Justice takes a beating in Long Beach racial hatred case

The nine black youths who beat three young white women have now been sentenced by a Juvenile Court judge, and there’s only one problem.

While these “kids” could
have killed their victims, the judge slapped them on the wrists lightly and sent them home. Astoundingly, after finding the nine defendants guilty of intent to cause bodily harm, with hate crime enhancements, the judge then reversed direction and gave them probation?

A tenth youth was acquitted.

The basic facts of the case are that last Halloween, a pack of black youths, with no evidence of any provocation, set upon three young white women who had come to an upscale part of Long Beach known to attract trick-or-treaters. Out of the larger crowd of attackers, 10 were identified and placed on trial.

After a lengthy process, that saw witness intimidation from gang members (one was forced to move; another had her car totaled), the expectation was — that if found guilty — a verdict and sentence would be handed down that delivered a strong message of intolerance for such uncivilized acts.

Instead, another message was delivered — that racism in its black guise will be treated with leniency and “understanding,” since this kind of racial retribution is an undesirable but understandable outgrowth of historic mistreatment at the hands of whites. What complete rubbish.

In case you wondered, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs, out of the 1.2 million cases of interracial crimes each year, 90 percent involve a black perpetrator and a white victim. The interests of law and order and a civil society were not served well by this judge’s sentences.

What highlights the crass, crude and bigoted nature of this ugly mass attack is the fact that Loren Hyman, one of the three victims, is both Jewish and Latino, but like a pack of hyenas converging on some yearling antelopes, this crowd was in no mood to parse out the finer points of ethnic and religious identity.

However, while these defendants have escaped culpability, others have not been brought before any judge. Ten black youths were put on trial, but it has been estimated that between 25 to 40 black teens surrounded Hyman, Laura Schneider and Michelle Smith last Halloween.

This was no routine youthful fracas — the attacks left Loren with more than a dozen facial fractures, a serious injury to her jaw, partial loss of sight in one eye and a recessed eye socket. Schneider was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.

One male attacker knocked one of the girls unconscious with a skateboard, while another was stomped as she lay unconscious.

According to both victims and witnesses, the attackers hurled anti-white slurs while beating the girls.

And to add insult to injury, on the day that four of the defendants were being released from custody to the comfort of their homes, Hyman was undergoing a seven-hour surgery to repair her shattered eye socket — the outcome of which is still unknown.

The rationale for giving probation, say Juvenile Court officials, is to promote rehabilitation — something presumably a harsher sentence couldn’t have accomplished? But, how can rehabilitation occur, when the parents and the teens have remained defiant, without any remorse.

Yes, they admit they were there but claim somebody else beat the girls. OK, I get it. They’re not guilty of an ugly assault; they’re actually, uh, victims.

But then the whole affair is bizarre, lodged squarely in the midst of the politics of racial identity. What if the scenario were reversed? For instance, what if the pack of black thugs who attacked these girls was white skinheads and their victims had been several young black youths?

Would the national media have virtually ignored the incident? Would every nationally known black leader have swooped into town, set up an encampment at the Long Beach Courthouse and demanded justice for the victims?

Wouldn’t everybody from the mayor to the governor and beyond be demanding that the judge send a message against racism? And, what if a judge handed down a sentence of probation for the skinhead scumbags — would the city have escaped massive “social justice” marches, with its leaders lustily yelling, “No justice, no peace”? Get the picture?

Some of us still remember the ugly incident on the first day of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, you know, the one where white trucker Reginald Denny was set upon by several black thugs and nearly killed, simply for being white and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some excused the actions of the thugs who beat Denny, saying it was misdirected black rage, but in no way was it racism.

Fast forward that tape to 2007, and we find Farai Chedeya, a black National Public Radio show host, saying shortly after the Long Beach attacks that “… some people say black folks cannot be racists because the root of the issue is power.”

What a convenient dodge. I wonder if that came to the mind of the victim as a black thug broke a skateboard over her head, sending her into unconsciousness. Now that’s power.

Joe Hicks is the former executive director of the L.A. chapter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is currently vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and a KFI-AM talk show host.

Defender of France

Jean David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, is arguably its most effective defender against charges of anti-Semitism, in no small part because he himself is Jewish.

I met Levitte at the Beverly Hills residence of the French consul general, Phillipe Larrieu. It’s a sprawling, modernist home near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the walls lined with contemporary art, the small streetside drawing room furnished in … French Regency. Silver coffee service and a plate of petits fours appear.

Levitte, 60, is youthful, patient and polished. He is used to contradicting accusations that France is anti-Semitic, in no small part because of all the anti-Semitism French Jews have suffered over the past few years.

The worst incident occurred just last February, when kidnappers tortured and killed 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, taunting his parents with anti-Semitic slurs during phone calls. The heinous crime led to an uptick in French Jewish immigration to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, and renewed concern that French Jewry’s days were numbered.

I began my interview by mentioning that exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris to interview French officials and Jewish leaders, all of whom agreed the government had been taking anti-Semitic attacks seriously and that the frequency and severity were in decline. This is what I reported, so my first question to the ambassador was, in so many words: Am I a chump?

Levitte said no. French anti-Semitism continues to be a problem among a disaffected Muslim population egged on by extremist imans, exposed to anti-Israel Arab media and frustrated by its status at the fringes of French society. “If we have a problem with racism,” he said, “it is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Arab.”

Anti-Semitic attacks, he said — reinforcing what the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy told our reporter Marc Ballon (see Page 16) — are the smoke from the Israeli-Palestinian fire. “The problem is the connection to the Middle East,” Levitte told me.

Levitte reiterated what I learned last year. The French government has responded to anti-Semitic acts with forthrightness: harsher penalties, better coordination with prosecutors, widespread educational reforms, a crackdown on hate-spewing Iranian and Arab media and ongoing public statements from the president on down.

“When a Jew is attacked in France,” said President Jacques Chirac on Nov. 17, 2003, “it is an attack against the whole of France.”

These steps all contributed to a 48 percent decline in anti-Semitic acts in the first six months of 2005.

Then came the brutal Halimi murder, which obliterated these achievements in the public eye.

Halimi’s parents claimed the French police botched the investigation by, in part, refusing to see it as anti-Semitic in nature. Initial statements by government officials downplayed the role Jew-hatred might have played.

But to Levitte, the official and popular reaction only supports his contention that France is intolerant of intolerance. Tens of thousands of citoyens took to the streets of Paris to express their outrage at the murder. French officials quickly identified 21 suspects. Fourteen are under arrest and 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.

The perpetrators, Levitte pointed out, were not all Muslim. They were inhabitants of the often lawless, neglected neighborhoods surrounding Paris and other large cities. (In the French movie, “La Haine,” (“Hate”), the youthful criminal gang from one Parisian slum includes a Jew. “Hate,” in fact, released in 1995, is a cinematic tarot card of what would be in store for France).

Many of France’s 10 percent Muslim population live in these banlieux. Most are law-abiding and loyal.

“The problem is the 10 percent who are not well-integrated,” Levitte said.

He pointed out that the racial unrest that broke out in Paris this winter (not to be confused with the anti-labor law reform riots of the spring) were not in the “new cities” with large Muslim populations, There were no riots in Marseilles, for example, whose Algerian population is second only to that of Algiers.

The rioters also did not take to the streets waving Algerian flags. What they wanted was not separation but belonging.

“Islam is not the demand of these teenagers,” said the ambassador. “They feel excluded.”

Levitte reiterated his government’s approach to the problem: better schools, stricter law enforcement, more work incentives and the creation of tax exempt zones to spur business investment in the worst areas.

Nevertheless, Levitte acknowledged, isolated attacks against Jews have, “triggered feelings of insecurity” among the country’s 600,000 Jews.

But Levitte said the claims of a French Jewish exodus to Israel are overstated. Many Jews will buy apartments or homes in Israel, but they remain in France. Those who go for good, he said, often come back.

Meanwhile, Israelis themselves seem to harbor less ill will toward the French than American Jews. France is the No. 1 tourist destination among Israelis.

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Levitte quoted (correctly) a 2005 poll by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, which asked citizens in more than 12 countries their feelings about Jews. The Dutch came in first, at 85 percent, and France placed second, with 82 percent of French citizens checking off “positive feelings” about Jews. (The United States scored fifth at 77 percent, and Jordan and Lebanon tied for last, at 0 percent).

Indeed, for Levitte, the (wine) glass of French Jewry is perennially half full: The Dreyfuss Affair? It showed how the republic stood up to an insidious cabal of anti-Semitic army officers.

“Today it is Dreyfuss who is our hero, not them,” Levitte said.

The Holocaust? Seventy-five percent of the nation’s Jews were saved, and many Frenchmen risked their lives to save them. The government of Israel has recognized 2,500 of them with the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Levitte’s own grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. His father and uncle joined the resistance, and his father later became the leader of the American Jewish Committee in France for 30 years.

“We will not accept anti-Semitism in France,” the ambassador said, with finality. “We will fight this disease.”


French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death

Paris — The brutal murder of a young Jewish man in Paris is roiling the community and reviving questions over whether France is a safe place for Jews.

In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured away from the store where he sold mobile phones on Jan. 21 by a woman, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. Halimi’s captors allegedly beat, burned, stabbed and poured toxic fluid on him.

He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, Feb. 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital.

Until last week, officials and detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering last week that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism.

De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s torture and murder be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was among tens of thousands of Parisians, mostly Jews, who rallied last weekend in what was billed as a community march against hate.

“There can be no tolerance of this act of torture and murder and anti-Semitism,” said Sarkozy. “This concerns the Jewish community and all French people.”

Among the marchers was Sandrine Berda, who runs a catering business. “It seems that so much is going on now to try to force us to leave Paris,” Berda said. “I am here to show there are lots of Jews here, and if we leave, Paris will become a pitiful city.”

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although others put the number much higher.

The question of whether France is still safe for its estimated 600,000 Jews was a major topic of discussion among the demonstrators.

“Many people decide on the safety of Paris by what happens to their children at school,” said Diana Tabbacoff, a psychologist originally from Brazil. “I think everyone believes we must react against ignorance, but personally, my daughter has not suffered for being Jewish. If she did, I would think of returning to Sao Paulo.”

Ironically, officials recently announced that anti-Semitic acts in France dropped by 47 percent in 2005 over the previous year.

The earlier spike of anti-Semitic attacks was largely perpetrated by youths of North African origin, and these incidents had increased in France during the first few years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. This rise had been largely attributed to tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The climate for Jews had seemed to improve, however, in recent months, as had France’s relations with Israel. One factor was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Paris last summer and the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

But the recent incident has rocked the Jewish community, with many saying they had felt all along it was a deliberate act against Jews.

“We are here to demonstrate for France, because we live here and we are fed up,” said David Riahi, a student at the HEC business school, marching under the banner of the French Union of Jewish Students. “This is not about calling for people to go live in Israel or the States.”

But one marcher was skeptical that anything could be done to improve the situation.

“Will this really move people to take a look at what is going on or push the government to take more action?” asked Eric Chicheportiche, former head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “I really don’t know, and I really don’t know what can be done.”

Although most of the marchers were Jewish, there were North African Muslims and blacks in the crowd, and all agreed that this was an anti-Semitic act.

“There are cultured and educated Arabs marching here today who believe we can live and work in peace with Jews [and other French people,]” said Khadidja Cherkaoui, who is finishing a master’s degree in management here. “This was an anti-Semitic act committed by savages.”

Cherkaoui said some typically racist attitudes may come from school.

“I have heard of youngsters being taught by certain teachers that Jews are all rich,” she said. “That is not true and is racist, like saying that all Arabs are terrorists.”

While the statistics show the climate of anti-Semitism has improved in
France during the past few years, Malik Boutih, the former president of the
activist group SOS Racism, who is currently a Socialist Party official, said
the problems of anti-Semitism and racism remain. “We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

“We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

Also noted was the enormous stupidity of the crime.

“These guys are total idiots,” said Audrey Benyoun, marching with friends and her father. “They got absolutely nothing from this except this demonstration. I think a lot of French people are fed up with hearing about such stupid acts.”

While the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its belief that the kidnapping and torture occurred because Halimi was Jewish, many French still want to believe that it was simply a criminal act committed by sick individuals.

Police have made 15 arrests among associates of a gang that apparently called itself the Barbarians. Eleven face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder motivated by anti-Semitism. Those arrested include suspects of North African and black African Muslim origins and of white French background.

French police officials said they originally thought the only motive of the kidnapping was money. After questioning several of the suspects, the police reported that there had been six other kidnapping attempts, four of them against Jews.

Officials said the suspects told police that because Jews were all rich, someone would find the money to ransom them. Only one of those attempts was reported to the police when it took place.

Authorities tracked the accused ringleader, Youssouf Fofana, to the West African country of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested. Extradition proceedings are under way to return Fofana to France.

JTA correspondent Lauren Elkin contributed to this report.

Facts Belie County Hate Crime Problem


Sometime in the early 1980s, a new type of crime was identified. It was called “hate crime.” Although the conduct which hate crime laws were

aimed at was already criminal, the new laws targeted the motivation for the crime. Helping to cement hate crime into our lexicon was the belief that the new arena of hate crime was simply an extension of the larger anti-racist struggle.

While all of this may have been undertaken with the best of intentions, the unintended consequence has been the emergence of a cottage industry committed to propagating the view that hatred based on race, religion or sexual orientation is still today a prominent feature of American society.

Since the early 1980s, the American landscape has changed, with organized hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and others thankfully falling on hard times. These groups have been decimated by the death or incarceration of their leaders and a series of well-aimed lawsuits.

But other factors have come into play. The nation’s attitudes on race have changed, making racism and other forms of bigotry socially unacceptable, except among the least educated and the most isolated. Wearing pointy hats and sheets and sneaking around burning crosses on folk’s lawns or spray-painting swastikas on synagogues lost almost all of the mystique or attraction that it may have once held.

The killing of James Byrd and Matthew Shepard or the occasional vandalism of synagogues have been and are met with nearly universal revulsion and contempt.

In our own backyard, Los Angeles is widely viewed as the most diverse part of the nation’s growing demographic complexity. Even here, hate crime is a rare thing. Yet, some officials continually portray the area’s human relations as a hotbed of hostility and hate.

That brings us to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. “Combatting” hate crime is the bread and butter of this taxpayer-funded agency, which enjoys an annual budget of approximately $2 million. Most of its budget is spent in one way or another on the issue of hate crime.

Each year, it produces an annual report on the number of hate crimes committed in Los Angeles County. The commission’s latest report tells us that in 2003, there were 692 crimes motivated by hate. (Interestingly, annoying phone calls, disturbing the peace and reckless driving were included in the commission’s report as hate crimes.) This is a 14 percent decrease from the previous year’s tally. The highest number of hate crimes ever recorded by the agency was 1,031 in 2001.

Many questions can be raised about how the agency gathers its statistics and the accuracy of its count, but one thing is clear — the size of the hate crime problem in the county is not large. By comparison, as of this past Christmas, the LAPD documented more than 41,000 violent crimes and another 118,000 property crimes. In 2003, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recorded more than 90,000 violent crimes, which included forcible rape, homicide, aggravated assault and arson among others.

There were another 113,000 other crimes, such as sexual offenses, narcotics, forgery, vandalism and others that were committed in the county. In the context of this crime picture, hate crime is but a tiny fraction of the whole.

Noting the small numbers of hate crimes in Los Angeles should in no way be seen as diminishing the actual harm hate crime inflicts on its victims. But the aberrational nature of hate crime in a county of more than 10 million people begs the question of whether this narrowly defined arena of criminal activity really needs the near full-time attention of an entire department of local government — especially at a time when every tax dollar is feeling the squeeze.

The proper role of government in this realm is a matter for debate, but until that’s settled, isn’t there a more productive or creative way to conduct work aimed at influencing human relations and the spending of public dollars?

Since 2000, the county commission has annually divided more than $800,000 among seven community-based partner organizations. The funds are directed at hate crime-related activities and, recently, the green light was given from county supervisors to once again give funds to the seven groups — splitting nearly $70,000 among them over the next six months.

The money will pay for workshops on “media advocacy” and “technical assistance” for staff from the groups, among other things. This comes on the heels of severe budgetary problems confronting all levels of county government. Exactly what taxpayers get in return is unclear.

The vast majority of Americans already understand that hate crime lies beyond the borders of appropriate behavior (reflected in the low hate crime statistics), so messages aimed at these audiences is just a bit like preaching to the converted. On the other hand, anti-hate messages directed at the dwindling numbers of committed racists, homophobes and anti-Semites falls largely on deaf ears.

Once a hate crime occurs, it becomes the matter of law enforcement to find the facts, arrest the suspects and charge them for their acts. It is then up to prosecutors to do their job — which is to bring criminals to justice.

However, hyperbole in the realm of hate crime may be symptomatic of a larger problem. As racial or ethnic animus has declined over the years, the groups specializing in anti-hate and anti-racist causes have struggled to maintain their relevancy and to justify their budgets. For human relations agencies and related activists, this has meant making the most of hate crime data — minimal though it may be.

If documented in a rigorous manner, crimes thought to be motivated by hate arguably might be useful as a barometer of sorts to assess the state of race and human relations. Getting in the way of this is the fact that many groups report hate “incidents” that are extremely difficult to verify, let alone quantify.

Additionally, the political agendas of various advocacy groups place a great deal of pressure on law enforcement to identify crimes as “hate related,” even when the facts do not substantiate this designation. Even when annual data show that the numbers of hate crimes are low, advocacy groups, academics and, sometimes, the media spin the information in ways that portray the nation or the city as endangered by an epidemic of hate. When asked about the low numbers of hate crimes, advocates and activists will argue that they are simply “underreported.”

The prevailing view of hate crime encourages people to think of themselves as members of identity groups and also requires that they think of themselves as beleaguered and victimized, generating a sense of resentment. This means greater balkanization, not the unification of interests across the lines of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation — something essential for the best possible human relations in a city like Los Angeles.

Joe R. Hicks is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and currently vice president of Community Advocates. David Lehrer helped draft some of California’s early hate crime statutes, was the former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League and is the president of Community Advocates.


Community Briefs

Palestinian Journalist Critical of Arafat toSpeak Here

“Arafat is a powerful symbol. But today it’s very difficult to say that he has control over what’s happening on the ground.”

Coming from an Israeli journalist, such a statement would hardly be surprising. However, these are the words of a Palestinian journalist who used to work for the Palestine Liberation Organization newspaper.

Now a producer for NBC News, as well as a correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, The Jerusalem Post and Jerusalem Report, Khaled Abu Toameh is not afraid to criticize the Palestinian leadership.

Abu Toameh will be in the Los Angeles area next week for a number of appearances. His visit is being sponsored by Bridges to Israel-Berkeley and, locally by StandWithUs and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Sounding frustrated with the Palestinian leadership, Abu Toameh said that in general, the leaders find it “convenient to blame Israel and America and the West for their failure,” rather than looking internally at their own corruption.

Abu Toameh was born in 1963, in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Hebrew University, he went to work for the PLO newspaper. After several years, he grew tired of being a mouthpiece for the PLO and began seeking work with the foreign media, specializing in Palestinian affairs.

Jews who openly criticize Israel can be accused of airing dirty laundry at best, being a traitor at worst. But for Palestinians who openly criticize the Palestinian leadership, it can be far worse. A Palestinian journalist reporting on the Palestinian Authority might face harassment, beatings, imprisonment or in rare cases death.

Abu Toameh said that, for the most part, his colleagues don’t begrudge him for writing for the Israeli media.

“If the Palestinian media opens and gives me and my colleagues a platform, we’d go there tomorrow morning,” he said.

Khaled Abu Toameh will speak Thursday, May 6, at 8 p.m. at Temple Beth Haverim, 29900 Ladyface Court, Agoura Hills. $10-$12. For more information, call (818) 991-7111. He will speak Friday, May 7, at 8:15 a.m. at The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Conference Room B. Free. For more information, call (310) 836-6140. — Alexandra J. Wall, j., the Jewish Newsweekly of Northern California

Journal Marketing Director Joins Governor’sStaff

Michelle Kleinert, former director of marketing and communications for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, has left the newspaper to become the liaison to the Jewish community for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kleinert, whose official title is deputy director of community affairs, has more than 14 years of marketing and public relations experience.

The Journal has tapped Lisa O’Brien to replace Kleinert. An international affairs graduate of UC Davis, O’Brien has held a number of marketing positions in the corporate world, including at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Mattel Inc. and Andersen Worldwide.

Kleinert, a Democrat, has long roots in California and a tight connection to the Jewish community. A graduate of Beverly Hills High School and UC Berkeley, she went on to work at the Shoah Foundation and in 2001 served as director of public relations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She joined The Journal staff in 2002. A Santa Monica resident, she has a thick Rolodex of prominent California Jews that she has assembled over the years.

O’Brien, 30, said she hopes to grow The Journal’s readership, increase its visibility in both the Jewish and non-Jewish community and boost its advertising. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Claremont Teacher Charged in Hate-CrimeHoax

In a case that deeply affected Jewish college students, prosecutors have accused a faculty member at Claremont McKenna College of perpetrating a hate crime hoax.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged Kerri Dunn, 39, a visiting assistant professor of psychology, with a misdemeanor count of filing a false police report, and she may also face federal charges of making false statements to the FBI.

Dunn reported in early March that while she was speaking at a campus forum on racial intolerance, her car was vandalized and spray painted with the words “Kike Whore,” “Nigger Lover,” “Bitch” and “Shut Up.”

According to various reports, Dunn was considering converting from Catholicism to Judaism, “although no one seems to have any first-hand knowledge about this matter,” said professor Jack Schuster, a faculty leader on the campus Hillel Council.

The initial vandalism report shocked the campus and Jewish students and professors in particular. There was a full day of protest rallies and Hillel Council director Rabbi Leslie Bergson reported that a large number of previously indifferent students showed up at the Hillel Center.

A week later came another bombshell, when Claremont police announced that according to two eyewitnesses, Dunn herself had vandalized her car.

Dunn has declined comment, but her lawyer, Gary S. Lincenberg, issued a news release stating that his client “maintains her innocence and hopes that this case will not divert attention from the racism problems on the Claremont College campuses.”

D’ror Chankin-Gould, 20, student president of the Hillel Council, said that he, for one, doesn’t care whether the “Kike Whore” slur was spray painted by Dunn or another perpetrator.

“It doesn’t matter who did it,” he said. “It’s anti-Semitism and it’s unacceptable.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

L.A. Entrepreneur Funds Technion BioMedicalInstitute

A $100 million pledge by Los Angeles entrepreneur Alfred E. Mann to establish a biomedical engineering institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, has been announced by the American Technion Society.

The Mann institute, bearing the donor’s name, is to focus on the development of medical devices and processes to improve human health and well-being.

The pledge, when redeemed, would constitute the largest philanthropic gift to an Israeli institution, Technion sources said.

Mann, 78, is a veteran inventor and entrepreneur in medical technology, who has created and sold a string of companies over a 50-year span. He is currently chairman and CEO of Advanced Bionics Corp., headquartered in Sylmar, and of the MannKind Corp.

“He is that rare combination of an engineer who also understands business, and has tremendous drive and energy,” said Robert Davidow, Mann’s friend and a Technion Society board member.

Mann has previously established a similar institute, whose researchers work at the intersection of science, medicine and engineering, at USC. Plans are under consideration for other such institutes at UCLA and Johns Hopkins University, but the Technion is the sole beneficiary outside the United States.

Mann praised the Technion as a “world-class research university, characterized by excellence, passion and brainpower, that is as good as any on the planet.”

He is currently on an extended travel schedule and was unavailable for comment. However, Mann is known as a hands-on and closely involved donor, and it is unlikely that the Technion institute will get under way until he has an opportunity to discuss its function and research scope on the ground.

Mann was born in Portland, Ore. and already showed his future bent as a school boy when he melted down the family’s old flatware into silver sheets and sold them to classmates in a jewelry-making class.

His Advanced Bionics Corp. manufactures and distributes cochlear implants for hearing disabilities and a broad range of neurostimulation systems. His other company, MannKind, specializes in biopharmaceuticals and novel therapeutic technologies. — TT

Fighting Hate Groups

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed far-reaching legislation to combat hate groups, which, he said, pose a “very serious threat to public safety.”

His omnibus bill would strengthen existing laws by expanding the definition of a hate crime, automatically lengthening by three years prison terms of convicted felons whose crimes were motivated by hatred, and extending the statute of limitations covering hate crimes from one to three years.

In addition, the bill would upgrade from a misdemeanor to a felony violations of an existing law prohibiting paramilitary organizations, of which there are some 60 in the state, to engage in weapons practice.

Davis’ proposed changes are based on the recommendations of a blue-ribbon advisory panel, appointed in the wake of the alleged shooting spree last August by Bufford O. Furrow Jr., who has been charged with killing a Filipino-American mail carrier and the wounding of three children, a teenager and an adult at the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

The panel was chaired by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former Gov. George Deukmejian, and, said David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), worked in close consultation with his organization.

According to the panel’s final report, there are now 36 hate groups in California, which “are involved in extensive recruitment directed primarily at young people.”

In 1998, more than 1,800 hate crimes were reported in the state, 70 percent of them involving violence, against 2,136 victims. Of the 1,800 hate crimes, 226 were religion-motivated, the vast majority (176) directed against Jewish institutions and individuals.

ADL statistics for the same year, counting hate incidents in addition to hate crimes, showed 81 cases of vandalism against Jewish targets and 142 cases of harassment, for a total of 223, said Sue Stengel, Western States counsel for ADL.

One year earlier, the combined 1997 tally in the ADL survey came to only 180 cases of vandalism and harassment, but Lehrer is less concerned by the rise in numbers than by “the increasing virulence” of attacks by hate groups.

Davis, in his news conference at the Museum of Tolerance, noted that California was the “most diverse place on the planet,” and that this very diversity tended to attract hate groups bent on “savage attacks.”

One important, and evidently frustrating, problem cited by the panel report was the “unprecedented opportunity for hate groups to spread their message to young people” on the Internet.

According to the report, there are more than 1,000 Internet sites operated by hate groups and paramilitary outfits.

However, since expression of even the most abhorrent ideas are protected by the First Amendment, the panel called for Internet-access companies to regulate themselves and distribute information regarding computer filters that block hate sites.

Lehrer endorsed this approach and said that ADL has developed a “HateFilter” software program to block hate sites, which can be downloaded by accessing www.adl.org.

In a related development, ADL charged that Yahoo!, one of the nation’s largest and most popular Internet companies, continues to host dozens of anti-Semitic and racist clubs.

By doing so, Yahoo! is violating its own service guidelines and “enabling haters to organize, attract recruits and disseminate offensive material,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL’s national director.