Senators chide Clinton on Israel’s exclusion from counterterrorism forum

U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Mark Kirk have written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing their disappointment with Israel’s exclusion from the inaugural meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

In the letter, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told Clinton that “there are few countries in the world that have suffered more from terrorism than Israel, and few governments that have more experience combating this threat than that of Israel.”

“One of the stated missions of the GCTF is to ‘provide a needed venue for national [counterterrorism] officials and practitioners to meet with their counterparts from key countries in different regions to share [counterterrorism] experiences, expertise, strategies, capacity needs and capability-building programs.’ We strongly believe that Israel would both benefit from, and contribute enormously to, this kind of exchange,” Lieberman and Kirk wrote. 

Israel had not been invited to the forum allegedly due to objections by Turkey, which also blocked Israel’s participation in the recent NATO summit in Chicago.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Times of Israel that the Israeli government will participate in working groups formed by the forum, and said that Israel had not been planning on attending the meeting.

The rift between Israel and Turkey has been ongoing since the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010. Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens during a hostile exchange after the ship tried to run Israel’s Gaza maritime blockade.

Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January, is still recovering in Chicago, while Lieberman is completing his final term as a U.S. senator.

Gingrich to RJC: U.S. needs ‘dramatically rethought strategy for the Middle East’

Appearing with five fellow candidates at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum, Newt Gingrich called for “a dramatically rethought strategy for the Middle East.”

The GOP presidential hopefuls took the stage separately Wednesday, and each spoke for approximately half an hour at the 2012 RJC Republican Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington. Tackling a mix of foreign and domestic issues, speakers took turns blasting President Obama’s Middle East policies.

“This one-sided continuing pressure that says it’s always Israel’s fault, no matter how bad the other side is, has to stop,” Gingrich said.

The former House of Representatives speaker, who is leading in the Republican polls, said the U.S. needed to prepare for a “long struggle with radical Islamists.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also took aim at Obama’s handling of relations with Israel.

“He’s publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders. He’s insulted its prime minister. And he’s been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran,” Romney said.

Speaking after Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed that as president he would increase strategic defense aid to Israel. The RJC has criticized Perry via Twitter for saying that he would include Israel in his proposal to reassess all foreign aid allocations.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) spoke of her experience as a volunteer on a kibbutz after graduating from high school, saying that her “love for Israel and for the Jewish people deepened” as a result. She also said that she had connected with a donor who would pay for the relocation of the U.S. ambassador’s residence from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, both well behind in the polls, led off the forum in the morning.

Herman Cain had been scheduled to address the gathering before he suspended his presidential campaign.

One top Republican candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), was not invited to the forum. The RJC’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, had cited what he described as Paul’s “misguided and extreme views” as the reason for Paul’s exclusion.

Paul has called for an end to all U.S. foreign aid, including to Israel, and has said that the U.S. should try to extend friendship to Iran.

In his address to the RJC, Gingrich made news by vowing to offer the job of secretary of state to John Bolton, a hawkish former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

State of Humanity Forum: ‘Darfur silence is lethal’

In opening the inaugural State of Humanity Forum, held Oct. 17 at Valley Beth Shalom, Marcy Rainey, VBS chair of Jewish World Watch (JWW), spoke of the atrocities in Darfur, proclaiming: “Silence is lethal, and meekness is inexcusable.”
Despite the brutality of the genocide, in which roving bands of the Arab terrorist group, known as Janjaweed, have taken the lives of 400,000 Darfurians and displaced roughly 2 million others, the theme of the evening was to acknowledge and honor the efforts of nonprofit organizations like

Clash of Ideas Should Be Addressed

The age of terror, it seems, has sprouted an era of dialogue. A host of conferences designed to bring together East and West are cropping up everywhere.

Never before, perhaps, have so many talked so optimistically about so serious a problem. But behind all the words is one unspoken disagreement that may imperil any chance for progress.

My direct encounter with this optimism took place at a high-profile get-together, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, in mid-April. Organized by the Qatar government and the Brookings Institution, the conference was packed with more than 150 scholars and leaders from all sides who diligently discussed both the needs and the means for achieving democracy, reforms and renaissance in the Muslim world. Strikingly, there was hardly a Muslim speaker who did not tie the implementation of such reforms to progress toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahla to Rami Khouri, editor of The Daily Star in Lebanon, almost every speaker ended his or her speech with a reminder that American credibility hinges critically on progress toward resolving the Palestinian problem.

This critical connection also livened up discussions at the World Economic Forum in Jordan in mid-May. According to The Economist, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, “barked: Palestine!” every time Liz Cheney, an assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department, mentioned the vision of an “Arab democratic spring.”

“There will be no spring or autumn or winter or summer without solving the problem,” he thundered.

But the distinctive and refreshing feature of the Doha conference was the civility with which this issue was discussed. The word “occupation” was hardly mentioned, and the usual accusatory terms “brutal,” “colonial,” “racist,” “apartheid,” etc., were pleasantly absent from the main discourse; all claims and grievances were neatly encapsulated into a modest call for “progress toward a solution.”

This stood in sharp contrast to another East-West conference earlier in April in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in which the Malaysian prime minister reportedly stated that Israel should cease to be “an exclusively Jewish racist state,” and where the overwhelming majority of participants, representing 34 countries, demanded that Israel be dismantled.

Enticed by the aura of civility in Doha, and as a representative of an organization committed to East-West dialogue, I was curious to find out what speakers had in mind when they pressed for “progress on the Palestine issue” — progress toward what?

Deep in my heart, I had hoped that the elite delegates in Doha would be more accommodating than those in Putrajaya, and that, safe in the protection of private discussions, I would find progressive Muslims who are genuinely behind the so called “two-state solution” and the “road map” leading to it. If this were not the case, I thought, then we are in big trouble again — Muslims might be nourishing a utopian dream that the West cannot accept, and sooner or later, the whole dialogue process, and all the good will and reforms that depend on it, would blow up in the same conflagration that consumed the Oslo process.

I was not the only American concerned with such gloomy scenarios. Richard Holbrook, America’s former ambassador to the United Nations, urged the Arab world to contribute its fair share toward meaningful movement of the peace process. He reminded the audience that by now, two and a half generations of Arabs have been brought up on textbooks that do not show Israel on any map, and that such continued denial, on a grass-roots level, is a major hindrance to any peaceful settlement.

I had a friendly conversation on this issue with one of Dahlan’s aides, who confessed that “we, Palestinians, do not believe in a two-state solution, for we do not agree to the notion of ‘Jewish state.’ Judaism is a religion,” he added “and religions should not have states.”

When I pointed out that Israeli society is 70 percent secular, bonded by history, not religion, and that by “Jewish state,” Israelis mean “national Jewish state,” he replied: “Still, the area of Palestine is too small for two states.”

This I found somewhat disappointing, given the official Palestinian Authority endorsement of the road map plan.

“Road map to what?” I thought, “to a Middle East without Israel?” Arafat’s death has presumably put an end to such fantasies.

I discussed my disappointment with an Egyptian scholar renowned as “a champion of liberalism.” His answer was even more blunt:

“The Jews should build themselves a Vatican, a spiritual center somewhere near Jerusalem. But there is no place for a Jewish state in Palestine, not even a national Jewish state. The Jews were driven out of Palestine 2,000 years ago, and that should be final, similar to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain 500 years ago.”

These views brought to mind my friends in the Israeli peace camp who place all their hopes on the two-state dream, and for whom the terms “one-state solution” and “Jewish Vatican” are synonymous to genocidal death threats. My puzzled thoughts also went to all the Europeans and Americans who believe to have found an inkling of flexibility on Israel’s legitimacy in the progressive Muslim camp.

But if my experience in Doha was merely a glimpse at how Muslim elites conceptualize the Middle East “solution,” it was soon topped by a May visit to the University of California at Irvine, where the Muslim Student Union organized a meeting titled, “A World Without Israel” — cut and dry.

And if that was not enough, there came a colorful radio confession by the editor of the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Arabi (May 29, 2005), Abd Al-Halim Qandil:

“Those who signed the Camp David agreement … can simply piss on it and drink their own urine, because the Egyptian people will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli entity.”

Putting aside troubling reports about Arab textbooks, television programs and mosque sermons, Qandil’s bold statement drove home a very sobering realization: In 2005, I still cannot name a single Muslim leader (or journalist or intellectual) who has publicly acknowledged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a dispute between two legitimate national movements.

One side dreams of a world without Israel; the other sees Israel as a major player in the democratization and economic development of the region — will this clash of expectations burst into another round of bloodshed?”

But, looking ahead at the plentiful attempts to build bridges to the Muslim world, one wonders whether this outpouring of energy and good will should not first be channeled toward hammering out basic common goals, followed by educational programs and media campaigns that promote them, rather than glossing over a fundamental disagreement of such importance. Failure to address uncomfortable differences has a terrible way of extracting higher costs later on.

Judea Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization that promotes cross-cultural understanding, named after his son, a Wall Street Journal reporter brutally murdered in Pakistan in 2002.


Food Poverty Grows in Israel

When, not so long ago, the director of an Israeli nonprofit organization noticed that an employee would appear at work every Sunday morning so fatigued that he could barely function, he issued him a stern warning to "stop partying so hard on Saturday nights."

The gaunt-looking employee burst into tears, explaining that he had not eaten since Thursday afternoon, when he received his last hot meal of the week at work.

That sad tale is one of the stories that got Laurie Heller, the Israeli representative of the Baron De Hirsch Fund, to establish a new group to investigate and address the rising hunger and poverty in the Jewish State as the economy has fallen.

The Forum to Address Food Insecurity and Poverty in Israel brings together a number of groups to help match philanthropists with soup kitchens and other organizations that feed those in need.

The sponsoring groups include federations and foundations investing money in Israeli nongovernment organizations; the Brookdale Institute, which is the research arm of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; and Israeli government organizations. The forum is funded primarily by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, the San Francisco Jewish Federation and the Rochlin Family Foundation.

The forum’s mission is to "make funding opportunities for many philanthropists to find their place in the range of solutions for food insecurity," said Heller, the group’s co-chair.

Using available research, the forum will determine "which problems are not being addressed by existing programs, where we need to put our emphasis collectively, where people can channel funding," she said.

To that end, the Brookdale Institute began a national survey in March to ascertain nutrition habits among Israelis. The study focused on three factors: food consumption in the general population — quantity, variety and types of food consumed; the nutritional components consumed, including both calories and various nutrients; and household difficulty in accessing adequate and appropriate food due to economic constraints.

The Brookdale survey interviewed Israelis age 22 and up in a national telephone survey of 1,490 households between March and May of this year.

The study examined the impact of hunger on focused groups of veteran Israeli families, immigrant families and Arab families, and within those groups, on children, the elderly, single-parent families and families with large numbers of children.

Although the results of the survey have not yet been released, some conclusions were leaked from the Ministry of Health and the report has been discussed around the country.

Consequently, the director of the Brookdale Institute, Jack Habib, issued a three-page summary of the findings.

"With the worsening of the economic crisis during the past two years," the summary states, "food poverty has again become an issue." Food poverty is defined as severe food shortages that lead to malnutrition, requiring emergency medical treatment.

"There is enough food, but 22 percent of the population doesn’t have enough money to purchase it on a regular basis," Heller said.

The Brookdale study found that while there are more than 125 organizations addressing the problem of food poverty through food distribution, such as canned food drives and recycling food, such as leftovers from restaurants, there is virtually no coordination or shared information between the organizations dealing with the problem.

Heller’s new organization seeks to coordinate the efforts of each organization and also sponsor new laws that will encourage organizations to help.

For example, the forum wants to introduce the equivalent of the United States’ Good Samaritan Law, which protects institutions from lawsuits in the event that people get sick from donated food.

Cheri Fox, who is co-chair of the forum, executive director of the Fox Family Foundation and co-chair of the Jewish Funders Network, emphasizes that she, Habib and Heller are not trying to provide an alternative to the government’s response to hunger, but working to enhance it.

"The study was done with a team of researchers from the Ministry of Health and in partnership with National Insurance and Social Welfare," Habib said. "We now have fairly intensive discussions with government ministries with the hope that they will move to develop more effective responses to the situation."

The effectiveness of these responses, said Heller and Fox, is an urgent matter.

"In school-age children," Heller explained, "malnutrition lowers IQ by 10 points."

"When malnourishment is found in the 0-5 age group," Fox added, it "can create severe, irreversible problems in physical and intellectual development."

As such, she notes, Israel is beginning to see "enormous gaps between rich and poor."

Whereas the gap used to be 10 points out of 100 on standardized tests, it is now 20 points.

"The impact of the economic crisis in this country is long-term," Heller argues. "We are losing another generation to poverty."

UCI Forum MERITs Response

A UC Irvine forum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last month exposed a rare rift over academic freedom within the normally collaborative Orange County Jewish community.

The four selected panelists at the Oct. 9 program were critiqued as a “pro-violence platform” by the Fullerton-based Middle East Reporting in Truth (MERIT), a grass-roots group organized to counter media bias. MERIT urged its members to press public officials for an investigation of the forum’s sponsors and funding, describing the participants, who at that time had not yet been identified, as “Palestinians who justify suicide bombers” and calling the event “propaganda” for lacking mainstream speakers.

The accusations incensed Mark LeVine, an associate professor of Middle East history and Islamic studies, who convened the scholars for a separate three-day academic workshop and also asked some to speak at the public forum. “I don’t deal with people who support violence,” he said of the academics invited to participate. He called MERIT’s remedy “McCarthyesque.”

In a clarification posted online after LeVine complained, MERIT retracted the description but not its concern over the panelists, who “do not represent the current consensus of Israeli public opinion.”

An audience of more than 200 people listened intently to the two-hour UCI discussion by two Israelis and two Palestinians. At the outset, UCI’s director of international studies made a disclaimer about the panelists’ “alternative view.”

“These are the views you don’t hear,” LeVine told the audience.

Oren Yiftachel, chair of the geography department at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, Israel, defined the conflict as an ethnic land grab and “creeping apartheid.” He said peace efforts are undermined by the spread of Israeli settlements, what he called “the Judaization of Palestine.” Expansion also means people live separately and unequally, he said.

Palestinian Rema Hammami, director of women’s studies at Bir Zeit University, located on the West Bank, said the conflict is bred by festering frustration over political agreements that fail to see fruition. She said both sides share blame for the second intifada, which she claims was ignited by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000. Excessive military force to quell Temple Mount demonstrators led to inevitable escalation, she said. Her harshest words were for Palestinian leadership. Their lack of response to the intifada “borders on criminal responsibility,” she said.

Another panelist, Yoav Peled, a political science professor from Tel Aviv University, sees the conflict through an economic lens. The first intifada in 1987 resulted in a withdrawal of Palestinian resources that benefited Israel: cheap labor, a captive market and tax revenue. “That led Israel to Oslo,” Peled said. A foreign-investment boom during the 1990s, though, did not bring full employment as factories closed. “The people whose economic fortune deteriorated because of the peace process came to resent the idea,” he said.

Walid Shomaly, Palestinian Center of Public Opinion’s public relations director, reported results of a recent poll of Palestinians. About half now say they support the intifada and suicide bombing, which represents a decline compared to a year ago, when support stood at 72 and 80 percent, respectively, he said. Shomaly did not describe how the poll was conducted.

LeVine ended the panel with a plea. “All of the community needs to step back from inflammatory rhetoric,” he said, such as equating [Ariel] Sharon or Yasser Arafat to Hitler. “We need to stop making ludicrous analogies.”

The forum lacked balance, said Roz Rothstein, an organizer of StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based Israel advocacy group, who was one of a many audience members that had questions for the panelists. “I wanted an even playing field,” Rothstein said, adding that students lacked the sophistication to discern that the presentation had a pro-Palestinian bias. In a later statement, she called on the UCI administration “to stop allowing the university to be used as a forum to demonize Israel.”

Other Jewish organizations that have previously allied with MERIT over campus issues refrained, in this instance, from backing the group’s effort to derail the forum. “We think that it’s important the Jewish community support open dialogue,” said Gary Levin, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Costa Mesa chapter.

Both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate are stalking college campuses this fall for different ends. The pro-Israel side seeks to delegitimize speakers antagonistic to Israel. The pro-Palestinian side seeks sympathizers in a student population willing to demonstrate for news cameras. Two of the UCI panelists are on campus tours for Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a group circulating a petition calling on Israel to respect academic freedom in Palestinian universities. About 500 mostly U.S. professors have signed.

Paula Garb, associate director of international studies for UCI, who also served as a moderator, said five other Middle East forums of varying perspectives are planned in the fall quarter.

“We hope as the year proceeds, all perspectives will be presented,” Garb said. “It’s not possible at one event, but over time.”

UCLA Hillel Hosts Muslim-Jewish Series

On April 2, UCLA Hillel opened a spring forum titled “Muslim-Jewish Relations: Harmony and Discord Throughout History” examining relations between Muslims and Jews from the founding of Islam to the contemporary era.

Co-sponsored by a variety of organizations, including Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, ACCESS, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Americans for Peace Now, the five-week series features discussions between academics from UCLA and other local and national universities.

The four remaining sessions are:

Mon., April 16
The Arab-Jewish Symbiosis: Myth & Reality
Dr. David Nirenberg, professor of history, John
Hopkins University
Dr. Teofilo Ruiz, professor of history, UCLA.

Mon., April 30
Under the Hijab and Behind the Mechitzah:
Women in Islam and Judaism
Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller, clinical psychologist
Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, assistant professor of women’s studies, CSUN

Mon., May 7
Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism: A Tale of
Two Narratives
Dr. Adam Rubin, assistant professor, Hebrew
Union College
Dr. Najwa Al-Qattan, assistant professor, Loyola
Marymount University

Mon., May 21
The Current Conflict and the Future of the
Children of Abraham
Dr. Rashid Khalidi, professor of Middle East
history, University of Chicago
Dr. Steven Spiegel, professor of political science,

All lectures will take place at UCLA Hillel, 900 Hilgard Avenue, first floor, beginning at 7:30 p.m. $12 per lecture; $50 series. Free for full-time students with current ID. For more information, please call (310) 208-3081, extension 240.

All the Small Things

In a race that has enough candidates for a minyan, the fight for the 5th District City Council seat being vacated by city attorney hopeful Mike Feuer became even tougher following the Jan. 12 addition of Tom Hayden. With the former state senator expected to win a plurality in the April 10 primary, speculation is now limited to which of the other 10 candidates will face Hayden in the June 5 general election.

The candidates all but agree with each other on many of the pertinent issues –LAPD reforms, Valley secession, gridlock and the need for a full city audit — so minor divergencies will carry more weight among constituents in this Jewish stronghold, which includes Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, Westwood and Sherman Oaks.

During a March 22 candidates forum sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles at Temple Beth Am, the contenders, most of whom are Jewish, deviated infrequently from agreement with one another but eagerly promoted platform differences when they arose.

Moderator Pete Demetriou, a KFWB reporter, opened by portraying the event as "a job interview, and you’re hiring."

Some of the job’s perks include a role in the allocation of the city’s $4.3 billion budget, the ability to draft policies for 4.1 million people and a vote to determine whether Bernard Parks will continue to serve as police chief after 2002.

Joe "Graffiti Guerrilla" Connolly, who referred to himself as that "crazy goy," started off by dropping Yiddishisms in hope of connecting with the audience. Studio City resident Constantina Milonopoulos, meanwhile, stuck to her issues: gun control, greening neighborhoods and strong opposition to billboards.

To combat financial waste at the city level, each of the candidates wholeheartedly supported a top-to-bottom audit. Hayden, who repeatedly focused on the need to increase funding for paramedics, senior services and filling pot holes, endorsed such a plan to end the MTA and Belmont "gravy train."

Stephen Saltzman, who had been a deputy to Mayor Tom Bradley and a deputy director for AIPAC’s Southwest region, mentioned cost overruns on City Hall’s post-earthquake renovation, which went from $75 million to $300 million, as a prime example of a "need for better management and better priorities."

Pico-Robertson attorney Nathan Bernstein and Victor Viereck, a North Hollywood accountant, went out on a limb and said that the Community Redevelopment Agency needs to be scrapped to save money.

Gridlock, one of Los Angeles’ more perplexing problems, elicited almost as many solutions as there were candidates, but public transportation, company incentives to stagger work hours and ending construction during rush hour all enjoyed support from Saltzman, Milonopoulos, Hayden, Bernstein and business-woman Robyn Ritter Simon.

Sherman Oaks businessman Ken Gerston called for "more left-hand turn signals and reverse-flow lanes" to relieve congestion.

Viereck preferred a DASH or light-rail solution and felt that the ability of MTA Rapid buses to change traffic lights was "too dangerous."

Laura Lake, a Jewish Federation board member and former UCLA environmental science and engineering professor, came out swinging on the topic of the new City Council charter amendment that provides for neighborhood councils in an advisory capacity.

"If neighborhood councils had statutory authority, I would be would be a big booster," Lake said. "I wanted a charter that would have given them a shared governance, a real voice. I support charter reform that would give real power to the grass roots of Los Angeles."

Former U.S. Attorney Jack Weiss said the councils "have tremendous promise, [but ] I’m disappointed by the way the City Council implemented the process."

Saltzman responded that the councils are a "work in progress. The problem is not decentralizing power, but electing somebody who is willing to stand up to fight for the community, who will fight against Breitburn oil drilling on Doheny and Pico. We need to elect people who aren’t going to give away power."

The candidates sympathized with the frustration of Valley constituents, but all opposed the call for Valley secession. Sherman Oaks political consultant Jill Barad said that "if people got the services they want and need, they wouldn’t feel the need to secede."

Saltzman seized the opportunity to play devil’s advocate. "Every candidate has said that they support the breakup of LAUSD because it’s too big," he said. "Why is it that these same people don’t say that about the City of Los Angeles?"

When it came to the L.A. Police Department, Weiss and Milonopoulos were the only candidates who would seek to renew Chief Parks’ contract. "I think we have to stay the course with him," Milonopoulos said.

With the LAPD receiving only 20 percent of the city’s budget, compared to 50 percent in the 1960s, each candidate supported increasing the number of officers from 9,032 to a minimum of 10,000. Bernstein said he would like to add an additional 7,000.

"We’re losing 28 officers every two weeks," said Lake, who would like to boost morale by offering competitive pensions. "We’re training officers for other cities."

Hayden, who opened the evening by citing his Holocaust survivor legislation, closed simply with mention of his work to control guns and chromium-6 in drinking water and his Sierra Club endorsement, exuding a quiet confidence that, barring a landslide, the real work for him will begin April 11.

The other candidates closed by attacking or defending records or highlighting their lack of attachment to special interests or enthusiasm for the position. In short, they were trying to push themselves into the spotlight Hayden clearly enjoys.