely understands it. For his part, as the lover Cleante, Werner memorized all his lines with coaching from the rest of the cast; he still betrays an American accent thick on the “rrrs.”

“As an actor, I really believe you get the feeling from a connection with someone. And I have to look into their eyes and feel what they’re saying so it’s really a lesson to me, how to react to only what they feel,” Werner said.

“The Imaginary Invalid” is Dinur’s first project for her new organization, The Jewish-Hebrew Stage. Together with Yoram Najum The Jewish-Hebrew Stage plans to bring Hebrew and Israeli theater to Los Angeles, as well as teach Hebrew through drama.

“I notice there is awkwardness between Israelis and the American Jewish community here, a little alienation,” said Dinur, who has been living in the Valley for the last five years. “I’d very much like to create an atmosphere of creation that has to do with Israelis and Jewish Americans. We share so many things, and we can learn so much from people who lived here for generations — and they can learn so much from us, too.”

“The Imaginary Invalid” plays Feb. 16, at 8:30 p.m., at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mullholland Drive, Bel Air. For tickets, call (818) 763-7379.

 

Oy! It’s Oscar Time


Two films that have encountered fierce controversy in the Jewish community and Israel are in the running for Oscar honors as nominations for the Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning.

“Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s take on the Israeli hunt for the killers of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, did better than some critics expected with five nominations.

These include best picture, best director (Spielberg), adapted screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, film editing and original musical score.

Picked among the top five foreign language film entries is the Palestinian “Paradise Now” by director-writer Hany Abu-Assad, which follows two suicide bombers from Nablus on a mission to blow up a Tel Aviv bus.

Nominated in the same category is Germany’s Sophia Scholl: The Final Days,” about an anti-Nazi resistance cell in Munich during World War II.

The actor nominations have a Jewish flavor, as well. Joaquin Phoenix, whose mother was born into an Orthodox New York family, received the nod in the lead-actor category for his portrayal of country music legend Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line.”

Jake Gyllenhaal, another son of a Jewish mother (screenwriter Noami Foner Gyllenhaal) was nominated for best supporting actor in the gay cowboy saga “Brokeback Mountain.”

Fully Jewish Rachel Weisz is in contention for best actress in a supporting role for her performance in “The Constant Gardner.” The London-born actress’ father and mother fled Hungary and Austria respectively in the 1930s in the face of the rising Nazi menace.

Woody Allen was named for “Match Point” in the original screenplay category, as was Noah Baumbach for “The Squid and the Whale.”

“Capote” scored an adapted screenplay nomination for Dan Futterman.

Two Jewish personalities will also have key roles on March 5. Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” fame will serve as Oscar host for the first time, while veteran producer Gil Cates will captain the 78th Oscar telecast for the 13th time.

 

Israel Real Estate Sales to Foreign Buyers on the Rise


Despite the vast influx of French immigrants and tourists who are buying up apartments in many parts of Israel, most notably in Netanya and Jerusalem, Americans are still in the forefront when it comes to big money properties.

There has been a tremendous growth in the foreign real estate market, according to Stuart Hershkowitz, deputy general manager and head of the international division of the Bank of Jerusalem.

“The main thrust of the Americans is on more expensive apartments,” Hershkowitz said.

Luxury market sales have shot up by 120 percent over the past 18 months, he said. “If we saw a $1 million deal once a month, we now see a $1 million deal once a week.”

Americans seeking to buy in Jerusalem prefer the neighborhoods of Talbiyeh, Rehavia, Katamon, Baka and Sha’arei Hessed, and are willing to pay up to $1million for apartments of less than 100 square meters, Hershkowitz said. Recently they have discovered Nahlaot, he added, and many people are now buying their holiday homes in this more colorful part of Jerusalem.

After the Americans, the most serious foreign buyers of real estate in Jerusalem are the British, followed by the French.

Some of the apartments are purchased as investments, Hershkowitz said, but 70 percent of buyers don’t rent out their apartments even if they come to Israel only once or twice a year. “They want their own place and they want it empty,” he said.

Hershkowitz recalled that four years ago, at the height of the intifada, few people were coming to Israel.

“Now the hotels are all full,” he said. In 2005, NIS 100 million was being spent in transactions by foreign investors per month, compared with NIS 200 million for the whole of 2000. “Whole communities are interested in buying property in Israel.”

Throughout the intifada, real estate prices either dropped or remained constant, said Hershkowitz, who envisaged that prices will now move into an upward spiral.

Former Israeli ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval, who was one of the founders of the Bank of Jerusalem and is currently co-chairman of the First American Israel Real Estate Fund, had been to America a few days earlier in his capacity as a member of the international advisory board of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Anyone who listens to American economists, Shoval said, might think that America is on the verge of bankruptcy. Certainly if one looked at the deficit in the U.S. balance of payments, there is room for worry, he remarked.

On the other hand, he said, there has been an impressive improvement in Israel’s economic situation. The deficit in the budget stands at NIS 2.9 billion compared to NIS 10.6 billion in the previous year; the gross domestic product per capita has expanded by 7.5 percent, and 180,000 new jobs have been made available.

In Shoval’s perception, this positive trend will continue, but could be hampered by the fact that Israel is in an election year. This could have a reverse effect on economic gains if the political leadership gives in to populist demands, he said.

 

U.S. Studios Court Israeli Programmers


Danna Stern, head of acquisitions at YES, Israel’s only television satellite company, was surprised to see that Mark Burnett, reality TV guru and producer of hit shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” had only one framed press clipping in his office: a feature on him that had appeared in Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily.

Stern and her associates get wined and dined every year by television network executives at a weeklong Los Angeles screening of shows in May, during which 2,000 television executives from all over the world sit all day in front of studio screens to view the new fall season pilots for sale.

Hollywood exports are a big business, and U.S. studios sometimes rake in more from international licensing than domestic. Even though Israeli acquisitions account for only 2 percent of overseas television exports, Stern thinks Israel gets special attention.

“They’re always interested way beyond our share in the market — and the same goes for the talent,” she said. “Because we’re a very recognizable country, they’re very accessible to us.”

In addition, she added, most of the marketing people and executives are Jewish, and are “always interested in Israel.”

Stern has mingled with Geena Davis, Teri Hatcher and Jennifer Garner, who take the time to meet with the foreign visitors at studio parties.

“The stars are really interested in hearing what works well,” she said. “They always promise to come [to Israel], but they never do.”

Last month, YES held its first-ever press screening at Israel’s largest cinema complex, Cinema City, in Herzilya, modeling it after the Los Angeles screening, to show-off its newest acquisitions. Among them are: “Prison Break,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Commander in Chief,” “The War at Home,” “Supernatural Invasion” and “How I Met Your Mother.” YES directors believed that the number and quality of acquisitions justified its screening, in which dozens of Israeli reporters got to watch U.S. television for an entire day.

While the new shows will be broadcast early next year, the turnaround time between a show’s U.S. premiere and its Israeli premiere is much shorter than in the past.

YES was founded about five years ago, increasing competition in the Israeli television market. Before that, only one cable company and two Israeli networks, Channel 2 and IBA, vied for U.S. and European shows. Now, YES competes with a whole slew of television outlets: a new Israeli network (Channel 10) and locally run niche channels for lifestyle, music, action, children, comedy, parenting, sports, documentaries and even Judaism.

Prior to this television growth spurt, visitors or immigrants to Israel were hard pressed to find their favorite U.S. TV show on Israeli channels, and if they did, they were stuck with shows from a season or two earlier. “Seinfeld” first aired only after the third season premiered in the United States.

“Everyone is trying to shorten the time because of piracy — people are already downloading shows the next day, so we can’t afford to wait as we usually did,” Stern said

The YES executive said that the current delay of a few months still has advantages. Israel does not air reruns, and a U.S. buzz around a show has enough time to echo in Israel.

YES has been the leader in importing U.S., as well as British, TV shows, including “The West Wing,” “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Comeback,” “Arrested Development,” “The O.C.,” “Hope and Faith,” “Scrubs” and more. Last year’s acquisition, “Desperate Housewives,” is the biggest hit. Other shows, like “Nip/Tuck,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Lost,” were picked up by other Israeli networks.

Sometimes Israeli buyers view new shows via broadband, but May is the time the big sales occur, when Stern and her associates choose among 30-40 programs. She noted that shows with religious themes, like “7th Heaven” and “Joan of Arcadia,” don’t do well in Israel.

“I think Israelis are a little more sophisticated than the average American viewer,” she said. “They tend to like things with an edge.”

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.

 

Just the Facts


Turn on the television. Open the newspaper. Flip on the radio. The message, according to many Jews, is depressingly similar: Israel is bad; the West Bank and Gaza are good. Israel embodies the bully Goliath; Palestinians, the heroic David. Israel behaves like apartheid-era South Africa; Palestinians are the equivalent of modern-day black South Africans, subject to discrimination, humiliation or worse.

To combat those unflattering media portrayals, a group of prominent Jews has banded together to create Access|Middle East, a nonprofit that will soon launch a news-rich Web site designed to be a one-stop information source for foreign correspondents and editorial writers.

The brainchild of former Time Warner vice chairman Merv Adelson, the nearly $2 million site will allow reporters to read articles from 415 newspapers from around the world, peruse think-tank reports and to view video footage of prominent Israeli military, political and economic leaders. Access|Middle East will also soon be able to translate articles from publications like France’s Le Monde and Lebanon’s Dar Al Hayat into English with the click of a mouse.

"We’re not in the business of propaganda. We’re not in the business of hasbarah," Adelson said. "We’re in the business of providing accurate and timely information to journalists and Jewish organizations quicker and better than ever. My feeling is the truth will always, in the long-run, benefit Israel. You don’t have to spin the truth."

That said, some of Access|Middle East’s supporters and board members are major machers in the Jewish community. Mortimer Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, serves on the steering committee, so does Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross, now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has made himself available as a media source to reporters.

The appearance of Access|Middle East comes at a time when several Jewish organizations have sprung up to blunt press attacks on Israel. Three-year-old HonestReporting.com scrutinizes the media for bias and mobilizes supporters to complain when they encounter it. The Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, translates the Arab press into English and other languages. Los Angeles-based StandWithUs monitors the media, among other initiatives.

"No other nation is subjected to the one-sided criticism that Israel is," said Andrea Levin, executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). "I’m not just speaking of the media but also [of] the U.N. and hundreds of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that fault it. Italy doesn’t have to face this barrage."

Not everyone thinks the American press takes an anti-Israeli slant. Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Parks, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, said press coverage is largely fair, although some articles occasionally go too far. He also noted that many Israel-based foreign correspondents are Jews.

If Middle East coverage seems more negative now than just a few years back, the change reflects the dashed hopes of the Oslo peace accord and the "realities on the ground," said Parks, who reported from Jerusalem for the Times from 1992 to 1995.

"Members of the American Jewish community, my impression, is that they feel that stories critical of Israel are anti-Semitic," Parks said. "I think that’s an oversimplification. If Israel does things that merit criticism, it doesn’t mean the American-Jewish community is under threat. It doesn’t mean Israel is under threat."

Aly Colón, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., said coverage of the Middle East has become more comprehensive and sophisticated as journalists have increasingly sought new information sources, including Arab television channel Al Jazeera.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in June, 2002, found that a majority of Americans think the media has no pro-Israel slant. Nearly half of those surveyed found Middle Eastern reporting balanced, 27 percent thought it favored Israel, while only 8 percent considered it the pro-Palestinian.

Even if a bias exists, some pundits question the potential effectiveness of Access |Middle East to influence opinions.

"There are such a number of Web sites out there that it seems hard to imagine that any one could move journalists," said former New York Times reporter Susan Rasky, now a senior lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Still, many in the Jewish community think it’s worth trying.

Giving reporters tools to write more balanced articles is a laudable endeavor, said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. That’s because a barrage of anti-Israeli stories could, over time, fuel anti-Semitism and delegitimize the Jewish state in the eyes of many, said Fishel, whose organization has directed donors to Access|Middle East.

With a total of 20 employees in the United States and Israel, Access|Middle East has operated mostly under the radar screen. That’s changing. The group provided Armstrong Williams, a conservative, African American journalist, with a television production team during his recent visit to Israel to help him put together TV segments on Israel’s security fence and the human toll of terrorism.

Access|Middle East also plans to hold regular telephone briefings with American reporters, said Andrew Adelson, Access|Middle East’s interim chief executive.

"We believe that with knowledge comes understanding and with understanding comes wisdom," he said.

The Sound Of Oscar


And the award goes to –The Holocaust! No, the Academy Awardshave not been given out yet, but the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts andSciences nominated “The Pianist,” a searing film of one Jew’s survival duringthe doomed uprisings of the ghetto and city of Warsaw during the Nazioccupation, for seven Oscars, including best picture.

Roman Polanski, the movie’s director, and Adrien Brody inthe title role of Wladyslaw Szpilman, were nominated in the directing andleading actor categories respectively.

There had been considerable speculation whether Polanski,who escaped from the Krakow ghetto as a boy of 7, would be nominated. He isofficially a fugitive from the United States for having had unlawful sexualrelations with a minor and currently lives in Paris.

Polanski was previously nominated for his films “Tess”(1979), “Chinatown” (1974)  and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

“Frida” whose title character was half-Jewish, received sixnominations at the Feb. 11 ceremony in Hollywood.

The German entry, “Nowhere in Africa,” was nominated forbest foreign language film. It described the struggles of a German Jewishrefugee family in the 1930s to adapt to life in Kenya. Israel’s entry, “BrokenWings,” was not nominated.

Nominated in the documentary feature category was “Prisonerof Paradise.” Its central character is Kurt Gerron, a popular Jewishentertainer in pre-Hitler Berlin, who directed a Nazi propaganda film about the”model ghetto” of Theresienstadt and was killed in Auschwitz.

Miramax, headed by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, garnered themost nominations for any studio. (Their hit musical, “Chicago,” topped the listof all films with 13 nominations.)

The 75th Annual Academy Awards will air Sunday, March 23 at 5:30 p.m. on ABC

Hamas, Hezbollah on Latest U.S. Terror List


The U.S. State Department’s biannual list of foreign terrorist organizations once again includes Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups that perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel.

But the significance of the list, issued last Friday, is unclear in light of the new U.S. war against terrorism.

The inclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah in the State Department list contrasts with President Bush’s executive order issued two weeks ago that focused exclusively on those groups believed associated with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.

That list was aimed at terrorist groups thought to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. Noting he was going after groups with a global reach, Bush called the move a "first strike" on the global terror network to starve terrorists of their support funds.

The exclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as organizations associated with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat — dismayed Israel and many Jewish activists.

Danny Ayalon, the foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said these organizations are driven by the same ideology as terror suspect bin Laden and have a global reach.

"We think it is important that they be on the new lists in order to give fighting them high priority," Ayalon said soon after the executive order was released.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said there is "no doubt that Hezbollah has a global presence." In addition, he said, Hamas has a global infrastructure and Palestinian Islamic Jihad has global ties.

Groups designated by the State Department as foreign terrorist organizations are banned from using U.S. financial centers and prohibits U.S. citizens from providing funds to these groups. It also ban members from receiving U.S. visas.

The executive order goes further, expanding the Treasury Department’s power to target the support structure of terrorist organizations, seize the assets of terrorists and punish those that support them. It also increases the government’s ability to block U.S. assets of foreign banks who refuse to freeze terrorist assets abroad.

As the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan gets under way, Israel is still hoping that Bush was sincere when he said the list of 27 terrorist groups was "just a beginning" and that the United States would continue to add more names to the list.

"We understand that the first part of the counter-terrorism strike is against Al Qaeda," Regev said, referring to the group headed by bin Laden. "We have to be patient in the war against terrorism."

Regev said Israel wants to be as supportive as possible of the U.S. campaign.

The timing of the State Department list appears coincidental, since it involves a certification process the State Department does every two years to identify foreign terrorist organizations.

The 28-organization list, which will be included in State Department’s "Patterns of Global Terrorism," focuses exclusively on organizations and not countries that sponsor terrorism. This year’s list is similar to the last one issued in 1999.

The State Department list also includes two Jewish groups deemed as terrorist, Kahane Chai and Kach, extremist groups whose stated goals, according to the State Department, are to "restore the biblical State of Israel" and claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of four Palestinians in 1993.

The operational significance of the State Department’s list has been minimal in the past, according to Patrick Clawson, the director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The question is whether the list will have more significance in light of the new war on terrorism.

Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said better collection of financial information and sharing of information with other governments could make the foreign terrorist organization designation more effective.

Boucher also tried to provide reassurance that the United States will remain engaged in the fight against all terrorist groups.

"The effort is to end all terrorism of global reach and not just put this one organization out of business," he said.

"We have worked with Israel very closely and constructively over the years in trying to deal with the problems that Israel faces against terrorism," Boucher added.

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