Israeli Diplomats Reach Out to L.A. Iranian Media

Representatives from Southern California-based Persian-language satellite radio stations and television shows attended a special press conference on Aug. 28, held for them at Los Angeles’ Israeli consulate, the first public interaction between the Israeli government and local Persian-language media in more than 25 years.

The local Iranian media outlets are owned and operated by expatriate Iranian Muslims, and the gathering was a move by the consulate to reach out directly to the people of Iran.

“I received feedback from a lot of channels in the Iranian media for interviews, so I saw the desire by them to understand what we think and we believe, so we setup this event specifically to address their questions,” said Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch.

Local Persian Jewish activists were instrumental in helping to connect the Iranian media with the consulate for the press conference, as many Persian Jews still share common cultural and linguistic ties with other Iranian groups in Southern California.

“This is indeed something that has never been done before in this city where there is a community of Iranian and a center of Iranian media outside of Iran,” said George Haroonian, a Persian Jewish activist who helped organize the press conference with the consulate.

“We need to be the connector between the people of Israel and people of Iran,” Haroonian said.

During the nearly two-hour press conference, Danoch responded to reporters’ questions about the aftermath of the war with Hezbollah and addressed the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction.

“The most important message for us to get across is that the government of Israel and Israelis have nothing against the Iranian people or Islam,” Danoch said. “But we will not tolerate the extremist expressions of that president of Iran”.

Since the collapse in 1979 of the regime of the late shah of Iran, many Iranian Muslim politicians and Western-educated professionals have been among the large groups of Iranians in the United States and, particularly, Los Angeles. During the past two decades, these communities have established media outlets in Southern California that oppose the current government in Iran, and regularly broadcast news and political commentary to Iran through satellite radio and television, as well as via the internet, much of it in an attempt to help bring down the regime there.

Southern California’s Iranian Muslim media has also frequently voiced criticism of Israel, as well, and the consulate’s outreach at this event was an attempt to counter that. On the part of the Iranian media, this was one more way to take a jab at the regime.

“This is an important event for us because we don’t want our viewers to receive one-sided bias news from the media in Iran and get brainwashed — we must show the other side,” said Afshin Gorgin, a reporter for the Iranian news program on the Voice of America satellite television. “Here they get to see and hear the views of the other side directly from a representative of Israel”.

Members of the Iranian media in attendance said the press conference was later broadcast in its entirety into Iran, which has a population of nearly 70 million, many of whom said they oppose their government’s support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, but are afraid to express their views.

“I receive phone calls from listeners in Iran, and they say we do not have a problem with Israel, and we do not have border disputes with Israel,” said Siavash Azari, a news commentator on KRSI, a Beverly Hills-based satellite radio station that broadcasts daily into Iran.

The Iranian Muslim media stepped up interest in issues concerning Israel when, late last year, Iranian President Ahmadinejad called Israel a “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the map.” In response, they condemned Ahmadinejad and organized a pro-Israel rally in Westwood, which drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions.

“We spoke out against him because his words were utterly absurd for anyone to say, and we would have spoken out against such statements if they were made by any other leader,” said Reza Fazeli, a news commentator for the satellite television station Pars TV.

Earlier this month, Israeli Deputy Consul General Yaron Gamburg was also interviewed by Hossien Hejazi, an Iranian news commentator at KIRN-AM. 670, a Persian-language radio station based in Hollywood.

In January, when Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, working with Iranian Jewish leaders, invited Iranian journalists to tour the Museum of Tolerance in an effort to educate them about the Holocaust so that they could send information back to Iran on the topic.

The January event, as well as the recent press conference, seem to be having the desired effect of opening up dialogue. At the conference, Danoch offered to make himself available for interviews and said the consulate would help to get their message across to the people of Iran in any way possible.

Nation and World Briefs

Israel Exits Gaza Strip

A blazing orange sun set over the Mediterranean as Israeli soldiers lowered the country’s flag at the army’s Gaza headquarters, signifying the end of an era in this sandy strip of land.

Sunday’s brief ceremony, attended by top military officials and the parents of soldiers killed defending Israeli settlements in Gaza, marked the end of 38 years of Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, a period that saw the creation — and most recently the destruction — of Jewish settlements and some of the bloodiest fighting between Israel and the Palestinians.

The three highest-ranking army commanders overseeing Gaza — the army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz; the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel; and the head of the Gaza Command, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, faced an honor guard of soldiers and saluted them.

Together they sang Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” and spoke of their hopes for a better future.

“Thirty-eight years are coming to a close. The army is leaving the Gaza Strip,” Kochavi said. “We leave with our heads held high. The gate that is closing after us is also a gate that is opening. We hope it will be a gate of peace and quiet, a gate of hope and goodwill.”

But there were reminders of the difficulties ahead.

A ceremony scheduled for earlier Sunday was canceled after the Palestinian Authority boycotted the event. That came after the Israeli Cabinet reversed a decision and voted 14-2 not to raze 25 abandoned synagogues in Gaza. Palestinian officials reportedly were upset that the decision put them in the position of having to destroy the synagogues or protect them.

On Monday, Palestinian rioters torched several of the synagogues. The Palestinian Authority said it was powerless to stop the desecration by mobs that rushed into the settlements after Israeli forces left.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas tried to play down the sight, televised internationally, by noting that Israel had removed all ritual items from the synagogues before withdrawing. But Israeli officials suggest the violence and vandalism do not bode well for future relations.

Settlement Building to Continue

Ariel Sharon said Israel will continue to build in West Bank settlement blocs despite any U.S. objections.

“The major blocs will stay as part of Israel,” the Israeli prime minister told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday. “Yes, we have small-scale construction within the lines.”

While President Bush has said Israel can expect to keep West Bank settlement blocs under a final peace accord with the Palestinians, the U.S.-led peace “road map” calls for their expansion to be halted.

Asked about potential American reaction to the construction, Sharon said: “I don’t think they will be too happy, but they are the major blocs, and we must build. We don’t have an agreement with the United States about this, but these areas are going to be part of Israel.”

Egypt Takes Over Gaza Border

Egyptian troops began deploying along the Gaza Strip’s southern border. Around 200 border police fanned out along the Egyptian side of the frontier last Friday, with another 550 expected to be posted there this week. Israel is handing over security control of the Gaza-Egypt border to Cairo as part of its pullout from the Gaza Strip. Egypt has pledged to fight arms smuggling from the Sinai to Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

New Orleans Synagogue OK

A historic synagogue in New Orleans suffered internal damage due to Hurricane Katrina, but its exterior is unscathed. Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Touro Synagogue said that a local police officer with ties to congregants was able to verify the building’s condition. Synagogue leaders hope to return soon to the shul to safeguard Torahs and other items; much of the staff is using temporary space in Congregation Beth Israel in Houston. The synagogue may be the oldest Jewish house of worship in America outside of the 13 original colonies.

Rabbi and Storm Shelter Nixed

A synagogue in Louisiana is shutting down its shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina and has put its rabbi on administrative leave, JTA has learned. Rabbi Barry Weinstein was asked to take paid leave from Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge for an unspecified period. He had led the effort to house dozens of evacuees who fled their Gulf Coast homes in the wake of Katrina.

Synagogue officials say the decision about the rabbi was related to a private matter, not directly to the shelter issue. They said even though the shelter would close, the synagogue would continue to house medical personnel helping with rescue efforts.

Some of the rabbi’s supporters charged that a few influential members of the community who are opposed to using the synagogue as a shelter had pressured the temple’s officers to act. The supporters expressed outrage that the shelter was closing down and that the rabbi has been barred from the synagogue.

Russian City Gets New JCC

Jews in St. Petersburg, Russia, marked the dedication of a new Jewish community center. Yesod, a modern stone-and-glass building situated in downtown St. Petersburg, is a project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The center, dedicated last Friday, will house Jewish organizations that until now have rented office space in various parts of the city. The center will house the offices of the Hesed Avraham welfare center, the Adain Lo educational network, Hillel and the Petersburg Institute of Jewish Studies. It also will contain a large auditorium for conferences and cultural performances, a Jewish library, a winter garden and a fitness center. The entire space will be wheelchair accessible.

General in the Sights

A retired Israeli army general narrowly avoided facing war-crimes charges in Britain. Doron Almog, a former commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, flew to London to vacation with his wife Sunday but, after receiving a warning from the Israel Embassy, decided not to leave the El Al plane and flew back home within hours.

According to Israeli officials, British authorities let it be known that a pro-Palestinian lobby in Birmingham planned to seek Almog’s detention and trial on charges of war crimes in Gaza. “This is reason for concern, as the Palestinian community can put out arrest warrants for any Israeli officer who served in the fight against terror,” Almog told Israel Army Radio on Monday. In 2002, Shaul Mofaz, then Israel’s military chief of staff, cut short a trip to Britain after being threatened with similar charges.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jewish Terrorist Suspect Dies

An alleged Jewish terrorist died after hanging himself in Israeli police custody. Eliran Golan, who was facing charges of trying to bomb Israeli Arab targets in the northern city of Haifa, hanged himself in his jail cell last month and succumbed to his injuries in a hospital late last week. A former Israeli soldier who prosecutors said supplied Golan with explosives for a series of racist attacks in Haifa has been jailed for four years.

Brits May Change Holocaust Day

Britain may reportedly change its Holocaust remembrance day to a broader event commemorating other genocides. The Sunday Times of London reported that advisers to Prime Minister Tony Blair were recommending that the Jan. 27 annual remembrance be replaced by a day that would include recognition of Muslim deaths in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Chechnya and Bosnia, so that Muslim extremists couldn’t exploit an impression that Jewish lives are considered more valuable than Muslim lives.

“The message of the Holocaust was ‘Never again,’ and for that message to have practical effect on the world community it has to be inclusive. We can never have double standards in terms of human life,” said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Jewish leaders are opposing the proposal.

Arafat Death Mystery

The cause of Yasser Arafat’s death is still unclear, despite the release of his hospital reports. Having obtained records from the French hospital where the Palestinian leader died last November, Ha’aretz quoted Israeli experts on Thursday as saying Arafat’s symptoms were consistent with advanced AIDS or the effects of a poison such as ricin. French and Palestinian Authority officials have said there was no evidence of either cause in Arafat’s death. The New York Times, which also had access to the hospital records, quoted its own independent experts as saying Arafat died of internal bleeding caused by an unknown ailment, and called AIDS or poison highly unlikely.

Google to Open in Israel

Google is planning to open up an office in Israel. The Internet search engine will open the office in Tel Aviv as part of its global expansion program, the Jerusalem Post reported. It is not known when the office will open, but presumably the curious will soon be able to find out by Googling.


Beware This Bill

As one who supported the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) is certainly no radical. But last week, Feingold, chair of the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cast the lone Senate vote against final approval of the so-called “USA PATRIOT” (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act.

Even the bill’s title, Feingold observed, was part of what he termed the “relentless” pressure to take swift action — sweeping aside all dissent and at least inferentially branding as un-American those who would dare to question its provisions. “This is one of the ridiculous things they do in Washington,” Feingold told The Washington Post. “They want to intimidate people.”

The legislation, which President George W. Bush signed Friday, Oct. 26, was presented in classic take-it-or-leave-it fashion, with little opportunity for input or review.

Bypassing the regular rules of procedure, a small group of senators forced Congress to vote on a mammoth 164-page measure that our senators and representatives had not yet even had the chance to read. This unseemly haste could perhaps be excused if the final antiterrorism bill was either well-crafted or innocuous. Unfortunately for us all, it is neither. A principal infirmity of the USA PATRIOT Act is the broader authority it gives in all federal criminal investigations — not just those involving suspected terrorists — to secretly search homes and offices. As Feingold observed, “The whole tenor of the debate was: ‘Let’s grab as much as we can,’ given the fear of terrorism.”

The new law allows law enforcement agencies to enter a house, apartment or office with a search warrant when the occupant is away, search through property, videotape or photograph the residence’s contents, and in some cases seize physical property and electronic communications, but not tell the occupant until later.

Without such notice, a person cannot point out mistakes in a warrant or ensure that the search is properly limited. Though exceptions currently exist for extraordinary cases, the new law greatly expands the scope of this “sneak and peek” authority to every kind of criminal case (not just those involving terrorism) and to every kind of search (physical or electronic). Most ominously, and unlike a few of the Act’s other provisions, this expanded power will not expire in 2005.

Here are just a few of USA PATRIOT’s other dangerous features:

It creates a broad new definition of “domestic terrorism” that could sweep in people who merely engage in acts of political protest and subject them to wiretapping and enhanced penalties.

It grants the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental health and educational records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime and without a court order.

It permits the attorney general to indefinitely incarcerate or detain noncitizens, based on mere suspicion, and to deny re-admission to the United States of noncitizens (including lawful permanent residents), for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment.

It allows for the detention and deportation of individuals who provide lawful assistance to groups that have engaged in vaguely defined “terrorist activity” at some point in the past; groups potentially fitting this definition could range from Greenpeace to Operation Rescue to the African National Congress.

t broadly expands government power under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by breaking down the critical distinction between “foreign intelligence” and “criminal” investigations, allowing surveillance to proceed without meeting the Fourth Amendment’s rigorous probable cause standard.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) certainly recognizes that some increased investigative and preventive powers are warranted in the wake of the events of Sept. 11. But much within this omnibus legislation simply goes too far.

PJA has committed itself to serving as a national clearinghouse for the Jewish community to monitor abuses of this new law. While only a small number of USA PATRIOT’s provisions (those expanding surveillance powers for tapping telephones and computers) will “sunset” in four years, Congress commonly renews these laws unless presented with overwhelming evidence of improprieties. Thus, vigilance on all fronts will be essential. PJA will be watching the watchers.

Douglas Mirell is an attorney and president of the Progressive Jewish
Alliance. His e-mail address is

Palestinian Angst

Despite its propaganda success in the United Nations General Assembly, where 134 countries last weekend denounced Israeli construction on the disputed Har Homa site in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is in despair over the stagnant peace process.

Despite the fact that the United States was one of only three countries voting against the U.N. resolution (the others were Israel and Micronesia), Palestinian officials still recognize the Clinton administration as their best bet to bring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom they accuse of dictating his own terms, back to the table.

The American Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, is expected to