What a dying business in Sderot looks like, even during cease-fire


In a narrow alleyway just next to Begin Square in the center of this Israeli city, shops, cafes and bakeries are so tightly packed together that with every few steps brings a new business.

These merchants have, for years, been accustomed to the inhospitable reality of life in Sderot. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza (Begin Square is two miles from the border), normal daily activities are routinely interrupted by a screeching siren that gives residents a 10 to 15 second warning to shelter themselves from a rocket that was fired seconds earlier from within the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Those interruptions, which have made life here grim, have made doing business here nearly impossible for many shopkeepers. On Thursday, even as the city was enjoying its fourth day of calm—with a new cease fire possibly ensuring an additional five—the sight of gray metal shutters in front of nearly every shop in this alleyway was a stark reminder that this city’s store owners know better than to think that temporary quiet will soon bring customers back.

“I can’t continue like this. It’s hard,” said Moshe Yifrach, 21, who helps manage his family’s image and photography store, “Agfa Image Center.” He was one of the few shopkeepers who decided to remain open into the mid-afternoon and was the only person in the store. But, with little or no business up to that point on Thursday, his decision to keep the lights on may not have particularly mattered.

The Yifrachs produce photographs, create albums and assist with images for passports, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Behind the counter on shelves sat rows of albums and frames in varying colors

Moshe Yifrach helps his father run the family's Sderot store. He said sales have dropped 70 percent this summer.

When life in Sderot is relatively normal, Yifrach said that his family serves between 50 to 70 customers and earns about 3,000 to 4,000 thousand Shekels per day. This summer, though, during Israel’s most recent battle with Hamas, in which nearly 3,000 rockets have fallen in and around Israeli cities, he said sales have dropped by about 70 percent and customers have come in at a trickling pace.

Some residents here left amidst the chaos for some respite in towns further north and many simply no longer feel confident in venturing into the city. Tourism, meanwhile, has plummeted, with most visitors coming from abroad on solidarity missions, not nearly enough to compensate for the many Israelis who no longer travel south for a few pleasurable days in the country’s southern desert region.

The family has two other stores, in Jerusalem and Kiryat Gat, so Yifrach said he, his parents and 11 siblings could get by without their Sderot store.

“We have other places, so we have it easier than others,” Yifrach said. “But the ones that have only here and nowhere else, it’s very hard.”

Even during the height of the war in July and early August, Yifrach’s father kept the store open. When a red alert siren blared, whoever was in the shop would shelter in the doorway or underneath the awning that encloses the alley outside—the nearest shelter is more than 15 seconds from the store, not enough time for him or any customers to safely reach before the Qassam makes impact.

While a cease-fire that produces calm for an extended period would likely improve business for the Yifrachs if residents and tourists begin to return, he sees no long-term relief for his family’s business.

Agfa Image Center

Yifrach, like so many Israelis, particularly in the south, wants the government to order the military to destroy Hamas and end the rocket attacks. That step appears increasingly unlikely, though, following the complete removal of ground troops on Aug. 5 and the moderate progress of truce negotiations in Cairo.

“There’s no solution,” Yifrach said. “If you want to have a cease fire, so for a year it will be fine and everything will be good. [But] slowly, slowly [Hamas] will advance.” He predicts that the terrorist group will use the calm to improve its rocket arsenal to create Sderot-like situations as far north as Tel Aviv and Haifa.

That, Yifrach said, is one reason he sees no point in moving further north. “I don’t think that in the north it’s much better because there too you have Hezbollah,” he said. The quasi-governmental Lebanese terrorist organization has tens of thousands of missiles and rockets and has the capability to reach Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. In Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, approximately 15 Haifa residents were killed in missile and rocket attacks.

“I will stay in the south. This is my house and here I’m going to stay,” Yifrach said briskly.

Asked, though, how much longer his family’s store can survive in Sderot under current conditions, he responded, “Half a year, no more.”

On packed flight to Israel, hundreds of American Jews, emboldened by Gaza crisis, start lives anew


Daniel Knafo was wide awake aboard the Boeing 747 as sunlight began peaking over the northern horizon of the Mediterranean Sea early on the morning of Aug. 12.

Less than 10 hours earlier, he was at the departure terminal of John F. Kennedy International Airport with more than 300 American Jews, all of them embarking on a journey to start new lives in Israel.

And shortly before that, the teenager was at Los Angeles International Airport, bidding farewell to the city he called home for the first 17 years of his life.

At about 5 a.m., Knafo was standing in the aisle of El Al chartered flight 3004, which was cruising above the Mediterranean and less than two hours west of Ben Gurion International Airport, where the Woodland Hills native  would step on to the tarmac with the other 338 other Jews onboard—young, old, married and single.

Guy Zohar and Daniel Knafo, both from the San Fernando Valley, at Ben Gurion Airport.

Of those, Knafo was also one of 108 young Jews planning to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces within the first few months of making Israel home. This flight was chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that promotes aliyah to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. The group assists families and individuals in making the move, with financial support, assistance with the job hunt and other myriad obstacles that immigrants have to navigate.

It was the organization’s 52nd chartered aliyah flight since its founding in 2002, during which time, according to its website, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 30,000 diaspora Jews move to Israel.

The timing of this particular flight full of immigrants, or olim, may strike some as particularly poignant, given the on-and-off war that has enveloped Israel for the past several weeks—Hamas has fired 3,500 rockets into Israel since July 8, according to the IDF. And in response to the rockets and the discovery of more than 30 underground cross-border attack tunnels, Israel’s military launched a ground and air assault on Hamas’s strongholds in Gaza, most of which are densely populated within civilian neighborhoods. The war has left a reported 64 Israeli soldiers, three Israeli civilians, and 1,881 Palestinians dead.

But for Knafo and numerous other American olim interviewed by the Journal at JFK airport and aboard the flight, the Gaza war is not a deterrent to making aliyah—it is, at least in part, a catalyst to move to the Jewish state.

“I want to be there more than ever,” Knafo said, as dozens of fellow soon-to-be soldiers socialized around him. “Nothing will stop me from joining.”

Knafo, who attended El Camino Real High School and graduated from New Community Jewish High School, hopes to serve either in the IDF’s paratrooper unit (Tzanchanim) or in the elite Golani Brigade. He is honest with himself about the risks he will face. “If they tell you they are not scared, they’re lying,” he said of all the  young immigrants preparing for military service.

Not long before leaving, on July 20, Knafo attended an evening candlelight vigil in Los Angeles for Max Steinberg, another former student at El Camino Real High School who left Los Angeles to volunteer in the IDF. Steinberg and six other soldiers were killed in Gaza when their Golani unit’s vehicle was struck by Hamas anti-tank missiles in the first days of the IDF’s ground incursion.

Knafo said that he felt guilty leading a normal life while Israel was embroiled in war.
“It kills me that while they are fighting I’m in L.A. living the life, driving my car, going to the beach,” he said. “I don’t think its right. That’s why I want to be there more than ever.”

Knafo is one of 49 Jews from California who landed at Ben Gurion Airport early on the morning of Aug. 12 on the chartered flight—25 of whom will be joining the IDF. And while a large swath of the plane’s other passengers were also from New York and New Jersey (117 and 45, respectively), the group of olim hailed from places as far north as Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia, and as far south as Georgia and Florida.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, also from Los Angeles, decided that this would be their last chance to make the move with their three children. Their oldest, Yishai, 8, was approaching the age when, Matt said, he and Ariella wouldn’t feel as comfortable starting a new life for the entire family.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, moving to Israel from Los Angeles, with their three children at JFK after a ceremony led by Nefesh B'Nefesh

The Rosenblatts plan to stay with relatives this week until they receive the key to their apartment in Efrat; Matt, who had a job as an actuary in Los Angeles, will follow up on some work leads in Israel. Shortly before a joyful and celebratory departure ceremony at JFK—where the olim were greeted by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor and American-born Knesset member Dov Lipman — Matt said he and Ariella discussed the distinctive timing of their move, but decided against delaying or cancelling .

“Had we been there already two months and then this started up while we were already there, we wouldn’t have come back, so, really, what’s the difference?” Matt said.

The Rosenblatts a few moments after landing in Israel. They will soon move into an apartment in Efrat.

Onboard, as the flight neared Israel, Ariella was keeping an eye on 1-year-old Yair, her youngest, and recalling the couples’ conversations about the fact that their children would eventually have to serve in the Israeli military.

“We’ve talked about it. We were like, ‘Wow, that’s two sons in the army,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Feeling “excited” and “a little nervous,” Ariella added, seeing your children serve in the military is a price of living in Israel, and that, “We need to be home when our country is in this situation.”

Throughout the group, not one person interviewed expressed regret or fear, either at the decision to start anew in Israel, or at the choice to go now and not wait until the advent of cease-fires that would endure in longer than 72-hour intervals.

In fact, the spirited mood on board the airplane echoed, on the one hand, the feel of a Jewish summer camp field trip (with teenagers and young adults mingling, sitting on laps and barely sleeping), and on another hand, the patriotic Zionist mission that it was. Many passengers wore shirts that read, “Aliyah is my protective edge,” a reference to Operation Protective Edge, the IDF’s official moniker for its Gaza campaign.

Whenever a Nefesh B’Nefesh staff member referenced over loudspeaker those on the flight who would be enlisting with the IDF, much of the plane erupted in applause.

And, upon arrival at Ben Gurion, the new arrivals were greeted by Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s recently appointed president, and Natan Sharansky, the renowned Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency—as well as hundreds of cheering Israelis and dozens of reporters and cameramen covering the arrival of the newcomers from North America.President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky greet the olim as they descend to the tarmac.

Lena Elkins, who flew Friday from her hometown of San Francisco to New York, was one of a small number of young olim aboard the flight who will jump straight into her professional life without first joining the military. A recent graduate of the University of Oregon, Elkins’ younger sister moved to Israel last year and is in the IDF.

Living in Israel, Elkins said a few hours into the flight, has been on her mind since a visit six years ago with the Jewish Federation’s Diller Teen Fellows Program. And while she wishes she had served in the military, she said finding work is her priority now. Doing so in Israel, she said, particularly now, is also a major part of the Zionist project.

“I think it [Gaza] honestly has strengthened it [aliyah],” Elkins said. “It’s what Israel needs right now. This is what Zionism is. It’s people being there for Israel.”

Shortly after stepping foot on the tarmac and getting a feel for the love Israelis heap on diaspora Jews who move here, Channah Barkhordarie, a recent doctoral graduate of UCLA, said aliyah entered her mind last September, when her PhD advisor moved to Israel.

Barkhordarie, like Elkins, has no plans to enlist in the military and views her decision to live here as a way to “support this state.”

“Coming here and studying here and living my life here—that’s my show of support,” she said.

Everyone, it seemed, had made their aliyah decision long before this summer’s turmoil but that decision was only rendered more meaningful by the recent war, as well as the deaths of three Israeli teens by terrorists that provoked the fighting.

Toby and Chaby Karan, from Riverdale, at JFK airport.

“We just couldn’t cope with just being here,” Toby Karan, who moved from Riverdale, N.Y. with his wife, Chava, and four children, said at JFK airport before departure. “There were days through the past two months, the hardest days, that we said we’d never more wanted to live in Israel.”

On the flight, Liat Aharon, 18, sat calmly in her seat as many of her friends around her bounced around the cabin. “It seems like a dream,” said the Encino native of the approach to Israel, but she added, “It keeps getting scarier and scarier; I can’t believe it’s already happening.”

When asked, though, whether she felt as if she was leaving home or going home, she responded immediately:

“I’m going home.”

Citing security concerns, Copenhagen Jewish school forbids religious symbols


A Jewish school in Denmark informed parents that its pupils are no longer allowed to wear religious symbols near school grounds.

The private Caroline School in Copenhagen informed parents of the policy in a recent letter, the Jyllands-Posten daily reported Friday.  The letter said it was not permissible for students of the 7th, 8th and 9th grades to leave school premises if they are wearing visible Jewish symbols.

“If a boy wears a kippah, we will ask him to put in a cap so it is no longer visible,” principal Jan Hansen said.

Hansen said the measures were part of his schools “level of security, which is higher than in normal schools.” He added: “Unfortunately, it is the consequence of being a Jewish institution, but it something that we and the students are used to.” 

Hansen also said the move was “pure preventative.” He added: “I know there has been an increase in the number of Jews who have been accosted over the summer in connection with the conflict in Gaza.”

In 2012, the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen warned Jewish tourists to refrain from wearing Jewish symbols on the street or speaking Hebrew loudly.

Glasgow city council flies Palestinian flag


The city council of Glasgow, Scotland, displayed a Palestinian flag on its building in solidarity with casualties in Gaza.

The council raised the flag over the City Chambers Friday, the Jewish Chronicle of London reported, in support of “innocent people who are being hurt in Gaza,” the council said.

In a letter to the mayor of Bethlehem, Glasgow’s lord provost, or mayor, Sadie Docherty, said the move was a gesture of “solidarity with Bethlehem and Palestine.” Glasgow is twinned with Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank.

Jews in Glasgow have expressed anger at the move. In a statement, Paul Morron, president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said the decision had angered and hurt the city’s Jews.

“Flying the flag is the worst kind of gesture politics,” he said. “It does nothing to alleviate the suffering on either side of the conflict, nor does it bring peace closer by one single minute.”

The council said it had offered to meet Jewish representatives to discuss the issue.

Israel and Islamism are both occupying Palestine


While Gazans, their Hamas leadership and pro-Palestinian supporters around the world condemn Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, now turning into a ground invasion, it’s time Muslims examined the Other Occupation: the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam.

Increasingly, Islam has been usurped by political Islamism, manifest in the current Israel-Palestine conflict as a war between Hamas and Israel. Elsewhere, Islamism drives conflicts between ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and Iraqi government forces, the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan army, the Afghani Taliban and would-be Afghani democratic leaders, Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists and the Nigerian government, the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian regime, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s secular democrats, and until recently, the democratically elected but explicitly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s secular politicians.

As political Islamism advances, Muslims everywhere, including Palestinian Muslims in Gaza, have been increasingly marginalized and oppressed by extreme Islamists. These Islamists subscribe not to Islam but to a totalitarian ideology disguised as religion. While Islamists may fervently believe they are Muslim subscribers to Islam, what they adopt is a totalitarian politicization of Islam.

Operation Protective Edge merely underlines this Other Occupation.

Heavy criticism has been leveled at Israel’s emphatic assault on Gazans and the Gaza Strip because of the escalating casualties. Less acknowledged is that Israel is combating not just an organization devoted to securing its territory in a conflict over land, but a totalitarian ideology that definitively leaves no room for Israel, Israelis or moderate Muslims to exist.

We learn more when we allow Hamas to do the talking. Its leaders leave us no doubt as to its central philosophy, core to which remains martyrdom and unremitting anti-Semitism. The Hamas charter opens with: “We cannot recognize Israel. The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.”

Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, founder of Hamas, was unequivocal in the role of martyrdom in the Hamas mission:

“Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. The only aim is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And it is Allah that selects the martyrs.”

Both anti-Semitism and martyrdom are central to political Islamism. In contrast, neither has any role in pluralistic, mainstream Islam. Israel is not at war with Muslim Palestinians in Gaza but with their nihilistic Islamist leadership.

In the Muslim world we are familiar with the battle between Islam and Islamism, and we make no bones about the need for open combat against political Islamists. Muslim militaries are not held to global condemnation in the way the Israel Defense Forces must face — despite their targeted attacks, pre-strike warnings and efforts to contain civilian deaths.

The Pakistan military’s current offensive in the North West Frontier against the Pakistani Taliban is the most recent example.

To empower the military, the Pakistani government has authorized shoot-to-kill on suspicion of Taliban operatives, invited U.S. drones to conduct strikes on militant Taliban leaders on Pakistani territory, displaced many Pakistanis in the last month from their homes in the North West Frontier and commenced a massive aerial bombardment campaign.

But global condemnation doesn’t befall the Pakistani military or the Pakistani government. Global media reports barely cover the story. Israelis faced with the same problem are the only ones for whom such wholesale condemnation is reserved.

Public sentiment in favor of beleaguered Palestinians, however well intentioned, is rapidly translated into support for Hamas. Western sympathies, especially European sentiment, embolden Hamas (and similar radical Islamist groups) toward an incipient crime against humanity that truly threatens not only every Israeli and every Jew with extinction, but also moderate Muslims everywhere, particularly those within Hamas’ current purview — cue the decapitations and crucifixions now a daily occurrence in ISIS-controlled Iraq, and the escalating persecution of minorities, especially Christians in Iraq and the wider Islamist Middle East.

Because of the lack of nuance and context in the era of sound-bite “journalism” and the distracting images of Israeli military might, the reluctance to see the bigger picture remains entrenched.

Were reality to hit home, adult solutions for regional — and Israeli-Palestinian peace, in particular — would be seen as truly bleak. Israel is fighting an impossible battle, on one front with nihilist political Islamists who willingly lead their populations to slaughter in the interests of religionized war for fictionalized spiritual gain rather than true political solutions, and on another front with an international media reflecting an increasingly ignorant and biased public opinion. The sooner media commentary can be broadened to explain political Islamism, diplomatic and political powers globally can begin to plan the true long-term freedom of the Palestinians — freedom from the Other Occupation and a lasting liberation from the stranglehold of Hamas’ political Islamism.

 

Qanta Ahmed, author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,” is a 2014 Ford Foundation public voices fellow with the OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis. This essay originally appeared in USA Today, reprinted with permission.

IDF band’s European tour takes nasty turn after Gaza operation


As they prepared last week for their annual concert tour of Europe, members of the Israel Defense Forces band probably had little inkling of what was about to hit them.

Within hours of their departure, their comrades began striking Gaza in retaliation for months of rocket fire and their country found itself the target of protests across the continent. Palestinian militants responded by upping the barrage, sending rockets deep into Israel and triggering air raid sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the first time in two decades.

Instead of the pleasant week of music and shopping the band was likely expecting, they faced a bomb threat and several protest rallies, angry demonstrators calling them “stinking murderers” and the constant presence of police guards.

On Sunday, the band arrived for a concert in Antwerp to find more than a hundred protesters shouting “Hamas, Hamas, all the Jews to the gas” outside the venue, according to the Belgian Jewish journalist Michael Freilich, who was present. A group of neo-Nazis protested as well.

Later, as the concert was underway, someone reported to police that a powerful explosive would soon be detonated at the Provinciehuis concert hall. The crowd of 300 was evacuated and the concert brought to an abrupt end. No explosives were found.

“First the Israeli ambassador was evacuated, and then the band got out and boarded their bus as the building was emptied,” Freilich said. “I told the officer the bomb threat was an obvious hoax. He agreed but said the evacuation was protocol.”

After Antwerp, the band traveled to The Hague, where a predominantly Arab crowd of a few dozen protesters was waiting for them.

“For us, this is the frontline and this is the fire, and as Israeli soldiers, we don’t run when under fire,” an unnamed Israeli musician told the Belgian Jewish magazine Joods Actueel. “I filmed the demonstrators in Antwerp to show family and friends back home that we are also fighting for Israel.”

The European tour is a yearly affair for the IDF orchestra. Last year, protesters greeted them as well, but only a fraction of the number.

“I heard there might be protests, but I didn’t take it seriously because last year only 18 protesters showed up,” said Leo Schumer, the treasurer of B’nai B’rith Antwerp, who organized the Belgian concert with the local chapter of Christians for Israel, an international organization based in the Netherlands. “I guess they all came because of the operation in Gaza.”

Outside the Hague concert, protesters were virulent in their opposition to the Jewish state.

“There shouldn’t be a State of Israel or an Israeli army to begin with,” Zeina Khoury, a music student and member of the Palestine Youth Orchestra, told JTA. “The thought of them singing while their army is killing babies in Gaza is too crazy for words.”

Another protester, Kemal Keman, told JTA, “If I see a Jewish soldier, I don't know what I would do to them.”

Inside the hall, the scene couldn't have been more different. As two guards manned the flanks of the stage and several others kept watch nearby, a crowd of about 500 — many of them draped in Israeli flags — watched the band work through its repertoire, a mix of English and Hebrew songs, including a stirring rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah.”

“Part of the reason I am here is because of what happened in Antwerp,” said Kees van der Staaij, a lawmaker of the Reformed Political Party, “to show that the people of Israel have many friends here.”

The audience, which had paid $15 for tickets and donated thousands more to aid Israelis under fire from Hamas, showered the players with affection.

During a pause in the performance, a YouTube clip by Dr. Elisheva Ronen, a Dutch-born pediatrician who lives in Ashkelon, was projected on a screen. In the clip, which has become a Facebook hit, Ronen filmed rockets falling near her home as sirens wailed in the background. Ronen then took the stage and, choking back emotion, thanked the audience for their prayers.

Sara van Oordt of Christians for Israel then asked the audience to donate money for charitable projects in Israel’s South. Within 20 minutes, $15,000 had been collected.

Egyptian Islamists vow revenge against Israel for Gaza killings


An Islamist group in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel said on Tuesday it will take revenge against the Jewish state for the killing of Palestinian militants in Gaza at the weekend.

Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on security forces in Sinai and the Israeli border since the ouster last year of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had worked closely with Israel to secure the border region.

Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, has vowed to restore order, but efforts to impose central authority in the desert region are complicated by the indigenous Bedouin population's ingrained hostility to the government in Cairo.

“We, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes group tell the Jews that the blood of our brothers in Palestine is ours and their revenge is ours… So wait for our painful reply and revenge,” the group said in a statement posted on Islamist websites.

An Israeli airstrike killed two Palestinian militants, including the leader of an al Qaeda-affiliated group in the Gaza Strip, on Saturday. Three other militants were killed on Sunday.

The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes (Supporters Of Jerusalem) group had claimed responsibility for several attacks on Israel from Sinai.

Reporting by Yusri Mohamed, Writing by Yasmine Saleh, editing by Diana Abdallah

Palestinians plan “other options” if U.N. bid fails


Palestinians want the Security Council to decide on their bid for full U.N. membership soon so they can pursue “other options”, the Palestinian U.N. envoy said, repeating charges that Washington is procrastinating to avoid a vote.

Riyad Mansour, in comments to a Palestinian newspaper, did not say what the Palestinians would do once their bid for U.N. membership reached its conclusion. It is widely expected that the bid will fail because of U.S. opposition.

However, Palestinian officials have said that failure at the Security Council would push them to seek an upgrade in their U.N. status to that of a “non-member state”, something they can secure from the General Assembly without Security Council approval.

The Palestinians currently hold the status of an “observer entity” at the United Nations.

“We are serious about this application and we want it to reach its logical conclusion in the hope that we succeed,” Mansour told Al-Ayyam newspaper in remarks published on Thursday.

“But if we do not succeed, we want this effort to end in a near time frame so we can resort to other options available to us.”

Diplomats at the United Nations said on Wednesday the Palestinian quest was likely to come to a head on or around Nov. 11, when Security Council members plan a final meeting to decide their response.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the application for full U.N. membership on Sept. 23 in the face of opposition from the United States and Israel.

They accuse him of trying to bypass the two-decade old peace process with moves they describe as unilateral. Washington says the new Palestinian approach will not bring them any closer to their goal of an independent state.

This can only happen through peace talks, it says.

The Palestinians respond that the peace process has hit a dead end and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements threatens to destroy any chance of the establishment of a viable state. Recognition as a state in the U.N. system will level the playing field in future peace talks, they argue.

Recognition as a “non-member state” will pave the Palestinians’ way to membership of U.N. and international agencies to which the Palestinians are currently denied access.

These include the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians have suggested they could bring cases against Israel.

Mansour said the United States was attempting to obstruct the application for full U.N. membership, repeating an accusation made by other Palestinian officials.

Washington was using “all means available to it with the aim of obstructing the Palestinian application in the Security Council”, he said.

While the Palestinian application looks certain to fail in the council, Abbas has made a major effort to attract nine votes in support, which would force the United States to use its veto and be seen by the Palestinians as a moral victory.

To pass, resolutions need nine votes and no vetoes.

Washington and its allies have been trying to defuse the diplomatic crisis over the Palestinian U.N. application by trying again to revive peace talks which broke down over a year ago because of the settlement issue.

International mediators will hold separate meetings with both sides next week in Jerusalem, though analysts say there is little chance of a breakthrough because of a chasm between them, particularly over the issue of settlement expansion.

Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Elizabeth Piper

Wiesenthal Center asks Sweden to protect its Jews


The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on the Swedish government to assume the cost of protecting the Jewish community.

Senior officials of the organization, who visited Stockholm and Malmo during a weeklong fact-finding mission, accused the government of making the Jewish community pay the equivalent of a “Jewish tax,” requiring the community to pay for most security measures, including barriers against attacks in front of the synagogue during services.

The Jewish community is in danger in Sweden, the center says.

“Sweden intelligence has identified over 400 Islamist radicals and neo-Nazis,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, in a statement issued Tuesday from Stockholm. “Coupled with global threats from ‘lone wolf’ operatives, Jews are a primary target for hate crimes and terrorists.”

Center officials met in the southern city of Malmo with key political, Jewish and Muslim officials and top law enforcement officials.  The Wiesenthal Center imposed a travel advisory for Jews on Sweden’s third largest city last December after a spate of anti-Semitic incidents was ignored.

Meanwhile, in a letter Wednesday to Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu, Dr. Shimon Samuels, the center’s director for international relations, called for a municipally funded telephone help line for victims of hate crimes, the establishment of a hate-crime monitoring and investigation unit, and government funding of at-risk religious institutions.

Samuels decried the mayor’s comments following the meetings, in which Reepalu referred to “the powerful Wiesenthal Center’s influence,” calling it reminiscent of conspiracy theories against Jews in the 1930s.

Approximately 800 Jews live in Malmo among a total population of 300,000, which includes a large, mainly Muslim, immigrant community.

Some 400 anti-Semitic acts were registered in Malmo in 2009—more than half of the total number of hate crimes in the city.

In 2009, a Davis Cup tennis match in Malmo between Sweden and Israel played to an empty stadium due to security concerns in the wake of anti-Israeli protests over the Gaza war.

U.S. Muslim group endorses Gazan visit to Holocaust museum


A U.S. Muslim umbrella group strongly endorsed plans to bring Gaza Strip youths to the U.S. Holocaust museum in the wake of Hamas opposition.

The Islamic Society of North America wrote to the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which solicited endorsements in the wake of reports that Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, had criticized the the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for including the museum on a forthcoming U.S. tour for top Gaza students.

“We want to ensure that the UNRWA delegation of students visits the nation’s capital and its various museums and institutions, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,” Islamic Society national director Sayyid Syeed said in a letter Dec. 20 to Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the foundation. “We believe that this museum, in particular, has tremendous educational value and helps visitors appreciate the historical result of unbridled hate and human manipulation. We have taken delegations of Muslim leaders and imams to visit the museum, and each time, we have seen how transformative an experience it is.”

Hamas over the weekend called on UNRWA not to include the museum on its tour, Ynet reported.

“UNRWA must focus on materials regarding the rights of the Palestinian refugees without dealing with persecution in other areas of the world,” Ynet quoted Hamas as saying. “The memory of the children of Gaza cannot withstand the suffering of all of the persecuted people around the world. The suffering caused by the Jewish occupiers is enough.”

Schneier in a statement called the Hamas statement “another example of extremists trying to impose a distorted view of history upon its followers.  Fortunately the voices of those who are seeking peace and tolerance between Jews and Muslims are louder than those seeking to further divide us.”

UNRWA is the U.N. agency that administers relief and education to Palestinian refugees.

Kassams land near mayor of Sderot’s house; Interfaith fellowship group denies missionary ties


Qassam Lands Near Sderot Mayor’s Home

A Qassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in a residential neighborhood of Sderot.

The rocket landed Sunday not far from the home of Mayor Eli Moyal, Ynet reported, and started a fire that was extinguished quickly by firefighters. No injuries were reported.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered all Israel-Gaza border crossings closed Monday in response to the attack.

An Egyptian-mediated cease-fire between Israel and the terrorist Hamas-run Gaza Strip has been breached by rocket attacks more than 36 times in the past three months.

“Everything is all right at home,” Moyal told Ynet. “The problem here is not a personal one but a political one. People are under the impression that there is a cease-fire, but a few dozen rockets have been fired at Israel since the truce went into effect.

“During the months of the cease-fire the Palestinian groups have armed themselves with thousands of more rockets.”

Eckstein Denies Group’s Money Used to Missionize

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein denied a report suggesting that some money raised by his interfaith group was used to missionize Jews.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported Monday that Eckstein’s organization, the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, gave $10,000 in 2007 to an evangelical group in Jerusalem that proselytizes Israeli Jews. It also reported that the fellowship sent money to a Protestant group in Massachusetts that Ma’ariv called “a controversial Christian cult.”

Eckstein, the fellowship’s founder and president who has raised tens of millions of dollars for Israel from American evangelicals, insisted the story misrepresented the facts. He said the report was simply a continuation of a smear campaign against him and the information was fed to the newspaper by a source with an axe to grind.

Eckstein said the fellowship used the Jerusalem group, King of Kings, to pass $10,000 to a church in Bethlehem to help provide humanitarian aid to local Christians before Christmas.

“We were informed last year about the dwindling Christian community in Bethlehem, which has been persecuted by the radical Muslims there to the point that most of them have left. And the Protestant church there and the people there needed funds for basic needs — food, clothing, medicine, heating fuel,” he said. “We didn’t hesitate to respond with a modest gift — at least for us. The only place that could deliver that was this group, King of Kings.”

As to the gift to the Massachusetts group, the Community of Christ in Orleans, Eckstein said it was a $750 donation by the fellowship to the group’s choir after canceling on an event there.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

How to answer the most common anti-Israel charges


Some charges criticizing Israel are distortions and slanted, based on faulty information and half-truths, animus, and even classic anti-Semitism.
However, the situation and history are complex, and unfortunately, Israel is not perfect.

Here are some answers in a nutshell:

The establishment of the Jewish state violated the right of Palestinian Arabs to self-determination

In 1947, the United Nations had offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews in western Palestine, and both had been offered their own separate state. Palestinian Arabs could have created their own state in the portion allotted to them under partition at any time. The Arabs unanimously rejected this offer, and the partition boundaries were erased by the Arab invasion in 1948. It was the Arab states — not the Jews — who destroyed the proposed Arab Palestine as they sought to grab all the territory for themselves. Part of what was designated as Arab Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and by Egypt on the southwest coast (Gaza). Israeli forces captured western Galilee, which had been used as a base by Arab irregulars. Ironically, in 1947, the only group in the area supporting a separate Arab/Palestinian state was the State of Israel.

Israel expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and has consistently taken over Palestinian land

From the Israeli left to the right, there is agreement about mass expulsion, that many were, in fact, forced to leave. The only question is what proportion of the 700,000 Palestinians who left in 1947-48 were forcibly expelled, and what proportion left voluntarily. About 300,000 were likely forcibly expelled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 100,000 to 200,000 left because they were “encouraged” by rumors, bombing of empty buildings by the IDF or frightened that Israeli atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre would be repeated.

There’s no doubt that David Ben-Gurion and others were very concerned about the large number of Palestinians in the land, and talked openly of “transfer,” going back to the 1930s (in 1936 Jews were only 28 percent of the total population). There’s also no doubt that once Palestinians started leaving, the political and military leaders of the Yishuv were eager to “facilitate the situation.” The debate was over Tokhnit Dalet (Plan D), the military plan that called for expulsions near or behind enemy lines, in hostile villages, etc.

Historian Benny Morris argues that the evidence doesn’t show an intentional program designed ahead of time, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field. Others argue (using Morris’ own evidence) that documents clearly show a plan for mass expulsions from above, that is, that Tokhnit Dalet was the realization of the “transfer impulse” under the cover of military language.

Still other scholars take a middle position, arguing that Tokhnit Dalet was originally intended as a purely military and small-scale operation, but that once Palestinians were “encouraged” to leave and the IDF had attained military superiority, the understanding became that the long-term interests of the state would be served by having as few Palestinians as possible. So the argument goes, military commanders were given a “wink and nudge” to expel and Tokhnit Dalet served as an appropriate cover/rationale.

Most of the area of Israel was once Arab owned

According to British government statistics, prior to the establishment of the state, 8.6 percent of the land area now known as Israel was owned by Jews; 3.3 percent by Arabs who remained there; 16.5 percent by Arabs who left the country. More than 70 percent of the land was owned by the British government. Under international law, ownership passed to Israel once it was established and approved as a member nation by the United Nations in 1948. The public lands included most of the Negev — half of Palestine’s post-1922 total area. (Source: Survey of Palestine, 1946, British Mandate Government).

Arabs formed a majority of the population in Palestine, and the Zionists were colonialists from Europe who had no claim to or right to the land of Israel

Jews have had a continuous emotional, religious and historic connection to the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

At the time of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole. But the Jews were in a majority in the area allotted to them by the U.N. Partition Resolution (a very small but contiguous area mostly along the coast and in parts of the Galilee — much smaller than the borders after the 1948 war).

Israel humiliated Palestinians during the second intifada (2001-2005) and continue to treat them inhumanely

It is true that Palestinians felt humiliated by the series of checkpoints and searches throughout the West Bank. However, to cite the feelings of humiliation, as legitimate as they are, out of context belies the greater truth. Israelis have had good reason to fear their Palestinian neighbors because of the relentless terrorism, bombings of public buses, restaurants, university cafeterias, kibbutzim, children’s houses and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians. Israel’s series of checkpoints and searches, while at times excessive, are done not to intimidate or humiliate but for security. The erection of the security fence roughly the length of the Green Line was hotly debated in Israel until it became clear to the government that political considerations aside, the fence was a security necessity. It has proven successful in drastically reducing infiltration of Palestinian terrorists. Even Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) acknowledges the importance of the fence as a security measure.

Israel’s settlements are illegal

Technically, they are not illegal because there has been no peace agreement delineating borders between Israel and the Arab nations. Consequently, Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish. However, from a political point of view, many believe that many of these settlements are obstacles to peace. Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to remove the vast majority of these settlements subsequent to undertaking the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel in 2005.

Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression

Undeniably, Palestinians are victims — but of whom? For decades the despotic Arab nations used the Palestinians for their own purposes and kept them in squalor in refugee camps. They are also victims of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s well-documented corruption and inability to take the final step to make peace with the Jewish state. They are now victims of Palestinian terrorist movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc.) that have refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel and therefore to compromise over land. The Palestinians are victims of retaliatory raids by the Israeli military against terrorist leaders who deliberately operate out of civilian areas and draw fire from Israel.

Jewish life in the City of Lights


Fortunately I traveled to Paris before Pesach, because missing buttery croissants and oven-fresh French baguettes would have been ruinous to my experience. Indeed, France is most famous for its delicacies — wine, cheese, pastries, foie gras — but it is also home to a vibrant Jewish community; one that has prospered for the better part of 2,000 years, but currently suffers from a malaise of bad press.

Despite the historic turbulence of Jewish French life, current population statistics suggest there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews living in the region, the majority of whom reside in the cultural capital of Paris. The figure is surprising, considering frenzied media depictions of French anti-Semitism, recent waves of Jewish French immigration to Israel and also because the population was estimated at 300,000 prior to World War II, which suggests that, even though France is depicted as less than empathetic to the Jewish community, the Jewish population there has actually grown.

However, the aftermath of Nazi occupation in France left the country scarred, with a visibly guilty conscience, which I investigated during my stay in a 16th century walk-up on the Ile St. Louis.

In a bustling student cafe on Rue Saint-Guillaume just across from the elite French university Sciences Po, a young Parisian typed on his laptop before striking up conversation about the thesis he is writing on generational divides. He seemed well informed, so I asked, “Is it true that the French are hostile to their Jews?”

He laughed, and said that too many people argue politics about the Arab-Israeli conflict without knowing the history, essentially implying that if there’s hostility toward the Jews it’s related to Israel. But it also begged the question: Is argumentation or even Palestinian empathy what the world perceives as hostile to French Jews?

The following night, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai attended a screening of his new film, “Disengagement” at an artsy independent theater in Place Saint Germain. The film, a French-Israeli co-production (and a good sign of comity in the arts), depicts a woman’s search for the daughter she abandoned, set against the backdrop of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. The film was, in short, riveting; and the Q-&-A that followed revealed French cineastes. were provoked by its content.

Dressed in black with a white scarf draped around his neck, Gitai, 58, stood aloof at the front of the room, fielding question from critics and fans, brooding during one man’s rant about the film’s lack of a Palestinian portrayal.

“This is an Israeli story,” Gitai said, explaining that the conflict in the film was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens they were ordered to remove from their homes; a conflict between secular Jews and religious Jews.

Scrubbing aside content and politics, there was still the idea that an Israeli filmmaker — telling an Israeli story — had been invited to screen his film at a distinguished arts venue, in a city ensconced in highbrow cultural snobbery. Perhaps more importantly, a famous and beautiful French actress (Juliette Binoche) figured prominently on the theater’s marquee, wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Whether fueled by guilt or regret or just plain reparation, Jewish culture is pervasive almost anywhere you go in Paris: There’s the sophisticated bookstore, Librairie Gallimard, which contains shelves full of books about the Holocaust, French resistance fighters and Nazi occupation, along with a special section devoted to Israeli literature; there’s the Holocaust Memorial on the Ile de la Cite, just behind the Notre Dame cathedral, certainly one of Paris’ most popular destinations; there’s the Jewish quarter, Rue de Rosiers, undeniably well situated in the trendy Le Marais, with some of the city’s best shopping, and near the historic Place des Vosges, an opulent 17th-century manse built for royalty.

So for the few-thousand French Jews who have made aliyah since 2004, there emerges new hope, like Gitai’s crosscultural storytelling or the Paris-born, Israeli-raised pop singer Yael Naim whose shows sung in Hebrew, French and English sell out among young, bourgeois Parisians.

In the song “Paris,” Naim’s enchanting ode to her beloved birthplace, she best captures the conflicting sentiments Jews feel for the City of Lights: I came here / A bit disenchanted / This beautiful illusion of mine / The country is so good to me here / So why do I cry and get upset?

Well, because it’s hard choosing between Paris and Israel. But still, it’s delightful to have that choice.

Olmert to meet Mubarak; Israel Gets Secular Rabbis


Olmert, Mubarak to Meet

Aides of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week at the Red Sea port of Sharm el-Sheik. Mubarak has played a key mediating role in efforts to retrieve Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage in the Gaza Strip. Olmert recently held his first formal peace summit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visited Amman for talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II, spurring speculation that a new peace initiative is in the works.

Livni: We Seek Peace With Syria

Tzipi Livni said Israel considers peace with Syria a strategic goal. The Israeli foreign minister said Tuesday that Jerusalem must heed recent peace overtures from Damascus, but only after ascertaining that they’re sincere.

“Israel’s strategic objective is peace with Syria, but the discussion is purely tactical at the moment,” Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “We must assess whether the Syrians want to get into negotiations just for the sake of negotiations, or whether they are interested in achieving peace.”

Israel’s Mossad spy service has warned that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offers to open new talks with Jerusalem are a bid to distract from Western scrutiny Syria’s support for Arab terrorist groups. Israel’s military intelligence, however, has said Assad could be sincere, and that Syria would enter peace talks if this helps it recover the Golan Heights.

Israel Gets Secular Rabbis

The Tmura Institute, a group lobbying for religious pluralism in the Jewish state, this month certified seven men and two women to conduct weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs for Israelis who reject Orthodox practice. The nine underwent three years of training in Judaism but profess no spiritual convictions. Since they will not require couples they marry to prove that they are Jewish, the weddings will not be recognized by the state. But Tmura said its achievement was more a matter of symbolism.

“We simply want to serve the majority of the Jewish people, which is not religious. We are not committed to religious principles, we are committed to pluralism,” professor Yaacov Malkin, one of the program’s leaders, told Ma’ariv.

Israel Plans New Settlement

Israel is building a new West Bank settlement to house former Gaza Strip settlers. The Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that it was converting Makiot, a former military base in the northern Jordan Valley, into a settlement with homes for 30 families who were evacuated from Gaza last year. Former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had initiated the project. Construction is to begin next month. Most of the 8,000 former Gaza settlers have chosen to live in Israel, rather than in the West Bank.

Israel’s Economy on the Rise

Based on a survey by The Economist, Globes reported that Israel rose 12 places to become the world’s 36th largest economy.

The survey graded nations’ economies in 2001-05, as compared with 1980-84, and ranked economies on the basis of their five-year average GDP in current dollars.

Some of the biggest climbers were in Asia: Singapore rose 20 places to No. 39, Taiwan rose 14 places to No. 18 and both South Korea and Hong Kong rose 12 places to Nos. 11 and 30, respectively. Iran fell 16 places to 33, and Saudi Arabia dropped from 15th place to 22nd.

Federation Bookkeeper Admits Embezzlement

A former bookkeeper for the Jewish Federation of Ventura County pleaded guilty to embezzlement. Susan Abrams said this week that she had stolen about $30,000 from the federation from 1998-2001. She faces sentencing Feb. 1, when she also is expected to pay restitution. She faces up to a year in prison.

New ADL Regional Leader Breaks Ground

Kevin O’Grady, a national expert in gay and lesbian issues and a longtime educator, has been named interim director at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach regional office.

O’Grady, formerly the ADL’s associate director, replaces Rick Shapiro, who resigned after only five weeks on the job for undisclosed reasons. O’Grady’s position is expected to become permanent in the near future.

“I think the work we do is incredibly important, and to have the opportunity to lead that mission is an honor,” said O’Grady, who is believed to be the first gay person to head an ADL regional office.O’Grady, 40, said he plans to work closely with law enforcement agencies to combat hate crimes, anti-Semitism and extremist groups and to expand the ADL’s presence in Long Beach. He came to the ADL three years ago after a 15-year career in education in Hawaii and California, where he received a Ph.D. in education from USC. He is a native of Brighton, England.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Similar Goals Unite Faith-Based Agencies

At a conference held last week at Loyola Marymount University, Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith-based social service agencies were urged to better coordinate their services and to work more closely with government agencies. Titled “Government and Faith-Based Communities: Working Together to Build a Civil Society,” the event was co-sponsored by Loyola Marymount University, Claremont Graduate University and the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the Western United States.

Dr. Amy Gross of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and Jewish Family of the Conejo, Simi and West Valley columnist, Yasser Aman of the UMMA Community Clinic and Rita Chavez of the Dolores Mission described the services their organizations provide in their own communities. Citing the impressive response of faith-based organizations to major crises such as Hurricane Katrina, the Rev. Leonard Jackson, senior adviser to the mayor of Los Angeles, asked “why does it take a disaster to pull us together?”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism, gave a lucid explanation of tikkun olam and the Jewish tradition that requires Jews care for all.

“Judaism is a put up or shut up religion” he said. “We are required to act, not just to pay lip service.”

Book Review: Tools to fight terror: big dreams, good friends


“Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” by Jeff Goldberg (Knopf, $25).

The full title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s new book, “Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” immediately conjures up notions of a Pinteresque power struggle between two people. Yet “Prisoners” is far from the tale of sadomasochism and role reversal of Pinter plays like “The Night Porter” or screenplays like “The Servant.” Goldberg was a military policeman at Ketziot, an Israeli prison, where he and Rafiq, one of the inmates, developed a friendship that never truly revolved around power dynamics. Their relationship began because Goldberg recognized a “stillness” and a shared sense of irony in Rafiq.

Despite the tragedy of the Middle East and the moral dilemmas facing Goldberg as an Israeli soldier at a prison, Goldberg lightens the memoir with that irony and, at times, belly-chortling humor. For instance, in the wake of the massacre of two Israeli reservists, Goldberg describes being held captive by a terrorist cell in Gaza, where he defends his usage of the word “lynching” by saying to his captors, “Well, that was Ramallah…. What do you expect?”

He then writes, “Jokes at the expense of the West Bank usually go over well in Gaza. Not this one, however.”

Goldberg, who will appear in a public conversation with author and essayist Jack Miles on Oct. 18 at the Skirball Cultural Center, finds that, unlike American Jews, Israelis seem to lack a sense of humor.

That is not his only criticism of both Israelis and Palestinians.

After a bus explosion that killed three Jewish children, he says to a follower of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’ founder, that the Sheik’s “preternaturally calm” statement that Israel “was created in defiance of God’s will” is “pathetic.” He also admits to being disillusioned by the kibbutzniks at Mishmar Ha Emek (where I must disclose I met the author many years ago), when they tell him not to clean three feet of coagulated hatchling droppings and blood in the chicken coop. They are saving that job for Arabs.

Goldberg has spent the past 15 years writing primarily about terrorists, yet in an interview from his home in Washington, D.C., where he is a correspondent for The New Yorker, Goldberg dismissed the notion that his work is so dangerous:

“The murder of Danny Pearl is the tragic, horrible exception, not the rule. All terrorists believe they’re doing something good and useful. Most of these groups are happy to explain themselves to people.”

In spite of his obvious courage, Goldberg writes in the book, “I am not brave, in the fuller meaning of the word.”

He says that, as a military policeman, “I should have done more to try to change things I didn’t like,” instead of being a “get-along, go-along kind of guy.”

Yet, more than once, he defied his fellow soldiers, as well as his commanding officer, whom he remembers as one of the dumbest Jews he ever met, by allowing the prisoners to shower in the kitchen and by restraining a guard from beating a helpless inmate.

Goldberg recently won the Anti-Defamation League’s Daniel Pearl Award and goes so far as to suggest that being Jewish has benefited him in his dealings with terrorists.

“I’ve always found it to my advantage. I use my Jewishness as a tool.”

He adds, “There’s an attraction-repulsion quality to these encounters.

Anti-Semites spend most of their time thinking about Jews; they spend more time thinking about Jews than Jews do.”

Goldberg’s interest in Zionism may have been sparked as a boy in the Long Island town of Malverne, where he was subjected to games of “Jew Penny.” Catholic boys, primarily Irish ones, would throw pennies at him and force him to pick them up.

If he didn’t stoop to retrieve the coins, they would throw nickels and dimes at him. Either way, he would be beaten. Goldberg felt that fighting wasn’t in his wiring, and he never actually defended himself until an African American friend told him to hit one Irish boy back. Even though his tormentor left him alone afterward, the wounds remained.

In “Prisoners,” he characterizes his upbringing this way: “I didn’t like the dog’s life of the Diaspora. We were a whipped and boneless people.”

By the end of the book, though, Goldberg, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1980s, has returned to America, a country he praises.

“If America had not taken in my ancestors three generations ago, we wouldn’t exist,” he says, pointing out, “Nothing makes you more patriotic as an American than spending three weeks in Pakistan. America with all its flaws is still a wonderful idea.”

Likewise, he found that though Israel may not be a utopia, its prisons, which he says “were not nice places, especially in the first uprising,” are far more humane than those in the rest of the world. At a time when prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been tortured and denied habeas corpus, Goldberg argues that the prisons in the West Bank and Gaza “became worse for Palestinians when Palestinians were running them than when the Israelis were running them.”

He states without hesitation that the “baroque cruelty” and “sexually charged sadism” of Abu Ghraib did not and could not happen in Israeli prisons.

While Goldberg works on a book on Judah Maccabee for Schocken and Nextbook’s “Jewish Encounters” series, he remains hopeful about the Middle East. He bookends “Prisoners” with references to the story of Isaac and Ishmael, both sons of Abraham, who join hands in burying their father. As Goldberg writes, “This might be the single-most hopeful image in all the Bible, a palliative against the despair that has seeped into all of us.”

Jeffrey Goldberg will appear in a conversation with Jack Miles at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, on Wed., Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call (866) 468-3399.

Former Jewish Agency head tapped as Israel’s next ambassador to U.S.


One of Sallai Meridor’s first acts as chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency for Israel was to deliver relief to a Muslim country, Albania.

The delivery of food and medicine to refugees from the Kosovo crisis in April 1999 was a first for the organization best known for rescuing Jews — and was a sign that the scion of one of Israel’s founding families had a perpetual yearning for a wider diplomatic role.

A little more than a year after Meridor shocked the Jewish world by quitting the agency before his term ended, telling friends he hankered for a diplomatic role, his wish is about to come true: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nominated him on Oct. 4 to be Israel’s next ambassador to Washington.

The one sentence statement from the Prime Minister’s Office simply said Olmert and Livni “decided that Mr. Sallai Meridor will be appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Washington in place of Danny Ayalon, who is completing his four-year term.”

Meridor, 51, still faces confirmation by the Cabinet and must be cleared by the Foreign Ministry’s legal team. But with Livni and Olmert in agreement — and they are at odds on just about everything else recently — his appointment is a sure thing.

Sources said he is set to start in January.

Meridor’s appointment comes at a critical time. The U.S.-Israel relationship has arguably never been stronger, but the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace that both countries had embraced has been crumbling amid chaos among the Palestinians and growing regional threats from Iran and Iraq.

It also comes after Olmert’s political fortunes were severely hampered by the damage Israel suffered this summer during its war with Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Israeli prime minister is hoping to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Traditionally, Israel’s ambassador to Washington goes beyond the role of intermediary between Jerusalem and Washington, with the ambassador often involved in helping to set Israeli policy.

Meridor had already been seen as a shoo-in because of his decades-old friendship with Olmert.
Both men are “princes” of the Likud Party establishment who have moderated their hawkish views. Olmert now leads the centrist Kadima Party, which broke away from the Likud last year.

That friendship is probably the critical element explaining Meridor’s appointment, according to Jewish leaders who have known both men for decades.

“The most important thing for an ambassador to the United States is to have the confidence of the prime minister, and they go back many years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Meridor also has a reputation for integrity, rolling back the Jewish Agency’s notoriety for patronage during his 1999-2005 term, and cutting its expenses.

The Jewish Agency, involved in the rescue and absorption of Jewish immigrants to Israel as well as Jewish education around the world, is the primary overseas recipient of North American federation funds.

As head of the agency, he pushed for the accelerated immigration of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia, and the establishing of MASA — a program to bring thousands of Diaspora youth to Israel for long-term study and visits. He advocated aliyah from Western countries and established a partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helped boost immigration to Israel from North America and most recently, England.

He is well-known — and praised by American Jewish officials of both political and philanthropic organizations.

Sallai has a tremendous intellect and the capacity to multitask at the highest level of detail,” said Jay Sarver, the chairman of the agency’s budget and finance committee. “He has a deep, deep Jewish identity and neshama, and a deep belief in Zionist action.”

Stephen Hoffman, the president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the former president of the United Jewish Communities, worked closely with him during his term at the agency.

“He is a good listener and he is articulate in English as well as Hebrew,” Hoffman said. “He thinks strategically and looks at a lot of different angles, is cautious and gathers a lot of opinions before he makes a move.”

Friends say that the more recent role at the helm of the Jewish Agency obscures his talents as a diplomat. As an adviser to Moshe Arens, who served as foreign minister and defense minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he cultivated a friendship with James Baker. That was exceptional because Baker, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was not known for friendly relations with Israel.

Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator and diplomat, worked for Baker at the time. Meridor knows how to explain Israel’s needs, he knows how to work effectively with American administrations, he knows how to see the big picture,” Ross said. “Israel could not have made a better choice.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, said they looked forward to working with someone with solid Washington experience.

“He is a highly effective advocate, is well-acquainted with the ways of Washington, D.C., and will surely bring his considerable talents to bear in his new post,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Meridor has often straddled two worlds – as a West Bank settler who lives in Kfar Adumim, a settlement near Jericho likely to be dismantled in the withdrawals that Olmert has advocated.
His dual majors at Hebrew University were in the history of Islamic peoples and the history of the Jews. He speaks Arabic.

“Sallai has the ability to take people, to appeal to people from the right and the left and make people feel comfortable whether he agrees with their opinions or not,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who admires Meridor despite their disagreements on last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “In this kind of job, that’s an important trait.”

Klein noted Meridor’s profound affection for the whole biblical land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.

Nation & World Briefs


Church Condemns Israel’s Barrier

A Protestant church has condemned Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The proposal, passed Saturday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s assembly, denounced the barrier for causing hardships for Palestinians, and also called on the denomination to play a role in “stewarding financial resources — both U.S. tax dollars and private funds — in ways that support the quest for a just peace in the Holy Land,” The Associated Press reported. But it did not specifically mention divestment from Israel or companies that do business with Israel. The vote is the latest taken by Protestant churches to protest Israel’s security barrier.

Travel Warning Issued on Gaza

The U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the Gaza Strip. The advisory, an intensification of prior warnings, calls on U.S. citizens to “avoid crowds, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness and exercise caution in public places or while using public transportation” during Israel’s withdrawal, which began this week. It also reiterates prior calls on Americans to avoid travel to Gaza, postpone unnecessary travel to the West Bank and weigh the necessity of travel to Israel.

Roberts Backed ‘Moment of Silence’ in Schools

While working in the Justice Department for the Reagan administration in 1985, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts wrote in a memo to his supervisor that he would not object to a constitutional amendment on school prayer. Referring to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a school prayer law in Alabama, Roberts wrote that the idea that the “Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection — or even silent ‘prayer’ — seems indefensible.”

The memo was among nearly 5,400 pages of records pertaining to the Supreme Court nominee released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Roberts also wrote in a memo that a California group’s memorial service to protest abortion was an “entirely appropriate means of calling attention to the abortion tragedy.” Roberts’ confirmation hearings are expected to begin early next month.

Sharon: More Withdrawals Possible

Ariel Sharon said additional West Bank settlements could be handed over to the Palestinians as part of a future peace agreement. Asked in an interview with the Yediot Achronot newspaper if Israel eventually would withdraw from other West Bank settlements, he said, “Not everything will be there. The issue will be raised during the final-status talks with the Palestinians.” Still, Sharon insisted that the large West Bank settlement blocs would remain intact. In addition, he reportedly noted, “I never replied when asked what the boundaries of the settlements blocs are — and not because I’m not familiar with the map.”

Fund to Buy Up Gaza Hothouses

A private international fund agreed to pay Jewish farmers in Gaza $14 million to buy most of the hothouses they will leave behind. Representatives for the Gaza farmers signed the deal Friday with the Economic Cooperation Foundation, the Jerusalem Post reported. The deal came days before Israel began evacuating the Gaza settlements. The foundation, which organized the collection of private donations to fund the project, will transfer the hothouses to a Palestinian Authority company. James Wolfensohn, Mideast envoy for the Quartet — the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that is driving the “road map” peace plan — was instrumental in raising funds for the transfer, and himself donated $500,000.

Bedouin Soldier Behind Bars

An Israeli soldier who killed a British activist in the Gaza Strip was jailed for eight years. Wahid Taysir, a volunteer from Israel’s Bedouin Arab minority, was sentenced by a court-martial last week to 10 years in prison for manslaughter and another 18 months for obstruction of justice but was told that three and a half years of the sentence would be suspended. It was the toughest punishment handed down to an Israeli soldier for an unlawful killing in a combat zone during the Palestinian intifada. The ex-sergeant confessed to shooting Tom Hurndall, a member of a pro-Palestinian activist group, in the southern Gaza town Rafah in 2003 and to falsely telling investigators that Hurndall had been armed. The court-martial said it chose not to give the defendant the maximum possible sentence of 27 years in prison because of his exemplary combat record and to pre-empt accusations that it was scapegoating a member of an ethnic minority.

Minority in the Homeland

Jews are no longer the majority of residents in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined, a study found. According to data supplied last week by the liberal daily, Ha’aretz, Jews constitute slightly more than 49.3 percent of the population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The figures were supplied by Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s statistics bureaus. The paper included as non-Jews some 185,000 foreign workers in Israel and almost 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish under Orthodox law. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that the Gaza withdrawal would help Israel demographically by ridding it of responsibility for 1.4 million Palestinians. According to Ha’aretz, demographers say that after the Gaza withdrawal, the percentage of Jews within Israel’s borders will be around 56 percent, a majority that should last for around 20 years.

Oy, Mr. Tallyman

Harry Belafonte retracted his recent statement that Jews were “high up in the Third Reich.” But the singer and political activist told the Jerusalem Post that Jews had contributed to Nazism.

“Was it rampant? Absolutely not,” Belafonte told the Post. “But these things happen and people are not exempt from their behavior.”

To support his contention, Belafonte referred to “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers,” a book that detailed how some Germans of partial Jewish descent served in the Nazi army during World War II.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Disengagement Now — No Way to Peace


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for an Israeli pullout from Gaza and a few more settlements in the Shomron has found extensive initial approval among Jews in the Diaspora.

At first glance, this is understandable. The absence of a credible Palestinian negotiating partner, combined with Israel’s vigorous desire to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the Middle East, has made a partial segregation from the Palestinian Arabs appear to be a step in the right direction.

But before we leap, let’s look. Let’s pay attention to the serious voices of dissent.

Avi Dichter, outgoing head of Israeli intelligence, declared a few months ago, in front of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, that the evacuation of the northern Shomron (Samaria) would reproduce at Israel’s southern border the dilemma of constant mortar shelling that used to afflict the northern border. It required the intervention of Israeli ground forces to stop cross-border shelling from Lebanon.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Schlomo Ben Ami, a member of the Labor Party, as well as Shabtai Shavit, former head of intelligence, stated in near unison that the unilateral abandonment of the Gaza Strip under prevailing conditions would destabilize the region.

“The plan does not create the necessary minimum of balance that would enable long-term co-existence,” Shavit said.

Many in Israel and abroad see Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, as representing a basic change in the strategic goals of the Palestinians. However, his past as a close confidant of the late Yasser Arafat and his alarmingly militant statements about the future status of Jerusalem and the “right of return” raise doubts.

“Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is not Arafat,” Zalman Shoval, Israel’s previous ambassador in Washington, stated last month. “But his objectives — not only according to intelligence assessments, but according to his own statements, as well — are no different from those of this predecessor.”

The Gaza pullout offers an appropriate opportunity to verify Abbas’ support for peace, and to test his influence for pursuing peace within the Palestinian Authority. This giant endeavor — the compulsory evacuation of some 10,000 Israeli citizens — could be set up in complete coordination with the Palestinian authorities. Lacking such agreement, the disengagement may cause devastating aftermaths:

In the absence of clear-cut accords with Abbas, the security situation in Israel could decisively degrade. Outgoing Chief of General Staff Moshe Yaalon said recently that in addition to Sderot, many other places are likely to be surprised with missiles from the Gaza Strip.

Terrorist groups would proclaim Israel’s unilateral step as their own victory, and this would likely aggravate future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. As former General Security Chief Ami Ayalon stated: “Retreat without getting anything in return is liable to be interpreted by some as surrender, and likely to strengthen extremist forces.”

The political situation could become much more complicated, and the pressure on Israel to continue making unilateral steps could also, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, be enormously intensified. The pullout from Gaza now is considered as a step within the “road map” (peace plan) and no longer as a unilateral act in the absence of a Palestinian interlocutor. After the withdrawal, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States will probably force Israel to make additional, far-reaching concessions.

The inner discord in Israel could become huge and almost unbridgeable, especially as Israelis are getting nothing from Palestinians in return. We should not forget that the large majority of Israelis who supported Sharon and Likud voted for a party that was strictly against any unilateral abandonment of territories — which is exactly the policy Sharon advocates now. He defied the will of his party that opposed the Gaza pullout, and refused to conduct a referendum — even though the Israelis of Gaza asserted that they would have accepted the results of a referendum.

The Jewish ethos would be strongly tarnished. Dozens of synagogues and Torah centers, built with the full backing of the Israeli government, are slated to be violently destroyed by the IDF. The pictures of these holy houses, destroyed by Jews themselves, will be satellite-transmitted all over the world.

What a terrible negative impression such devastating pictures would leave with all viewers, Jews and non-Jews alike. It is and remains incomprehensible that such a traumatic action should happen without a binding accord with the Palestinians.

Finally, the Zionist ethos would be substantially enfeebled by a unilateral pullout. A impressive settlement in the desert, explicitly subsidized by the government, in which barren land was made miraculously fertile in the Zionist pioneering spirit, is on the verge of being devastated by Israel itself. A large swath of land that had been settled by Jews in the days before the 1948 War of Independence now shall become “free of Jews,” without any quid pro quo. By contrast, an orderly turnover of the Gaza Strip would allow many practical problems to be solved, such as the fate of the Israeli houses, farms and orchards in the Gaza Strip. On the condition that the Palestinians deliver real tradeoffs, the disengagement could become a meaningful step toward co-existence between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

A relinquishing of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians is not to be rejected principally. An abandonment of the Gaza Strip — if done in the scope of a bilateral peace process involving Abbas — would certainly weaken the strong opposition against disengagement. The settlers’ great sacrifice then would make more sense.

However, one-sided concessions are dangerously counterproductive. In this, former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky stands by his political credo consistently, unflinchingly. Sharansky’s thesis is that democracies do not war with each other, and that a peace with the Palestinians, therefore, can only be achieved in partnership with a democratic Palestinian authority. According to him, Israel gives up far too much when it pulls out from Gaza before the Palestinian government has fulfilled its promises for democratization and other reforms, which must include forswearing all future terrorism.

It is not surprising that the backing for Sharon’s disengagement program has fluctuated greatly, dipping below 50 percent at times.

People fail to understand why Israel does not require from the new Palestinian leader a meaningful bilateral negotiations for peace, especially as Israel prepares to do something so remarkable and unprecedented for the sake of peace.

Arthur Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of numerous films, including “The Garden of Finzi-Continis” and “One Day in September.” He lives in Basel, Switzerland.

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Live Jews Walking


Cigarette butts, old candy wrappers, dirty napkins on the ground. Above, Jews, Jews, Jews, lots of Jews, walking, smoking, laughing. First day of Chol Hamoed, there’s a breezy, late afternoon glow. I’m sipping Turkish coffee at a café on Shenkin Street in Tel Aviv and I’m surrounded by a sea of Jewish humanity. There are Jews in caftans, Jews in bleached jeans, Jews with Michael Jackson T-shirts, Jews with big jewelry, with strollers, with spiked heels, with sandals, blonde Jews, one black Jew with a kippah, Jews with fanny packs, one with payos, little Jews with pacifiers, bald teenage Jews. Sounds of Betach! Nachon! Young Jews with diamonds on their cheeks, female Jews arm in arm, a Jew on a moped riding the sidewalk, another handing out Rabbi Na Na Na Nachman leaflets, Oriental music competing with Green Day and with a lone guitarist playing a modern version of “Shalom Aleichem.” Jews with pink skirts and Jews with jeans out of fashion, a Jew with a price tag still on her turquoise dress, a Mizrahi Jew with a disco hairdo, constant cries of “b’emet?” two 8-year-old girls walking together, not a single Jew in a suit and tie, the distant sound of an ambulance siren, cellphones hanging around necks, a red poster with the words “Coke sucker,” 1,000 conversations that aren’t about Gaza or Sharon, no one handing out parking tickets, café chairs and tables out of order — protruding out on the sidewalk like a jagged border on a map, Jews with crutches, one in a wheelchair, Jews with glitter on their shirts, a Jew on a bicycle holding a surfboard, 1,000 sunglasses (most of them placed above the forehead), a petite redhead in an army uniform, a Jew with a Yankee cap, a four-seater Renault with seven people in it and a Moshiach bumper sticker on the back (honking), a Jew with a buff torso and black T-shirt with one English word on it: “Open,” a little girl in a stroller who looks just like my little Eva, a tough-looking Jew with long sideburns who needs four fender bumps to park his Rover hatchback, a girl with pink hair, a little storefront with a huge sign that says The Krenko Records Shop, a little black dog without a leash, a Peruvian-looking man with long, black hair holding a baby, a beggar saying “Chag Sameach,” a frum mother with her daughter, no one taking pictures, a bathroom stall with a narrow, vertical window (presumably so a security guard could see inside) and a small poster of the new Sean Penn/Nicole Kidman movie. Pretty much everyone talking, either live or on a cellphone, sun setting and not many people leaving, no CNN news crew in sight, litter on the ground, live Jews everywhere.

David Suissa is founder and editor of OLAM Magazine and founder of Jews for Truth Now.

U.S. Jews Laud Withdrawal Vote


American Jewish organizations rushed Tuesday afternoon to express support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan.

Sharon’s initiative was “not an easy decision, but we fully share the Israeli government’s view that it was the right decision to safeguard the future of the State of Israel,” the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, said in a statement.

“We salute Prime Minister Sharon’s bold initiative and pledge our public support for the implementation of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza,” leaders of the Anti-Defamation League said.

In a more tepid statement, the chairman and executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed “support for the Knesset vote approving the Gaza disengagement plan,” noting that “further votes will be necessary for various stages of implementation.”

“We hope that all parties will be able to come together to work on implementation and to minimize divisiveness,” James Tisch and Malcolm Hoenlein said.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said that Tuesday’s developments were tough.

“This policy not only rewards and appeases terrorists, but the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza will make it much easier for terrorists to set up bomb factories and bring weapons into Gaza, including even more dangerous and accurate missiles that will threaten major cities within Israel,” Klein said.

Nearly all the Jewish groups issuing statements noted the impending anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, urging Israeli leaders to summon courage for peace with the Palestinians — and urging opponents to eschew violence.

“As we approach the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, we are again reminded of the urgent need for civility. We join with the vast majority of Israelis in urging respect for the lawful decisions of Israel’s elected leaders,” Harris said.

Applauding Israel for reaching a “historic milestone on its decades-long quest for peace and security,” the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) also recalled Rabin’s memory.

In commemorating Rabin, the group said that “today’s vote motivates us even more to do all we can to support his unfulfilled quest for two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” JCPA Chair Marie Abrams said.

Americans for Peace Now took its kudos a step further, saying the Knesset move was precedent setting.

“Approval of this disengagement plan sets an important precedent for the evacuation of other settlements in the years ahead,” President and CEO Debra DeLee said. — Rachel Pomerance, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

The DeLay Factor and the Jews


The recent clamor over Howard Dean’s demand for U.S. "evenhandedness" in the Middle East was sweet music to the ears of Jewish Republicans, who hope 2004 will be a watershed in their long but frustrating effort to rally Jewish voters to their cause.

But the Republicans could overplay their hand, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who sometimes makes Ariel Sharon sound like a peacenik, is just the man to do it.

The Texas congressman, who has emerged as a powerful friend of Israeli nationalists and right-wingers, was on the attack last week, lashing out at Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

But DeLay’s pro-Israel ardor, while galvanizing to a small Jewish minority and useful to mainstream leaders, could neutralize the positive political impact of President George W. Bush — whose support for both Israel and an active peace process may play well among Jewish swing voters.

During his 18 years in Congress, DeLay, a former Houston exterminator, has been known mostly for his intense partisanship, his hard-right views on domestic subjects and his close relationship with groups like the Christian Coalition.

For much of that time he was considered cool to Israel — hostile to foreign aid, and not particularly sympathetic to the pro-Israel cause on Capitol Hill.

That began to change in the mid-1990s as pro-Israel conservatives courted the increasingly powerful DeLay, and as a key segment of his core constituency — conservative Evangelical Christians — began to put their version of "Christian Zionism" at the top of their list of priorities.

Some analysts say that agenda is based heavily on Christian biblical prophecies, which require constant warfare in the Middle East and a terrible fate for those Jews who do not jump aboard the millennial bandwagon.

Whatever their motives, their support has been welcomed by pro-Israel groups, which face mounting hostility from liberal "mainline" Protestant denominations. It was especially welcomed by the Jewish right, which for the first time had a politically powerful champion in Washington.

DeLay was reborn into the pro-Israel faith with a vengeance.

In 2000, he was one of only three lawmakers voting against a congressional resolution praising Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Israel was making a big mistake giving back any land.

In 2002, DeLay headed a congressional effort to deflect pressure on Israel from the leader of his party, President Bush.

This year, he delighted hard-liners when he told the pro-Israel lobby that Israel has a perfect right to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

"I’ve toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

He repeated that claim last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish right-wingers here applaud such talk; mainstream Jewish leaders, while not entirely comfortable with it, are grateful for his support, and some swallow their discomfort over his hard-line views.

But if DeLay is the spearhead of a new GOP effort to woo Jewish voters, the party may be in trouble. Poll after poll shows that American Jews remain committed to the fundamentals of land-for-peace negotiations.

Despite the way Jews from across the spectrum have rallied behind a terror-beset Israel, there is very little support here for the settlers who are determined to hold onto their West Bank and Gaza outposts, or the neo-Kahanists who dream of "transferring" Palestinians somewhere else.

American Jewish leaders have expressed great skepticism about the Bush administration’s "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but polls indicate most American Jews support its principles.

DeLay may score points with some top Jewish leaders, who are interested mostly in his ability to serve as a counterweight to administration pressure on Israel, and with single-issue pro-Israel groups, which easily overlook a domestic record that makes him the prince of the Christian right.

But the majority of Jews are centrists whose votes are shaped by a wide array of issues, not just Israel. On both the foreign and domestic fronts, Jewish voters, while not as liberal as they once were, are poles apart from DeLay and his ultra-conservative colleagues.

On the Middle East, President Bush has struck a balance that may appeal to that Jewish mainstream: strong, unequivocal support for Israel, but also for a genuine peace process that everybody knows can only end with the creation of a real Palestinian state.

That combination could be especially attractive next November if the Democrats nominate a challenger beholden to the party’s left flank, where Israel isn’t exactly the most popular cause in town.

DeLay represents a support for Israel’s most extreme factions and a harsh vision for the future of the region that is repellent to many of the Jews the Republicans hope to attract.

The Right of Return Goes Both Ways


With the growing worldwide focus on displaced Palestinians, Jewish groups are suddenly raising the issue of a different kind of refugee: the almost 1 million Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The timing is no accident. While the effort by groups such as the World Jewish Congress (WJC) points to a genuine injustice, it is also intended to neutralize the ongoing effort by the Palestinians and their supporters to insist on an Arab right of return to Israel as part of any peace deal. However, there are important differences between the two refugee situations that will make that a hard sell to a skeptical world community.

Last week, a group called Justice for Jews from Arab Countries published a report documenting the human rights crisis facing Jews in that part of the world following the creation of Israel. The report concludes that the persecution achieved its primary aim — forcing more than 850,000 Jews to flee, roughly comparable to the number of Arabs who fled the new state of Israel.

There was a big difference, though, in how the refugee populations were treated. More than two-thirds of the Jewish refugees quickly found their way to Israel, where they and their descendants now comprise the majority of the Jewish population.

In fact, the Jewish State did too good of a job. Despite some conflict with the European Jewish elite, the refugees were absorbed with little fanfare, and as a result, most of the world has no inkling that these people were once forced to abandon their homes and property. Thousands also came to the United States, laying the base for a vibrant and increasingly influential Sephardi community.

The Palestinian refugees were treated differently.

With the collusion of the United Nations, they were confined mostly in squalid refugee camps in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank. No effort was made to absorb the refugees. On the contrary, they were kept isolated, living under horrific conditions, to serve as living pawns in the effort to disparage and pressure Israel.

Arab governments professed deep concern for the Palestinian people, but they treated the refugees in their own countries as lepers, refusing to give them citizenship, limiting their civil rights, providing little or no economic aid. Palestinian refugees weren’t absorbed, they were exploited mercilessly.

The international community contributed to this exploitation by failing to challenge the Arab nations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1950 to help displaced Palestinians, became the only international agency devoted to keeping refugees in camps, rather than resettling them, in effect creating a permanent refugee population.

Since the disastrous Camp David peace talks in 2000, Palestinian leaders have put the right of return at the top of their list of negotiating priorities. That concept, as they define it, involves the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their original homes — including in Israel.

Israelis have a wide range of views about what their country should give up as part of any comprehensive peace agreement, but on one issue, they speak with a unified voice: granting an unlimited right of return would be national suicide for the Jewish state.

Jewish groups that are raising the issue of Jewish refugees today say it’s a matter of fundamental justice, and that’s true. But the real motive here is political — trying to deflate the Palestinian demand for an unlimited right of return by pointing out, accurately, that Palestinians weren’t the only ones to be wrenched out of their lives and their homes when Israel was created.

Avi Beker, WJC secretary general, recently said that the campaign — which included congressional hearings on the subject — is an effort to bring "balance" to the refugee issue and thereby affect the quest for Middle East peace.

Both sides have legitimate claims, the Jewish groups argue. The most appropriate solution doesn’t involve massive shifts of population, but humanitarian efforts to resettle refugees where they are or in the newly created state of Palestine, or — in the case of Jewish refugees — to provide fair restitution for the property that was stolen from them when they were forced to flee.

The new Jewish strategy for bringing some balance to the refugee debate makes sense, but it is unlikely to sway Israel’s enemies or its many detractors in Europe and elsewhere. The reason is simple: much of the world doesn’t want a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis.

To the Arab nations and to many in Europe, perpetuating a suffering Palestinian refugee population — impoverished, bitter pariahs — is a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state.

Israel did the humanitarian thing by quickly absorbing Jewish refugees. The Arab nations that profess such sympathy for Palestinian refugees have done the opposite, thereby revealing their real motives in the refugee debate.

The Turn to Civil War


Some 60 miles southwest of Yasser Arafat’s besieged Ramallah headquarters, supporters of the Palestinian Authority president are engaged in another confrontation. The new front is not against Israel, but against their Palestinian brethren — Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip, who are now openly challenging the Palestinian Authority.

This latest confrontation could lead the Palestinian society to a fitna (Arabic for civil war). The fear has a precedent: In the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, thousands of Palestinian Arabs were killed in bloody internal strife.

The current unrest in Gaza began with a blood vengeance. Imad Akel, 27, a resident of the Nusseirat refugee camp, and a number of his friends, shot to death Col. Rajah Abu-Lihyeh, Palestinian Authority riot police chief.

Abu-Lihyeh allegedly was responsible for the shooting of Akel’s younger brother, Yussuf, in violent protests last year against the American war in Afghanistan. Five others were killed and dozens wounded in that unrest. Palestinian Authority police tried to detain Abu-Lihyeh’s killers, to no avail. Akel, a senior activist in Hamas’ military wing, found shelter among his friends. Riots broke out as Palestinian Authority officers tried to lay their hands on Akel and the other perpetrators. Four people were killed, but so far the Palestinian Authority has failed to bring Akel and his associates to trial.

As commander of the riot police, Abu-Lihyeh was one of the most hated persons in the Palestinian Authority. His people are responsible for the rough handling of any demonstration not to the Palestinian Authority’s liking. It’s no wonder, therefore, that Hamas enjoys growing popular support in its confrontation with the authorities.

But if one thing is considered off-limits in Arab regimes, it is a challenge to the security forces. Such a challenge is seen as an attack on the legitimacy of the regime. Given Abu-Lihyeh’s position among the elite of the Palestinian Authority security forces, his assassination could be seen as a challenge to the Palestinian Authority’s very existence.

It’s not the first time Palestinian groups have flouted Palestinian Authority directives: When groups ignore Arafat’s statements against terror attacks, the Palestinian Authority has not gotten upset, and, indeed, Israelis suspect a tacit division of labor. But the Palestinian Authority is not likely to allow a challenge of such magnitude to its security forces.

On Monday, thousands of Palestinians from Fatah marched through Gaza, warning Hamas not to undermine the Palestinian Authority.

"This is a show of force. This is a clear message to Hamas that if it tries to undermine or destroy the Palestinian Authority, Fatah will fight it to defend the authority," a senior Fatah official told Reuters.

Masked gunmen fired in the air and supporters carried posters of Arafat, shouting slogans of support as they warned rivals against taking the law into their own hands.

Despite the growing popularity of Hamas’ uncompromising outlook, the Islamic fundamentalist movement also finds itself at a difficult crossroads. Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank is in ruins. Its top military leader, Mohammad Deif, barely escaped a recent Israeli assassination attempt in the Gaza Strip, which left him seriously wounded. Frequent Israeli raids on Gaza Strip targets strike at Hamas’ power base.

For years, Arafat has ignored his commitments to disarm Hamas and make them subject to Palestinian Authority law. Analysts say it’s not just because he doesn’t want to fragment Palestinian society, but also because it has served his purposes to have militant groups carry out terror attacks supposedly outside of Arafat’s control.

But some have warned that Arafat ultimately will have to bring all Palestinian factions to heel if the Palestinian Authority is to stay in power.

The example often cited is the Altalena ship, a 1948 incident in which Jewish militias tried to defy the nascent Israeli government and import arms illegally. Despite his reluctance to fight other Jews, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered the ship bombed before it reached port; it sank, killing several men.

The dissident Jewish groups condemned Ben-Gurion for the attack. But it was a watershed in Israeli history that made clear that challenges to the central authority would not be tolerated.

Israelis believe Arafat must eventually have his own Altalena, which would benefit not just Israel by eliminating the threat from nominally renegade groups but the Palestinian Authority itself by strengthening order and central control.

Mohammad Dahlan, former head of Palestinian security forces in Gaza and now Arafat’s security adviser, is pushing for such a confrontation. He knows that unless the killers are handed in, the Palestinian Authority may lose its grip on the population.

Dahlan, sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Arafat, reportedly has grown so frustrated with Arafat’s unwillingness to impose his rule that he recently tendered his resignation, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Monday. Arafat has yet to act on the letter.

Yet Arafat may keep postponing the showdown. In the face of growing Israeli pressure, Arafat feels that his only chance to survive is to avoid internal rifts at all costs.

Hamas, however, is not willing to play by Arafat’s rules. In addition to the Gaza riots, two suicide bombings last week — one near Bnei Brak that killed an Israeli, another that was foiled near the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv — show that Hamas is determined to pursue its violent agenda, provoking Israeli countermeasures that further weaken Arafat.

In addition to his fronts against Israel and Hamas, Arafat also faces popular pressure from the Palestinian street — and the U.S. administration — to reform his corrupt and ineffective administration.

Experts expect Arafat to struggle to buy time. He spent last weekend holding intensive consultations on a new Cabinet, ahead of planned elections early next year. His associates promised over the weekend that a new Cabinet would be named within 10 days.

One of the first victims of the reshuffle may be Interior Minister Abdel Razek Yehiyeh, who was appointed recently with the blessing of Israel and the United States to restructure the Palestinian Authority’s armed forces. Arafat apparently wants to put the blame on Yehiyeh for having failed to dismantle the various militias, particularly Hamas. It’s not clear how that would go over in Jerusalem, Washington or even Ramallah. Domestic criticism of Arafat, which abated somewhat during Israel’s siege of Arafat’s presidential compound earlier this month, remains strong.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported last weekend that Mahmoud Abbas, mentioned as another possible Arafat successor, strongly criticized Arafat during his recent visit to Moscow. Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, agreed with the Israeli argument that terrorism should be stopped before negotiations resume — but predicted that "the Palestinian Authority would find it extremely difficult to exert its authority over the rejectionist organizations."

Arafat may postpone a showdown as long as possible, but ultimately, it seems, he will have no choice but to face the internal front as well.

World Briefs


Bush Speaks Out for Israel

President Bush spoke out in defense of Israel and reiterated his criticism of Yasser Arafat. "Israel has a right to defend herself," Bush told reporters June 10 as he met in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Bush again spoke of his disappointment with Arafat’s leadership. The preconditions for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord are not in place, he said, because "no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer later said Bush believes diplomatic talks should proceed at the same time as Palestinian reforms. Sharon has demanded reform as a precondition to talks.

UJC Passes Budget

The umbrella group for North American federations passed its 2002 budget. Meeting in Chicago, the board of trustees of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) approved a $42.5 million budget, down from last year’s budget of $44.7 million. The new budget includes cuts in UJC’s regional staff members.

Ads Show Christians Support Israel

An interfaith group is running an ad campaign underscoring evangelical Christians’ support for Israel. "Evangelical Christians are among the strongest supporters of Israel in the world today," says an ad that appeared in the June 11 Washington Post. The campaign is being spearheaded by Stand for Israel, a project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Similar ads are planned for other major newspapers and on radio stations.

Jewish Group Plans Armed Patrols

A militant Jewish group, armed with shotguns and other weapons, plans to start patrolling Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The little-known Jewish Defense Group is taking the step after a suspected terrorist jailed in Iraq said in a TV interview that the terrorists who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing originally wanted to target Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Rabbi Yakove Lloyd, the founder of the Jewish Defense Group, told The Associated Press that there would be about 50 to 200 people involved in the street patrols, some carrying shotguns in bags, others with bats and pipes. The plan has met with criticism from some local Jews.

Distribution Sped Up for Swiss Claims

A United States-led tribunal is relaxing the standards for paying claims to Jews whose Holocaust-era accounts were frozen by Swiss banks. The Claims Resolution Tribunal also plans to speed up distribution of $800 million from Swiss banks to Holocaust victims and their heirs. The tribunal was set up to help distribute money from a $1.25 billion settlement by Swiss banks. The tribunal said that as of last month, it had received more than 32,000 claims and had paid out $16.9 million in 135 claims.

ZOA Activists Visit D.C.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) held a pro-Israel lobbying mission on Capitol Hill. ZOA activists visited Washington June 11 and 12. The 250 activists urged officials to stop pressuring Israel, cut diplomatic relations with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and end all U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

Shoah Art Travels Into Space

An Israeli astronaut plans to bring a Holocaust-era drawing with him into space. Col. Ilan Ramon contacted Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial requesting an item from the Holocaust to take with him when he blasts off July 19 aboard a NASA space shuttle. Yad Vashem chose "Moon Landscape," a drawing by Peter Ginz, a 14-year-old Jewish boy, created during his incarceration in the Terezin transit camp. Ginz was later killed in Auschwitz.

Senate Passes Mideast Aid Bill

The U.S. Senate passed an anti-terrorism bill that includes additional aid for Israel and the Palestinians. The $31.5 billion bill provides $200 million for Israel, as well as $50 million earmarked for the United States Agency for International Development to distribute in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The bill now heads to conference committee, where it will be negotiated against a House version.

New Deadline for French Bank Claims

The United States and France extended by six months the deadline for Jewish claims against French banks. The claims may be filed by Jews who say their accounts were frozen during the Nazi occupation of France. The new deadline is Jan. 18, 2003.

ADL: Anti-Semitism on Rise

A new Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey shows an increase in American anti-Semitism in the wake of Sept. 11.

The survey by ADL and Marttila Communications, called "Anti-Semitism in America: 2002," is based on interviews with 1,000 Americans of different ethnic, religious, age and regional backgrounds. The margin of error was 3 percent.

The interviews were held in late April and early May, just after the Israeli army’s controversial incursion into the Jenin refugee camp.

Among the survey’s most dramatic findings: 17 percent of respondents were "strongly" anti-Semitic, a 5 percent increase from 1998, while 48 percent appeared to hold no prejudice at all, a 5 percent decrease from 1998.

Briefs by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A Marshall Plan for Palestine


The rapid downward spiral of events in Israel and the Occupied Territories produces yet more death, destruction and despair. Both sides seethe with rage at the other, oblivious to the parallel courses that their respective national movements have taken — and hence incapable of the slightest empathy for the other.

We have entered a most precarious state in the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs. It is a tribal blood feud in which "normal" considerations like physical safety and economic sustenance are altogether forgotten.

It would be easy to say that the culpable party is the Palestinian side, which encourages and then celebrates the gruesome ritual of the suicide bomber. Its leadership has repeatedly failed to forge a more effective and humane path of national liberation. Moreover, the rampant corruption of the Palestinian Authority does little to lift the average family in the West Bank and Gaza out of abject poverty.

And yet, we cannot forget that the profound desperation of the Palestinians is a byproduct of Israel’s 35-year occupation. Occupation has deprived Palestinians of their basic right to human dignity — and along with that, of a viable economic infrastructure, a stable civil society, and a reliable leadership that will take years to build.

One of the consequences is that the creation of a Palestinian state alone will not solve the problem. Needless to say, we seem lights years away from that point. Gen. Anthony Zinni cannot even broker a cease-fire, no less bring the warring parties together to discuss broader political issues.

If and when they do return to the negotiating table, the Camp David points formulated by Bill Clinton — Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, creation of a Palestinian state, East Jerusalem as its capital, shared control over the Temple Mount, etc. — will be necessary but not sufficient conditions for a definitive settlement. What will also be required will be a massive infusion of aid, investment, and expert advice to the fledgling Palestinian entity. Only such a massive package can exert a transformative effect on Palestinian society. If Palestinians see no hope for a better future, even in their own state, they will have little incentive to abandon present tactics. Conversely, if they see the prospect of refugee camps being transformed into bustling urban centers, they might be prepared to eschew the path of armed struggle they have chosen.

Admittedly, this idea is a bit fantastical. Neither side is ready for compromise at this moment. The two aging leaders, Sharon and Arafat, are reprising their tragic dance from Beirut 20 years ago, but now with deadlier results. And President Bush remains as hesitant as ever to invest American diplomatic or financial capital in the resolution of foreign conflict.

Yet the present moment demands boldness, foresight, and perhaps a glance back at the past. Fifty-five years ago, Secretary of State George Marshall declared, "Europe’s requirements are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character." The ensuing American commitment to rebuild wartorn Europe offers a model for a political and economic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians — that is, a Marshall, or perhaps Powell, Plan for Palestine.

This Plan can and will not work if it is the result of solitary American investment. Rather, it requires an activist American diplomatic effort to enlist the European Union and the Arab League, fresh from its historic endorsement of the Saudi peace initiative, to a multibillion dollar plan for the reconstruction of Palestine. Of course, the Israelis must also commit their own political and economic resources to the undertaking. And the Palestinian leadership will need not only to eschew the path of terrorism, but agree to overhaul its corrupt bureaucracy.

The logic of this plan rests on the sad fact that the two parties are incapable at present of extricating themselves from their conflict. Outside intervention is urgently needed. Sporadic or short-term mediation designed to achieve a temporary cease-fire or an interim political agreement no longer suffices. Rather, a sustained and substantial commitment by the international community, led by the United States, is the order of the day.

The stakes could not be higher. In the absence of a major international effort, Israelis and Palestinians stand to shed much more blood. And their war could degenerate into a broader regional conflict that threatens the stability of the entire world. Before we reach that point, let us agitate for a comprehensive solution that provides a conclusive exit from the current tragedy.

World Briefs


Seven Killed in Bus Bombing

A Palestinian suicide bomber killed seven people and wounded more than 30 in northern Israel on Wednesday morning. A number of Israeli Arabs were among the dead, Israel Radio reported. The bombing took place on an Egged bus near the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, close to Afula. The bus was ripped in two by the large quantity of explosives carried by the bomber. The Palestinian Authority denounced the “operation,” saying it opposed attacks on civilians within Israel proper. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the blast. In other violence, an Israeli was wounded in a shooting attack near the West Bank city of Nablus. A senior U.S. official said Yasser Arafat must intensify his efforts to end violence.

Israel, Jews Blast Annan Leak

Israel and American Jewish groups criticized Kofi Annan for his letter blasting the Jewish state’s recent military offensive against the Palestinians. “The tactic of using the media for selective criticism [is], at the least, counterproductive,” the Israeli mission to the United Nations said. “It is regrettable that the secretary general’s letter fails to reflect the basic fact that it is Palestinian terrorists that are deliberately targeting civilians.” In his letter, which he released to the press Monday, Annan accused Israel of launching illegitimate attacks on Palestinian civilians and said Israel’s incursion into Palestinian cities and refugee camps earlier this month resembled “all-out conventional warfare.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said the letter, and Annan’s reference days earlier to Israel’s “illegal” occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, “undermine his credibility and confidence in the U.N. Secretariat and further compromise the international body.”

Report: Boy Killed by Palestinians

A Palestinian boy whose death became a symbol of the intifada actually was killed by Palestinian gunfire, according to German ARD Television. The footage of the death of Mohammed Al-Durrah was censored by the Palestinians to make it look as if he had been killed by Israeli gunfire, ARD officials said.

ADL: Russian Anti-Semitism Up

The number of serious anti-Semitic attacks increased in Russia last year, from 18 in 2000 to 24 in 2001, according to a new Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report. ADL officials, as well as other United States-based experts, attribute the growth to a general rise in hate crimes and to better monitoring. The report also stresses the unprecedented growth of ultra-nationalist and xenophobic organizations in Russia in 2001, some of it on the Internet.

Berlin Cemetery Damaged in Attack

Right-wing extremists likely were behind an explosion at a Jewish cemetery in Berlin. Police are investigating whether Saturday’s homemade grenade attack that damaged a courtyard was the work of Arab terrorists or right-wing fanatics.

Reform Help Sept. 11 Victims

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations Disaster Relief Fund has donated $1.5 million to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. With more than 5,500 donations from individuals, corporations and Reform congregations, the movement selected nine organizations to receive $500,000 in grants to help primarily with legal services, medical services and job training and placement.

Arabic ‘Mein Kampf’ Is Best Seller

Arabic-language copies of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” are selling briskly in London and the Palestinian territories. The Arabic edition, published by a Lebanon-based company, has a picture of Hitler and a swastika on the cover, according to the British Daily Telegraph newspaper. The translator wrote in the foreword that “National Socialism did not die with the death of its herald, rather, its seeds multiply under each star.”

Nostalgia


I asked Avraham Burg what he feels is the greatest misconception American Jews have about Israel. The Knesset speaker and Labor Party leader was sitting still for a moment in a Beverly Hills hotel. Too many of them, he said, harbor some nostalgic vision of Israel as a land of milk, honey and heroes, and are uninformed of the complex challenges it faces. "And," he added with a wink, "you know the old saying: nostalgia ain’t what it used to be."

The challenges Israel faces become more urgent as each day seems to bring fresh tragedies. This week, it was a Palestinian terrorist who opened fire with an automatic weapon in downtown Jerusalem, killing two people, wounding 40.

More ominous, of course, was Israel’s Jan. 6 seizure of the Karine A, which was smuggling 50 tons of Iranian-supplied arms bound for the Palestinian Authority.

On Wednesday, Burg, over the protest of many of his fellow MKs, met in Paris with his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qorei. Qorei invited Burg to visit the parliament in Ramallah at the head of a Knesset delegation.

What, any rational person might wonder, is there left to talk about?

"There is no military solution to this conflict," Burg tells me. "In two and a half years, we’ll be right back where we left off when Oslo failed. Even if there is a war between now and then, a regional conflict, we’ll have to go back and start from there."

It’s unlikely that the actions of either Burg or Qorei will move the heads of their governments, Ariel Sharon or Yasser Arafat. Sharon has articulated no solution to the crisis, and his promise of security has been undermined by some of the bloodiest months of terror Israelis have ever lived through.

Arafat, the virtual skipper of Karine A, is too clever by half in pursuing American-brokered negotiations and Iranian arms shipments simultaneously.

Burg, 47, an observant Jew and a former army commander, says he isn’t fooled. But it is in Israel’s interest, not just the Palestinians’, to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission report calling for an immediate end to violence and for Israel to cease construction of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, then to head back to the negotiating table.

The alternative Burg’s political opponents have to offer at the moment is a further crackdown. But it’s hard to imagine what more Sharon, hardly a man known to pull punches, can do. He has used tanks to imprison Arafat in his compound, sent Israeli forces on regular missions to liquidate Palestinian militants and sealed borders. Given time, Sharon’s supporters argue, these measures might work. So far, they concede, things have only gotten worse.

And time is not on Israel’s side. The economy is at its worst level since 1953. Per capita growth has fallen by 2.9 percent. Israelis spent $600 million more abroad in the first 10 months of 2001 than the Israeli economy earned from visitors — its first "tourism deficit" since 1991. "Anyone who thinks that security does not have a major influence on the economy simply does not understand," David Brodet, former director general of Israel’s Finance Ministry, told The Jerusalem Report. Israel, said Brodet, will end up having to "go schnorring, from foreign Jews’ donations and U.S. aid."

That aid will be harder to get out of an America whose ongoing efforts to fight terror and appear "fair" in the eyes of the Muslim world depend on the cooperation of Arab states.

Which leaves us, the second largest urban concentration of Jewry outside Israel, to decide how much and when and to whom to give when Israel asks. The simple answer is "yes, how much?" But as Burg came to remind us, the simple days are gone, if they ever existed in the first place.

Focusing on Israel


After a lengthy hiatus, American Jews, especially younger ones, are again focusing on Israel as a top priority.

“During the last seven to eight years, American Jews thought that Israel’s worst problems were over and turned their attention to domestic communal problems,” said Kenneth Jacobson, director of international affairs for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

A similar attitude has prevailed on Capitol Hill. “It used to be that senators and congressmen were familiar with Israel’s problems and had visited there,” Jacobson said. “That largely changed with the new Congress elected in 1994 and coincided with the end of the Cold War and a sharp upturn in the Israeli economy.”

Newly elected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems aware of the need to reinvigorate his country’s relationships with these two key constituencies. During his recent trip to the United States, he made a point of mending ties with Congress and emphasizing the importance of American Jewry.

“Both Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak relied more on their personal relationships with the White House. In a sense, Sharon seems to be returning to an older Israeli policy,” Jacobson commented during a recent visit to Los Angeles.

Jacobson, who also serves as ADL’s assistant national director, has written extensively on Israel and the Middle East in a number of books and major newspapers.

Despite a perception among many Jews that the American media are biased against Israel, Jacobson noted that a survey of editorials in 50 leading newspapers showed the majority to be pro-Israel.

Similarly, polls conducted by ADL and other organizations found strong sympathy for Israel and little for the Arabs.

“We cannot be complacent, but there certainly is no groundswell against Israel, either in Congress or among the general public,” Jacobson said.

Increased Insecurity


Yasser Arafat is floundering. Six months into the new intifada, he has achieved nothing for his people. More and more openly, Palestinians are questioning whether their suffering is worthwhile. The world is in no hurry to intervene. Arab leaders, gathered in Jordan this week, were long on sympathy, short on substance, military or financial.

Ariel Sharon, for his part, is striving to reconcile his twin images of "Mr. Security" and "Mr. Pragmatic Leader" who has put his adventurist past behind him and cherishes his rapport with the new man in the White House. The Palestinians are not making it easy for him.

The intifada is all tactics and no strategy. Marwan Barghouti, the mainstream Fatah commander calling the shots on the West Bank, announced one day that he wanted a popular uprising with the masses taking to the streets in peaceful protest, then declared the next day that the armed confrontation would continue.

The bombers and the gunmen interpreted this as a license to go on targeting Jews. Israeli commentators suspected Arafat was trying to provoke the hawkish prime minister to order drastic reprisals, which would rally support for the Palestinian cause — at the Amman summit and among Israeli Arabs, who are staging their annual "Land Day" demonstrations this Friday.

The attacks plumbed new depths In Hebron on Monday, when a Palestinian sniper shot dead a 10-month-old baby, Shalhevet Pass, as she was being wheeled by her parents through the West Bank city’s Jewish neighborhood. The same night, a police disposal crew defused a bomb placed outside a falafel bar in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv. On Tuesday, a car bomb went off in Jerusalem’s Talpiot shopping district. Then a suicide bomber struck at a bus stop across town near the Jewish suburb of French Hill. A total of 35 were hurt in the two operations.

Wednesday dawned with another atrocity, this time on the Israeli side of the border between Kfar Sava and the West Bank town of Qalqilya. A second suicide bomber blew himself up among a bunch of teenage boys waiting outside the "Mifgash Hashalom" ("Meeting Place of Peace") gas station for a ride to a West Bank yeshiva. Two of the students were killed on the spot, four others were wounded. One was in critical condition, another required extensive eye surgery. Both were riddled with iron nails that had been packed into the bomb strapped to the terrorist’s chest. The Islamic nationalist movement, Hamas, acknowledged responsibility for both suicide raids and announced that it had seven more bombers ready to sacrifice themselves.

Sharon, projecting a new, statesmanlike image, was reluctant to be provoked. The last thing he wanted was to revive memories of Arik Sharon, the 1950s special forces commander who killed Palestinian civilians wholesale in reprisal raids, or the defense minister who allowed Lebanese Christian militiamen to massacre refugees in Sabra and Shatilla three decades later.

Having promised his voters to restore their sense of security, however, Sharon could not wait too long. In particular, his own nationalist constituency was losing patience. Avigdor Lieberman, the hard-right infrastructure minister, said: "The state must provide security for its citizens everywhere, and Israel must act with determination against the terrorism which is afflicting us." Noam Arnon, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers, said of the baby girl’s killers: "We have to annihilate these monsters." Shalhavet’s young parents refused to bury her until the army retook the hillside from which the sniper fired.

Alex Fishman, a sober military analyst, wrote in Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday: "It is true that revenge is no substitute for policy. Decisions on the national level must not be made with the gut. But it is inconceivable that the murder of a baby in cold blood be left hanging in the air with no response. A murder like this must have a price."

Whatever that price turns out to be, the violence is cutting the ground from under Sharon’s quest for a "long-term interim agreement." Arafat could not swallow the permanent solution to the conflict offered by the former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, at Camp David last summer. But nor, it seems, can he contemplate anything less.

Sharon will not be able to play the benign grandfather much longer, but a more vigorous response will risk straining the alliance with Labor’s Shimon Peres and thus the stability of a his national-unity coalition. Nor will he have the free hand he enjoyed when Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, unleashed him on retaliation raids against Arab villagers half a century ago. CNN’s cameras will be there before him.

With bombings turning into a daily ordeal, Sharon was forced on Wednesday to abandon his "business as usual" pose. His aides announced immediately after the Kfar Sava suicide attack that he would not call the inner security cabinet into session. The prime minister’s declared policy was to convene it only once every two weeks. Before the morning was out, however, Sharon backtracked. His ministers insisted that they had to be heard. It was too much of an emergency to be left to one man.

Whle the ministers were still talking, Israeli helicopter gunships rocketed Gaza and the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday night. A military spokesman said they hit specific targets. Sharon had preferred pinpoint blows, for which read assassinations, against the men behind the bombers, picking them off one-by-one over a period of weeks. But he clearly felt something more dramatic was called for. It remains to be seen whether Israelis will be reassured, or the terrorists will be deterred.

Arafat’s tactics are making Sharon squirm, but they solve nothing for the Palestinians. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel’s Labor defense minister, began lifting the economic siege. He was repaid with bombs, mortars and sniper fire. The roadblocks will have to stay. There will be no early relief for the one million Palestinians living below the poverty line. There will be no jobs, in Israel or the Palestinian territories, for the 250,000 unemployed.

Despite Arafat’s claim that he is still pursuing the "peace of the brave," the Amman summit did nothing to convince Israelis or comfort hungry Palestinians. While the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution in New York calling for an international force to "protect" Palestinian civilians, Bashar Assad, Syria’s supposedly westernized young president, sounded no different from his brutal father. He denounced Israel as a society "more racist than the Nazis." Ze’ev, Ha’aretz’s veteran cartoonist, summed it up with the image of the week: a beaming Arafat launching a verbal dove of peace polka-dotted with black bombs.

Healing Israel’s Scars


Cardiologist Uri Ben-Zur is fed up with the media’s images of Israelis soldiers as the bullies of the Middle East. The Tel Aviv native, currently an attending physician at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center, recalls how several months ago his cousin Amit was patrolling in the Gaza as part of the Israeli Defense Forces army reserve when a gang of Palestinians suddenly started throwing rocks – or what looked like rocks.

“One of the rocks turned out to be a grenade,” Ben-Zur said. “Fortunately one of his buddies saw it and knocked him out of the way. His father was not so lucky; many years ago when he was in the army he also had an encounter with a grenade and was badly burned.”

Stories like this, however, never seem to make it onto CNN, said Ben-Zur. Angered by the mainstream media’s portrayal of his country, he has joined with other Los Angeles area physicians to create the nonprofit organization Spirit of Israel. Its aim: to promote a more accurate and balanced portrayal of the situation in the Middle East and encourage active support from Jews worldwide.

“One of the problems a lot of Israelis see is that there is a very big gap between what we see on the Israeli news media and what other news media reports,” Ben-Zur said. “It’s almost as if they are talking about two different things.

“What blew me apart was a month and a half ago with the three Israeli soldiers captured by the Hezbollah. You tune in to Israeli television and they are interviewing the mother of one of the soldiers saying she wished he had been killed instead of captured, because of the Hezbollah’s terrible way of dealing with hostages. But you turn on CNN and instead they’re showing another Arab killed by Israeli soldiers. What they don’t show is what it’s like to be in a two- or three-soldier group facing thousands of Palestinians throwing rocks. They’re vastly outnumbered, but that’s not what is shown. It’s just so biased.”

Ben-Zur’s budding organization hosted its first event at the Universal City Hilton Dec. 4 with keynote speaker Yuval Rotem, the Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles. Rotem agrees with the doctors and others who see a lack of action on behalf of the Jewish state.

“These doctors have a great concern, and rightly so, about what is taking place in the Middle East,” Rotem said. “There is a big gap between the degree of concern [from American Jews] and the degree of action, especially compared to what the other side is doing. Look at how many rallies are being initiated by [pro-Palestinians] and then go to every Jewish agency and ask what they have been doing in the last 10 weeks and how much of it is devoted to Israel.”

Rotem said that, in addition to making their support for Israel more visible, Jewish agencies need to reactivate the push for peace in the Middle East.

“We need to revive the dialogue between Israel and American Jews, especially now when people are casting doubt on the peace process,” he said. “There is a need to share with [Americans] the problems we are facing.”

Ben-Zur hopes that Spirit of Israel will be a conduit for such dialogues. Already the organization is planning their next event, with the speaker still unconfirmed at press time but rumored to be a higher-up in the Israeli government. Spirit of Israel organizers are also working on construction of a Web site with up-to-the-minute information on the situation in Israel and what American Jews can do to help.

“Israel’s neighbors are the worst enemies to have because there is no way to negotiate with them. They don’t see negotiation as a sign of strength,” Ben-Zur notes. “Israel has 5 million Jews, and the only thing they have going for them is the Jews around the world to support them. If we as American Jews don’t do anything about this problem, who is going to do it?

“For me, Israel is an insurance card like no other. Jews here have to realize that for the 52 years there has been an Israel, there has been no Holocaust, no Spanish Inquisition,” he added. “If some crazy government decides to target Jews, no other country but Israel is going to police that. People don’t realize they need Israel more than Israel needs them.”

For more information about Spirit of Israel events, call (818) 789-9928.