Syrian fighting decimates tourism industry


Damascus is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. International flights into and out of the capital continued despite throughout 20-months of fighting between troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the rebels seeking to depose him. But as of Friday, the flights have stopped.

The decision was taken and all flights were cancelled when government jets bombed rebel positions close to the airport. EgyptAir announced on Sunday that it would resume flights to Damascus, but that did not appear to happen. The Egyptian flag-carrier had been operating daily flights between Cairo and Damascus, as well as several weekly flights from Cairo to Aleppo.

Ali Zein El-Abedeen of EgyptAir told The Media Line that flights to Aleppo were resumed on Monday, but the flight to Damascus did not take off.

In any case, the nation’s tourism industry, an important sector in quieter times, has — not surprisingly — been decimated by the fighting, which has left more than 40,000 Syrians, many of them civilians, dead. Tourism was responsible for five percent of Syria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, and directly supported 270,000 jobs according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Arab tourists do not need visas to visit Syria, and more than three million traditionally come annually for family visits or on business.

“I used to go to Syria for a week every month,” Adnan Habbab, the owner of Nawafir Tours in Jordan told The Media Line. “There are 3,000 archaeological sites in Syria alone.”

It takes just two hours to drive, or 25 minutes to fly between Amman and Damascus. Habbab’s agency marketed week-long tours of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to Europeans and sold between 10,000 and 12,000 packages every year. They even opened two hotels in Damascus. Now, he says, he has laid- off  90 of his one hundred employees.

“We lost millions of dollars in profit,” he said. “Since May 2011, everyone has cancelled their trips to Syria.”

The American government has issued a stern warning against travel to Syria.

“The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Syria and strongly recommends that U.S. citizens remaining in Syria depart immediately,” the warning says. “This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 1, 2012, to remind U.S. citizens that the security situation remains volatile and unpredictable throughout the country, with an increased risk of kidnappings, and to update contact information.
No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, including kidnappings.”

While several foreign airlines including Air Arabia and Fly Dubai, in addition to EgyptAir, had been operating flights to Damascus, they had cut their numbers significantly during the past few months. Only a handful of flights were landing in Damascus even before the current stoppage.

“Damascus has always been a place where flight service has been incredibly volatile,” Toby Nicol, the communications director for the World Travel and Tourism Council told The Media Line. “Ettihad Air was due to resume flying next month, and Air Dubai still lists flights to Syria, but I have no idea of who is currently flying.”

Nicols says that he has not visited Damascus and does not plan to in the near future.

“It’s one of those places where I always meant to go but never got around to it,” he said. “Now it will probably have to wait for at least 18 months.”

There seems to be no end in sight for the fighting in Syria. Turkish officials said Syria resumed an aerial attack on the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain, near the border with Turkey. They said two bombs hit a Syrian security building that had been captured by the rebels.

The officials said shrapnel from the bombing landed on Turkish territory but no one was injured.

Israel shows off its homeland security technologies to international visitors


Israel’s security technologies were on display as the country hosted two separate international contingents.

An Interpol European Regional Conference brought 110 senior law enforcement officers from 49 countries to Tel Aviv, while a homeland security conference drew 37 mayors from two dozen worldwide cities to sites throughout Israel last week.

“Israel has been forced to overcome difficult circumstances, including war and terror, in order to survive,” said Alfred Vanderpuije, mayor of the Ghana capital of Accra, following a visit to Elbit Systems, a defense electronics company based in Haifa. “And this has put the Israelis in a unique situation to develop security technologies.”

In the decade following the terror attacks of 9-11, Israeli security exports rose from about $2 billion a year to more than $7 billion, according to data supplied by SIBAT, Israel’s Defense Export and Defense Cooperation Agency. Part of the rise was attributed to the growing international demand for more effective homeland security systems.

At Elbit and other security firms such as Magal Security Systems and Elta Group, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, Vanderpuije and the other mayors saw presentations on defense technologies.

Originally developed for the Israel Defense Forces to fight wars and terror, many of the systems are being modified for civilian use, such as securing large cities.

Called the “digital army project,” Elbit’s technology connects all military forces to a single communication network that enables the free transferral of audio and video information.

“From the individual soldier to entire divisions on the land, in the air and on the sea, all our forces are interconnected,” said Dalia Rosen, Elbit’s vice president of corporate communications.

“In the past few years we have begun adopting the tools we have developed and applied on the battlefield for use in a civilian context to create what we call ‘safe cities.’ “

The basic tools that are used to fight terrorism can be used to fight crime and help officials react more efficiently to natural disasters, said Amnon Sofrim, who heads Elta’s homeland security projects.

“Instead of endless patrols, we can use strategically placed cameras or electronic devices connected to a situation room to detect the beginning of a robbery or a fire,” said Sofrim, former chief of the IDF’s intelligence corps. “And this allows us to use a limited amount of security forces or firefighters only where they are really needed.”

There were signs that the meetings between mayors and Israeli security experts might lead to business ties.

“I was very impressed with what I saw and am even thinking about bringing some of these ideas back to Ghana,” Vanderpuije said.

While private Israeli firms were showing the mayors homeland security technologies, a similar show-and-tell was taking place in Tel Aviv at Interpol’s 41st regional conference, the first time Israel has hosted such a conference since it joined the international police organization in October 1949.

Among the Israeli innovations on display were the “skunk,” a liquid with a putrid odor, and the “screamer,” a hand-held device the size of a bullhorn that emits a sound so loud that it can paralyze.

Israeli police developed both as non-lethal means of crowd control in the wake of the October 2000 riots that left 12 Arab Israelis dead.

The Or Commission, an Israeli panel of inquiry set up after the riots, criticized the police for being unprepared and possibly using excessive force to disperse the mobs.

“The skunk and the screamer are more ethical than your average police baton since they don’t cause long-term injuries,”  said Cmdr. Oded Shemla, who heads research and development for the police technology division. “They also happen to be more effective.”

An interactive simulator capable of constructing realistic scenarios, from soccer game riots and violent demonstrations to kidnappings and sniper attacks, also was on display.

“What is unique about our technology is that it is developed by policemen for policemen,” said Shemla, who previously was a police helicopter unit pilot.

Interpol officials were not authorized to comment on Israel’s innovations vis-a-vis other member countries.

Shemla said, however, that senior police officers from Europe were particularly impressed that the Israeli technologies presented at the conference already were in use and had proven to be effective in real-life situations.

“We were not showing them an abstract concept,” he said. “We were showing them things that actually work in the field.”

Jake Rosen, who chairs the American Council for World Jewry that organized and sponsored the international mayors’ conference, said there is room for more security export growth.

“One of the goals of this year’s conference is to break down prejudices [toward Israel] and overcome feelings of hesitation about doing business here,” Rosen said. “We have to be proactive in allowing access to Israeli know-how and in countering anti-Israel sentiment.”

Rosen said that political leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has claimed that Israel plans to “terminate” the Palestinian people, are “obstacles to openness” when it comes to economic ties with Israel.

However, Rosen noted that Venezuela should be seen as monolithic. Antonio Ledezma, who beat a pro-Chavez candidate to become mayor of Caracas, attended the conference.

Otto Perez Leal, the mayor of Mixco, Guatemala, and son of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, said his municipality already was implementing security cameras and other technologies developed in Israel.

“Our army and police use this equipment to integrate our forces and improve our ability to respond to natural disasters and other challenges,” Leal said.

“It’s not just about training people and it’s not just about technology. It’s about combining them both. And that is something that we are learning from you.”

International Agunah Day Conference draws locals to support ‘chained’ women


Esther Macner, a former prosecutor and trial attorney from New York, has spent years advocating on behalf of agunot — women whose husbands have failed to give them a get, a Jewish divorce document.  Now she’s on fire about getting the West Coast Jewish community to address the problem of get-refusal.  Without a get, women and men are not permitted to remarry according to Orthodox Jewish law.

Living in Los Angeles for just two years, Macner organized L.A.’s first-ever International Agunah Day Conference, Feb. 26, sponsored by B’nai David-Judea Congregation, along with other local synagogues and schools.  A panel of lawyers, a former agunah and the head of ORA (the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot), Rabbi Jeremy Stern, spoke about problems inherent within the Jewish divorce process and how withholding a get can become a method of extortion or abuse. 

Currently ORA has 70 open cases throughout the world in which women are trying to obtain gets from their husbands.  But actual numbers of get-refusal are much more, Macner warns.  Many women keep quiet about their struggles, or won’t admit to themselves that they are an agunah, she said.

Although Orthodox Jewish law requires both parties to have a say in the get process — men must give a get of their own free will and women must accept it willingly — women are more prone to get issues at the same general rates of domestic abuse, in which 85 percent of the victims are women and 15 percent are men, according to Stern. 

In addition, if a woman does not receive a get, any future relationship is considered an adulterous one by Jewish law, and children born of such a relationship have a uniquely undesirable status within the Jewish community. Men do not have this same issue with regard to future relationships, and they also have a loophole to dissolve the marriage by Jewish law if the woman refuses to accept the get.

The State of Israel currently only recognizes Orthodox marriages and divorces, making get-refusal an issue for all denominations, said Macner.

Among Macner’s goals are publicizing the use of a rabbinically endorsed prenuptial agreement, proposing legislation that will penalize get-refusal, and ongoing support and advocacy for agunot. 

Macner said that proposing legislation in California is tough because the California Constitution, when it comes to separation of church and state, “it’s a brick wall — even more than the federal government, and certainly more than New York.” 

She said that New York law currently requires each partner to remove all barriers to remarrying for the divorce to proceed but a similar law would be challenging to pass in California due to strict laws against interfering in religious matters. 

To learn more or to get involved with Macner’s work, visit getjewishdivorce.org

McCain advisors: No to Syria talks, little interest in Middle East peace process


LEESBURG, Va. (JTA)—A McCain administration would discourage Israeli-Syrian peace talks and refrain from actively engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

That was the message delivered over the weekend by two McCain advisers—Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s special envoy to Sudan—during a retreat hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the Lansdowne Resort in rural Virginia.

One of Barack Obama’s representatives—Richard Danzig, a Clinton administration Navy secretary—said the Democratic presidential candidate would take the opposite approach on both issues.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine over the summer, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted that in his presidency he would serve as the chief negotiator in the peace process. But at the retreat, Boot said pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian deal would not be a top priority in a McCain administration, adding that as many as 30 crises across the globe require more urgent attention.

Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks a mistake.
He also cast Israel’s talks with Syria as betraying the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

“John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon,” Boot said.

Williamson was slightly more nuanced in addressing the issue of how the message would be sent.

“Israel should not be dictated to in dealing with Syria or dealing with Lebanon,” he said, addressing Israeli and some pro-Israel resentment in recent years at pressure by the Bush administration to stifle such negotiations. “Hopefully as friends they will listen to us.”

That Williamson was endorsing such views at all signified how closely the McCain campaign has allied itself with neo-conservatives. A veteran of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, Williamson in other circumstances would be more closely identified with Republican “realists” who have vociferously eschewed the grand claims of neo-conservatives to a new American empire.

Yet here he was echoing their talking points on several fronts.

McCain until the last year or so has kept feet in both the realist and neo-conservative camps. The session at Lansdowne appeared to suggest that the Republican presidential nominee has chosen sides, opting for policies backed by the outgoing Bush administration and its neo-conservative foreign policy architects.

Both McCain advisers insisted, however, that their candidate was synthesizing the two camps as a “realistic idealist.”

McCain would be a “leader who will press for more liberal democratic change ” and “is realistic about the prospects of diplomacy and just as importantly its limits,” said Boot, echoing what has become the twin walking and talking points of neo-conservatism: a muscular foreign policy and an affinity for promoting democracy.

Surrogates for Obama, an Illinois senator, re-emphasized their commitment to stepping up U.S. diplomatic efforts. Danzig said an Obama administration would revive the idea of a special envoy for pursuing a peace deal.

The “appropriate level of presidential engagement requires that the United States designate someone whose energies are predominantly allocated to this,” Danzig said.

Someone like Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now leading efforts to build a Palestinian civil society, might fit the bill, he added.

Surrogates from both campaigns appeared to agree on the need to further isolate Iran until it stands down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. Each side emphasized that it would keep the military option on the table and enhance sanctions.

It was clear that each campaign had devoted a great deal of attention to the issue. Officials from both campaigns signed on to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy policy paper this summer that called for closer U.S.-Israel coordination on Iran, borne out of concerns that Israel’s leadership was getting closer to contemplating the option of a strike.

Williamson and Richard Clarke, the former top anti-terrorism official in both the Clinton and current Bush administrations who spoke for Obama, described the near impossibility of taking out a weapons program that is believed to be diffuse and hidden in population centers. Clarke added the possibility of covert action against Iran, without details—a first for either campaign.

The sole difference was over Obama’s pledge not to count out a meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who has denied the Holocaust and rejected the legitimacy of Israel’s existence.

“What could such a meeting possibly accomplish?” Boot challenged.

Danzig replied that it would make it easier for Obama to rally worldwide support for sanctions.

“These things require a community of nations,” he said.

Danzig cast Obama’s emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy in terms of Israel’s security, a pitch tuned to the Washington Institute’s pro-Israel orientation.

“The threats and dangers are more substantial than they were eight years ago,” he said.

McCain’s advisers attempted to deflect comparisons between McCain and Bush. In trying to turn such comparisons against the Obama campaign, Boot noted that eight years ago he favored “another presidential candidate with not much experience in national security policy”—George W. Bush—“and we’ve seen the implications.”

The Washington Institute crowd, hawkish in its predilections and likelier to favor McCain’s foreign policy, would nonetheless only allow the McCain surrogates to take the character and experience issue so far.

Fred Lafer, the institute’s president emeritus, pressed Boot on why McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a foreign policy novice, as his running mate if he was committed to national security.

Boot said “she has as much” foreign policy experience as Obama, prompting cries of “No!” and “what?”

Think you know ‘The Jazz Singer’? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!


On Oct. 6, 1927, audiences attending the premiere of “The Jazz Singer” at New York’s Warner Theatre witnessed a revolution that gave voice to a medium that had lived in silence since its birth, more than 30 years before. With his double-barrel delivery of the improvised line, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya. You ain’t heard nothin’!” Al Jolson fired the ad-lib heard around the world, signifying the death of the silent era and the birth of the “talkies.”

It’s been 80 years, and now the American Cinematheque is celebrating the anniversary with a three-day tribute to Jolson that includes a screening of a new digitally restored print of “The Jazz Singer,” screening Oct. 5 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. In addition, Warner Bros. plans to release a special three-disc DVD set including the restored film plus several of the first shorts produced by Vitaphone, Warner’s pioneer sound division.

“The Jazz Singer” tells the story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a cantor’s son who rejects his father’s wishes to follow family tradition and serve in the synagogue, pursuing instead a career in show business as a jazz singer. The music-based story afforded Warners the opportunity to produce a feature film using the sound-on-disc Vitaphone process they had recently licensed from Bell Telephone. Up to that point, Vitaphone had been used only experimentally on short subjects.

The Warners predicted, correctly, that “The Jazz Singer” would be “without a doubt, the biggest stride since the birth of the industry.” But the film’s importance may not rest solely on the fact that it was the first sound film. It was also the first film to boldly address the assimilation of immigrant Jews into American culture.

“It is basically a showbiz story, but in back of it is the big question of assimilation and, of course, the conflict of the generations,” Herbert Goldman, author of the book “Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life,” said in an interview. Goldman, who will be a guest panelist at the Cinematheque event adds, “There was a special appeal to the Jewish people, but the national audience was not Jewish, and yet it went over with them too. When you think about it, it’s amazing that for the first talking picture Warner Bros. chose a theme that was so overtly Jewish for a national audience.”

It may not be so amazing, considering the parallel between Jakie Rabinowitz and the Warners themselves. Like Jakie, the Warner brothers left home to enter show business, and like so many of the other Jewish studio moguls, they assimilated themselves into secular American culture. In his book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” author Neal Gabler points out ‘”The Jazz Singer’ did something that was extremely rare in Hollywood; it provided an extraordinary revealing window on the dilemmas of the Hollywood Jews generally, and the Warners specifically.”

“The Jazz Singer” began as a short story called “The Day of Atonement,” published in Everybody’s Magazine in 1922. The author was Samson Raphaelson, who would go on to become a top writer in Hollywood, known for witty and sophisticated screenplays, many of which were directed by the legendary Ernst Lubitsch. Jolson, already a popular entertainer, read the story and was drawn to it because he felt the story’s conflict between an aging cantor and his “Americanized” son who yearned to be in show business mirrored his own life.

Jolson brought the story to DW Griffith, who rejected it because he felt it was too racial. The other studios in town passed for the same reason. Apparently, Raphaelson was unaware of Jolson’s efforts. When Jolson met the writer at a nightclub, he told him he wanted to turn the story into a musical revue. Raphaelson dismissed the idea and instead adapted his story into a straight dramatic play. Ironically, Raphaelson had been inspired to write his story after seeing Jolson perform in “Robinson Crusoe, Jr.” in 1917 at the University of Illinois, while the young author was a student there. Raphaelson recalled, “I shall never forget the first five minutes of Jolson — his velocity, the amazing fluidity with which he shifted from tremendous absorption in his audience to a tremendous absorption in his song … when he finished I turned to the girl beside me, dazed with memories of my childhood on the East Side … my God, this isn’t a jazz singer, this is a cantor!”

The original title of Raphaelson’s play was “Prayboy” but it was changed to “The Jazz Singer” before its Broadway opening on Sept. 14, 1925. The star of the show was vaudeville comedian George Jessel. Reviews of the show were lukewarm, and it got off to a slow start. But since the audiences were 90 percent Jewish, it picked up momentum around the High Holy Days and ran for 38 weeks, closing only because Jessel had signed a contract with Warner Bros. The day before closing, Warner Bros. purchased the rights for $50,000, presumably with the intention of having Jessel reprise his stage role. According to Jessel, in Neal Gabler’s book “An Empire of Their Own,” Harry Warner thought, “It would be a good picture to make for the sake of racial tolerance, if nothing else.”

The story of why Jessel was replaced by Jolson is a film history “Rashomon.” One version is that Jessel’s contract with Warner was for silent films, but when Jessel discovered it was going to be a Vitaphone production, he demanded $10,000 extra. Jessel would later claim the reason he did not do the film was not over money differences, but because he objected to the revised ending. In the play, the son abandons the stage and becomes cantor of his father’s synagogue, but in the film, he remains an entertainer. Jessel demanded they keep the original ending, but Jack Warner refused. Another version is that Jessel was upset over the casting of two non-Jews, Warner Oland and Eugenie Besserer, as Jakie’s parents. According to Neal Gabler in his book, “Jessel was probably too Jewish for the kind of assimilation story that Jack and Sam Warner wanted to make. To them ‘The Jazz Singer’ was more of a personal dramatization of their own family conflicts than a plea for racial tolerance, and they would want to cast a Jew that was as assimilated as they were.” Losing the film role plagued Jessel for the rest of his life.

The opening of “The Jazz Singer” lived up to the film’s tag line “Warner Brothers’ Supreme Triumph!” According to The New York Times, it received “The biggest ovation in a theater since the introduction of Vitaphone.” Variety called the film “Undoubtedly the best thing Vitaphone ever put on the screen.” But Miles Kreuger, president of The Institute of the American Musical, attributes the film’s success solely to its star: “It was Al Jolson, even more than the film itself, or even the content of the film that made it an international success. Just the fact that the whole world, which had heard Jolson on phonograph records, could finally see him in a movie, that is the key to the success of ‘The Jazz Singer.'”

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster


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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Nation & World Briefs


Ambulances Services Seal Deal

Israeli and Palestinian ambulance services signed an agreement they hope will ease Israel’s accession to the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Under Monday’s pact signed between Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent in Geneva, Palestinian ambulances are guaranteed speedier passage through West Bank checkpoints. The move is seen as key to mollifying Arab signatories to the 1949 Geneva Conventions who might otherwise have voted against a resolution, to be discussed next week, that would introduce a nondenominational red diamond emblem to the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, as Muslim states refuse to recognize the red Star of David. Swiss officials voiced confidence that the resolution would pass votes Dec. 5 and 6.

Kadima for Palestinian State

Ariel Sharon’s new political party accepts that a Palestinian state will arise alongside Israel. The Kadima party platform, published Monday, calls for “maximum security and assuring that Israel be a Jewish national home and that another state that shall arise be demilitarized, with terrorists disarmed.” The Israeli prime minister long opposed the idea of a Palestinian state before accepting it in recent years. Addressing members of his new faction in the Knesset, Sharon said he would not rule out a future coalition with his former party, Likud, even if it is led by his right-wing rival Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I favor achieving the broadest possible unity,” Sharon said.

Israel, Germany in Holocaust Grave Probe

Israel is helping German police identify the recently discovered remains of 34 Holocaust victims. The skeletons were uncovered last September in a suburb of Stuttgart that was formerly the site of the Echterdingen concentration camp. German authorities, who have a manifest of the camp’s inmates, turned to Israel for help in identifying the bodies. Yad Vashem said Sunday it would search its Holocaust archive for information that could be of use.

“This is a very rare case a mass grave with a relatively small number of bodies, accompanied by an orderly list of Jewish prisoners who were kept there at the time,” said Nadia Cohen of Yad Vashem’s information department. “All of this allows us to turn to our database in hope of identifying some of those buried there.”

Mubarak Calls Sharon Peacemaker

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said only Ariel Sharon can bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Sharon, of all the Israeli politicians, is the only one capable of achieving peace with the Palestinians,” Mubarak said last weekend in an interview with Spain’s ABC newspaper. “He has the ability to take difficult decisions, commit to what he says and carry it out.”

Mubarak praised Sharon’s decision last week to quit the Likud party.

“I think Sharon is serious in his efforts to achieve peace. The recent progress in Israel confirms this. He has left his own party to build another more centrist one, driven by his discontent with the rigid attitudes of his party on the peace process,” he said.

Asked about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ failure to crack down on terrorist groups as required by the U.S.-led “road map” for peace, Mubarak counseled a wait-and-see attitude.

“You can’t demand now that the Palestinians disarm Hamas; it would complicate the situation,” he said. “The president is working seriously to stop the anarchy but he must be given time.”

Russian Bill Causes Alarm

Some Russian Jewish activists voiced concern that a new Russian bill on nonprofit organizations would harm Jewish groups. The bill that passed the Russian Duma on Nov. 23 would place nonprofits under greater state scrutiny. The measure could also prevent foreign nonprofits from operating branches in the country and force Russian nonprofits to reject money from abroad.

“The bill will make our life so much harder. We don’t know yet how we would operate,” said a top manager — who spoke anonymously — for a private Moscow nonprofit organization that spends most of its foreign donation money on Jewish projects.

The bill now requires two more readings in the parliament, expected to take place by the end of the year, before President Vladimir Putin can sign it into law. The lion’s share of the funding currently spent on Jewish causes in Russia comes from overseas charity sources.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Nation & World Briefs


Reform Criticizes Iraq War

The Reform movement passed a resolution criticizing the handling of the Iraq war and seeking a partial troop withdrawal. At its biennial in Houston, The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) on Friday became the first Jewish denomination to speak out against the war. The resolution, launched at the behest of several congregations, called for more transparency and a clear exit strategy, including a partial troop withdrawal after Iraq’s parliamentary elections next month.

“This is not a just war,” Vietnam veteran Michael Rankin of Arlington, Va. said in calling for the resolution’s passage. “Was it worth the billions of dollars it cost, when the world so desperately needs food and health care for the poorest of the poor?”

Delegates had been expecting a heated, prolonged discussion prior to the vote, but less than a dozen people lined up to address the issue, and URJ officials cut off debate quickly. The measure passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote.

House Presses Saudis on Textbooks

A congressional committee has called on Saudi Arabia to reform its textbooks. Textbooks that “foster intolerance, ignorance, and anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Western views” make students “prime recruiting targets of terrorists and other extremist groups,” said the resolution that the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee referred to the full House last week.

Zarqawi: Jordan Bombings Targeted Israelis

The terrorists who struck Amman’s Radisson Hotel last week were targeting Israeli intelligence officials, terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi said. In an audio recording, Zarqawi claimed the Radisson bomber hit a hall in which the Israelis were meeting but accidentally killed scores of Jordanians, Ha’aretz reported.

“Our martyred brother’s target was halls being used at the time by intelligence officers from some of the infidel crusader nations and their lackeys,” he said. “God knows we chose these hotels only after more than two months of close observation [that proved] that these hotels had become headquarters for the Israeli and American intelligence.”

Zarqawi said Jordan was deliberately hiding Israeli and American deaths. He also threatened to decapitate Jordan’s King Abdullah II. His claim about Israeli intelligence officials is widely believed to be baseless.

E.U. OKs Border Job

The European Union authorized monitors for the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Under an agreement reached this week, the European Union will send a unit of monitors to the Rafah border terminal so Palestinians can leave and enter Gaza. The Palestinian Authority hopes that a total of 50-70 monitors ultimately will be posted at Rafah. The European Union also said it would send observers to Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January.

Group Blasts Ukrainian University

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Ukraine to rescind the accreditation of a Ukrainian university that backed a call by Iran’s president to destroy Israel. The university, known as MAUP, is known for its anti-Semitic publications.

“By supporting Ahmadinejad’s threat to Israel, MAUP’s consistent Jew-baiting now culminated in an endorsement of genocide,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The international community criticized Ahmadinejad’s comments.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Anti-War, Anti-Israel?


ANSWER Rallies Return

With things going badly in Iraq, the anti-war movement in this country is trying to expand its political base with a series of high-profile marches scheduled for this weekend.

And once again, planners of some of the events are using rising discontent over the war to boost other items on their agenda, starting with vehement criticism of Israel.

A primary sponsor of the new burst of protest: International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the anti-war group criticized last year for barring speakers who supported Israel and for a vehemently anti-Israel approach to the Mideast conflict.

On Saturday, the group will hold rallies in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Michael Berg, father of the Philadelphia-area Jewish businessman beheaded by Iraqi insurgents last month, will participate in an ANSWER march from the White House to the home of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to the group’s Web site.

The latest rally by ANSWER — an offshoot of the ultra-radical World Workers Party — is putting an even greater emphasis on ending Israeli “colonialism,” and on linking the U.S. occupation of Iraq with Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Jewish leaders say it’s the same old pitch from a group variously described as Stalinist, Leninist and just plain Marxist. But the worsening situation in Iraq could provide more fertile soil for the dissemination of its anti-Israel ideas.

“Our main concern is that well-meaning progressives who oppose the situation in Iraq will be drawn into a destructive anti-Israel movement that combines anti-globalism, anti-war, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements,” said David Bernstein, regional director for the American Jewish Committee.

Bernstein said that the revival of ANSWER “means that we have to reach out even more aggressively to parts of the progressive community, from the mainline Christian groups to minority groups to labor and other centers of the progressive community.”

Bernstein said Jewish leaders need to do a better job “communicating effectively with people who are looking for a way to express their concerns about the war. The situation in Iraq is giving ANSWER a chance to reclaim its pre-war positions, and that’s worrisome.”

Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that ANSWER “is a fringe group, far out of the mainstream of American society,” but warned about its “ability to get crowds together. Right now being against the war in Iraq is a popular message, and they are using that to reach out to a broader audience.”

Some leading Jewish anti-war activists are staying far away from the ANSWER orbit.

“We only participated in ANSWER demonstrations when there was no alternative mass mobilization,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, head of the liberal Tikkun Community. Lerner was barred from speaking at ANSWER rallies last year because he objected to the group’s growing anti-Israel, anti-Semitic focus.

But Lerner said that the argument the war is being fought for Israel resonates with Americans.

“One of the reasons we opposed this war was that we saw that the only argument for the war that stood a chance of making sense was that it would eliminate Israel’s leading military threat in the Middle East,” he said. “And we argued that going to war to protect Israel when Israel was not actually facing a realistic military threat would eventually lead to an increase in anger at Israel and hence a long-term decrease in Israeli security and an upsurge of anti-Israel feeling.”

That prediction, he said, is now “being played out on the American right-wing as they look for scapegoats rather than face their own stupidity for having supported the war in the first place.”

Faith-Based Battle Heating Up

President George W. Bush, saying the government should not “discriminate against faith-based” health and social service programs, has renewed his push for new laws and regulations opening up federal grants to religious groups.

The first White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was part pep rally for the embattled faith-based initiative, part seminar designed to help potential grantees learn the ropes of the funding process.

And the event at a Washington hotel had distinctly Christian overtones, several participants said, with a Gospel choir and “a kind of tent revival atmosphere,” according to one.

But that didn’t faze Jewish supporters of the administration’s plans, which have been held up in Congress but implemented in large measure through executive action.

“While obviously the predominant religious affiliation was Christian, there was a discernable effort on behalf of the president to be as inclusive as possible,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington director for American Friends of Lubavitch, who was the recipient of a presidential kiss in the receiving line.

Featured prominently at the event: a leading Jewish anti-poverty group that has not yet received any funds under the president’s faith-based plan.

The Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty was one of eight groups singled out as examples of faith-based groups in action in a video shown to the 2,000-plus delegates.

William Rapfogel, executive director of the group, said that “it was a very positive meeting, and the president got a very strong reception.”

Rapfogel said that groups opposed to the administration’s faith-based initiatives on church-state grounds “probably won’t be convinced” by Tuesday’s session, but that “this may have had an impact on some of those in the middle, who may already be inclined to give the program a chance.”

He said that groups like his that hope to get money from the faith-based plan “have to help shape it so there will not be discrimination and there will not be proselytizing.”

But Jewish church-state groups were unimpressed.

“I can’t quarrel with their ability to promote their agenda, but I believe the program is fundamentally misconceived,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee. “They are promoting a sweeping vision in terms of how social services should be organized and funded in this country.”

He said that while the plan ostensibly covers both faith-based and community initiatives, “there’s virtually no attention being paid to the community side of that equation. The emphasis is entirely on enabling faith-based organizations to participate.”

Budget Crisis Deepening

For Jewish leaders worried about likely cuts in health and human service programs, Capitol Hill budget experts have just one thing to say: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Although election-obsessed lawmakers are unlikely to make any drastic moves this year that could lead to a voter backlash on Nov. 2, the handwriting is on the wall for subsequent budget years as the federal deficit mounts.

Last week the Washington Post reported on a secret White House memo warning government agencies to brace for sweeping budget cuts starting in Fiscal Year 2006.

The memo warned about likely cuts in virtually every domestic area, including education and social welfare programs such as the popular Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

That just proves what House Democrats predicted early in the year, said Thomas Kahn, Democratic staff director on the House Budget Committee.

“There’s no way around it: the huge tax cuts that have already passed, along with the $2 trillion in new tax cuts the administration is proposing and record increases in defense spending, are forcing deep cuts in a wide range of critical domestic services,” he said.

But with Congress putting off most critical budget decisions this year, the scope of those cuts won’t really be apparent until after the elections.

Even homeland security is being cut — according to the memo, by $1 billion in 2006, which augers poorly for a bill pushed by a coalition of Jewish groups that would provide assistance to nonprofit groups that need to beef up security to face the terrorist threat.

Most Jewish groups continue to stay out of the debate over new tax cuts, but a number of Jewish leaders expressed dismay about the scope of likely spending cuts in the next few years.

“The decisions being made on the budget today are going to haunt us for decades to come, because they involve the very infrastructure of our social service system, and our ability to provide for those in need,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women. “Legislators can’t afford to be shortsighted; the cuts that are being made can’t be made up later, and they send a very damaging message about what this nation’s priorities are.”

Sharon Battles for Pullout Plan


Facing a crucial Cabinet vote next week on his amended disengagement plan from the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon is facing as much pressure as he ever did as a general on the battlefield.

On the international front, the Israeli prime minister has weathered scathing criticism of Israel’s latest military operation in the Gaza Strip, which left more than 40 Palestinians dead and dozens of homes demolished in the Rafah refugee camp.

At home, a rebellion is gathering steam in Sharon’s Likud Party by opponents of the planned withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

But Sharon is determined to press on. Just as his crossing of the Suez Canal turned the tables in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon hopes that Cabinet passage of his amended disengagement plan will disarm critics in his party and improve Israel’s tarnished international standing.

The Israeli army’s top brass hasn’t been fully behind the plan, the confrontation with the Likud rebels could split the party and threaten Sharon’s political career, and Sharon first will have to get the plan approved in the Cabinet, where opinion is split.

The decision last week to send Israeli troops into Rafah, in southern Gaza, came after reports that Iranian arms, including Katyusha rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons, were about to be smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels leading from Egypt.

The army leadership has long argued that if Israel withdraws from Gaza, it would need to widen a strip along the Gaza-Egypt boundary, known as the Philadelphi route, and maintain a presence there to prevent future arms smuggling.

But international condemnation of Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes to find smuggling tunnels and widen the Philadelphi route, thereby making future tunneling virtually impossible, led to a revision of the military’s thinking.

The generals realized they wouldn’t be able to widen the Philadelphi route as much as they had planned, strengthening arguments against maintaining any Israeli military presence in Gaza.

Ironically, despite the international criticism and the Israeli and Palestinian casualties in Gaza, Sharon found himself in a political win-win situation.

If the army succeeded in establishing an efficient hold over the Philadelphi route, the army leadership then could back Sharon’s disengagement plan. If it failed to do so because of international and domestic pressure, it would have to rethink its overall Gaza strategy in line with Sharon’s longer-term evacuation plans.

The Likud challenge to Sharon is more serious. The main difference between Sharon’s amended plan and the one Likud voters rejected in a May 2 referendum is that, under the new plan, withdrawal will be implemented in stages.

The idea is to evacuate the more vulnerable settlements first, proceeding from one stage to the next only after the government is satisfied that the previous stage has created a more favorable security situation.

Sharon’s Likud opponents say that’s only a cosmetic change from the original withdrawal plan, which party members resoundingly rejected. In proceeding, Sharon is in breach of party discipline, they argue.

This group claims to have the support of more than half of the 40 Likud legislators in the Knesset, and the group clearly poses a serious threat to Sharon.

The first major battle will come next Sunday, when Sharon submits his amended plan to the Cabinet. Of the 23 ministers, 11 support the new plan, 11 are opposed and one, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, is the potential tiebreaker.

One way or another, a determined Sharon likely will push at least part of his plan through the Cabinet. Then he will have a party rebellion on his hands, the size of which will depend on whether leading figures like Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu join it.

Sharon’s hopes of political survival could depend on whether he is able to forge a political alliance with Labor. Labor could join with Likud in a coalition that pushes the disengagement plan through the Knesset. Sharon also could form an electoral alliance with Labor and Shinui by running on a disengagement ticket in new elections that would be seen as a sort of national referendum on withdrawal.

But there’s yet another wrinkle for the beleaguered prime minister: Aside from all the political maneuvering, Sharon must survive a legal battle against corruption charges.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is due to rule within the next few weeks on whether or not to indict Sharon. An indictment almost certainly would end his career, while a decision not to indict would enable Sharon to survive yet another day — and face the political battle of his life.

Big Brother Lurks in Higher Education Bill


In recent weeks, a number of major Jewish organizations — the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others — have announced their support for congressional passage of H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, which would amend Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to enhance international education programs.

The purpose of the bill is to restore some semblance of ideological balance to Middle East studies centers on university campuses, and it is for this reason that many Jewish organizations support it.

Leaving aside the question of whether it is the government’s role to ensure ideological balance in academic settings, the bill unquestionably is a well-intentioned response to a serious problem. However, Section (6) of this proposal, which is now before the Senate, would establish an international higher education advisory board.

These government-appointed overseers not only would “monitor, apprise, and evaluate” academic programs but also would have the power to “assure that their relative authorized activities reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs.”

In other words, the U.S. government would have the power to decide whose views are heard.

With all due respect to my elders and betters who support this legislation (with the proud exception of Alan Dershowitz, whose opposition rightly prevented the Jewish Council for Public Affairs from endorsing it), this proposal is wrong for America, wrong for academia, wrong for American Jewry and wrong for Judaism.

Section (6) is wrong for America. This proposal is Big Brother at its worst and runs counter to cherished principles of freedom of expression in open and public debates. The marketplace of ideas is the vital place where scholars and citizens — not the government — decide which views are considered mainstream options and which views are consigned to the margins of the extreme. Read the text of the bill carefully — it’s online at

Egypt Displays Split Personality on Israel


Israeli leaders were heartened in late December, when Egypt’s
foreign minister announced that he would come to Jerusalem for talks on
promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

At the same time, however, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
was moving in Cairo to galvanize international pressure on Israel to dismantle
the nuclear weapons it is presumed to possess.Â

These seemingly contradictory thrusts in Egyptian policy
highlight the deep ambivalence that has characterized Egypt’s attitude to Israel
since the two countries made peace in 1979.Â

On the one hand, Egypt has been keen to encourage other Arab
countries and the Palestinians to follow its lead in making peace with Israel —
partly to prove that it was right in pioneering accommodation with the Jewish
State, partly to reinforce its position as a major power broker in the Middle
East and partly to satisfy Washington.Â

Some believe that Egypt still is undecided about whether it
really wants peace with Israel. Others believe Egypt simply sees Israel as a
major rival for regional hegemony. In either case, while seeking a wider,
regional rapprochement, Egypt also strives to weaken Israel and keep it
isolated.Â

Egypt therefore makes peace overtures but keeps Israel at
arm’s length. It fashions a model of “cold peace” — some might call it a war
everywhere but on the battlefield — and implies that other Arab countries
should adopt it. It carries out war games in which Israel is the named enemy,
presses every possible button to pressure Israel to dismantle its presumed
nuclear stockpile and often leads the diplomatic charge against Israel in
international forums.Â

For more than 20 years, this ambivalent policy has not
changed. Nor, from Egypt’s perspective, should it, since the policy has paid
rich dividends.Â

First and foremost, it paved the way for Egypt to build
close relations with the United States, including a huge annual aid package
that Egypt has used both to advance domestic goals and to undertake a massive
military reconstruction effort over the past two decades. It also has put Egypt
in a position to help other Arabs, such as the Palestinians or Syrians, forge
negotiations with Israel. Egypt has been trying to play the “honest broker”
over the past year, searching for ways to stop Israeli-Palestinian violence.Â

Since the Palestinian intifada was launched in September
2000, Egypt has worried about violent repercussions at home. Radical Islamic
groups in Egypt could harness anti-Israeli feeling to attack the Mubarak regime
for not doing more to help the Palestinians, conceivably sparking violence
directed at the regime, itself.Â

Last June, Egypt was able to get Palestinian terrorist
groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to agree to a temporary truce with
Israel. But the truce quickly collapsed after a rash of targeted killings of
terrorist leaders and a new wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.Â

Now the Egyptians are trying again, holding meetings in
Cairo on a new cease-fire and sending Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar
Suleiman, for talks in the Palestinian territories, so far without concrete
results.

Syrian President Bashar Assad also is seeking Egyptian aid
in paving the way for a renewal of peace talks with Israel. After Saddam
Hussein’s fall in Iraq and Libyan leader Muammar al-Quaddafi’s agreement to open
his weapons programs to international inspection, Assad fears he could be next
in line for special treatment by a U.S. government that has shown little
tolerance for Arab sponsors of terrorism.Â

Assad announced through the pages of The New York Times that
he wants to start a new negotiating process with Israel, and in late December,
he flew to Egypt to ask for Mubarak’s aid.Â

Israel has been skeptical of Assad’s intentions — most
officials believe Assad merely is trying to duck U.S. pressure — but says it is
exploring Assad’s statement. Still, Israel is demanding strong Syrian action
against terrorist groups in Damascus and Lebanon before any talks can begin.Â

While playing the “honest broker,” however, Egypt also has
been leading diplomatic moves against Israel in various international forums.Â

Egypt was active in getting the security fence issue
referred to the International Court at The Hague and, following Libya’s
startling commitment on weapons of mass destruction, Egypt worked closely with
Syria to force a Security Council debate on ridding the Middle East of all
weapons of mass destruction — a debate that is bound to focus primarily on
Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal.Â

For years, the campaign against Israel’s nuclear capability
has been a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy. In 1995, Egypt threatened to
scuttle international reaffirmation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by
persuading Third World countries not to sign unless Israel did.

Five years later, Egypt repeated the same gambit. In both
cases, however, strong U.S. pressure forced the Egyptians to back down.Â

There is a huge disparity between Egypt’s self-image and the
reality on the ground: The truth is that Egypt no longer seems to have the
clout of a great regional player.Â

For example, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
visited the Al Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in late December,
Palestinian radicals bombarded him with shoes, a display of contempt. And on
that same trip, Egypt heeded Israel’s demand that Maher not meet with
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, whom Israel seeks to sideline.
Earlier, Palestinian terrorist groups disdainfully rejected Egyptian advice to
accept a cease-fire with Israel.Â

The duality of Egyptian policy leads to suspicion and
anxiety on the Israeli side. One of Egypt’s sharpest Israeli critics is Yuval
Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who
asked why Egypt needs such a huge, modern army when it has no apparent
enemies.Â

Steinitz noted that Egypt has used huge amounts of U.S.
money to transform its army into one of the strongest forces in the Middle
East, that it has many of the same weapon systems as Israel and that it even
has U.S. instructors to teach the Egyptians how to use the weapons. Of all the
Arab armies, Steinitz said, Egypt’s is the one Israel has to take most
seriously in the future.Â

Perhaps the case that best highlights the ambivalence of
Egyptian policy is the abortive Camp David summit with the Palestinians in July
2000. Fearing that their regional influence would be diluted, the Egyptians
blocked the resumption of multilateral peace talks with Israel on regional
cooperation in the runup to Camp David.Â

Then, as the Camp David summit was about to collapse,
Mubarak turned down a request from President Bill Clinton to do him a personal
favor and pressure Arafat to sign an agreement with Israel that would postpone
disputes over sovereignty of Jerusalem’s holy sites.Â

At the time, U.S. and Israeli officials found Egypt’s
spoiler role unbearable. Yet when fighting erupted two months after the collapse
of Camp David, Egypt played a major role in containing the violence and
preventing a full-scale regional war.Â

Though he pulled Egypt’s ambassador from Israel — a
violation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel — Mubarak declared early on that
Egypt “wouldn’t fight to the last Egyptian” for the Palestinian cause. More
than anything else, analysts believe, Mubarak’s levelheaded attitude prevented
the spread of violence across the entire region.

Though Egypt continues to fire diplomatic broadsides at
Israel and refuses to return its ambassador, trumpets its friendship with the
United States while ignoring U.S. calls to democratize and plays the regional
superpower without regional respect, the bottom line is that most feel that
Egypt’s pragmatism remains a powerful, pro-Western force for regional
stability.

However, that stability rests, in large degree, on the
person of Mubarak, a 75-year-old whose health has raised concern recently.
Mubarak had to interrupt a televised speech last month when he suddenly fell
ill.

After 22 years in power, Mubarak has not chosen a successor,
and analysts worry that if Mubarak dies suddenly — he came to power after Anwar
Sadat was assassinated — Egypt will fall into disarray. That could give
Islamists, Mubarak’s most powerful domestic opponents, an opportunity to seize
power and upset the regional stability Mubarak has been so keen to maintain. Â

IDF at Odds With Militant Activists


The bad blood between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a group of international pro-Palestinian activists continues to grow as more members of the group are injured in Israeli anti-terror operations.

A British activist was shot in the head last Friday as a group of foreign and Palestinian protesters approached a unit of Israeli tanks posted near the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The incident ignited a crossfire of words and accusations between the IDF and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Thomas Hurndall, 21, from England, suffered a head injury that left him brain dead. He was the third casualty from the ISM in a month.

The ISM is a movement of international activists working for "Palestinian freedom and an end to Israeli occupation," according to its mission statement, sometimes through illegal protests and rallies.

Though members of the group call themselves peace activists, they work only to protect Palestinians from Israeli anti-terror actions, making no attempt to protect Israelis from Palestinian violence.

Hurndall was shot when a sniper on an IDF tank allegedly fired on a group of protesters marching toward them in an effort to thwart an IDF incursion into Rafah. This Palestinian city, which straddles the Gaza-Egyptian border, is one of the main zones for arms smuggling into Palestinian areas. The IDF said a tank fired only one round in the area that day. It had targeted and killed a Palestinian sniper who was hiding in the upper stories of a nearby apartment building, firing at a column of armored vehicles, military sources said.

Still, Hurndall’s shooting is a disturbing addition to a string of recent bloody confrontations between the IDF and the ISM.

Only a few hundred yards from where Friday’s incident took place, American activist Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed several weeks ago when she tried to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing a terrorist’s home. Witnesses said the bulldozer crushed Corrie, a student from Olympia, Wash., and immediately backed up. The army, which characterized the death as an accident, said the driver didn’t see Corrie.

Last week, Bryan Avery, 24, of Albuquerque, was shot in the face while walking with a fellow activist in the West Bank city of Jenin. The IDF said it was not aware that Israeli soldiers had shot Avery, but said soldiers had been targeting Palestinian gunmen in the area.

"This goes beyond the pale," ISM leader Tom Wallace said. "It was a sniper [that shot Hurndall], and we know from experience they don’t miss. The photograph clearly shows that he was wearing a bright orange vest, that he was clearly not a combatant. This man was going to pick up a child."

Wallace said he considers the shooting a criminal act.

According to ISM activists and an Associated Press photographer, Hurndall ran to scoop up a child out of harm’s way when he was shot in the back of the head.

While the IDF has expressed sorrow at the chain of injuries, it says ISM activists increasingly cross the line of neutrality. One example occurred on March 27, when IDF forces launched a manhunt for a top Islamic Jihad terrorist in Jenin.

Intelligence information led the IDF to believe that Shadi Sukia was being hidden in a Jenin compound that holds a bank, a Red Cross office and the ISM office. After combing the entire building and finding nothing, the soldiers asked two ISM activists if they could search their offices. ISM coordinator Susan Barcley refused. The soldiers insisted, forcing their way in. The intelligence information proved correct: Sukia had taken shelter with the ISM. Both he and Barcley were arrested.

"Many of the ISM activists are nothing short of provocateurs," an IDF source said. "They try to incite the Palestinians. They’re almost spoiling for a fight."

An infamous photograph of Corrie, for example, shows her with her head covered like a religious Muslim woman, burning a mock American flag in the Gaza Strip. The IDF source intimated that Corrie’s death, though regrettable, was preventable.

"That day they were running amok around the soldiers, not letting them do anything. Even when the armored units pulled back, they chased them," the source said.

Some of ISM’s tactics are daring, Wallace admitted. Others might call them downright foolish.

"ISM’ers often break curfew, just to show how ridiculous it is and because curfews are illegal according to international law," Wallace told JTA.

The IDF source said the army maintains close relations with many humanitarian organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, but has yet to find a modus vivendi with the ISM.

"If the ISM’ers in Jenin had nothing to hide, why prevent the soldiers from coming in [when they were looking for Sukia]?" the IDF source asked.

Future Uncertain for Five Iranian Jews


The release from prison of five Iranian Jews last week was
due not to a change of heart by the regime in Tehran, but to a political
calculation that Iran’s international image needs burnishing, observers say.
And clouding the relief of the Jews’ relatives and advocates is concern that
the men could be rearrested at any time or subjected to other forms of
harassment, at the whim of the authorities.

At the same time, U.S.-based advocates for the Jews are
reminding the community that another 11 Iranian Jewish men remain unaccounted
for after disappearing while allegedly trying to cross Iran’s border illegally
in the early 1990s.

The past days have seen conflicting statements as to whether
the five have been released permanently. Over the weekend, media reports
circulated that the five had been released permanently after being pardoned by
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. By Monday, however, word emerged
from Iranian officials that there had been no such pardon and that the
prisoners had only been released on a 10-day “holiday.”

The ambiguity fits Iran’s traditional treatment of its
Jewish prisoners. But the question remains: Are the five free for good, or
could they be returned to prison?

“It could go either way, depending on the whim of the
Iranian government,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which had
lobbied on behalf of the Iranian Jews.

“This is why we’ve been warning: People should be judicious
in their public statements. Just as Iran granted their release, they can revoke
it. It’s a constant test.”

When Iranian officials said this week that no pardon had
been granted, Tehran may have been reacting to media coverage of the release.
Media reports had attributed cynical motives to the release and quoted certain
activists who sounded self-congratulatory.

The quintet released Feb. 19 after four years in prison were
merchant Dani (Hamid) Tefileen, 29, who had been sentenced to 13 years in
prison; university English instructor Asher Zadmehr, 51, also sentenced to 13
years; Hebrew teacher Naser Levy Hayim, 48, sentenced to 11 years; perfume
merchant Ramin Farzam, 38, sentenced to 10 years; and shopkeeper Farhad Saleh,
33, who had received an eight-year sentence.

An array of factors appear to have influenced Iran’s
decision to release the five men, who had been imprisoned with eight others on
charges of spying for Israel.

Israel has steadfastly denied that the men were its spies.

The ongoing skirmishes between the hard-line clerics who run
Iran and their more moderate rivals likely played a role in the latest
releases, says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, a think tank. Clawson also cited pressure from the European
Union, a major trading partner with Iran, which said human rights abuses were
hindering an expansion of economic ties. The release came on the heels of the
hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a
traditional time for rulers to demonstrate magnanimity, Clawson noted.

“I’m sure the Iranians will try to take credit for this in
their negotiations” with the European Union, Clawson said. “But that’s quite
unwarranted; they made these people do hard time. It’s only magnanimous if you
compare it to what the hard-line judiciary could have done.”

Numerous Iranian officials had threatened the Jews with
execution, a penalty that Tehran reportedly has meted out to 17 Jews accused of
espionage since the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

While pressure from the Europeans and the United Nations
over human rights may have played a role, so, too, may Washington’s
saber-rattling against Iraq, North Korea and Iran, which President Bush dubbed
the “axis of evil.”

“I think Iran, after several years of not paying attention
to international pressure, is now taking public steps to improve its image
abroad because they may not want to be a target of the war on terrorism the
U.S. has launched,” said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based
Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations.

At the same time, Dayanim said, “This is not taking place in
a vacuum; this is a little piece of a much larger picture.”

He noted, for example, that Iran recently lifted the death
sentence on a leading dissident who had called publicly for separation of
mosque and state.

Regardless of the speculation, “it’s hard to assess what
motivates the Iranians in general,” Hoenlein said.

U.S. advocates tried to judge when it would be wise to
publicly assail Iran for its perceived show trial and forced confessions, and
when to settle for behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Of late, advocates have opted
for diplomacy.

More moderate Iranian officials recognized that the
imprisonment of the Jews “was an injustice that cost Iran heavily in its
international image,” and they “were looking for a way out,” Hoenlein said.

Along with the uncertainty over whether Iranian officials
view the latest releases as permanent or temporary, it is unclear whether
relatives of the five men could join them if they are allowed to emigrate, or
what persecution might be in store for family members who remain behind. Such
factors underscore the precarious existence of the 20,000 to 25,000 Jews who
remain in Iran, down from a peak of about 100,000 at the time of the
revolution.

“At any moment, they may rearrest these people” if they see
or read any critical statement by advocates, Dayanim said.

The Iranian authorities have made it clear that they can
“use any excuse, any criticism that you make, and put these people back in
jail. Which is why I have not criticized the government,” he said.

“I think the steps that they’ve taken are positive.”

Up Front


JCC Wants a Few Good
Maccabis

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) is on the lookout for teen
athletes who want to compete in the 2003 JCC Maccabi Games, a week-long
international Jewish youth summer games competition, to be held Aug. 8 through
Aug. 15.

This year, 70 local athletes will be able to participate in
games to be held in Houston and St. Louis, said Matt Lebovits, a Maccabi
coordinator. This year’s sports include boys basketball and soccer (for those
14 and under), boys and girls soccer (for those 16 and under), girls volleyball
(16 and under), baseball, tennis, dance and swimming.

Last year, the 82-person local contingent included a newly
formed girls volleyball team that defied expectations by competing in the final
medal round against Israel. Though gold medals eluded the Cinderella-team,
their coach said the six girls returned enriched and pride-filled from Baltimore,
which hosted 2,000 athletes from six countries.

The experience proved infectious to another adult chaperone,
Julie Rubin, the JCC’s assistant director. Her goal is for Orange County to
host the games in the near future.

Israel Merchants on
Tour

With violence scaring off trinket-buying tourists, Israeli
merchants are turning the tables and bringing their wares to shoppers. On Jan.
5, a caravan of 30 Israeli artists and craftsmen will open up shop in the high
school campus of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Jewish Day School, the first stop in a
75-day national tour of 35 cities from Hawaii to Maine.

“With tourism at all-time lows in Israel, this is a great
way for us to show solidarity with Israel by helping her economy,” said event
chair Charlene Zuckerman of Laguna Niguel. The fair is the second initiative of
the Orange County Israel Solidarity Task Force, a community-wide group, and the
Jewish Federation.

While sympathy has stimulated shop-in-Israel initiatives
online, Zuckerman figures personal chemistry will help draw a projected 2,000
visitors for the event, which will include kosher refreshments. “It’s nice to
see who you are helping. It’s also nice to be able to see the goods,” such as
the contemporary kiddush cups created by Judaic artist and silversmith Dan Givon,
or the contemporary jewelry crafted by his wife, Stacy. Their studio is in Zur Hadassa,
in Jerusalem’s Judean mountains.

A similar fair, organized independently and held last summer
on Long Island drew 17,000 people and netted merchants $750,000, said Stuart A.
Katz, president and owner of New York-based Tal Tours, an Israel-tour operator
who organized the national merchant tour. “Frankly, I was surprised,” he said.

With his own business down 70 percent compared to 2001, Katz
figured he could apply his skills in reverse. By aiding merchants, who pay
their own way, he might still serve his own interests. “Our goal is to promote
tourism,” he said.

Guess Who’s Coming to
‘Dinner’?

In a warmup for Orange County’s second Jewish
scholar-in-residence program later this month, the Bureau of Jewish Education
is putting on its own scholarly event Jan. 12, but adding an edible twist.

“Dinner With a Scholar” is a one-night affair featuring five
different experts that intend to share their scholarly pursuits in the
salon-like setting of private homes. It is hoped they will be joined by 14
dinner companions willing to pay $125 for the privilege.

“It has the potential to turn into our main fundraiser,”
said Joan Kaye, executive director of the bureau, which creates youth programs
and trains local religious-school teachers. She modeled the event after one in Boston.
“This is who we are,” Kaye said.

To mark its 25th year, the bureau held a fundraiser last
October with a Catskill-styled dinner. A comedian who lived up to his name,
“Noodles,” entertained at the event.

Dinner guests have varied menu choices on several counts.
Host sites include three homes and an art gallery in Newport Beach and one home
in Long Beach. Topics range from social responsibility to the history of
chutzpah to whether God had a consort. Presenters include scholars of
archeology, management and Midrash, the biblical interpretations of rabbis.

Archaeologist Looks at Science
Behind Exodus

To set the stage for Passover, Aliso Viejo’s Kershaw Museum
will host a slide show by an archaeologist who has written a best-selling book
that links scientific findings to biblical history.

William G. Dever, 69, a retired professor who has excavated
in Israel for 40 years, is now busy developing television shows for the BBC
based on his first nonscholarly book, “What Did the Biblical Scholars Know and
When Did They Know It?” which was published last year and is a runaway
bestseller for its publisher, Eerdmans Publishing of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dever’s museum lecture retraces the biblical exodus from Egypt
with illustrations of Pharoah’s monument building, Moses’ journey into Sinai to
receive the Ten Commandments and the Ark’s passage from the Tabernacle to
Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. His lecture notes are a soon-to-be-published
second book, “Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?”

“The answer is not from Egypt,” Dever said, explaining that
the book and lecture attempts to steer a middle course between biblical
literalists and those who call the exodus fiction.

The book is written for a nonscientific audience, but is
based on excavations and surveys in the West Bank made in the last decade by
Israeli scholars, whose findings have not been popularized, Dever said.

Dever’s talk was scheduled as a preview of a planned exhibit
in March about the early Israelites emergence from slavery to freedom, but the
focus of the exhibit is now uncertain, said Gail Levy, a museum board member.

After the museum lecture, he is also scheduled for a talk
titled, “Did God Have a Consort? Archaeology and ‘Folk Religion’ in Ancient
Israel,” as part of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s “Dinner with a Scholar”
program.

Dever said architectural evidence shows that all deities in
the ancient world were paired, a concept monotheistic Judaism abandoned. “Did
God Have a Wife?” is the working title of his third planned book.

2 p.m. Jan. 12 at Temple Beth El of South Orange County, 2A Liberty,
Aliso Viejo. (949) 362-3999.

Biblical Scholar Will Give 
30 Talks on Ancient Texts

Biblical scholar Shalom Paul will hold 30 talks as part of
the second Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program beginning Jan. 19.

For a nonacademic audience, Paul’s talks are a rare
opportunity to glimpse how scholars solve mysteries within ancient texts. Paul,
65, also chairs the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation and a Bible curriculum
committee for Israel’s Ministry of Education. His topics will include, “The
Genesis of Genesis,” the keynote address Jan. 20 at the Jewish Community
Center, to innovations by classical prophets.

More than 2,000 people attended talks by the previous
scholar-in-residence, Avigdor Shinan. As a result, more synagogues, schools and
special interest groups clamored for a slot in his schedule and twice as many
individual patrons wrote checks.

“We’ve raised sufficient money to fund the program through
2004,” said Arie Katz, an Irvine lawyer who, late in 2001, started the program
that has since mushroomed with a calendar of unusual speakers. “We almost have
more people who want to come here than places to put them,” he said.

An advisory board of rabbis compiled their own wish list of
high-profile thinkers that Katz promised to tackle. This year, Katz also
scheduled a separate session for the more advanced theologians, requested by
one rabbi eager to engage in a higher level discussion.

Anti-Semitism on Upswing in Greece


Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Greece, according to a new report. The Greek Helsinki Monitor, a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said in its report that since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than two years ago, "blatant anti-Semitism" has been expressed in the Greek media "by a spectrum of influential personalities in politics, labor, education and culture."

The Sept. 11 attacks in the United States also contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in Greece, according to the 64-page report that was issued late last month.

The report cited a sharp increase in anti-Semitism in the media after Israel launched a large-scale military operation last spring to uproot the Palestinian terror infrastructure in the West Bank. At that time, according to the report, mainstream Greek newspapers published anti-Semitic editorials and cartoons, drawing parallels between the Israeli military operation and the Holocaust and comparing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Hitler.

Expressions of anti-Semitism through Holocaust imagery were so harsh in the Greek media and political circles at the time that Hronika, the official magazine of the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities, spoke of a climate of "hysteria and anti-Semitism" that was masquerading as mere criticism of the State of Israel.

International Jewish organizations have responded to the developments. In July and September, the Anti-Defamation League sent two letters to Greek Prime Minister Konstantine Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou protesting the use of Holocaust imagery in the Greek media.

During a July meeting at which European security representatives discussed anti-Semitism, Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Paris office, urged Simitis and other Greek leaders to publicly condemn the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and Nazi imagery when criticizing Israel.

"Anti-Israel fanaticism has degenerated into anti-Jewish hatemongering by leading intellectuals and politicians," Samuels said at the time.

In a more recent development, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to the Greek government calling on it to close down the TV station of Yorgos Karatzaferis, the leader of the far-right Popular Rally Party. The party recently garnered nearly 14 percent of the vote in local elections for a district that includes the city of Athens.

Karatzaferis, who regularly hurls epithets against Jews and the Israeli ambassador to Greece on his TV station, has propagated the libel, circulating widely in the Arab world, that Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In September, Karatzaferis submitted a question in the Greek Parliament asking the foreign minister if he was aware that the Israeli press had published articles claiming that Jews had not gone to work on Sept. 11 after they were forewarned about the attacks on the Twin Towers.

The question was subsequently published in several right-wing papers in Greece with no comment, while articles embracing the rumors were found in editorials of the official magazine of the Technical Chamber of Greece, the government body that oversees the work of Greek industrialists. The magazine is distributed to thousands of Greek businessmen.

While the Greek Helsinki Monitor reported anti-Semitism in the Greek media and on the part of some politicians, observers pointed out that there is no state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Greece. However, the report said, "A fundamental obstacle to counteracting anti-Semitism in Greece" is the fact that "the Greek government has yet to take a strong and consistent stand against anti-Semitism."

The government defended itself against the charges by saying it will not try to censor the media.

Greek Jews cited two occurrences to point out what they believe are examples of media bias. They noted that there was barely any media mention of the recent desecration of the Holocaust memorial in Salonika and of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of the northern city of Ioannina. In the latter case, local police officers appeared to have been involved.

Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas condemned the two incidents. However, there was no official condemnation when the newly unveiled Holocaust memorial on the island of Rhodes was defaced in July.

Silence in Any Language


The Holocaust, as seen through the eyes of five international filmmakers, will air on successive evenings on Cinemax, from April 15-19, at 7 p.m.

Collectively titled "Broken Silence," the series, produced by James Moll (who won an Oscar for the documentary, "The Last Days"), consists of one-hour documentaries from Hungary, Argentina, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland, each in its native language with English subtitles.

The series is one more spinoff from the prodigious work of Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in videotaping the testimonies of more than 50,000 survivors in 57 countries and 32 languages.

While the massive testimonies are still being catalogued, the Shoah Foundation has already culled its archives to produce three prize-winning documentaries and two educational CDs.

Cinemax made tapes of three of the five films available for previews, of which the most impressive is the Hungarian entry, "Eyes of the Holocaust," by director Janos Szasz.

Szasz, the son of two Holocaust survivors, focuses on the experiences of child survivors and dedicates the film "to the 1.5 million children who perished, and for those who survived and had children of their own."

As in the other films, the actual survivor testimonies form the backbone of the documentary, but Szasz interweaves some devices that might have been jarring in a filmmaker of less artistic sensitivity.

One such device is to have a young girl read out the dictionary definition of each topic, such as "anti-Semitism," "ghetto" and "deportation," which is then graphically illustrated by archival footage.

In keeping with the emphasis on children, Szasz occasionally relives the stark footage by introducing their drawings, as well as puppets and toy trains, on their way to Auschwitz.

Throughout, there are the haunting eyes of children, tearful and bewildered as they are separated from their parents, huge in the gaunt faces of death camp survivors.

The one-time child survivors, now old, remember well: the gleeful laughter of their gentile neighbors as the Jews march to the deportation trains; concentration camp life in which "there was no space for solidarity, everyone had to trample on the others," and the sad conclusion, "God was not there in Auschwitz."

Los Angeles-based Andy Vajna ("Rambo" and "Total Recall") served as the documentary’s executive producer.

Russia’s "Children From the Abyss" also concentrates on the younger victims of the Holocaust, with director Pavel Chukhraj largely letting the horrifying facts and reminiscences speak for themselves. Leafing through old family photo albums, Chukhraj creates a picture of pre-war Jewish life in the Soviet Union, which seems a touch too idyllic.

Curious, in the light of Stalin’s subsequent paranoid anti-Semitism, is the faith of some death camp inmates that "If Stalin knew what was happening here, he would save us."

Another delusion by some as the deportation trains rolled onward was that "We are being sent to Palestine — it’s warm there."

Most gut-wrenching are the recollections of the child survivors of Babi Yar, where 150,000 Kiev Jews were slaughtered, and the sadistic brutality of the Ukraine police, which exceeded even their German masters.

The Czech Republic’s "Hell on Earth" was directed by Vojtech Jasny, who fought the Nazis as a partisan after his father was murdered in Auschwitz.

He focuses on the sad history within his country’s borders: Hitler’s rapturous reception by the Sudeten Germans in 1939, then the occupation of Prague and, after the war’s beginning, establishment of the "model" concentration camp at Theresienstadt.

In Czechoslovakia, as in Austria, the anti-Semitic laws that took years to evolve in Germany, were imposed full-blown and immediately on Czech Jews.

As throughout conquered Europe, most Czech Jews ended up in Auschwitz, and the graphic details of the survivors’ recollections bear out their insistence that "It is impossible to share our experiences, they can’t be captured."

Honoring the Righteous


When the atrocities of the Holocaust came to public light, many unsung heroes remained in the shadows.

In a ceremony at the United Nations on Monday, some rescued Holocaust survivors met their unknown heroes, or those heroes’ family members, for the first time since the war.

The international community honored government diplomats who risked their careers and lives to save thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi terror.

The meeting took place in a ceremony before the opening of a traveling exhibit to be on display at the United Nations.

“Visa for Life: The Righteous Diplomats” was created to honor the actions of more than 65 diplomats, representing more than 22 countries, who issued thousands of visas for Jews escaping Nazi terror.

The exhibit includes never-before-seen Holocaust-era photographs and tells the stories of diplomatic rescues.

Attending the ceremony were survivors who escaped to Japan thanks to visas issued by wartime Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara. Stationed in Kovno, Lithuania, Sugihara issued thousands of visas during the summer of 1940.

“There’s a story” that Sugihara’s wife “rubbed his hands at night because they hurt from signing all of the visas,” said Meryl Fischoff, daughter of Ben Fischoff, who received a Sugihara visa.

Fischoff’s father was a student of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland and sailed to Japan on the “Boat of 72,” named for the 72 passengers who were denied permission to disembark in Japan. They were sent back to Russia but eventually sailed back to Japan and successfully disembarked. Fischoff was the only one of six children in his family to survive the war.

Sugihara “is a real Righteous Gentile,” Meryl Fischoff said. “He could have been killed as a traitor.”

“The visa was the difference between life and death, no question,” said Rabbi David Baron, project coordinator for the New York arm of the exhibit. Collectively, he said, these diplomats issued more than 200,000 visas throughout World War II to help Jews escape to friendlier territory, despite clear government prohibitions.

Dr. Sylvia Smoller’s family was also able to escape to Japan and then to America because of Sugihara.

“The Jews somehow knew Sugihara was issuing these visas,” she said of why her father traveled to the Japanese Consulate. She received visa number 459 out of 2,000, she said.

“Everything was sheer luck,” Smoller said.

Smoller created an essay contest in honor of her rescuer called, “Sugihara — Do the Right Thing,” where high school students submit essays on moral decisions they have had to make.

“I didn’t want to be a professional survivor,” Smoller said. “It’s important to do something to honor Sugihara and make this refugee and rescue experience a living thing.”

Other diplomats honored are less well-known than Sugihara, though their contributions are no less significant.

“People ask, ‘Why would a man from China save Jews in Austria?’

“If you knew my father, you wouldn’t have to ask,” said Manli Ho, daughter of Dr. Feng Shan Ho, Chinese consul general in Vienna from 1938-1939.

Ho issued innumerable visas to Jews escaping Austria after the 1938 Nazi takeover there. With his help, Jews were able to escape to Manchuria, Shanghai and elsewhere in China — and from there to Palestine and America.

Harry Fiedler was born in China after his father and almost 20 members of his extended family received visas from Ho.

“You didn’t need a document to get into China, but you needed one to get out of Austria,” Fiedler said. His father and cousin were arrested during the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom after obtaining the necessary documents, but were released on the strength of Ho’s visas and subsequently sailed to China.

“My father was a man who believed it was natural to feel compassion and want to help,” said Ho, who said her father hardly ever spoke of his actions during his lifetime. Ho died in 1997 at the age of 96.

“You know how many words there are mentioning the rescue activities” in his memoirs, his daughter asked. “70. That’s three lines out of 700 pages.”

“There’s a Chinese saying,” said Ho, “that if you do something good and talk about it that much, it’s not so good.”

“It’s within the Jewish character to remember our friends,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president and founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Schneier escaped because of a safety pass issued by Carl Lutz, consul for Switzerland in Budapest from 1942-1945.

“They were unsung heroes by their own government in a way that defied the silence of their government,” Schneier said. “I was given the opportunity to survive because of their humanitarian efforts.”

Lutz is credited with being the largest single issuer of visas during the Holocaust, according to Baron, saving more than 60,000 Jews by inventing the Schutzbrief, or protective letter, and by helping to establish 76 safe houses throughout Budapest.

The “Visas for Life” exhibition is a collaborative effort sponsored by international and national Jewish and Holocaust organizations.

As an outcropping of the exhibition, Baron said the History Channel has announced plans to create a program about these diplomats.

Besides showing gratitude, Baron hopes the exhibit serves another purpose. “It allows Christians to come and see that there were men and women who acted on their beliefs and value systems to rescue.

“We need to recognize goodness. We need to acknowledge acts of heroism,” Baron said. “We need these models in our society.”

Community Briefs


Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

Circle of Friends


I see that it’s time for the media to replay the perennial horror story known as The Dying Jew. “The Vanishing Jew,” by Alan Dershowitz, is a mea culpa over his son’s intermarriage. Elliot Abrams, the former Reagan administration official, has written “Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America,” a political argument against liberalism and in favor of blurring the lines between church and state. New York magazine’s cover story this week asks, “Are American Jews Disappearing?” and rounds up the usual Orthodox, Conservative and Reform suspects for the unsurprising reply: maybe. The Dying Jew has become our Loch Ness monster, a friendly nightmare story brought out during summer doldrums, a crime story without a real perpetrator.

But, this summer, such news does not stand alone: As the stories of Jewish extinction are being repeated, the women’s group Hadassah has announced a $1 million grant to fund a new International Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Its purpose: to study the entire Jewish woman’s experience as reflected in spirituality and religion, the arts and media, Israel, the Holocaust, family and community. For the first time, an educational institution will study women’s lives as a special component of the Jewish people, discrete and real.

Naturally, this research institute lacks the sex appeal of the Dying Jew story (New York magazine will never put it on the cover). Nevertheless, to rewrite Virginia Woolf, even the press release announcing that Barbra Streisand is the think tank’s honorary chair constitutes, for women, true “news of our own.”

“As a Jewish woman, I have always been bothered by negative stereotypes about us,” read a statement prepared by the woman whose life is a Rorschach test of a Jewish woman’s acceptability in America. “[This] is the first institute in the world that focuses the spotlight on Jewish women.”

The Dying Jew stories prove why such a spotlight is needed. The unnoticed (though obvious) fact is that such accounts about Jewish extinction are written by men. If men see Jewish life as a trail that has come to the end, so be it. But women have another point of view.

Jewish men and women have had two distinct histories in America, a fact conveniently ignored until now. Men have held the license over the American Jewish experience; from men’s exploits (creating Hollywood) and stories (Roth, Malamud, et al.), we have learned about our success and our roadblocks. They’ve defined who we are.

How distinct is the Jewish woman’s experience? That’s a question the institute will help us answer. But it starts from the fact that women are two generations behind men in all indices: While Jewish men began to assimilate in the first generation, women held back. While men changed their names, gained jobs in banking and industry, intermarried, women stayed home, keeping the Jewish world intact. Our mothers and grandmothers were less distracted by American values, if only because they were less free to know them.

“We’re half the Jewish people, but our role in history has been obliterated,” Shulamit Reinharz, professor of sociology at Brandeis and director of the new institute, told me. “We’re not part of the people as men have always been.”

Though women have been integral to Zionism, the building of the Jewish state, and the creation of American communal organizations, J.J. Goldberg, in his 1996 study “Jewish Power,” barely mentions them.

This male domination of the Jewish experience must be questioned now before the Dying Jew becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy. Like a cancer patient who thinks he’s got a month to live, a people who are told that they are dying will no doubt act accordingly.

“There’s a real half- empty/half-full syndrome going on about Jewish life,” said Reinharz, who also heads Brandeis’ women’s studies department. If men are becoming either strident or giving up hope, she said, “women are energized.”

If I sound excited about what might ordinarily be an academic exercise, there’s a reason. Here’s the first think tank with the money to address a problem that goes back three generations: For all our education, energy and high- level employment, Jewish women continue to feel stereotyped, outcast and isolated within both America and the Jewish world; we use TV and movies as our mirror, only to find, as Streisand correctly implies, a world that seems to scorn us. But, now, through research and study, we finally will broaden the picture.

Reinharz said that the Institute’s first goal is to help Jewish women rethink themselves, and then to help men see the Jewish world more accurately by incorporating the truth of women’s lives. There will be scholars-in- residence, conferences and discussion of policy issues from a woman’s perspective.>/p>

Men may think the Jewish people is dying, but women are not taking that prophecy lying down.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wvoice@aol.com.

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Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man