Flights resume from Israel’s airports, but fuel crisis continues

Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport resumed flights Friday after jet fuel contamination halted all outgoing flights Thursday afternoon.

Friday morning, the airport was permitted to tap into emergency jet fuel supplies to enable grounded planes to fly to refueling stations in Cyprus or Jordan, Ha’aretz reported.

But that’s only a temporary solution, the airport’s chief official told reporters.

“The end to the crisis is not yet known,” Ben Gurion Airport manager Shmuel Kandel said Friday.

Early reports that the contamination might be due to sabotage or terrorism have been discounted. Samples of the tainted fuel have been sent to Germany for testing.

Aircraft refueling was halted Thursday at Ben Gurion when Aviation Assets, which supplies fuel to the airport’s pipeline, discovered contaminants in the fuel. Refueling was also stopped at the airports in Eilat and Haifa. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded.

Two weeks ago, officials noticed that the fuel filters on the company’s trucks were clogging. Clogging of airplane fuel filters “could be disastrous,” an airport official told reporters Thursday.

The Israeli media is reporting concerns that the contamination may be more widespread in the country’s fuel supply.

Iran removing nuclear fuel from plant

Iran is removing the nuclear fuel from its Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Iran told atomic inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency last week that the plant had a serious problem, the New York Times reported Feb. 25.

The newly completed nuclear reactor was supposed to soon start generating electricity for the national grid.

“Based on the recommendation of Russia, which is in charge of completing the Bushehr atomic power plant, the fuel inside the reactor core will be taken out for a while to conduct some experiments and technical work,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, told the Iranian ISNA news agency.

Iran had started loading the fuel into the reactor in October.

The nuclear reactor is a joint project with Russia and has cost upward of $1 billion. Progress has been delayed on the plant at least five times in the past 15 years.

Construction of the plant had begun in 1975 under a contract with Germany, which pulled out following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Russia took over the contract in 1992.
Iran is under U.S. and international sanctions because of its nuclear program, which Iran says will be used to produce electricity and which the West believes could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The computer worm Stuxnet, which some say has set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months or years, and which the New York Times reported was a joint project between Israel and the United States, had nothing to do with the problem, Iranian officials have said, according to reports.

Smug Alert

Click the BIG ARROW to see Rob Eshman’s new
bio diesel VW and watch him drink a bio diesel Martini

Last week I bemoaned the fact that former Gov. Tom Vilsack, the only presidential candidate with the ideas and track record to wean America off foreign oil, droppedout of the race.

This week I decided I wasn’t going to just sit there and moan, I was going to do something about it.

So I bought a car.

And not a Prius. At 40 miles per gallon, the hybrid car to the stars is a gas-guzzler compared to my new baby: a 2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI, a diesel car that gets 30 to 40 miles per gallon … of corn oil.

I’d been writing and speaking and boring my family for some time now on how absolutely stupid it is for Americans to be dependent on foreign oil. Our petroleum economy lines the pockets of Middle East potentates and other facilitators of extremism and terror. It directly endangers the state of Israel by strengthening its enemy’s regimes. And, whether the oil we burn is from Texas or Saudi Arabia, it contributes to global warming.

The enormity of our stupidity is dwarfed by an even bigger stupidity: We have the technology, now, to solve this problem.

Take my new car, for instance.

Two days after I bought it, I took my car to the appropriately named USA gas station at Glencoe Avenue and Mindanao Way in Marina del Rey and pulled up to a pump marked, “BioDiesel.” I filled up my tank, and I drove away.

That’s it.

The fuel now powering my car is made in America from canola, corn, soy or other new and recycled food oils. Almost any off-the-assembly line diesel engine can run just fine on it.

“Aren’t you afraid of enriching those Midwest corn oil shieks?” a friend of mine said as we tooled around.

Oh, what a world it would be: Saudi princes actually out looking for real jobs while Kansas corn farmers blow wads of cash in Macao.

Biodiesel itself has the consistency, smell and, yes, taste of Mazola. Made from food oils and alcohol, it disintegrates into harmless organic matter when spilled. It’s as toxic as table salt.

And biodiesel is virtually carbon neutral — whatever carbon dioxide it releases when burned is offset by the carbon dioxide the plants absorb when they grow.

At first, when I walked into the gas station kiosk to pay for my biodiesel, I was crestfallen. I don’t know what I expected — maybe a recycled bamboo floor and exposed beams, a pretty hostess offering me an organic mimosa and a free 10 minute Reiki treatment from Al Gore.

Instead, the only decorations were racks of Slim Jims and a fridge full of Throttle. The station’s cashier sat behind thick bulletproof glass. I paid $3.29 a gallon for 12 gallons and walked out.

And, in retrospect, that was the beauty of the whole experience. There’s nothing unusual or alternative about running America’s transport system on native, non-petroleum fuel. You can drive a great car, fill up as usual (though without the noxious odor), and be on your way.

Unfortunately, the biodiesel movement still has a certain crunchiness associated with it. Diesels are common in Europe, and, prompted by the creation of a new low-sulpher diesel, a new generation of these cars will soon hit American shores. But for now, partisans tend to drive pre-1985 Mercedes with iron engines that are said to run for a million miles. These behemoths chug along well enough and can be had for as little as $3,000, but I was looking for something with airbags and zip.

A small group converts these diesel engines to run on waste vegetable oil. Several companies do this for around $800. Jeremy Mittman, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP in Century City, has a deal with Pat’s kosher restaurant on Pico to pick up its used fry oil. He filters it and funnels it into the tank of his 1982 Mercedes. His total fuel cost: about 0.

The biodiesel I use is labeled B100 — 100 percent biodiesel, not blended with regular diesel. It is more expensive than our government subsidized gasoline for now, and there’s only a handful of retail outlets locally, but a biodiesel facility is opening near Oxnard, which will allow the price to Southern Californians to drop. In the meantime, 15 cents per gallon more than regular unleaded strikes me as a small price to pay.

After all, if you drive a gas-powered car and donate to organizations that fight global warming or defend Israel, you’re contributing to the solution and the problem. Rabbi David Wolpe understood this when he delivered a sermon last January at Sinai Temple urging congregants to drive hybrid vehicles. After his talk, some 50 families traded in their Lexuses and Mercedes guzzlers for Priuses.

The American Jewish Committee understood this when it began offering incentives for employees to switch to hybrid vehicles. The organization has rightly made energy independence a cornerstone of its advocacy work.

Is biodiesel “The Answer?” No — but like hybrids, fuel-cell vehicles, higher Federal fuel mileage standards and public transportation, it’s an important step along the way.

And the only dangers?

Getting struck by a hybrid owner for sporting my new bumper sticker: “Biodiesel: Cleaner Than Your Prius.”

“Hybrid v. Diesel”:

What Is Biodiesel?

American Jewish Committee’s Stand on Energy Independence

“Cleaner Greener Cars” from E Magazine:

Prop. 87 fuels high octane fight on oil production tax

In August 2006, the average price of gasoline in California was $3.20 per gallon. Today, with the summer demand faded, it still hovers at $2.60. Politicians and interest groups know that Californians want answers and solutions, and they also know that the election season is upon them.

Next month, California voters will take sides in what has been an epic battle over Proposition 87, called the Clean Energy Alternative Act.

The stakes include a proposed $4 billion state tax on oil production, which would be spent on development of alternative fuels and theoretically change the amount of oil California needs to import from the Middle East, especially for gasoline. California is the fourth-largest oil producing state in the United States and the No. 1 gasoline consumer.

On one side, Hollywood producer and prominent Jewish Democrat Steven Bing is backing the initiative. Against him stand the nation’s largest oil corporations. Weeks before Election Day, Proposition 87 is already at the center of a $105 million spending spree by partisans on both sides, breaking the record for any single initiative on a California ballot. Bing alone donated approximately $40 million.

On the other side are the oil companies, which claim the measure would force them to fund an unaccountable state handout.

The fundamental idea behind Proposition 87 is that corporations extracting oil from California lands would have to pay a new tax into a state account, called the California Energy Independence Fund. The complicated tax would vary, depending on the market price of a barrel of oil, but the most likely interpretation puts the new fee on a $70 barrel of California oil at about $2.17. Once $4 billion in taxes is collected this way, or after 10 years at the latest, the levy would cease to exist.

More than half of the anticipated $4 billion would be used to subsidize public vehicles, such as school buses and garbage trucks that run on alternative fuels, and to fund private research institutions to develop and manufacture new fuel sources. More than a quarter of the money would go to universities for work on renewable energy sources and to community colleges for vocational training in the field. The rest would fund alternative energy start-up companies and public education programs.

One major goal is a 25 percent reduction in petroleum use for transportation in the state over the next 10 years, but in general, the California Energy Alternatives Program Authority, which Proposition 87 would create, would have a great deal of discretion on spending. The measure contains numerous examples of the type of programs that could qualify for funding.

However, there are far fewer strict guidelines for what would be excluded. This is where the greatest problem with the measure lies, said Scott McDonald of the “No on 87” campaign.
“They have specifically excluded themselves from the state’s contracting and bidding regulations,” he said.

The law allows employees of grantee organizations to be members on the authority board, raising the potential for conflicts of interest.

“There are no specifics in the initiative,” McDonald told The Journal. “There’s no requirement that [the tax money] will be spent in California or the United States, for that matter.”
Beth Willon of the “Yes on 87” campaign responded that despite critics’ doubts, “none of the members of the [authority’s] board can make any money from this.” Despite the looseness of membership requirements of the authority under the law, she said, members of the authority and any entities that they control cannot directly receive funds from it.

Another concern of critics is how the tax could affect the behavior of oil companies. Though the law and the global economics of oil would prevent them from directly passing the cost of the tax onto Californians in gas price increases, they may opt to import more expensive foreign oil if the tax makes “marginal wells” in California even less profitable to drill, McDonald said.

The “Yes on 87” campaign has attacked all those claims, most recently with a TV ad featuring former Vice President Al Gore arguing that the fruits of the alternative fuel research funded by Proposition 87 will mean less dependence on foreign oil. In terms of marginally profitable wells, Proposition 87 seems to have foreseen the problem by enabling oil companies to deduct the new tax from their general corporate income taxes.

Latching onto the income tax concession like a sign of weakness, the “No on 87” campaign has in recent advertisements argued that withheld corporate income taxes would reduce available General Fund revenue for the state to spend on schools. The proposed tax deduction counters the prediction that the initiative would increase foreign oil imports due to lost oil profits, and with a potential impact of at most $14 million, it is not likely to impact the education budget, which for 2005-06 stood at $58 billion.

Advocates for the measure include high-profile Democratic Party supporters, such as former President Bill Clinton, Gore, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as the L.A. City Council by a 10-1 vote. The local Progressive Jewish Alliance also supports Proposition 87 and has issued a position statement arguing that even if the tax increases the cost of gasoline in the short run, the higher cost would only encourage more California consumer adoption of alternative fuels.

Proposition 87, however, aspires to affect the international oil market, so a look at California state politics is not the end of the story. Gal Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, but he spoke to The Journal on his own behalf as an energy expert. Luft said the real question is whether Proposition 87 can actually accomplish its objectives, given the economics of oil and what its cost would be on a global scale.

“I think the goal of a 25 percent reduction in [petroleum] consumption in California within 10 years is completely unachievable,” Luft told The Journal. “There’s no way, period.”
Luft scoffed at the billions of dollars allocated in Proposition 87 for research into alternative fuels.

Fuel for Fear

An FBI warning that Al Qaeda might attack Jewish targets with gasoline trucks ignited widespread concern in Los Angeles and fueled heightened security in Jewish communities nationwide this week.

From Jewish organization offices to community centers to synagogues, news spread quickly of the latest FBI terror warning that Al Qaeda operatives at one point discussed attacking Jewish institutions with bomb-laden gasoline tankers.

Responding to the warning, high-ranking law enforcement officials, including LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish and L.A. FBI Assistant Director Ron Iden, held a security briefing for Jewish leaders at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance on June 27. Representatives from synagogues, Jewish service agencies and organizations from American Israel Public Affairs Committee to the Menorah Housing Foundation filled the museum’s Pelz Theater. Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss led the meeting, fresh from attending a Homeland Security conference in Washington, D.C., the day before.

The officials’ presentations stressed the security measures already in place and congratulated Jewish leaders for their close relationship with local law enforcement. Weiss said the appearance of high-ranking officials at the meeting "sends a strong message to the Jewish community and to the community at large."

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center told the group, "We’re not here to scare anybody … but to say things have not changed would be wrong." Iden gave an overview of the FBI’s "very, very strong working relationship" with local law enforcement, with a number of systems like e-mail networks and phone trees to "ensure that as we get information it gets out to the people who need it, quickly and accurately." Kalish, who stressed "the public should have confidence in law enforcement, in our preparation and in our commitment," gave the Jewish leaders contact sheets for LAPD officers and described the LAPD anti-terrorism unit’s intelligence control center.

After the presentations, officials held a closed-door session with the Jewish leaders to discuss specific security measures in detail.

Responding to the fuel tanker threat, some Jewish leaders said their communities had long ago beefed up security in response to other threats.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said many Jewish institutions in the Los Angeles area toughened their security after a shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) in 1999.

Such steps included hiring security guards, erecting concrete barriers outside buildings and, in some cases, searching cars. Some synagogues now require guests to R.S.V.P. before attending life-cycle events, he added.

The same was true in Washington, where many Jewish leaders said security had been stepped up after the Los Angeles NVJCC attack and reinforced after Sept. 11. The FBI alert was just another reminder to be vigilant, they said.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), both based in New York, alerted member agencies throughout the country about the potential attacks, and many then notified local groups.

"The ADL is advising Jewish institutions to be extremely alert to fuel and tanker trucks parked near their facilities," said Robert Martin, the ADL’s director of security.

"The police should be called immediately if any doubt exists relative to the legitimacy of such trucks (i.e., no fuel delivery was expected)," Martin wrote in a memo.

Yet Jewish groups were also being cautioned not to overreact to the fuel truck alert since, like earlier Al Qaeda threats and subsequent FBI warnings, it did not refer to any specific targets or dates and remained uncorroborated.

"There’s no reason for panic," said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the JCPA. "We’re not saying this is business as usual. This is a time for special vigilance. Prudence and alertness, not panic, is the message we’re trying to get across."

Still, the latest FBI warning, which preceded a report in The New York Times on Sunday that Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the deadly fuel truck bombing of a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba on April 11, inflamed fears nonetheless.

Last Friday, "we were inundated with calls," Raffel said.

People asked if they should attend Shabbat services, or what kind of precautions they could take, he said. "People are nervous."

Hoping in part to dampen such fears, these groups are urging several steps in response to the latest threat, including coordinating security measures with local police.

Some moved to take preemptive action.

They scheduled a day of safety training July 10 for synagogues, schools and community facilities.

Rabbi Moshe Krupka, the Orthodox Union’s national director of community and synagogue services, said the session was sparked by "an alarming increase" in worldwide anti-Semitic violence and the FBI warnings that "terrorists may try to use fuel tankers to attack Jewish schools or synagogues."

A team of European-based security specialists from the firm of Community Security Trust will discuss handling a range of anti-Jewish threats, the Orthodox Union said, including break-ins, suspicious mail or objects, bomb threats, desecration of Jewish facilities, hate mail, personal attacks and even "strangers in our synagogues and schools."

Around the country, synagogues and institutions reacted swiftly to the latest in a series of terror alerts.

At least one Jewish institution reacted by trying to make itself a less visible target. In the Dallas area, the Akiba Academy’s Camp Kulanu summer camp removed a welcome sign and asked police for extra surveillance.

And at Temple B’nai Israel in Tupelo, Miss., Shabbat services included a reading of the FBI warning. Though congregants agreed the tiny 25-family synagogue remained an unlikely target, they also decided to remain on guard.

In Baltimore and Omaha, which are two of the five cities slated to host the 2002 JCC Maccabi Games in mid-August, officials are strengthening security.

Though many, like Diamond, agreed that people should be careful, he also cautioned that they should keep the situation in perspective.

"We don’t want people to be panicked — already people are living with some degree of fear," Diamond said. "Don’t not come to synagogue because there’s a tanker truck on the corner."

JTA contributed to this report.

The Rav Revs Up

If you missed the alternative-fuel vehicles at the L.A. Auto Show — and with just a dozen exhibited, they were hard to find — don’t despair. Check out the one on display at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, in Rabbi Harvey Fields’ parking space.

For the last five months, Rav Fields has cruised around town in his silver-gray four-door Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid from Toyota. With Tu B’ Shevat falling days after the auto show’s panoply of gas-guzzlers, Fields reflected on the Jewish imperative to take care of our world.

“If I can remove some of the poison from the air, and make out of L.A. a more delightful environment, I believe that’s my responsibility [as a Jew],” he said. But this responsibility doesn’t require much sacrifice. The car is “very enjoyable to drive in the city. I can turn and manipulate it beautifully…. I fill up just once a month. Plus, there’s plenty of room for the grandchildren,” said the rabbi from his car phone as he zipped down Wilshire Boulevard.

His only complaint was the long wait to get the car. Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of The Green Car Journal, says the rabbi’s experience is not unusual. The automakers’ goal “is to mass-market products that allow them to make significant profit, and they don’t see that profit with alternative-fuel vehicles,” Cogan said.

But government mandates for clean-fuel cars are changing that. Cogan expects there to be a wide selection of hybrid cars, sport utility vehicles and minivans by 2003 and 2004. Even better, by the end of the decade, many vehicles will run on fuel cells, and their only byproduct will be water.

If you’re curious about greener-fueled cars but don’t feel comfortable asking the rabbi for a test drive, there are other options. EV Rental, for example, sells and rents alternative-fuel vehicles, and will discount your rate if you volunteer for the California Lung Association.

For more information, contact EV Rental, or (877) EV-Rental;
California Lung Association, or (800)
LUNG-USA; Green Car Journal, or (805) 541-0477;
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life,  or (818) 889-5500 ext. 103.