Israelis bury French terror victims in the Holy Land


Less than a week after the murder of four French Jews in a kosher grocery store by an Islamic terrorist in Paris, the bodies of Yoav Hattab, 21; Yohan Cohen, 22; Philippe Braham, 45; and Francois-Michel Saada, 63; were flown to Israel for burial. 

Their grieving family members came, too, and lit small memorial torches in the company of Israel’s leadership during a funeral at a hilltop cemetery overlooking West Jerusalem’s expanding suburbs — forests dotted with small stone homes. The sun was out, but the air was cold. “I’m crying, but I know that you all cry with me, and I thank all of you for all of this,” Valery Braham, Philippe’s wife, told a crowd of hundreds, some of whom, like her, had flown in from France, and many of whom had walked uphill for over a mile to attend.

“They are my brothers,” said Roee Iluz, a young Israeli man who had traveled to the Jan. 13 funeral from the Tel Aviv area and was standing off to the side, arms crossed, in silence. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Isaac Herzog all gave emotional speeches, warning of global anti-Semitism and terrorism while in the same breath mourning the private pain of the four families.

“This is not how we wanted to see you come home, to the State of Israel, and to Jerusalem, its capital,” Rivlin said. “We wanted you alive, we wanted for you, life.”

Mourners gather during the burial ceremony in Jerusalem on Jan. 13. Photo by Simone Wilson

Of the terrorist who killed them, Netanyahu said: “We shall not waste words on the contemptible killer, nor on those who slaughtered other innocents on French soil, as it is their actions that provide testimony of their murderous zeal, the poisonous fanaticism of the radical Islamic terrorist organizations that serves as the motivation for carrying out horrific acts around the world.”

And of the endangered Diaspora, he said: “I believe that they know deep in their hearts that they have only one country, the State of Israel, the historic homeland that will accept them with open arms, like beloved children.”

Members of the crowd, like their leaders, seemed half broken, half defiant. Some simply held each other and wept. Others waved signs with messages like, “I am dead because I am Jewish” and “I am Charlie, I am Jewish, I am Israeli, I am French, and I’ve had enough.” Political chatter was unavoidable; hushed conversations in the crowd touched on Charlie Hebdo cartoons, the French exodus to Israel, the elections, Netanyahu’s widely mocked trip to Paris.

Multiple Israelis at the funeral told the Journal they were skeptical that world support for Jews after the kosher market attack, hashtagged as #JeSuisJuif, was sincere or built to last. 

Iluz, 21, said that despite the hashtag, it was clear to him the France unity march was “not about the Jews.”

Israeli-American political analyst Josh Wander, 44, agreed. “I don’t believe there’s any solidarity at all,” he said. “If it was only Jews killed in France, would 50 of the world leaders come to support them? No. Their only fear is of Islamic extremists in their own countries.”

Yom Jasmer, 18, whose parents immigrated to Israel from France, said that even if the solidarity was temporary, the notion of French people marching in support of Jews lifted his spirits. “They understand us now — but I don’t know if it will last,” he said.

A man prays during the funeral in Jerusalem. Photo by Simone Wilson

The French minister of energy and environment, Segolene Royal, represented France’s government at the funeral. From a podium next to the four bodies, she promised to fight anti-Semitism back home. “France without Jews is not France,” she said.

Dina Sirat, a Paris native in the crowd who immigrated to Israel almost 20 years ago with her two children, told the Journal that promises from French leaders gave her little assurance.

“There is a lot of fear now in Paris,” said Sirat, bundled in a red parka, floral scarf and beret. “My sister in France has kids in Jewish school, and they’re afraid.”

The four men being buried in Jerusalem, she said, were killed “because they are Jews. It’s not, ‘I am Charlie.’ It’s not liberty of speech. It’s because they were Jews in Paris.”

Elsewhere in the crowd, French sisters Keren Israel, 17, and Esther Israel, 19, identifiably observant in their long skirts, said they had moved to Israel almost exactly one year ago. They said they hadn’t planned to stay forever, but after this attack, Esther doesn’t want to leave. And Keren, who was planning her return to France before the terror spree in Paris, isn’t so sure anymore.

“It was so hard in France,” Esther said. “You go in the street, in the metro, and they look at you like — I don’t know. Like you’re not normal.”

Funeral attendees carry signs remembering the victims.

High-profile funerals in Israel often draw thousands, but attendees at the burial of the four terror victims said that this one had been much less publicized, and was hard to reach. (Streets were closed for miles around the Givat Shaul cemetery, bringing traffic throughout West Jerusalem to a standstill and forcing many to walk to the funeral.)

Still, it was a dedicated crowd. After the bodies — laid on stretchers and draped in white-and-blue linens — were loaded into four ambulances, the crowd swarmed the caravan as it crawled down the hill to a new tier of Jerusalem’s largest graveyard. Mourners pressed their foreheads to the ambulance windows and mumbled prayers, their tears running freely.

At times, the grief-stricken families from France looked overwhelmed by the hectic procession and hordes of press. Hooked up to a loudspeaker, a funeral organizer yelled instructions to ambulance personnel. “Where is Philippe?” he bellowed. “No, this is Yoav!”

But as their bodies were lowered into the ground, an overwhelming sense of peace and group security enveloped the crowd, now still. Funeral prayers echoed through Jerusalem’s outlying canyons; mothers wept softly; strangers hugged strangers

“They’re home now,” said Noa Dreyfus, 18.

In France, said former Paris resident Sirat, there is little burial space, and bodies are often moved to morgues once next-of-kin have passed. “But if you are here,” she said, “it’s for eternity.”

French Jews on edge after 4 killed in Paris siege


The two hostage crises that transfixed France and much of the world on Friday epitomize the problem Islamic radicalism poses in the heart of Europe: They’re a danger to civilized society generally, but especially to Jews.

Now it’s time for the authorities to wake up to the problem and confront it, French Jewish leaders said Friday.

At the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris’ 12th arrondissement on Friday, a gunman believed to have killed a Paris policewoman a day earlier killed two people and holed up in the store with an unknown number of hostages.

Meanwhile, the two brothers that French police identified as having carried out Wednesday’s attack at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, which left 12 people dead, were cornered at a printing shop north of Paris. The brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, also were holding a hostage.

“We have warned that the menace of rising anti-Semitism threatens French society at large,” Simone Rodan-Benazquen, director of the Paris office of the American Jewish Committee, said. “The Charlie Hebdo massacre makes clear that the war against France’s democratic values is in high gear.”

French police identified the captor at the kosher supermarket as Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and said he was in contact with the Kouachi brothers. Police received threats that the hostages in the kosher shop would be killed if the brothers were harmed, Reuters reported.

Near day’s end, the two sieges ended almost simultaneously: Firefights erupted between the captors and the police, and the captors were killed – along with several hostages at the kosher supermarket. The hostage held by the Kouachi brothers was freed.

Wednesday’s attack at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that drew admirers and detractors for offensive cartoon caricatures, was described by many in France as a national shock akin to 9/11. Tens of thousands of protests gathered in Paris after the attack to memorialize the dead and express their support for press freedom.

Despite assurances by the government to fight anti-Semitism, French Jews are facing the Islamic jihadists alone, said Chlomik Zenouda, vice president of National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

But the attack came after a long period of increased anti-Semitic attacks in France that grew worse during last summer’s war in Gaza. Since then, synagogues have been set ablaze, Jews have been attacked and Jewish institutions have been threatened.

“Thousands showed up to protest the Charlie Hebdo killings – that’s nice. But they gathered at a square where just a few months ago public officials stood idly as around them calls were heard to slaughter the Jews. No one came out to protest that – no one but the Jews,” said Zenouda, referring to the inflammatory rhetoric at Gaza War protests held last summer at Place de la Republique.

After the Charlie Hebdo killings, Jewish community institutions went on maximum alert. But it wasn’t enough to thwart Friday’s hostage taking.

During the sieges, a local TV station, BFMTV, interviewed the captors both at the printing plant and the supermarket, and the men said they answer to al Qaeda in Yemen and that the two attacks were coordinated, Le Monde reported. They said they had ties to the American-Yemeni cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011.

Police were in contact with the Kouachi brothers during the siege, and the brothers reportedly said they wanted to die as martyrs.

Near the supermarket site, schools were put on lockdown or evacuated.

Paul Bernadini, a 22-year-old technician, said he was in a van near the supermarket listening to news on the radio about the Kouachi brothers’ hostage situation when he suddenly heard gunfire about 20 feet away and people screaming. He ran into a shop adjacent to the supermarket and took cover.

“We heard a series of shots and knew it had to come from an automatic weapon,” he told JTA. “We heard the cries, but then we took shelter and we didn’t hear them anymore.

The Hyper Cacher market is located in a neighborhood on the easternmost edge of Paris, bordering Saint-Mandé — a heavily Jewish suburb, where there are many kosher shops and restaurants. Just a quarter mile away from Hyper Cacher is the century-old Synagogue de Vincennes, which long has catered to the community’s sizable Ashkenazi population. The synagogue sits adjacent to another Jewish congregation, Beth Raphael, founded in 2005 to serve to the growing population of Jews of North African descent.

In 2013, JTA reported on an incident in which France’s Jewish Defense League, a vigilante group, beat an Arab man after he reportedly attacked Jews in Saint-Mandé.

On Friday, Courts de Vincennes, usually a lively boulevard with a street market, was nearly abandoned. The only sound there was that of police convoys heading to the hostage site. Meanwhile, police ordered the shops closed on the rue de Rosiers in Paris’ Marais district, where Jewish area where shoppers tend to proliferate in the hours before Shabbat.

As news of the hostage crisis spread, Jewish groups and institutions in the United States sent out urgent messages to constituents to pray for the hostages in France, attaching a list with nine Hebrew names said to be the hostages.

In France, some Paris synagogues canceled their Sabbath-eve services, a French Jewish official, Shlomo Malka, told Israeli Army Radio, according to the Times of Israel.

“There’s a huge amount of fear,” Malka said, according to the report.

Finally, after several hours, police stormed the two hostage sites.

The news of the Kouachi brothers’ deaths was greeted with relief in France after a two-day manhunt that police said involved a deployment of more than 88,000 police officers.

“The operation in Dammartin is finished,” said Rocco Contento, a spokesman for the Unité S.G.P. police union, according to The New York Times. “The two suspects have been killed and the hostage has been freed. The special counterterrorism forces located where the terrorists are and broke down the door. They took them by surprise. It lasted a matter of minutes.”

At the supermarket, witnesses reported hearing explosions and gunshots. Images from the scene showed heavily armed police officers escorting hostages from the store. The captor was killed, but there were additional civilian casualties. Two more hostages were dead and four were seriously wounded, according to reports. The U.K. Telegraph said two police officers were injured in the supermarket raid, one critically.

Some 15 hostages were freed after the raid, reports said.

Police were still searching Friday for the supermarket captor’s girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, who was also said to have been involved in the killing Thursday of the French policewoman in Montrouge, on the outskirts of Paris.

Later in the night, a third hostage situation developed in the southern French town of Montpellier. Two people reportedly had been taken hostage in a jewelry store, and police surrounded the area. It was not immediately clear whether the episode was an unrelated robbery or somehow tied to the hostage takings in Paris.

Shimon Samuels, the Paris-based director of international affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA that France needs to face up to the danger posed by radical Islamists and recognize it for what it is, rather than excusing it away.

“A culture of excuse exonerates the perpetrators as disaffected, alienated, frustrated, unemployed,” he said. “No other group of frustrated unemployed has resorted to such behavior.”

Samuels called on the French government to declare a state of emergency that would give it sweeping powers to crack down on Islamist organizations. Other Jewish groups in France also have issued such calls.

In the United States, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York announced it would hold a gathering of prayer, mourning and solidarity on Sunday evening in Manhattan in the wake of “the barbaric assault in France.” The meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Uriel Heilman contributed reporting from New York. Additional reporting by Gabrielle Birkner in New York.

Hostages held in Sydney cafe, Islamic flag seen in window


Hostages were being held inside a central Sydney cafe where a black flag with white Arabic writing could be seen in the window, local television showed on Monday, raising fears of an attack linked to Islamic militants.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was convening a meeting of the cabinet's national security committee for a briefing on what he called a hostage situation in Australia's commercial capital.

Australia, which is backing the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by radicalised Muslims or by home-grown fighters returning from the conflict in the Middle East.

Dozens of heavily armed police surrounded the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, commercial banks and close to the New South Wales (NSW) state parliament.

Live television footage showed patrons inside the cafe standing with their hands pressed against the windows. A black and white flag similar to those used by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria was also visible.

NSW Police tweeted: “A police operation is underway in Martin Place, Sydney's CBD. People are advised to avoid the area.”

A couple of hundred people were being held back by cordons and the fire brigade's hazardous unit was on the scene, a Reuters witness said.

The Reserve Bank of Australia, near the cafe, said staff had been locked down inside the building, and were all safe and accounted for.

Local media reported that the nearby Sydney Opera House had been evacuated after a suspicious package had been found. A staff member at the world-famous venue said she was still in the building but declined to comment further and police said they were still trying to confirm the incident.

Trains and buses were stopped and roads were blocked in the area, with train operators saying there had been a bomb threat at Martin Place.

Traders in currency markets said the hostage news may have contributed to a dip in the Australian dollar, which was already under pressure from global risk aversion as oil prices fell anew. The local currency was pinned at $0.8227, having hit its lowest since mid-2010 last week.

In September, Australian anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and days later, a teenager in Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.

‘Price tag’ attackers put on same legal ground as terrorists


Planning and carrying out “price tag” attacks in Israel will now be defined as “illegal organizing,” which puts the acts on the same level as Islamic terror groups.

The new designation announced Monday by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon means that the Jewish perpetrators of such violence would face the same legal repercussions as Palestinian terrorists.

The new designation will allow Israeli security services and police to hold suspects in jail longer, keep them under arrest until the end of legal proceedings and investigate without the presence of an attorney.  Those who plan and fund price tag attacks will be subject to the same proceedings.

“Price tag perpetrators’ conduct is identical to the conduct of modern terrorist groups, including ideological inspiration and covert action,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Its main objective is to prevent the legitimate Israeli government from carrying out actions, whether of state or regarding law enforcement, and to sow fear among the nation’s leaders of making decisions of one kind or another.”

The designation was approved last month by Israel’s Cabinet.

The announcement came Monday after the arrest of a 22-year-old right-wing Israeli from Bnei Brak for last year’s price tag attack on the Latrun Monastery.

Iran election offers choice, but little change


Friday's presidential election in Iran is unlikely to bring significant change to the Islamic republic, whose supreme leader has ensured hardline candidates dominate the field. But the sole moderate could yet upset the race.

World powers embroiled in talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program are looking for signs of a recalibration of its negotiating position after eight years of inflexibility under firey populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran's uncompromising nuclear negotiator Saed Jalili is prominent among four hardliners competing for the post, while one of his predecessors, the more conciliatory Hassan Rohani, has been endorsed by reformists after moderate former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was barred.

While intensifying nuclear-related sanctions on Iran have been a hot election topic, the other major global issue, its backing of President Bashar Assad and Lebanon's Hezbollah in Syria's civil war, has not been raised by the six candidates.

Ahmadinejad, who gave repeated speeches seeming to call for the destruction of Israel, will not be missed in the West, but expectations for a radical change in direction are low.

“It would be good not to have someone like Ahmadinejad but it won't make much difference. We're not waiting with bated breath for the new president because the supreme leader is running policy,” said a Western diplomat.

The president's comparative lack of power within the Iranian system does not make the election insignificant however.

“The Iranian president … will have a seat at the table when Iran's major foreign policy and nuclear policies are decided,” Mohsen Milani, an Iran expert at the University of South Florida told reporters. “Elections are not free,” he said, “but they are extremely significant.”

After publicly backing Ahmadinejad when protesters disputed his 2009 election, Khamenei fell out with him after he sought to use public rallies to challenge the leader's authority. Analysts say Khamenei wants a compliant president, but above all, no repeat of the 2009 unrest.

“There's a certain paranoia on the regime's part about the potential for more unrest and discontent pouring out into the streets. They really want to manage this election,” U.S.-based Iranian journalist Hooman Majd told reporters.

“That is unusual and different than in the past when elections have been much freer,” he said.

Authorities barred two prominent dissenting figures from standing, leaving four “shades of grey” conservative hardliners loyal to Khamenei alongside a former oil minister who says he is neither conservative nor reformist, and moderate cleric Rohani.

Reformists, led by former president Mohammad Khatami who won election landslides in 1997 and 2001, endorsed Rohani this week, adding to pressure on the hardliners to thin their field.

Rafsanjani has also endorsed Rohani, who was his national security advisor when president.

Rohani has openly criticized the pervasive security and vowed to improve Iran's relations with the outside world. Several members of Rohani's team and supporters were arrested after calls for the release of political prisoners were chanted at one of his election rallies.

TIGHT CONTROLS

To avoid the embarrassment of the 2009 protests, Iran's electoral authorities have left little to chance to ensure the ballot passes off quietly – from disqualifying high-profile candidates, to tight controls on campaigning and TV debates.

Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who as reformist candidates led the “Green Movement” that disputed the 2009 election result, are under house arrest and the jubilant pre-election reformist rallies of that time are absent.

“There are no gatherings in the streets, candidates cannot have public meetings in the city, only inside stadiums and universities, with many police around. Practically there are no election activities on the streets,” said a youthful Tehran resident who told of a larger police presence in the city.

“There's no atmosphere like four years ago.”

Iranians who yearn for real change in Iran, estimated by some analysts at up to two-thirds of the populace, have become disillusioned with politics since what they see as the election fix of 2009 and may not turn out to vote.

“I was in line for an hour to vote on election day (in 2009) …. but even before the voting had ended they said Ahmadinejad had won. I learned my lesson four years ago,” said Mona, 31, an accountant.

But others were hoping to prevent a hardline victory.

“I am not excited about voting at all. I think I will vote but not because I am hopeful or interested but because I worry that another hardliner might come to power,” said Hossein, a student of English literature in the central city of Isfahan.

A big turnout would likely help Rohani and the reformist cause, but would also boost the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic's mix of religious rule backed by popular sovereignty.

A Rohani win, if permitted by Iran's electoral authorities, would lead to more tension between the president and supreme leader of the kind seen during the Khatami years and during Ahmadinejad's second term from 2005 – the inherent strain between the Islamic and the republic halves of Iran's system.

“You simply cannot have a republic whose president and parliament is subordinated to the supreme leader,” said Milani. “What I believe has been happening in Iran over the last eight years is a movement away from the Islamic Republic and towards making an Islamic government.”

LOYALTY AND OBEDIENCE

What started as a broad coalition to overthrow the U.S.-backed shah in 1979 has become ever narrower over time, analysts and diplomats say, making differences between those contesting power slight. But they are magnified by the struggle for office.

“All candidates have been very critical of Ahmadinejad's economic performance. But a significant difference has emerged over foreign policy and the handling of nuclear negotiations,” said Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University in Virginia.

“What we see emerging is a broad loose coalition of reformers … against the ruling conservatives,” he said.

Although Khamenei says he backs no candidate, analysts say he is counting on one of three “Principlist” contenders – who profess utmost loyalty to the theocratic system – taking office.

Jalili is centre stage in the Principlists' camp. He has taken an uncompromising stance in several rounds of negotiations with world powers and is supported by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, also backed by the Guards and respected by Tehran residents for his efficiency, is regarded as more moderate as is the third “Principlist” running, Khamenei's foreign affairs advisor Ali Akbar Velayati.

Velayati's lack of power base would limit his ability to challenge the leader if he became president, but also limits his appeal as it does for non Principlist ex-oil minister Mohammad Gharazi and Mohsen Rezaie, secretary of the Expediency Council.

The refusal of any of the three Principlists to quit the race may be an indication that the leader has not yet given his backing to any one of them.

“It's very unpredictable right now,” said a Western diplomat based in Tehran. “Ultimately, the leader doesn't want a strong president who thinks he can act independently.”

Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich; editing by Jon Hemming and Philippa Fletcher

The Turkic Islamic world uniting with Israel as a sovereign entity


Over the last few years, one of the questions that I have been often asked is: Is Turkey leaving the West? Is Turkey's axis shifting? Is Turkey turning its back on the West? The simple answer is no. Turkey is a democratic, free and secular country with a majority Muslim population, friend with the West and this will stay as it is. However, Turkey has realized her responsibilities as the natural leader in the Turkic Islamic world. Turkey as a soft power, like an elder brother, can and will be a unifying entity, a model to the Islamic countries to inspire a new vision where people can see that Islam does not conflict with democracy, fundamental freedoms and human rights. What is more it can initiate key solutions to end conflicts in the region by bringing these countries under the same umbrella with a new spirit of brotherhood. Let me tell you how.

Imagine a union among the countries of the Middle East, the Caucasus and North Africa; not a materialistic or economic union like the European Union, not the kind of unity where they want to get rid of you when you are in trouble or weak, but a spiritual union, ready to serve, to help, with a consciousness of self-sacrifice in which one will not sleep in comfort when her neighbor has a problem. Imagine living with open borders, traveling between countries as you travel among cities. No visa procedures, no passports.

In fact it is quite natural to expect a union between the Turkic countries and the Islamic countries because these countries share so much in common and what is unnatural is the division among them. However what is more important and unique about this unity is that it will include Israel and Armenia, and even Russia in the later stages. In the same way that a family is made strong and healthy by its members helping one another, this unity will constitute a family.

The immediate establishment of this Union is essential for the entire region. This Union does not imply any racial superiority nor will it impose any religion. It will rather be one that treats Muslims, Christians, Jews and all others with great affection, and recognizes their right to exist as first class citizens. Indeed, the ones who would benefit most from this would be non-Muslims; Armenians, Greeks, Jews. It will constitute a social role model with a democratic and secular structure that attaches the proper value to human rights and fundamental liberties. Not only believers, but also Buddhists, Zoroastrians, atheists – in short everyone – will be free to express their opinions and live as they choose in the climate of freedom established.

One important characteristic of this Union is the member states preserving their national identities as sovereign nation states. No one will interfere in anyone's foreign or domestic affairs. So we are not talking about a repressive or despotic regime. There will be nothing about it that damages or interferes in the internal matters of the states. Member states will preserve their own governments and will be guaranteed their sovereign status.

This model may cause one to immediately think of the Ottoman Empire, but it is not an attempt to resurrect that concept. What I am talking about is something else. We do not regard the Ottoman era as perfect; we know they had defects and made mistakes. Since this will be a union of brotherhood, a union of love, not a concept of racial superiority or the classic model of an empire built by military conquest , the radical voices will have to behave themselves. This great unity will also be a deterrent force and the radical elements will be deterred from pursuing their extravagant and nefarious goals. There will therefore be no terror and anarchy in the region. All the money currently spent for the military will instead be directed to people's comfort, and will be spent on ensuring a high quality of life for all. It will help the region to get rid of the scourges of terror, economic troubles or of the torment of confinement, and it will provide economic support, by enriching them through the sharing of natural resources. The aim is for these states to come together under a single roof and establish joint security and welfare. This is a Union that will watch over and protect all nations, that will embrace Muslims, Christians and Jews in the same way. 

None of the countries in the region is currently comfortable. For one thing, just like the other countries, it will come as a huge relief to Israel. This Union means the salvation of Israel. Israel will be able to relax, dwell in tranquility and trade freely to the fullest extent in the region, and will enjoy a peace and security it has never known before in its history. Israelis will live in the utmost peace, security, joy and abundance just like the others in their respective countries. Jews will be able to worship as they wish, they will continue to live in that region, and will do business and worship as they see fit. It also means Armenia attaining a high quality of life and bounty. It means people in Armenia being freed from their current woes and confinement in the region. It means a new beginning for the whole region.

Yes there is pain and angst at the moment, but these are birth pains, and the birth of this Union will be a glad tiding to the entire world. What the region needs is not cold political agreements with temporary solutions, but a new vision, a new spirit that will bring true peace and brotherhood. There is already a step by step progress in that direction. What we need to do is remove the artificial obstacles and accelerate this process.

I can already hear the critics saying that this is either a dream or simply wishful thinking; however, I would like to remind everyone that many things we take for granted in today's world used to look like naive dreams in the past. After all, it has only been 67 years since the end of World War Two, and today people travel freely throughout Europe and have created a union that would have been impossible as little as three decades ago. The border between Netherlands and Belgium in Baarle-Nassau passes by a café; there are no soldiers, no barbed wire, no mines. Also, many will recall that the USSR and the Berlin Wall were perceived of as a regrettable reality that seemed so strong that nothing could change it; the rapid dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union came as a distinct shock to many observers of geopolitics and indeed to many intelligence services throughout the world, none of whom had anticipated that particular chain of events. Until the last moment, many people were deeply suspicious of German unification, fearing aggression; former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was famously skeptical of the idea, as was former French President Francois Mitterrand. Things that may seem like a dream today can come true tomorrow morning. If we honestly believe in such a vision, and strive toward transforming that vision into reality, any idea can be realized far sooner and with greater ease than anyone could possibly imagine.

Despite Morsi changes, Egypt’s opposition protesting draft constitution


Egypt's opposition said it would continue to protest an upcoming referendum on a draft constitution even after President Mohamed Morsi canceled decrees that gave him virtually unlimited power.

Late Saturday night, Morsi withdrew the decrees that gave him immunity from judicial oversight. But he continues to insist on going forward with the scheduled Dec. 15 referendum.

The opposition, led by the National Salvation Front, is objecting to the draft constitution in part because it would enshrine Islamic law.

Demonstrators have been protesting outside the presidential palace, and the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi belongs, were set on fire.

A million man march demonstration opposing the draft constitution has been called for Tuesday.

Iran stirring tensions in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province


In the restive city of Qatif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, the older Shiites are quiet. They had once cheered the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and had hoped their time had come for greater equality in the kingdom. But that dream has faded.

The younger generation is just angry. And now they are picking up where the elders have left off.

Since the Arab Spring swept the Middle East in late 2010 and early 2011, pressure has been building in the Eastern Province where an estimated 2 million Shiites live. For decades Shiites faced employment and religious discrimination under the Sunni monarchy, but hope arrived when King Abdullah assumed the throne in 2005. The anticipation for better employment opportunities, participation in government and freedom to practice their form of Islam, such commemorating the Day of Ashura to remember the martyr Husayn bin Al, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, heightened as Shiite leaders traveled to Riyadh to greet the new king and pledge their loyalty.

“Nothing ever happened after that visit with the new king, and we are impatient,” said Saeed, a 24-year-old Shiite Saudi who says he never held a job after graduating from secondary school. “We looked to our fathers to solve the problems with the king, but it’s been too long. It is up to us now.”

As a result, the Eastern Province has been wracked with occasional, but more frequent outbursts of violence. Emboldened somewhat by the revolutions in neighboring Arab countries, but also largely fueled by social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, young people have taken to the streets. Their numbers since early 2011 have grown from a few dozens to hundreds earlier this summer.

Shiite street demonstrations in Saudi Arabia are not unprecedented and have resulted in numerous deaths since the 1979 Islamic revolution.  Few Saudis point to the Arab Spring as a catalyst for the recent demonstrations, but to Iran.

In 1979, Shiites generally supported the Ayatollah Khomeini invectives against the Saudi royal family. Khomeini claimed a hereditary monarchy was illegitimate. Street demonstrations numbered in the thousands and Saudi clashes between security forces and rioters in November 1979 left 24 dead and hundreds arrested.

More than 400 people died in rioting in July 1987, when Shia pilgrims demonstrated in Makkah during the Hajj and clashed with police and National Guardsmen. The next day, Khomeini urged Shiites to overthrow the Saudi government.

Since March 2011, Shiites have been staging demonstrations demanding that political prisoners be released from Saudi jails. Security forces fired upon demonstrators in separate incidents over the past year,  killing at least six people. Some activists have said that as many as 10 are dead due to security crackdowns.

Saudis in other regions of the kingdom have largely ignored the violence in the Eastern Province. Saudi media gives it scant attention and limits its coverage to officials Saudi Press Agency reports.

A Sunni Saudi journalist, who declined to give his name for publication, wrote that he does not dispute that Shiites have historically experienced institutionalized discrimination, but he supports the security forces’ tough crackdown on demonstrators.

“Yes, they have had a difficult time for no other reason than they are Shiite,” the writer said. “But they are demonstrating with signs that have slogans and pictures of their masters in Iran. If that is not sedition and a threat to our national security, I don’t know what is.”

The journalist’s attitude illustrates the apathy for Shiites who some Saudis say have taken a route that violates the Islamic principle that citizens do not rise against a Muslim ruler, especially one considered to be a positive force in society. Instead of airing grievances directly to the king or the Shoura Council—Saudi Arabia’s advisory quasi-legislative body—demonstrators prefer citing allegiance to rulers of Shiite-dominated countries, such as Iran, the journalist said.

“When I and my brothers are ignored our entire lives by the government we are supposed to love and respect, it’s only natural to look to someone else for answers,” said a 29-year-old Shiite woman, who lives in Dammam and says she does not participate in protests.

She also denied that Iran influences demonstrators. “We don’t need outsiders to tell us we are treated like dogs here,” she said.

A Saudi analyst, who said he did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about sectarian strife, said the Ministry of Interior is on high alert with all personnel on call due to the instability in the Eastern Province.

Yet an uprising on the scale of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors is virtually impossible, he said.

“Shiites only make up 10 or 12 percent of the population, so their numbers are insufficient to really pose a serious security threat,” he told The Media Line. “But the government also recognizes the protests for what they really are: an external security threat to the stability of our country. Young people may say it is about jobs and participation in Saudi society, but it’s Iran that is stirring things up.”

Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites further increased with the July 8 shooting and arrest of Shiite Sheikh Nimr Baqr Al-Nimr near his home in Al-Awamiyah. Al-Nimr is the spiritual leader of the Shiite community and a frequent critic of the royal family, especially against Prince Nayef, the minister of interior, who died on June 16. Security forces arrested Al-Nimr on previous occasions for his outspoken views. He remains in custody and is said to be on a hunger strike.

Al-Nimr’s arrest was recorded on YouTube showing him bloodied from his wounds and laying in the backseat of a car as he was rushed to the hospital.

One Twitterer wrote after Al-Nimr’s arrest: “People of alqatif are cancel there widdings and partys Grief because the martyrs and because the goverment arrested shikh nimr al nimr.”

Another tweeted, “He is the moderate cleric who reasonably, bravely, religiously and loudly criticize the #Saudi government.”

King Abdullah has made efforts to soothe Saudi Arabia’s rocky relationship with Iran by inviting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the recent Islamic Solidarity Conference in Makkah. The king perhaps spent more time with Ahmadinejad than with other Muslim leaders. The king later sent his condolences to the Iranian leader following the recent earthquake that cost the lives of more than 300 people.

“I think the Saudi government truly wants Ahmadinejad as a friend of Saudi Arabia so Iran stops its meddling with the people in the Eastern Province,” said the Saudi analyst. “So it’s Iran’s move now.”

Islamic school loses right to use building over anti-Semitic teachings


A Toronto Islamic school has lost the right to use a public school for its classes after anti-Semitic teachings were discovered in its curriculum and posted on its website.

One of the lessons taught at the East End Madrassah referred to Jews as “crafty” and “treacherous,” contrasted Islam with “the Jews and the Nazis,” and alleged ancient Jews conspired to kill the Prophet Muhammad.

The curriculum was available on the school’s website, which was later taken down.

This week, the Toronto District School Board announced the Islamic school could no longer rent space for its Sunday classes until police finish their investigation of the anti-Jewish teachings.

Police are probing the madrassah based on Canada’s Criminal Code, which makes it unlawful to publicly and “willfully” promote hatred against any identifiable group.

The public school board “[needs] to be satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and that [the madrassah was] in compliance with our policies and procedures” before they can use school board property, board spokesman Jim Spyropoulos told the Toronto Star.

The board has asked for a meeting “to have a deeper discussion so we can have a clear understanding of their programming and curriculum, and how and why some of the statements that appeared on their website were there,” Spyropoulos added.

Avi Benlolo of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, who alerted police to the offensive material, was pleased with the board’s move but said the permit should have been revoked immediately. He called on Canadian school boards to “put a plan in place to ensure no group is ever targeted as the Jewish community has been.”

French Islamic militants planned to kidnap Jewish judge


Suspected Islamic militants arrested throughout France were planning terrorist attacks including kidnapping a Jewish judge.

The 13 members of the extremist group Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, were among 19 suspected Islamic militants arrested last week in France. They are currently under investigation for alleged terrorist activities, Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters Tuesday. Preliminary charges are being filed against the 13, and nine will remain in police custody, he said.

The men reportedly planned to kidnap a Jewish judge in Lyon, in southeast France.

Molins said that there is no tie between this group and gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulose on March 21, as well as three French military personnel the previous week. Merah told French police that he killed the Jewish students at the school in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers the previous week for serving in Afghanistan. He also claimed links to al-Qaida, as does Forsane Alizza.

The terrorists’ arrests were part of a French crackdown in the wake of Merah’s attack in Toulouse. France on Monday also expelled five radical Islamic ministers.

Israel police arrest Hamas lawmaker in East Jerusalem


Israeli police arrested a Hamas lawmaker on Monday who had been sheltering for more than a year in the International Red Cross (ICRC) offices in East Jerusalem, a police spokesman said.

Ahmad Attoun had taken shelter in the ICRC building along with another Hamas legislator and a former Hamas government minister after Israeli authorities revoked their Jerusalem residency permits.

Along with the United States and the European Union, it considers the Islamist Hamas movement a terrorist group, and acted to expel the men for being members of it.

The police spokesman and a security guard at the ICRC building said paramilitary police disguised as Palestinians had grabbed Attoun at the entrance to the offices and arrested him.

He was taken into custody a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mentioned the men’s case in a speech on his return to the occupied West Bank from the United Nations, where he applied for recognition of full Palestinian statehood.

The other two Hamas men remained inside the ICRC building.

In the speech, Abbas accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” that included “decisions to expel elected representatives” from Jerusalem.

In a statement issued in June 2010, after Israel ordered them to leave Jerusalem, the three Hamas men wrote: “We as sons of Jerusalem have never left it before … we emphasise that we will remain here and never leave it.”

Hamas, locked in a bitter rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah movement, won a Palestinian legislative election in 2006. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a unity government with Fatah collapsed into bloodshed.

The ICRC has said it told Israeli authorities that international humanitarian law prohibited the forcible transfer of Palestinian residents from their homes, for whatever reason.

The organisation also said it had informed the three Hamas members that ICRC premises had no special status and the ICRC could not prevent police entering the building to arrest them.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey

NATION/WORLD Briefs: Netanyahu Asks Peres for Coalition Help, Teachers Reject Israel Boycott


Netanyahu Asks Peres for Coalition Help

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Shimon Peres to help him form a unity government.

The two Israeli leaders met Monday night after talks between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party failed to reach an agreement, according to Israel Radio. The talks apparently broke down over Livni’s demand that Netanyahu commit to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu also reportedly met with Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who said his party will not join the government.

The Likud continued coalition was scheduled to talk Tuesday with the Shas Party.

Netanyahu is required to present Peres with a coalition by Sunday or request a two-week extension.

Conservative Group Hit With More Demands

A second group of Conservative Jewish leaders has issued a series of demands of the movement’s synagogue association.

About a dozen presidents of Conservative synagogues have hinted they will leave the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism unless serious changes are made to the organization within 90 days, The Forward reported Monday. Organizers say they eventually hope to garner between 25 and 50 signatures.

The news comes less than a week after a similar letter, signed by a group of Conservative clergy and lay leaders organized under the banner of HaYom, demanded a meeting with the United Synagogue President Raymond Goldstein. Goldstein told JTA a meeting was in the works.

The synagogue presidents echoed the complaints of the HaYom group, saying the United Synagogue is not sufficiently open and transparent. They also requested that United Synagogue publish its recent budgets and the contract of its current executive vice president, hold a series of open discussions for congregations and shrink its governing boards.

State Dept. Urged to Probe Islamic School’s Textbooks

A congressman urged the State Department to investigate the content of textbooks at a Virginia Islamic academy.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) wrote the department for the seventh time, but for the first time since Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of state, to ask that the department convene an independent panel to “definitively translate and interpret the textbooks and determine exactly what is being taught” at the Islamic Saudi Academy in northern Virginia.

Wolf said in the letter that he was spurred by an Associated Press story on March 12 reporting that while the school’s textbooks had been revised last year, they still contained enough “sensitive material to fuel critics who claimed the books show intolerance toward those who do not follow strict interpretation toward Islam.”

The school, which educates 900 students, overhauled its textbooks after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report stating that there were a number of problematic passages, including one saying “the Jews conspired against Islam and its people.”

The new books remove those passages, but according to the AP still disparage Jewish and Christian scholars for rejecting “the true path of Islam” and warn Muslims to be careful in accepting party and wedding invitations from non-Muslims.

U.S. Teachers Reject Academic Boycott of Israel

The American Federation of Teachers reiterated its opposition to an academic boycott of Israel.

“We believe academic boycotts were a bad idea in 2002 and are a bad idea now,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement released March 11. “Academic boycotts are inconsistent with the democratic values of academic freedom and free expression.”

In the aftermath of the war in Gaza, several Canadian and American professors and organizers have called for an academic boycott of Israel. The initiatives are similar to efforts by a group of British academics earlier this decade intended to block Israeli universities and professors from participating in academic conferences and other forums outside of Israel.

“We want to make clear that this position does not in any way discourage an open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of ways to resolve it,” Weingarten said. “However, we expect that such a discussion would not be one-sided and would consider the behavior of all the relevant actors. An academic boycott of Israel, or of any country, for that matter, would effectively suppress free speech without helping to resolve the conflict.”

Injured American Fence Protester Improves

An American demonstrator seriously injured during a protest against the West Bank security fence is breathing on his own.

Tristan Anderson, 37, remains in critical condition and heavily sedated in an Israeli medical center, but has been removed from a respirator and is responding to voice commands, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Anderson, an International Solidarity Movement activist from the Oakland area, was hit in the head March 13 by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank town of Naalin.

Weekly protests against the security fence have taken place around Naalin. Four Palestinians have been killed since the protests began, and 73 police officers and soldiers have been hurt by demonstrators, according to the Post.

His parents arrived Monday in Israel.

Six years ago, another ISM activist, 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to block it from demolishing a Palestinian home. The death was ruled an accident by the Israeli military.

Rabbi: No Crosses at Western Wall

It is not appropriate for the pope to wear a cross at the Western Wall, the rabbi in charge of the holy site said.

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Israel in May and visit the Western Wall. He wears a large cross at all public appearances.

“My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch told the Jerusalem Post Monday.

The rabbi has refused to allow other Catholic leaders to visit the site after they refused to remove or hide their crosses. In 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site with his cross visible.

Israeli security forces also want to close the wall to worshippers beginning the night before and during the pope’s visit, which Rabinovitch also disputes.

Women’s Group Slams Israeli Supermodel

An advertisement featuring Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli was slammed by a women’s Zionist group.

The Israeli branch of the Women’s International Zionist Organization named Refaeli’s spot for Israeli water company Eden Springs the most sexist of the year, Ha’aretz reported. The group plans to launch a consumer boycott of the companies running the five most sexist ads.

“WIZO calls on the public not to buy products that advertise themselves through the denigration of women and the entrenchment of the sexist image,” said Gila Oshrat, chairwoman of WIZO’s Women’s Status Division.

JFN Offering Environmental Matching Grants

The Jewish Funders Network will give $750,000 in matching grants to first-time gifts for environmental projects in Israel.

The 900-member JFN, which made the announcement Sunday, is open to individuals and foundations granting at least $25,000 annually to Jewish and/or secular causes.

The Jewish Funders Network/Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund Matching Grant Initiative for the Environment in Israel are open only to JFN members and will be given to match either first-time gifts or gifts that are at least double a donor’s previous gift to an Israeli environmental nonprofit.

Applications for matching grants will be accepted online through July 31.

“The need for protecting Israel’s environment is a growing challenge, even as natural resource depletion and clean water shortages escalate,” said Richard Goldman, founder and president of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. “There is a pressing need to proactively and effectively address the environmental impact of rapid industrialization and population growth.”

Over the past four years, JFN’s matching grant initiatives have generated more than $60 million in new funds for a range of causes.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Sion Ebrahami: I was taken hostage by the moujahadeen


If you ask retired Iranian Jewish accountant and author Simon “Sion” Ebrahimi about being held hostage for many months in his office in Tehran during the Iranian revolution, he will tell you the circumstances were a sort of a tragic comedy. Ebrahimi’s office was located across the street from the U.S. Embassy.

In November 1979, when the embassy was taken over by armed revolutionary thugs, Ebrahimi and his partners were also held hostage inside their offices by his armed employees. Now 70 and residing in Los Angeles, Ebrahimi is penning a fictional, multigenerational family saga loosely based on his family’s life in Iran. He talked recently about his experiences as a captive.

Jewish Journal: Can you give some background into your accounting firm in Iran and the circumstances that led up to your being taken hostage?

Simon Ebrahimi: Before the revolution, I was a partner of the largest international CPA firm in Iran, where the employees with excellent performance records would qualify to become a partner of the firm. At the time, we had over 500 employees.

Since all partners came from the employees’ pool, we worked in a close, friendly environment. I always had an open-door policy with my staff. The same bonding was there, even if you became a partner.

At the time, I had nine British and American partners and five Iranians of different religions and ethnic backgrounds. They included Muslims, Jews, Assyrians and Armenians.

As clients were both major corporations with international affiliations and also Iranian government institutions, I knew and worked with people at a very high echelon of the private and the government levels.

With the early signs of the revolution in 1978, the staff went on a sitting strike, and as the situation culminated into the takeover of the American Embassy compound and hostage-taking — which I was an eyewitness to. Since our office was facing the embassy, this stimulated our staff more, and soon my partners and I were taken hostage. This situation paralyzed the firm.

With them not going to work, the cash flow started getting messed up. What they were demanding from us was to terminate them all, pay them a termination compensation of $20 million, then re-hire them. Where was the money that we didn’t have going to come from, we asked? ‘Your hidden bank accounts in Israel and America!’ they responded.

JJ: Who were the people that took you hostage?

SE: With the passage of time, we realized that these people were from three factions within the firm, which included the Mojahedeen faction, the communist faction and there were the very fanatic pro-Khomeini faction.

And we had a few people who were still loyal to us and gave us inside information as to how these people were confronting one another. As the unrest escalated and Khomeini ended up coming to Iran, with the hostage situation happening in the embassy, my partners and I were also taken hostage by my employees.

JJ: Typically, people are terrified when they are taken hostage. What did you find humorous about the incident?

SE: The comedy side of this whole thing was more appealing to me than the tragic side, because these were not ordinary factory workers who would put the factory owners in a dark room and threaten to kill them. We had our breakfast, our kebab for lunch and our dinners; they were very polite — it was dead crazy!

But we were not allowed to go home. They assigned each partner a guard, which came from the employee pool. They said, ‘Please don’t go home tonight, because we are thinking of coming up with an answer to your end of the bargain’ — and we knew then that we were hostages.

Then they came to our offices and told us, ‘Please don’t go home.’ They were very nice, polite, civilized — but sons of bitches!

JJ: How did you eventually extricate yourself from this hostage situation?

SE: So here I am in the middle of the hostage-taking, sitting in my office, and one of my clients, a major subsidiary of the French government, calls me. The guy was my connection, and he asked me what was happening with his case.

I thought this was a God-given thing, because they owed us somewhere around $60,000. So I asked my client to come over to Tehran, and he said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you kidding me? Why don’t you come here?’ I said OK, and he agreed to give me the check when I came to France.

By then, my office was being run by a revolutionary committee, which was comprised of my own driver and a few other hoodlums. I called the revolutionary committee into my office and told them my clients have called me to Paris, and I was going to get the $60,000.

Now the office was in a financial mess; no one was paying their salaries, and $60,000 was a ton of money at that time in Iran. My driver — a revolutionary committee member — said, ‘I think he’s going to escape.’

And then I told my captors, ‘Get the hell out of my office; make up your mind, then come back and tell me if you want me to go and get you $60,000!’ Of course, the latter part of my cry worked.

They returned and asked what guarantees I could give them that I would not escape. I said, ‘My family is here; I have no intention of escaping,’ and they agreed to remove my name from the black list — the list of people who were forbidden to leave the country.

I called my client and asked him for a visa. Fortunately, I had my whole family on one passport, and he arranged for a six-month visa to France. After three days of work in Paris in September of 1980, I returned to Tehran with the check, and these people were celebrating the mighty dollars and distributing it amongst themselves.

I had already packed up a few suitcases. I grabbed my family, jumped on a plane and escaped to France. The fortunate thing was that they had forgotten to blacklist me again. We came to France, we applied for a visa to come to America and eventually made it here.

Escape, exile, rebirth: Iranian Jewish diaspora alive and well in Los Angeles


Thirty years have passed since the massive and violent demonstrations against the Shah of Iran that began in September 1978, and for many, the start of that country’s bloody revolution might seem a faded memory. Yet I have carried those shattering events with me all of my life: I was born on in Tehran on Sept. 11, 1978, as chaos unfolded on the streets outside.

For Americans, Sept. 11 has its own painful history, but for me, that day each year has always been, as well, a reminder of another horrific tragedy: Sept. 9 to Sept. 11, 1978, were among the first and most brutal days of a revolution in Iran that would result, among many upheavals, in the uprooting of the country’s ancient and once-thriving Jewish population.

My family’s story is no different from that of thousands of other Jews who fled Iran during and after the revolution, many of whom now live in Southern California, New York, Israel and elsewhere worldwide — the Iranian Jewish diaspora.

While scholars have since debated the true cause of the revolution, it is well known that the massive public protests for “greater freedoms” and strikes crippled Iran’s economy. Violence between the protesters and police erupted in Iran’s capital in January 1978 and intensified later in the year.

These activities eventually resulted in the collapse of the government led by the shah, who fled Iran on Jan. 20, 1979. On Feb. 1, 1979, the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran, quickly dissolved the monarchy and shortly thereafter established a new fundamentalist Islamic state government.

The new theocratic regime eliminated practically overnight many of the freedoms and civil liberties once taken for granted by Iranians — including the country’s Jews, who under the shah’s reign had experienced one of the greatest periods of peace and prosperity in their long history in the region.

A day perhaps best remembered in the United States is Nov. 4, 1979, when regime operatives took over the American Embassy in Tehran and held captive 52 Americans in a reign of terror that would last for 444 days — the rationale for this act, in part, was retaliation against the U.S. government, which had granted the exiled shah permission to be treated for cancer in America.

The new regime’s henchmen also quickly executed several prominent Jewish community leaders, accusing them of sympathizing with the fallen monarchy or “spying for Israel and America.” For fear of what calamity might befall them, many Jewish families rushed to abandon their homes and businesses and fled the country — often under cover of night. Others lost everything they owned, as millions of dollars in assets were confiscated by the new fundamentalist Islamist Iranian government.

Under the shah’s rule, Iran’s Jews, as well as other religious minorities in Iran, had become accustomed to being treated with respect, albeit as separate, distinct cultures. Now they were second-class citizens, and the atmosphere of hostility led thousands of them to flee the country.

Looking back, the trauma of that flight has left deep wounds within my community. Many Iranian Jews continue to live in disbelief at what transpired.

“It was unbelievable, unfathomable for us Jews to believe anything would happen to us in Iran because of the incredible power of shah and his government,” Ebrahim Yahid, a local Iranian Jewish activist, now in his 80s, told me in a recent interview. “Nobody in our community believed of the calamity we would face under the new regime of Khoemini.”

Jewish flight from Iran began in earnest, most community members agree, in May 1979, when the new regime’s revolutionary guard executed 66-year-old “Haji” Habib Elghanian, a philanthropist and the leader of Iran’s Jewish community. Elghanian’s younger brother, Sion, who now lives in Los Angeles, recently spoke to me about his brother’s execution, the first time he has spoken publicly about it.

“Haji was in America, and 10 to 15 days before Khomeini returned to Iran, he returned to Iran,” said Sion Elghanian, who is now retired and in his late 80s.

The older Elghanian had been in the United States temporarily, hoping to weather the chaos of the early days of unrest, which had brought the country to a standstill through nationwide strikes.

It was expected that Habib Elghanian might become a target, because he was the wealthiest Jew in Iran and the leader of Iran’s Jews.

“Everyone, including the late Israeli Prime Minister Begin, asked him not to return to Iran, but he said, ‘I was born in Iran, I love my country, I have treated all Iranians — Muslims and Jews alike — with compassion, and I have not done anything illegal,'” his younger brother remembered.

The Islamic regime arrested Habib Elghanian on Feb. 17, 1979, and falsely charged him with being a Zionist spy, along with other trumped-up charges of treason against the state. He was executed on May 9, 1979, after a sham trial by the revolutionary Islamic court, which lasted just over an hour and consisted merely of a proclamation of the verdict, without presenting any real evidence. While he was in prison, family members and friends were able to get some messages to him and receive his replies.

“Haji knew that they were going to kill him,” Sion Elghanian said. “Before he was executed, he requested that that he be given his tallit and kippah to wear. He recited the ‘Shema’ … and then they shot him by a firing squad.

“Afterward, Iran’s Jews were in total shock and grief,” his brother told me. “We told him [Elghanian] that we wanted to arrange to have him sprung from jail in an escape, but he told us not to go forward with it, as the move might motivate the Islamic leaders of Iran to retaliate by executing thousands of Jews living in the country.”

Sion Elghanian said that he respects his brother’s wishes not to be sprung from jail and feels that the family did all that they could to rescue and save him. He views his brother as a hero who sacrificed himself for the good of the community.

PBS ‘Resurgence’ documentary explores reappearance of anti-Semitism


The PBS documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” will discomfit viewers of all stripes.

Airing Jan. 8 at 10 p.m. on KCET, the film will annoy those who believe that rising anti-Semitism is a myth fueled by Jewish paranoia and self-serving Jewish defense agencies.

Equally upset will be those who argue that anti-Semitism, particularly in the Islamic world, is just using the same old stick to beat up on a blameless Israel.

In addition, fervent believers in a global Jewish conspiracy, if any tune in, will be enraged at seeing their worldview demolished and ridiculed.

Within one hour, the documentary, narrated by veteran broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff, covers a lot of territory in a graphic and efficient manner.

We are given a capsule history of Jew hatred both in the Christian West and Muslim East, accompanied throughout by horrifying cartoons across the centuries depicting the Jew as “Christ killer,” blood sucker, ravisher of virgins and plotter of world domination.

Numerous experts weigh in on the Middle East conflict and its impact on the resurgence of anti-Semitism. On the whole, the arguments balance each other out, with perhaps a slight edge to our side, thanks to Woodruff’s narration.

Considerable airtime is given to New York University professor Tony Judt, often denounced for his harsh criticism of Israeli policy and leadership. In this program, however, he limits himself mainly to exploring the growing Muslim immigration and influence in Europe.

Israel’s Natan Sharansky and the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris effectively lay out the Jewish role in the fight against anti-Semitism.

A telling analysis of the corrupting effect of anti-Semitism on the Arab masses is given, surprisingly, by Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief for Al Hayat, an independent Arab daily published in London.

Princeton historian Bernard Lewis draws a useful distinction between Christian and Muslim anti-Semitism over the centuries.

In the Islamic world, the Jew, though not equal, was tolerated and did not carry the satanic aura painted in medieval Europe, said Lewis, who “credited” British and other Christian theologians with introducing modern anti-Semitism into the Arab world.

Perhaps the most surprising emphasis in the film is on the deep and persisting impact of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” in shaping the prejudices of European anti-Semites and the convictions of Arab leaders and masses.

The “Protocols,” a Czarist forgery of the early 1900s, has proven particularly useful to Muslim presidents and clerics to rationalize how the “inferior” Jews of Israel could repeatedly outfight proud Arab nations.

While the Arabs have never gotten over their defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, their humiliation is lessened if they can believe that they were beaten by the cosmic evil power portrayed in the “Protocols.”

The one point of agreement among the experts is that anti-Semitism will not disappear, because “it serves so many purposes,” notes professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University.

Added Woodruff, “Israel is used as a coat hanger” by Arab leaders, who can attach all their problems on it and divert their people from their poverty and corrupt regimes.

The PBS production was produced, written and directed by Andrew Goldberg, who recently documented “The Armenian Genocide,” in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

‘Dumb Jews’ react, more politics, more Israel


Dumb Jews

Your issue focusing on Jews’ Jewish literacy (“Dumb Jews,” Oct. 20) could not have been more appropriate. The key to building strong Jewish communities is creating knowledgeable Jews, aware of the meaning, significance and holiness of their tradition.

Your issue came out just as our synagogue began a program, started by a young rabbinical student at the University of Judaism, Laurence Rosenthal, called the Conservative Kollel. The program meets twice a month, it is free and offers intimate study sessions on a series of topics drawn from traditional Jewish literature.

I hope that it is through programs like this one that we will deepen and strengthen Jews’ commitment to their beautiful tradition.

Rabbi Aaron D. Benson
Congregation Beth Meier
Studio City

You often print obnoxious and anti-Jewish materials, but the front-page cartoon titled, “Dumb Jews” (Oct. 20), depicting a young Jew in a dunce cap, insults Jews as being stupid.

Jews with little knowledge of Judaism may indeed be uneducated in that important area of knowledge but describing them as “dumb” and “dunce” is nasty and misuses those words.

Webster’s dictionary defines “dumb” as lacking intelligence or not having the capability to process data. “Dunce” is defined as a slow-witted or stupid person.

Jews are often cited as among the most intelligent group of people on earth. Nevertheless, there is certainly a lack of good education about Judaism among American Jews. That is worth discussion that will lead to the desire for better Jewish education.

Show respect for the Jewish community and for the English language. Berating and abusing the former while misusing the latter does nothing for your credibility.

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

Your Page 1 heading, “Dumb Jews,” is wrong, stupid and written by a dumb Jew. The correct word to have been used is “ignorant.” If you don’t know the difference between “dumb” and “ignorant,” I suggest you use a dictionary. None of all those Jewish laureates of whom we are so proud were dumb but will readily admit that they are ignorant of matters not within their range of specialty.

Albert M. Goldberg
via e-mail

I was disappointed in your education issue this month. We have been listening to the same bromide answers for the last 50 years.

As someone who makes an effort to study Jewish texts on a daily basis and who loves Jewish learning, I find myself in the odd position of having to say that Jewish literacy is, in and of itself, not the answer.

We all know from life experience that there is an inextricable bond between belief and conditioning. The clarity and quality of what we believe engenders the clarity and quality our commitments in support of those beliefs. These commitments, such as regular Jewish learning, as well as some level of commitment to Jewish law, represent the conditioning side of classical Judaism’s belief – conditioning dynamic.

For example, how many parents who have been brought up to believe that the Torah is an inspiring “myth” will be motivated to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on even one child’s 12 years of Jewish education?

Beyond financial considerations, how many of these parents would want their child to spend half of each school day during those 12 years studying that “myth?” Why would those same parents decide to spend their Sunday mornings in temple pouring over arcane Jewish texts, when they could be on the golf course?

The real reason most adults and their children do not receive a real Jewish education is that, by and large, our leadership has failed to give them compelling reasons to bother to become knowledgeable Jews. A serious conversation about what we believe and what we are willing to do in support of those beliefs is the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room that no one will talk about.

No, its not about more user-friendly courses or cutting-edge pedagogical theories. Until we can engage in a serious communal conversation about Jewish beliefs and understand that that conversation is both necessary and possible, even for sophisticated, 21st century American Jews, we will continue the downward spiral and pretend that Jewish literacy is the answer to all our ills.

Rafael Guber
New York

Are Jews “dumb” or are their educators a bit primitive?Jewish educators need to think out of the box, otherwise it’ll be the same old story for dumb Jews.

Classical Jewish education in day or after-school programs prepares people for b’nai mitzvahs but does not have the sophistication to engage Jews from high school ages through young professional ages. Educators even tout this point, but are they doing enough to change the way they convey Jewish concepts to teens and young adults looking for more sophisticated answers and more 21st century learning modes?

We need only look at the abundance of educational products in the Christian market – Internet, audiovisual, music – that has led to great strides in engaging their audiences to learn about their religion. FOX now even has a FOX Faith branch of film development projects geared at Christian audiences.

Jewish education must adapt and be more innovative in its approaches. I’m not saying today’s teens and young adults suffer from a Jewish attention deficit; educators are just not reaching us.

Dan Witzling
Business Director
The J-Flicks Project
Los Angeles

I was terribly upset when I picked up The Jewish Journal just outside of my driveway, face up with the headline, “Dumb Jews.” I thought for a moment that it was perhaps an anti-Semitic publication but was shocked to see that it was indeed The Jewish Journal.

Don’t we have enough people around town, around the country, across the globe bashing us? Is it necessary for you to get your point across in such a demeaning way with the exposure to many who may not understand the significance behind the headline ?

I think you wonderful writers at The Journal could have come up with a better choice for your headline so as not to create more disharmony – not only amongst ourselves but fuel our critics as well.

Maher Hathout — partner for peace or anti-Semite in centrist clothing?


To progressive Jews, he is a partner for peace and a moderate Muslim in a world darkened by Islamic extremism. To conservative Jews, he is a strident anti-Israel critic, perhaps even a closet anti-Semite, masquerading as a centrist.
 

Dr. Maher Hathout, like no other local Muslim leader in recent memory, has divided the Jewish community, exposing fissures between Jews who fervently believe in reviving the frayed Jewish-Muslim dialogue and those who have lost faith.

 
The chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California and senior adviser to the national Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Hathout became a lightening rod for criticism soon after the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission tapped him in July for the prestigious John Allen Buggs Award for excellence in human relations, which he is slated to receive next month.

 
Following the announcement, terrorism expert Steven Emerson penned an article published in New Republic Online depicting the Egyptian-born cardiologist, who immigrated to the United States in 1971 and is a U.S. citizen, as an apologist for terror groups and a strident critic of the Jewish state. In his piece, Emerson points to Hathout’s past attacks on Israel, including publicly characterizing the country as “a racist, apartheid” state, as his accusation that “the United States is also under Israeli occupation.”

 
These remarks, which Hathout says were made in the context of criticizing the Israeli government, Emerson argues are actually code words for anti-Semitism, and should disqualify Hathout from receiving an award established to promote positive race and human relations in multicultural Los Angeles County.

 
Hathout, in an interview with The Jewish Journal, said he has no intention of withdrawing. To do so, he said, would reward the forces of intolerance and intimidation.

 
At a Sept. 11 commission meeting convened to allow for public comment about the proposed award, Hathout said that “probably my words were harsh” at times, but that he stands by his statements. Hathout said he had no problem with the Israeli people but only with their government. He has helped to organize interfaith services and has traveled to Israel on joint missions in the past.

 
After the publication of Emerson’s article, three major Jewish groups, the American Jewish Committee, the Zionist Organization of America and StandWithUs, criticized Hathout and questioned the commission’s decision to honor him. On Sept. 11, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles joined the trio.

 
Hathout’s “words regrettably create the very fissures and divides that the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission is seeking to repair,” Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel said in a speech before the commission meeting.
Rabbi John Borak, director of inter-religious affairs at the L.A. chapter of the American Jewish Committee said that the fact that someone with Hathout’s opinions is considered a moderate Muslim shows why Muslim-Jewish dialogue has faltered in recent years.

 
“The Muslim community doesn’t have honest brokers,” Borak said in an interview before the meeting on Monday. “They say they’re for peace, but their actions don’t accord with that. [Hathout] is an example of that.”

 
Yet some Jews who have worked closely over the years with Hathout dismiss the criticism as mean-spirited and counterproductive. His defenders include rabbis and political activists, among others, who characterize him as a moderate Muslim who opposes Muslim extremism and favors tolerance and inclusion. They argue that intemperate remarks about Israel should not be justification to marginalize him.
“He’s a man who’s demonstrated in every way his commitment to what is humane,” said Rabbi Leonard Beerman, the retired founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles. “He’s a moderate in the Muslim world. If we can’t embrace him, we’re left twisting in the wind.”

 
Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, rabbi emeritus at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, argued that Hathout’s humanity and decency was especially evident at a 2002 Jewish-Muslim Passover seder he and Hathout helped organize.

 
Hathout called the seder one of the most moving religious experiences of his life, Jacobs said.

 
“If I felt [Hathout] was an extremist prone to violence and approved of things that are antithetical to Jews, I wouldn’t be here,” Jacobs said at a Sept. 8 press conference at the Islamic Center, which attracted more than 20 prominent local religious leaders who support Hathout.

 
Appearing three days later before the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, a confident and resolute Hathout said he has worked tirelessly to promote dialogue and diversity. Attempting to allay concerns over his past remarks, he told the commission and the emotionally charged audience of 100 that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestianian confict, as well as Israel’s right to exist, and that he has long condemned suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism as antithetical to the Quran’s teachings.

 
At the same time, Hathout remained steadfast in his criticisms of Israel. The retired cardiologist defended his right to criticize the president and Congress of the United States, as well as the state of Israel, and he said he would continue to do so long as he saw injustices. He said he believes that it is only his sharp comments about the Jewish state that have created the pressure on the human relations commission to rescind.

 
“There’s a storm of hate raised to a hurricane directed to me, my name, and, I guess, to you,” Hathout told the commissioners. “You can be sure if I had been talking about Canada or Brazil, we would not have such a hurricane.”

 
The human relations commission, after listening to nearly 50 speakers in a two and half hour meeting, decided to postpone a decision on what, if anything, to do about Hathout’s award until its next meeting on Sept. 18.

 
Some of Hathout’s critics used their time before the commissioners to raise questions about the nomination process. Normally, a commission subcommittee accepts nominations for the award and the full commission accepts the nomination. The county supervisors themselves have no vote in the matter.
According to sources, ordinarily commissioners themselves put forward names. In this instance, Hathout’s name was put forward by MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati. Al-Marayati represented that Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky supported Hathout’s nomination, though both men have said they never took a position.

Left Coast peacemakers mourn 9/11 in many languages


Five years and 3,000 miles from the site of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the mournful strains of calls to prayer in Hebrew and Arabic open the Islamic Center of Southern California’s fourth annual commemoration of the attacks of Sept. 11.

 
The audience, dressed in saris, suits, skirts or slacks, bareheaded, or wearing head scarves, kippahs, kufis or turbans, gathered to pray together and to honor three religious leaders, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, who were to receive Peace Awards for their continuing work toward interfaith understanding.

 
One of the recipients, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica, told the group how terror had come close to his life.

 
Last July, he and his wife were awakened by a call from their teenage daughter to assure them that she was all right. She was in London and had gotten off a bus moments before it turned the corner and exploded.

 
Now a year later, the rabbi urged a recommitment to truly care for one another’s children, by walking together toward healing and understanding.

 
“If we can truly change the way we are with one another, we will create a world in which no one would consider dying for Judaism, Islam or any other religion and killing others in the process,” he said.

 
Comess-Daniels urged ongoing dialogue, a cause at the heart of the organizations that sponsored the Peace Award, the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and the Interreligious Council of Southern California.

 
Jihad Turk, the director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center, also presented Peace Awards to the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guilbord of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and Dr. Hassan Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California.

 
In the keynote address, Dr. Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center, denounced extremists’ twisted theology of death and destruction, while urging vigilance in the preservation of democracy — the protection of civil liberties and the Constitution.

 
“It would be sad if we save the buildings and lose the soul,” he said.
Rabbi Steven Jacobs, rabbi emeritus of Temple Kol Tikvah, offered the first prayer. “To stand in the ruins of New York or Beirut, or the desolated areas of Palestine is to know that what doesn’t happen in the Middle East is happening here. We are talking to each other.”

 
The service continued with prayers from a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Sikh and a Baha’i, and concluded with a musical offering from representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 
As the group adjourned for cheese, crackers, fruit and baklava, Turk explained that this memorial service is part of the Islamic Center’s mission.

 
“Muslim Americans are on the front line in the war against terror in that we are charged with making sure that our institutions do not become dens of hate speech and extremist rhetoric nor recruiting grounds for extremists, terrorists or anyone who would want to do this country harm,” he said.

 
As Turk was about to enter the prayer room, he was approached by Suzanne Rubin, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; they had traveled together in March on an Abrahamic pilgrimage, visiting sacred sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 
She invited him and his family to a break fast after Yom Kippur.

 
“That’s during Ramadan, so we’ll be breaking fast as well,” he replied. “That should work.”

Quartet of Movies to Tell Pearl’s Story


Filmmakers are currently wrestling with four different projects to document or dramatize the story of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in early 2002, leaving behind a pregnant wife.

Pearl’s life and tragic death would seem a natural for the Hollywood treatment, but the delays and uncertainties of most of the projects are now raising two concerns.

When will the films be completed? And will they reflect the complex nature, Jewish heritage and true legacy of the slain journalist?

At this point, only one project is finished, a 90-minute documentary titled, “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” narrated by CNN correspondent Christine Amanpour and to be broadcast by HBO.

The film was directed by AlluTamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, and was briefly screened — but not reviewed — at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.

An HBO spokeswoman said that the 90-minute documentary is to air sometime in October, but Judea and Ruth Pearl, Daniel’s parents, said they have been given a specific date of Oct. 10, when their son would have marked his 43rd birthday.

A fair amount of publicity has surrounded the feature film, “A Mighty Heart,” in part because it is based on a book by Daniel Pearl’s widow, and because the project has been inadvertently caught up in the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie saga.

When Mariane Pearl completed her book, “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Daniel Pearl” in late 2003, Warner Bros. reportedly paid more than $500,000 for the film rights.

The production company, Plan B, was designated to actually make the film under the direction of Plan B owners — the then-married couple — Pitt and Aniston — and film executive Brad Gray, now head of Paramount Pictures.

At that time, media reports had it that Aniston would play the part of Mariane Pearl. But, soon after, the actress and Pitt severed their marital and professional relationships.

Pitt then entered into a well-publicized relationship with Jolie, and that actress is now reportedly in line to essay the role of Pearl’s wife.

Dede Gardner, president of the reclusive Plan B, would disclose only, through a spokeswoman, that the film “is in development and we are currently working on the script.”

None of the others involved in “A Mighty Heart” have publicly commented, but screenwriter John Orloff’s script is expected to follow the book’s focus on the young couple’s romance and marriage, followed by the wife’s agonizing vigil after Daniel Pearl was kidnapped.

Looking at the same topic with a different perspective and approach is “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” which is “inspired” by the book of the same title by Bernard-Henri Lévy, in which the French philosopher-novelist describes his yearlong investigation into the reporter’s death.

Producer Charlie Lyons has teamed up with up with executive producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, director Tod “Kip” Williams and screenwriter Peter Landesman, a New York Times Magazine foreign correspondent, to make the film for Beacon Pictures.

They are a bit farther along than the “Mighty Heart” project. Lyons, who is in New Zealand shooting another movie, e-mailed that he hopes to start filming the Pearl story in the fall.

According to the studio, the script will differ from the book to avoid infringement on the “Mighty Heart” movie, or, as Lyons wrote, “Some elements of the story will allow for literary inspiration.”

For one, the movie will be mainly a political thriller in which author Lévy will be transformed into an American celebrity television reporter, portrayed by actor Josh Lucas.

Daniel Pearl himself will be fictionalized to some extent, “but the symbol and inspiration of Daniel is core” to the film, Lyons wrote.

Finally, there are one or two references on Google to a film project billed as “Infinite Justice.” The title is not to be confused with a German effort, “Operation Infinite Justice,” which was the code name for the American buildup preceding the current war in Iraq, later renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

According to skimpy reports, that film is to deal with “an American reporter (named Arnold Silverman), who is held hostage by Muslim fundamentalists in Karachi against the release of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.”

The Pearl parents say that they have been unable to learn anything more about the project.

Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father, is a UCLA professor and widely known authority on artificial intelligence. Ruth Pearl is an electrical engineer; they both expressed mixed sentiments about the rash of film projects.

“I don’t think they will be able to capture my feelings,” said the father, while his wife added, “They [the filmmakers] are probably doing their best, but how can they express the emotions of a mother for her son?”

Hoping for that degree of empathy may be asking for the impossible. But the Pearls, who have been consumed in finding a meaning for their son’s death, also fear that his legacy might be ignored in favor of the more dramatic details of the last weeks of his life.

For the past four years, the Pearls have poured their thoughts and energies into the Daniel Pearl Foundation, “to further the ideals that inspired Daniel’s life and work.”

The broad aim of the foundation (www.danielpearl.org) is to address the root causes of his murder by promoting “cross-cultural understanding,” particularly between the Muslim and Western worlds, through journalism, music and innovative communication.

“We would like the films, and other media coverage, to express the deeper significance of Daniel’s life and death and to concentrate on the legacy and inspiration he left behind,” Judea Pearl said.

 

Iranian Colored Band Report Discredited


When the renowned exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri reported in a Canadian newspaper last week that Iran had just passed a law requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing, the world reacted with shock. The story, which also outlined required colored bands for Christians and Zoroastrians, was immediately picked up by major newspapers in Israel, and the word spread quickly. The purpose of the law according to Taheri’s article, was to set a standard dress code for Muslims and also for Iranian Muslims “to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake and thus becoming najis [unclean]”.

The story seemed credible, given that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclamations for months. But, as it turned out, Taheri was wrong. No such law had been passed.

Nevertheless, Taheri’s report set in motion a media frenzy, with checks and balances of rumor control that illustrate how on edge — and careful — the Iranian exile community is these days. Local Iranian Jewish leaders were bombarded with requests for comments from the international media on the reported legislation, but they held back from responding until they had received solid confirmation from their sources in Iran.

“To the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups,” Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation said in a press release. “I am not aware of what was said by whom, but it is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around.”

Kermanian also said that while Iran’s Islamic officials have in the past put out ideas in the media to gauge international reaction, there was no specific information about this instance.

The report stemmed from new legislation geared to making women in Iran dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions, Iranian legislator Emad Afroogh Afroogh who sponsored the Islamic Dress Code bill told the Associated Press on Friday. Allegations that new rules affecting religious minorities were not part of the new regulations, he said.

“It’s a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,” Afroogh said. “There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill.”

Morris Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian Parliament also denied the existence of any bills designed to segregate Jews in the country with special insignia on their clothes.

“Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in the parliament,” Motamed said. “Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.”

Rumors of anti-Semitic laws in Iran have disturbed local Iranian Jews who have been increasingly concerned for the safety of roughly 25,000 Jews still living in Iran since Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust and called for Israel to “wiped off the map” late last year.

“The mere fact that such possibilities are considered to be plausible is a reflection of the sad state of affairs of the religious minority groups in Iran,” Kermanian said in his press release.

According to a 2004 report prepared by Frank Nikbakht, a local Iranian Jewish activist who tracks anti-Semitism in Iran, the Jewish community lives in constant fear for its security amid threats from militant Islamic factions in the country. Since 1979, at least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two Jews died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old cantor of the popular Yousefabad synagogue in Tehran, was the last Jew to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the local Iranian Jewish community was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to save the lives of 13 Jews in Shiraz. They were facing imminent execution after being arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released.

Both Jews and Muslims of Iranian origins living in Southern California have been closely collaborating to raise public awareness of Ahmadinejad’s comments. Nearly 2,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered at a pro-Israel rally in Westwood last November to condemn Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We wanted to show the world that we are against such comments made by Mr. Ahmadinejad and that his comments are not representative of the Iranian people,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of KRSI “Radio Sedaye Iran,” a Persian language satellite radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news around the world. “Iranians are not the type to want the destruction of another people. We respect the Jewish people and only wish success for the State of Israel.”

 

The Ties That Bind Two Schools of Faith


Azmeralda Alfi is the administrator for the Bureau of Islamic Arabic Education (BIAE).

Aviva Kadosh the director of day school and Hebrew language services for the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE).

And although on the face of it, it may seem otherwise — they have a lot in common.

For the past four years, Kadosh and Alfi have been meeting regularly to exchange pedagogical advice, offer insight into each other’s communities, pay visits to the other’s turf and, above all, continually affirm how educators of different faiths can help each other.

These two women have formed a solid friendship, and whether or not that will eventually lead to an enduring bridge between Jewish and Arab educators in Los Angeles, they have set an important precedent.

“We never talk politics,” Kadosh said. “We focus only on our shared agenda.”

“Our job is education and so we have no problem,” Alfi added. “Ideally, we all come from Abraham and so religion should bring us together but the only way to really achieve that is through education.”

Kadosh and Alfi face similar challenges. Both Jewish and Arab educators deal with students who do not come from religious homes, yet their parents have sent them to religious schools. Both teach language and values that stem from holy texts. Both teach a contemporary spoken language that differs from the ancient written language.

“We both teach children the relationship between the values in our holy texts and who we are today as people,” Kadosh said.

Kadosh and Alfi both work for educational organizations that function as resource centers. Some 150 schools affiliate with the BJE, which offers curriculum development, program funding, accreditation and professional expertise. BIAE, an outgrowth of the Islamic Center of Southern California, primarily provides curriculum and development assistance to a network of four private schools collectively called New Horizon.

Since their first meeting, Kadosh and Alfi have initiated several dialogues between Hebrew and Arabic day school teachers. They also sponsored an event where third-grade students from the Pasadena New Horizon School spent the day with students from the nearby Weitzmann Day School. The students learned what different words meant in both Hebrew and Arabic and together, they read the book “The Secret Grove” by Barbara Cohen, which tells the story of a Jewish boy and an Arab boy who meet in an orange grove on the Israeli-Jordanian border and discover how much they have in common. After the students read the book, they went into the Weitzmann garden and planted an orange tree.

“They had such a good time that day,” recalled Lisa Feldman, head of the Weitzmann Day School. “Throughout all these activities, the kids really gravitated toward each other.”

The success of that event prompted the two schools to cultivate an ongoing relationship. The Weitzmann students visited the New Horizon students at their school while the teachers from both schools began visiting each other. “Not only do the kids have a good time, but also when the teachers meet, they see how much they have in common,” Feldman said. “They have the same issues of teaching a second language and ensuring that religious studies is as valued as secular studies.”

“Exposing children to different ethnic groups and religious beliefs is part of our job as teachers,” said Lina Kholaki, who also serves as the Arabic program coordinator at the New Horizon School. “Being exposed from an early age in a loving and fun exchange of language, tradition and beliefs will ultimately lead to loving and peaceful individuals.”

Kholaki has nothing but praise for Kadosh and Alfi. “These wonderful ladies work very hard to serve their communities,” she says.

Sitting in Kadosh’s office at the BJE, the two educators exhibit what seems to be a genuine mutual regard.

“I’m planning to invite her [Kadosh] over to my house,” says the 70-year-old Alfi, whose hat and dark stockings render her virtually indistinguishable from an observant Orthodox Jewish woman. “I miss her when we don’t speak.”

Alfi and her husband, Omar, a pediatric geneticist credited with discovering a rare chromosomal disorder have been immersed in activism and philanthropy since they emigrated from Egypt in 1970. Their activities have ranged from joining interfaith dialogue groups to helping establish the New Horizon school system in 1984.

“She’s a wonderful woman,” said Kadosh, 60, of Alfi. “And I’m impressed by her work in Arabic studies and by what her family has built in this city.”

Initially, a mutual acquaintance had suggested that Alfi, new to her position a the Islamic Center, contact Kadosh for advice.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” recalled Alfi, who had previously worked in human resources and as a lab manager. “I knew I needed to talk to someone whose language was also related to religion.” Kadosh recently invited eight Arabic language teachers to attend a BJE Day School Educators Conference.

“What’s amazing,” Kadosh said, “is that the Arab teachers talked to the Jewish teachers and discovered that they all dealt with the same problems.”

Kadosh in turn, has been “fascinating and bowled over” by what she has learned from visits to the New Horizon Schools. Observing a prayer service at the Pasadena campus and watching some of the kids apathetically mouth words they didn’t seem to understand, it struck her how “they were behaving just like Jewish day school kids. The issue of kids coming from non-observant homes to learn about their heritage is exactly the same,” she said.

Kadosh and Alfi stress the importance of more teacher and student interaction between the Hebrew and Islamic day school systems and profess an indefatigable commitment to continuing their work.

“We’re going to keep at it,” Kadosh said. “People need to talk to each other and the only way to do that is just to do it and create this tiny drop of peace in the world.”

 

Q & A With Richard Z.Chesnoff


In his decades as a journalist, foreign correspondent Richard Z. Chesnoff has reported from around the globe, including the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. Over the years, Chesnoff — a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, columnist for the New York Daily News and author of several acclaimed books, including “Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews” (Anchor, 2001) — has chronicled such historic events as the birth of the PLO, the Vietnam peace talks, the 1967 Six-Day War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, the rising tide of Islamic terrorism.

Splitting his time between New York City and a tiny medieval farming village in southern France, the Jewish Chesnoff has turned his incisive eye to the complex U.S.-French relationship. In his latest tome, “The Arrogance of the French: Why They Can’t Stand Us & Why the Feeling Is Mutual” (Sentinel HC, $23.95) he takes aim at French arrogance, political opportunism and anti-Semitism. Chesnoff recently spoke with Journal Senior Writer Marc Ballon.

Jewish Journal: The French view Americans as uncultured, money-grubbing slobs intent on remolding the world in their own ugly image. Americans see the French as aloof, chain-smoking arrogant cowards whose pretensions are equaled only by their cultural and political decline. Who’s right?

Richard Chesnoff: Naturally, we are. Not that we don’t have our share of ugly Americans. But the fact is that for all their disdain of America and its culture, the French have readily turned to the United States to regain and sustain their very existence as an independent nation.

As far as current cultural influences — we are it, certainly on a pop level. They still adore Hollywood, copy our music and styles and arguably drink as much Coca-Cola these days as they do red wine. They have contributed nothing major to global art or music or literature for decades. They have no global political power and a shabby armed forces.

They are furious that we are now what they think they once were, and refuse to openly admit they can no longer even aspire to be. It’s why they reject our values and leadership.

JJ: Why can’t we stand the French? Why can’t the French stand us?

RC: The prime three driving factors in French attitudes to America are envy, jealousy and bitterness. They suffer from a national inferiority complex, which they mask with a superiority complex. What annoys them most is our success and their failure.

The French economy, with its double-digit unemployment, is in the doldrums. France, with its 1,000-year history and “superior culture” is nowhere near the power it once was and pretends it still is. We — this pipsqueak cowboy nation of less than 250 years of age — are now the prime power in the world — economically as well as politically and culturally.

As a result, we see them as unfortunately they often are: arrogant, snooty, impolite and disdainful of the nation that saved their derriere twice in less than a century. Without us, they’d be speaking German.

Stereotypes are always somewhat inaccurate. But without them, we wouldn’t have any social sciences. The unfortunate fact is that the French are educated to consider themselves culturally superior to the rest of the world and not to see their shortcomings.

JJ: Have U.S.-French relations always been so strained? Is it a simple case of jealousy or something else?

RC: There have always been ups and downs — largely because we’ve failed to play the role the French initially saw for us. No doubt, French military aid to the American revolutionaries was decisive in securing our independence.

But let’s not fool ourselves. King Louis and his coterie of powder-wigged dandies were hardly enthusiasts of revolution. Rather, they saw a Yankee victory against the British as a means of reasserting French influence in North America and of tweaking King George III’s bright red nose. The combo was too great a temptation for any Frenchman to resist.

Then as now, they were interested in their own interests. That became clear to Ben Franklin during the 1783 Anglo-American peace negotiations that Paris hosted. The American delegation discovered that for all their glad-handedness, the French were ignoring vital American interests and double dealing us. To the outrage of France, the Americans began dealing directly with the British.

When a new war broke out between Republican France and England in 1793, a somewhat wiser America refused to join in on its old ally’s side. The French were furious.

To smooth things over, President John Adams sent a special mission to Paris in 1797. Things went from bad to worse when the French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, gauchely demanded a bribe to make things right.

Adams blew his top and exposed the affair, helping to trigger a two-year Franco-American quasi-war at sea. Thus ended young America’s first “entangling” alliance with France.

It’s been downhill and occasionally uphill ever since. And as we’ve grown stronger and they’ve grown weaker, their animosity toward us has increased. Franklin Roosevelt considered Charles de Gaulle a “real son-of-a-bitch” and untrustworthy to boot. That’s been the general tone since World War II.

JJ: Has France exhibited more or less anti-Semitism than its European neighbors? Please elaborate.

RC: There is a constant level of anti-Semitism in Europe — on the surface or lurking beneath. You can’t escape the effects of centuries of organized demonization of the Jews by church and state. To my mind, it explains why so many Europeans were so readily passive about Nazi persecution of the Jews and certainly why so many readily participated in it.

The French have especially excelled in this area. They are culturally xenophobic — and who is more classically foreign than Jews?

In 19th- and into 20th-century France, anti-Semitism became a powerful political reality — part of the cultural mainstream. Remember the Dreyfus Affair.

In fact, part of their dislike of America was the French perception even back in the 19th century that Jews controlled America — we weren’t Uncle Sam, we were “Oncle Shylock.” When France surrendered to the Germans in 1940, they were so eager to enact anti-Semitic laws that they did so before the Nazis even asked them. Almost all the 75,000 Jews shipped to Auschwitz from France were arrested by French gendarmes, not the Gestapo.

After World War II, blatant anti-Semitism was considered politically incorrect. But in recent years, it has been replaced by a virulent hatred of Israel that has been fostered in part by France’s hypocritical love affair with the Palestinians and the likes of Saddam Hussein. It’s only a short jump from that to anti-Semitic acts — many of which are the work of France’s increasingly marginalized Islamic population.

JJ: You’ve lived in France off and on for decades. Have you personally experienced any anti-Semitism? Please describe.

RC: I’ve been called a “sale juif” (a dirty Jew) a few times. But in my case, it’s mostly evident in attitudes, in nuance, in the occasional crack about how Jews are so clever in business, how we wield far too much power, how Israel has developed into a fascist, if not neo-Nazi state. If I were an Orthodox Jew wearing a kippah and living in a Paris suburb, I’d probably encounter more violent anti-Semitism.

JJ: Why has France coddled Hezbollah, the PLO and other terrorist groups? Has the country made a Faustian bargain that allows them to operate in France so long as they don’t launch domestic attacks? Has this policy succeeded? If not, why hasn’t France recalibrated its thinking?

RC: They did make devil deals with terrorists — “we’ll turn our attention away if you leave us alone. Blow up buildings elsewhere, but not in France.” They also allowed some of the worst of all terrorists to pass through France and nixed American efforts to have them arrested — including the Hezbollah leader who was behind bombings in Beirut that killed French troops, as well as Americans.

This head-in-the-sand policy didn’t always work. They’ve had their share of subway bombings. They’ve re-thought policies somewhat.

Their own internal security systems are among the toughest in the world, and they are now sharing more information with other intelligence services. That said, I’m convinced that somewhere in the French secret service there’s bound to be those still making unilateral deals.

JJ: In your book, you partly attribute France’s national arrogance to the prominence in their education system of Rene Descartes’ philosophy.

RC: Well, it’s their somewhat perverse interpretation of Descartes’ ideas, specifically of Cartesian logic; it’s not “I think, therefore I am” — it’s “I think, therefore I’m right!” If a Frenchman or woman ever says to you “mais c’ést logique,” you know you’re in trouble.

I’ll give you an example: I once crossed a street in a nearby town in order to enter a grocery store. There was a bicycle precariously perched outside. As I neared the door, the shop owner, who was adjusting his awning, inadvertently touched the bike, knocking it down and straight onto my leg.

I wasn’t injured, but it was very painful. As I rubbed my leg, the shopkeeper said nothing.

“At least,” I offered, “you could say, ‘I’m sorry.'”

“Why should I?” he asked with a quizzical look. “It’s not my bicycle.”

JJ: France carved out a strong anti-American position in the United Nations over America’s efforts to garner support to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The French cloaked their position solely in moral terms. Was something more at work?

RC: Of course, French economic interests and France’s self-centered political goals. The French shared an economic bed with Saddam Hussein and his gang — supplying billions in weapons, material and know-how in exchange for enormously lucrative contracts, oil and under-the-table contributions to political coffers — Socialist under Francois Mitterand, Centrist under Jacques Chirac. Just look at their shabby record in the oil-for-food deals.

JJ: France has inveighed against the United States for its so-called “unilateralism.” Hasn’t France adopted a go-it-alone strategy in Africa with disastrous results?

RC: Yes. They may attack us for unilateralism — but if France thinks some of its neo-colonial interests in Africa are threatened, for example, they ship in French troops uninvited by the local government. Their support for African dictators has been shameful.

JJ: Are Americans alone in their antipathy for the French? If I recall correctly, didn’t French President Jacques Chirac chastise Eastern Europeans for supporting the U.S. position on Iraq at the United Nation?

RC: The French are never going to win any pan-European popularity contests. At the risk of a terrible generalization, I’d say most other Europeans look upon them much as we do: arrogant and frequently offensive. The French, for their part, are worried about a European Union they can’t control — thus their recent rejection of the European Constitution.

JJ: The French, in recent decades, have staked out a position as a counterbalance to U.S. hegemony, despite sharing democratic and liberal values with America, not to mention membership in NATO. Does France really worry about U.S. power or is it simply trying to enhance its image and expand its influence at America’s expense?

RC: France frets about American superpower, because it cuts them out of action to which they are not entitled but insist they are. No doubt, France deserves a place at the global table — but France wants to sit at the head of the table. They have no economic, political or military right to do that. Their shameful behavior regarding Iraq and other global matters underscores all of this.

JJ: In your opinion, would the world be a safer place if France, rather than the United States, was the sole superpower?

RC: Absolutely not. The United States is already the sole superpower. China may eventually join us — but at present, there is no one else. The French have given no evidence that even if they possessed the stuff that makes for superpowerism, they’d provide better leadership than we do. As I recall, they’ve never liberated anyone.

JJ: About 10 percent of France’s population is now Muslim, with many hailing from former colonies such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Why has the country had such a difficult time digesting these relative newcomers compared to past waves of immigrants? How do most French feel about the rapid growth of the Muslim population within their midst?

RC: France is not a multicultural nation. The French believe that their culture is ultimately the only culture, certainly for France.

They thought that the Islamic labor force they imported from North Africa would ultimately return to North Africa. It hasn’t, and the French have not

accepted them culturally, economically or socially.

They are an increasingly marginalized and angry society of almost 6 million people with the country’s highest birthrate. The French unwillingness to truly absorb its Islamic population as French has resulted in the Islamic community turning increasingly inward.

JJ: If you have so many issues with the French, why do you live there?

RC: It’s a personal choice after many years of living here. No matter how annoying the French are, I adore the French countryside; I pick and choose and enjoy the best of classic French life — history, art, cuisine. In part, I suppose, I stay to spite them. Let’s say it’s my Yankee revenge!

 

Immigration Plan Poses Challenges


President Bush’s Jan. 7 proposal to dramatically expand immigration to the United States ignited a national debate about this highly emotional issue. While this is a critical policy that will profoundly affect all Americans, it is a policy that must be of particular concern to American Jews.

Arguably, no group has benefited more from immigration to America than the Jews, and, arguably, no group has more to lose as a result of continued mass immigration to the United States.

The surge of violent anti-Semitism that has been spreading across Europe and the effort of European governments to sweep it under the rug are directly tied to the phenomenon of immigration (as The Jewish Journal reported in the Dec. 5 issue). Much of the current violence and venom directed against European Jewry has its roots in the large Arab and Islamic immigrant community and their European-born children.

The United States is not Europe, and it would be wrong to assert that this country will follow exactly the same path. But it would be wrong and reckless of American Jewry not to contemplate the potential challenges that will face American Jews and their interests 10 or 15 years from now, when the Islamic population of this country will likely outnumber the Jewish population.

It is an uncomfortable matter to deal with, and we must never fall into the trap of automatically assuming that every Arab or Muslim immigrant is a potential enemy, but neither can we ignore the real dangers that this sort of demographic transformation poses.

Unlike Europe, the United States has a long history of assimilating people from disparate cultures. However, there are many important differences between the circumstances of today’s immigration and that of previous generations.

Revolutionary advances in transportation and communication make it much easier for people to cling to their ancestral ties. Moreover, never in our history have we received large numbers of immigrants from societies that harbor strong anti-American attitudes.

The overt anti-Semitism we are witnessing on college campuses across the United States, promoted by increasingly assertive Islamic groups, may well spread into other areas of American life, as the population of Islamic immigrants and their U.S.-born children increases. Things may not deteriorate to the level that they have in France and elsewhere in Europe, where wearing a kippah or a Star of David in public is an invitation to be attacked, but life could become a whole lot less comfortable for Jews in America.

The rapidly growing Islamic population of the United States will likely have a profound effect on this country’s foreign policy, as well. Domestic political considerations could lead to a shift in U.S. Middle East policy, as a growing, vocal and well-organized Muslim voting bloc emerges.

American Jews and American supporters of Israel are not as smart as we like to give ourselves credit for. There is no doubt that groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are among the most effective lobbying organizations in Washington. But it is also true that for a long time, they have been playing the political game without an opposing team on the field. There has not been a substantial group of voters and political contributors who were as passionately anti-Israel as American Jews (and many Christians) have felt in support of Israel.

Until now, congressional support for Israel has been a political no-brainer. Supporting Israel meant Jewish votes if there were any in a member’s district and Jewish campaign dollars, even in states and districts without substantial Jewish populations.

Those built-in advantages are about to change. The Arab and Islamic leadership in the United States is actively planning and organizing to translate growing numbers into increased political clout.

Because of the way U.S. immigration policy is structured, we are likely to see a surge in immigration from the Islamic world in the coming years. Once an immigrant establishes a foothold in the United States, the law guarantees eventual admission for a wide range of extended family members. Given the political and economic conditions that exist in their countries of origin, it is certain that many will take advantage of the opportunity to settle in the United States.

The United States must never return to the pre-1965 policies that favored or disadvantaged potential immigrants based solely on where they came from. However, a policy that places all would-be immigrants on an equal footing and requires them to compete for admission on their own merits would be completely consistent with American values.

Unless provisions of the law that guarantee eventual admission for not only an immigrant’s spouse and minor children, but also parents, adult children and siblings (including their spouses and children) are changed, the Muslim population will grow exponentially. Without a braking mechanism on the engine of chain migration, the Muslim population of the United States, now estimated between 3 million and 4 million, will very quickly overtake a stagnant Jewish population of about 5.5 million.

American Jews can neither ignore our own history nor today’s realities. More than any other group of Americans, our lives and interests — and Israel’s — are likely to be affected by current U.S. immigration policies. American Jews and our leaders must balance nostalgia and our sense of fairness with rational assessments of what these policies will mean for future generations of American Jews.

We need only look across the Atlantic to realize what may await us if we don’t.


Ira Mehlman is co-founder of the American Jewish Immigration Policy Institute.

Morocco Bombings Shock Emigres


For most Parisian Jews with roots in Casablanca, the news that their home community had been targeted by Islamic terrorists came like a bolt from the blue.

"Sure, it’s happened in every other Arab country, in Egypt, even Tunisia, but we never thought it would happen in Morocco," Valerie Ben-Chimon exclaimed as she brought her children to school. "People there said they thought it was a gas explosion or an earthquake. Nobody ever imagined it was a bomb."

Ben-Chimon left Morocco for France in 1987, but her parents still live in Casablanca. They recently visited her in France for Passover.

Her father returned to Morocco just after the holiday, but Ben-Chimon’s mother returned May 18, two days after five suicide bombings in Casablanca — four of them aimed at Jewish targets — killed 29 people.

"Of course it’s worrying," she said, "but you know, there’s no security anywhere — not in France, not in Israel either."

Ben-Chimon and other Jews born in Casablanca felt more shock than anger after the attacks.

"People there have always had enormous faith in the king to protect the Jews," she said.

The head of Morocco’s 4,000-strong Jewish community, Serge Berdugo, was minister of tourism under Hassan II, father of the present monarch, Mohammed VI. One of Mohammed’s most trusted advisers, Andre Azoulay, is a Jewish banker.

"We are deeply shocked, but we are not afraid," Berdugo said. "People here know it is a global fight against the terrorists, the same for Muslims as for Jews. There were no victims from our own community, but this has come like a bolt from the blue."

Even in Paris, there was a sense of disbelief. One man, who described himself as "50-50" — half-Moroccan, half-Tunisian — said "they can’t have been Moroccans, they must have been Islamists from outside the country."

But Ben-Chimon corrected him, saying sadly, "They were Moroccans."

According to Simon Attias, president of the Society of Former Moroccan Jews, the king’s visit to the scene of the attacks was important "to send the right message" to the Moroccan people.

"But why didn’t he do anything before the attacks?" Attias asked.

Morocco is "a tolerant country," he said, and the terrorists were "as much against Moroccan Muslims as Jews."

Asked about the community’s future, Attias said things had been going downhill steadily since Morocco ceased to be a French protectorate in the 1950s.

"There’s no future for the Jews there," he said. "Virtually everyone has left for Israel, France or Canada."

Nevertheless, for many of those who left Casablanca — the site of Morocco’s largest Jewish community — the feelings toward Morocco remain strong.

"The king sent soldiers to protect us in Casablanca during the" 1991 Persian Gulf War, "and I remember how he spoke on television during the Six-Day War" in 1967, said Solange Rumi, who still has family in Casablanca. "He said that the Jews were Moroccan citizens, just like everybody else, and no Jew was touched."

"My brother said they congratulated King Mohammed on the birth of his son when he visited the Cercle d’Alliance after the bombing," Rumi said.

The targeting of the Cercle d’Alliance showed that the aim was to kill as many Jews as possible, Ben-Chimon said.

"This is a community where everyone knows everyone else, and everyone goes to the cercle," she said. "It’s a miracle. If they had bombed the Cercle d’Alliance on any day other than Shabbat, many more people would have been killed."

The same is true for Casablanca’s Safir Hotel, another target.

"There are lots of Moroccan Jews living in Israel who go there for the hilula," Ben Chimon said, referring to the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, which is marked on Lag B’Omer. "But they hit the hotel too late, because they come for only about two days or so to Casablanca, then head off for Marrakech to celebrate the hilula."

Ben-Chimon said her parents would stay in Casablanca, adding, "We have always been treated well there. It’s very special, really, ‘la belle vie.’"

Ninth Circuit Misses on Iran


I once appeared in court to ask that three additional defendants be held liable on a judgment.

The judge was skeptical — until I showed him that the additional defendants had forged both a set of articles of incorporation and a doctor’s business license.

The judge looked at the forged documents. He looked at the evidence that proved the documents were forged. Then, he exploded.

He gestured and yelled: "I don’t like it when people play fast and loose with the law." And with a stroke of a pen, he held the additional defendants liable.

I wonder what that judge thinks of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal last week to allow a terrorist victim’s family to hold an Iranian national bank in California liable on a judgment against Iran.

In Flatow v. Bank Saderat Iran the 9th Circuit decided whether heirs of American Alisa Flatow ("Flatow"), a New Jersey native who was murdered when the bus she was riding on in Israel in 1995 was bombed, could enforce their judgment against property owned by Bank Saderat Iran in Carlsbad.

Flatow had already won a judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran: Iran had provided material support and resources to the terrorists. The sole question was whether the property held by an Iranian national bank could be used to satisfy the judgment.

The 9th Circuit relied upon a 1983 case where Citibank recovered assets from a Cuban national bank as a setoff against property seized by Cuba.

In the case, the court had found a nationalized Cuban bank to be wholly owned by Cuba, but would only hold the bank liable on the Cuban regime’s debts if the claimant could show either that the bank was acting as an agent of the Cuban government, or that the claimant was entitled to recover the money to prevent fraud and injustice.

In Flatow, the 9th Circuit found the Iranian bank to be wholly owned by the government — it was nationalized in 1979 — but rejected the contention that the Iranian national bank was a principle-agent of the Iranian government, or that justice required payment to Flatow.

I have some sympathy for the 9th Circuit. It, like many Western legal and government institutions, is now struggling to address the right to recover from Islamic terrorists within the Western framework of jurisprudence.

But the apology the court makes to Flatow at the end of the opinion "expressing regret" that the holding "forestalls" recovery is an admission of the court’s mistake.

The court’s own opinion shows that the Iranian national bank in question was supervised entirely by government ministers on various committees. In addition, the Iranian constitution mandates central control of the banking industry as part of the state sector of the economy.

Just like the former Soviet Union, where the state pushed every industry into the struggle against the West, terrorist states like Iran

utilize every component of society in support of jihad.

Other terrorist states similarly use their national institutions for terror. For example, recovery of Palestinian Authority documents by Israel over the past several months shows an entire state apparatus aiding and abetting terror. The Iraqi regime also uses various government entities to advance its nefarious goals.

In sponsoring worldwide terrorist attacks, Iran has done more than just "play fast and loose with the law." Iran has murdered and maimed innocent people.

This is not a case about two forged documents; it’s a case about continuing Islamic terror.

And since the Iranian regime has assets, the victims should be compensated.

At this point, Flatow’s case is not over; Flatow may ask for a rehearing of the 9th Circuit’s decision to a wider panel of 11 judges in the 9th Circuit.

The 9th Circuit made a mistake by not taking the Islamic Republic of Iran at its word and deed, namely, that the Islamic state directs both terrorist operations and the banking industry.

The 9th Circuit should reverse its initial decision, recognize Iran as a terrorist entity and order full recovery from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nationalized bank.


Nathan D. Wirtschafter is a co-chair of the Israel Speaker’s Bureau for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Get Out Your Crystal Ball


As the Jewish Exponent went to press with its Rosh Hashana issue last year,

Islamic terrorists launched their war on the United States on Sept. 11, and everything changed. Among many other far more important things, this also meant that I threw out my annual Jewish pundit quiz column and replaced it with one that focused on the tragic events of the day.

This year, as we observe the anniversary of the terror attacks, it’s time again to think about the coming Jewish New Year and what’s in store for us. Let’s face it, 5762 was awful. Here in America, we coped with the aftermath of Sept. 11; in Israel, the Palestinians escalated their terror war on Jews, and casualties reached record highs.

Can things get worse? Sure, they can. But even as we cope with horrible memories of terrorism in this country and Israel, we shouldn’t lose what’s left of our sense of humor. So before the Almighty writes down just how much worse (or better) it will be for all of us in the proverbial Book of Life, I present (with apologies, as always, to New York Times columnist William Safire) the annual Exponent Jewish Pundit Quiz for 5763.

So guess, or should I say prognosticate, along with me about the coming year. My answers are at the bottom of the column. And remember, if you are worried about the outcome, teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedekah (acts of justice and charity) may avert the severe decree! L’Shana Tova Tikatevu!

1. At the start of 5764, the prime minister of the State of Israel will be:

a. Ariel Sharon, who will lead the Likud Party to victory and be the first Israeli premier to be re-elected since Menachem Begin in 1981.

b. Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna, a former general in the IDF whose dovish policies will sweep the Labor Party back to power.

c. Benjamin Netanyahu, who will oust Sharon in a Likud primary and then coast to victory in the general election.

d. Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein of Lower Merion, whose "moderate" right-wing stands will outflank both Sharon and Bibi inside the Likud Party — after he makes aliyah, of course.

2. By the end of 5763, President Bush’s planned war with Iraq will:

a. Still be waiting to be launched as support for regime change fades.

b. Be successfully concluded as Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship is swept away as easily as the Taliban were in Afghanistan.

c. Be completely forgotten as the bloody overthrow of the royal family in Saudi Arabia by Al Qaeda sympathizers shifts America’s war on terrorism to the Arabian peninsula.

d. Be stalemated as American forces become bogged down in a lengthy and bloody war against Hussein’s loyalists and Al Qaeda allies.

3. By the end of 5763, the Middle East peace process will:

a. Be at the brink of success as reforms transform the Palestinian Authority into a Jeffersonian democracy.

b. Be stalemated as the Palestinian terrorism continues unabated and Israel gradually abandons any pretense that a return to peace talks is possible.

c. Be completely forgotten as a general Middle East war that begins after the American invasion of Iraq leads to a failed Pan-Arab attempt to destroy Israel via weapons of mass destruction.

d. Be the subject of renewed hope as the end of Hussein forces the rest of the Arab world to cut off support for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat despite his re-election as head of the Palestinian Authority.

4. During 5763, the level of American support for Israel will:

a. Decline precipitately as Americans blame Israel for the casualties in the war on Iraq and the spike in oil prices.

b. Increase to new heights as Israel gains sympathy after Saddam Hussein’s latest missile attacks on the Jewish state.

c. Remain at the same high levels despite generally incompetent Israeli diplomacy and ham-handed American Jewish attempts to aid the hasbara (public relations) campaign.

5. The most important American Jewish cultural event of 5763 will be:

a. The selection of a Jewish gangster as head of the "Soprano" crime family on the HBO series, as consigliere Herman "Hesh" Rabkin (played by Jerry Adler) steps in after Tony is put away by the Feds.

b. The decision of reclusive Democratic singer Barbra Streisand to do a benefit concert for the George W. Bush re-election fund after Bush proves his friendship for Israel anew during the war with Iraq.

c. Los Angeles slugger Shawn Green’s ninth-inning playoff home run off of Arizona’s Curt Schilling to put the Dodgers into the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

d. A boom in both travel to Israel and aliyah, as both the intifada and an obsession with "progress" toward peace with the Palestinians fades.

6. In 5763, the American economy will affect Jewish philanthropy as:

a. The stock slump transforms itself into a full-force recession, slashing donations to record lows.

b. The revival of the economy and the start of a new bull market create a new wave of giving.

c. A moderate rise in the economy has no impact on declining levels of Jewish giving as Federation organizations and charities are seen as increasingly irrelevant.

d. A continued slump in the economy has no impact on Jewish philanthropy, as increased support for Israel in the wake of the war with Iraq and Palestinian terrorism reinvigorates Jewish donors.

7. The most influential American Jewish politician in 5763 will be:

a. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who breaks ranks with former running mate Al Gore and becomes an early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

b. Newly elected Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who assumes the role of Democratic presidential powerbroker, and decides in the summer of 2003 to give his support to Gore and against Lieberman in the presidential contest.

c. Gov. Linda Lingle, whose status as America’s only Jewish Republican governor, after winning election in Hawaii, makes her a national celebrity.

d. Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose non-Jewish identity doesn’t prevent Jewish liberals from making her their preferred presidential option for 2004.

8. The most significant event in Jewish history to take place in 5763 will be:

a. The readoption of the "Zionism is racism" canard by the U.N. General Assembly.

b. The selection of Jewish leftist Michael Lerner as the Green Party’s presidential candidate for 2004 as he runs on a platform of "don’t leave the Israel-bashing to the anti-Semites."

c. The tragic collapse of part of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as Palestinian Muslims in charge of the site allow it to go unrepaired in a continuing effort to destroy Jewish antiquities.

d. The pardon of American Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard after the war on Iraq.

9. The most sought-after Jewish invitation in 5763 will be:

a. The wedding of Chelsea Clinton to her Jewish boyfriend in Hollywood live on Bill’s television talk show.

b. Brunch with media and real estate mogul and Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations chairman Mortimer Zuckerman.

c. Lunch at the summer White House in West Texas as the end of the Saudi dynasty creates openings in President Bush’s schedule.

d. Dinner with American troops in Baghdad.

10. The most hotly debated issue among American Jews in 5763 will be:

a. Religious pluralism in Israel.

b. Whether or not it is kosher to oppose Joe Lieberman’s run for president.

c. The morality of Israeli counterterrorism measures that result in Arab civilian deaths.

d. The war on Iraq.

e. The revival of worldwide anti-Semitism.

Tobin’s Answers: 1a, 2b, 3b, 4c, 5d, 6d, 7a, 8c, 9a, 10e

Homeland Insecurity


"American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us," by Steven Emerson. (Simon and Schuster, $26).

In November of 1994, PBS aired nationwide an unforgettable documentary titled, "Jihad in America." Recognizing as it did — a year after the first attack on the World Trade Center — the concrete dangers posed by the radical Islam network beginning to burgeon in the United States, the film caused an upheaval in the perceptions of many viewers — just the reaction Steven Emerson wanted.

Emerson, an expert on terrorism and national security who serves as NBC’s terrorism analyst, has now followed up his 1994 film with a book that picks up where the film leaves off. "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us" describes how a network of organizations and radical Islamic institutions operate under the guise of cultural, welfare and charitable institutions, and describes the way these elements penetrate the heart of American society, taking advantage of its liberal democratic values. Delving through layers of camouflage, Emerson returns with a clear and frightening message about the spread of Islamic fundamentalist terror activists and their supporters throughout the United States.

"American Jihad" is more like two books than one. It is, first, a narrative detailing the personal anguish that Emerson experienced throughout his nonstop effort to expose a radical Islamic terror network in the United States. He relates, with the suspense of a Hollywood thriller, the initial research and reporting he did in preparation for his film. But it is also a textbook detailing Islamic institutions, figures and connections — a lexicon of Islamic fundamentalism in the United States that should be included in the library of every researcher, academic and security official interested in radical Islam. In fact, it is saturated with so many names, dates, facts and events that it leaves a reader wondering how to absorb the scope of the phenomenon and whether it is not, in fact, too late to fight it and win.

The West "deluded itself into the belief that militant Islamic fundamentalism could be contained," Emerson writes. But the events of Sept. 11 demonstrated how deadly wrong our preconceptions were and that those who described the activities of the radical Islam network as legitimate, quiet, religious and educational were mistaken — and misleading. According to Emerson, radical Islam fundamentalists see only one way to interpret the term "jihad." In the words of Osama bin Laden’s ideological mentor, Abdullah Azzam: "Whenever jihad is mentioned in the Holy Book it means the obligation to fight. It does not mean to fight with a pen or to write books or articles in the press or to fight by holding lectures."

But the threat from radical Islam is not the territory of only one man, bin Laden, or even of one organization, Al Qaeda. As Emerson makes clear, it is a worldwide network of fanatical Muslim terrorists who share a frightening ideology, the fundamental nature of which is to impose radical Islam on the world. (Emerson not only describes the phenomenon but also examines the motives of radical Islam and claims that "poverty and lack of opportunity have little or nothing to do with it.") The severe danger arising from these terrorists and their supporters is not limited to the extremity of their viewpoint — the belief that with terror attacks, they are fulfilling Allah’s commandments. There are more pragmatic dangers.

Most of the radical Islamic fighters are alumni of the Afghanistan War (1979-1989), during which they acquired fighting experience against what was, at the time, one of the world’s superpowers. They make use of the highly dangerous method of suicide attacks and have not concealed their readiness to use biological weapons and other unconventional substances. Moreover, they have a vast array of personal connections and relations, which not only inhibits penetration into their organizations, but also facilitates the perpetration of coordinated terror attacks worldwide. And this network is dispersed all over the world — in the Arab states but also in the West, and particularly in the United States.

Emerson focuses on penetration and activities in the United States today of the three most dangerous terror organizations — Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda. As it turns out, the United States serves as a convenient platform for the enlistment and training of activists, for fundraising and, as we’ve so tragically seen, as a stage for terror attacks.

It would appear that U.S. citizenship, or even exposure to Western liberal values, is no guarantee of moderation. In fact the opposite is true. Emerson confirms that among the radical Muslims who today shout "Death to America" are "highly sophisticated Westernized intellectuals." Those who did not heed Emerson’s last warning, offered in his 1994 film, should heed his new one, that radical Islam is enlisting members from the ranks of U.S. citizens. This phenomenon was revalidated this spring when an American citizen, Jose Padilla, was exposed as allegedly planning a radiological attack with a "dirty bomb."

Similarly, Emerson points to the disturbing phenomenon of radical Islamic elements penetrating the ranks of American institutions of higher education. As an example, he contends that the University of South Florida (USF) is in danger of becoming a bastion of the terror organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that perpetrates suicide bombings and other terror attacks in Israel. At USF, academic sponsorship has served as a convenient background for the enlistment of activists and supporters, for the raising of funds and the brainwashing of many young Americans. It has become, according to Emerson, a potential hothouse for the cultivation of the organization’s leadership.

A case in point is Ramadan Shallah, who in his capacity as adjunct professor of Middle Eastern studies at USF, was invited to brief military commanders at the U.S. Air Force base at MacDill near Tampa. Today, Shallah is head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — only one example of how these radical factions have been invited, in their academic guise, to lecture to policymakers and the U.S. security establishment, thereby trying to spread their doctrine to important places.

As Emerson makes clear, Hamas and Jihad activists have used the United States as a haven for the initiation, planning and organization of attacks in Israel. Still, many American citizens approach the idea of Palestinian Islamic terror elements in the United States with the false assumption that they are solely an Israeli problem — an internal threat only to the people of Israel. By exposing just how Palestinian organizations such as Hamas use their infrastructure in the United States to plan attacks against American targets, Emerson shows the folly of such a view.

The last chapter in Emerson’s book is devoted to the fight against radical Islamic terrorism in the United States, stressing the commitment of moderate Islam to fight fanaticism. Emerson applauds those exceptional Muslims in the United States — such as Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, or Muslim scholar Khalid Duran — who do not ignore the severity of the threat, and who do their best to draw the attention of U.S. decisionmakers to the dangers posed by radical Islamic groups.

Emerson’s book illustrates how hard this fight is, and how helpless and unmotivated the U.S. security establishment was in understanding the scope of the threat before it was able to take root in American society. He criticizes the American security establishment, particularly the FBI, for its inability to identify the enormity of the danger in advance, a failure partially explained by the absence of appropriate legislation to enable American security forces to penetrate these organizations and institutions, and to keep a close eye on their modus operandi.

As the book makes clear, lessons must be learned from the lethargy that characterized American policy after the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, and we must memorize Emerson’s contention about the second one: "Since Sept. 11, 2001, everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. The only difference between Feb. 26, 1993, and Sept. 11, 2001, is that there are 3,500-odd more people dead. We are still vulnerable. We have only a short time to prevent the next chapter from unfolding."

Control Issues


Suppose for a second that Israel strikes a cease-fire deal with Yasser Arafat. Would the Palestinian Authority president be able to deliver? Arafat himself may not know for sure, as the extent of control he retains over the many military factions he has created or allowed to flourish in his territory is unclear.

On paper, the Palestinian Authority is made up of eight major security organs, each with a specific agenda. In practice, however, many of the groups compete with each other, making it difficult to maintain a clear military hierarchy and discipline — and obfuscating Palestinian Authority responsibility for each group’s actions. Complicating the scene further is the fact that there are at least four nonofficial organizations actively involved in intifada terrorism, and it is unclear to what extent they respond to Arafat’s orders or signals.

The four nonofficial organizations are: the Izz a-Din al-Kassam Brigades, the military wing of the Muslim fundamentalist Hamas organization; the fundamentalist group Islamic Jihad; the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a prominent faction in Arafat’s PLO, and the Tanzim, a militia of Arafat’s Fatah movement that in recent months has been particularly active in terrorism both in the West Bank and Israel proper.

Until the outbreak of the intifada, little was known of the Tanzim, whose Arabic name can be translated as "the organization." A militia of some 10,000 to 40,000 Fatah supporters, the Tanzim usually recognized the authority of the Palestinian Authority in the past. In the Gaza Strip, the group was led by Ahmad Hils, but its more prominent West Bank leader was Marwan Barghouti, a veteran of Israeli prisons but also a supporter of the Oslo peace process.

The 18-month-old intifada has changed Barghouti. From a marginal local activist in Ramallah, he has become a national leader, a militant who time and again has vowed loyalty to Arafat — but also has made it clear that he will not hesitate to carry on attacking Israelis even if Arafat orders him not to.

Indeed, Barghouti’s influence has expanded to such an extent that some Israeli analysts believe that sooner or later, Israel might prefer to negotiate with him rather than with Arafat. Barghouti has reached his lofty status through violence. Some of the bloodiest recent attacks have been carried out by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group created during the early stages of the intifada by militant Tanzim elements.

The group has overshadowed another Fatah-linked militia known as the Pioneers of the Popular Army — The Brigades of Return. Last week the U.S. State Department officially labeled the Al Aqsa Brigade a terrorist organization — much to the delight of brigade members, who said it would induce them to increase the pace and ferocity of their attacks.

The Palestinian Authority leadership occasionally has called on Palestinians to refrain from attacks on civilians inside Israel proper — arguing that they hurt the Palestinians’ international image — and to concentrate instead on attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet the Al Aqsa Brigade has continued to engage in terror on both sides of the 1967 border. In fact, the radical Muslim organizations no longer have a monopoly on suicide bombing, as secular Al Aqsa Brigade terrorists also have adopted this mode of fighting.

While the fundamentalist groups believe that no accommodation with Israel is permissible, members of the secular factions — with wide popular support, according to opinion polls — believe that a steady drumbeat of terror attacks alongside peace talks will force Israeli negotiators to make additional concessions.

A spokesman for the Al Aqsa Brigade told the BBC in a recent interview that the group has some 300 suicide bombers ready to attack Israelis. Since the intifada began, secular organizations such as the Tanzim have shown close military cooperation with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, undermining the classic division many analysts used to make between the secular and supposedly moderate PLO and its extremist fundamentalist opposition.

The rising popularity of the secular militias has affected the political power of security bosses like Jibril Rajoub in the West Bank and Mohammad Dahlan in the Gaza Strip, the influential chiefs of the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security apparatus. Perhaps in response, Rajoub, a longtime participant in security talks with the Israelis and who is often described as a relative moderate, recently came out with strongly anti-Israel statements.

The militias and fundamentalist groups complement the Palestinians’ official military force, whose 35,000- 45,000 members are divided among the security groups, intelligence groups and police forces. The official Palestinian forces contain far more armed men than the number stipulated in the various agreements that accompanied the Oslo peace process. While many elements of the official Palestinian bodies have planned or participated in terror attacks, the forces have not been deployed against Israel in a coordinated military manner during the intifada, a development that Israeli officials fear.

Consistent with Arafat’s tactics during his 35-year leadership of the PLO, he has placed the various security organs in competition with each other, and they are riddled with personal rivalries. Despite their rivalries, the majority of the security bodies remain loyal to Arafat.

The big question mark remains Barghouti. Despite the fact that Barghouti’s hands are stained with Israeli blood, many Israelis see him as a potential negotiating partner — primarily because they consider the Tanzim "the least of all evils" if Arafat leaves the scene.

The Man Who Knows Too Much


“American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us,” by Steve Emerson (Simon & Schuster, $26).

It began by happenstance

CNN reporter Steve Emerson was stuck in Oklahoma City on Christmas 1992 with nothing to do and wandered by the city’s convention center, where a gathering of the Muslim Arab Youth Association was taking place.

Inside, he found “books preaching Islamic jihad, books calling for the extermination of Jews and Christians, even coloring books instructing children on subjects such as ‘How to Kill the Infidel.'”

Later, after listening to speeches urging jihad against the Jews and the West from luminaries such as the head of the Hamas terrorist group, Emerson called his contacts in the FBI to inquire whether they were aware of this bizarre meeting.

They were not.

A year later, Emerson attended a similar Muslim conference in Detroit that included representatives from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups. It also included an appearance by a befuddled senior FBI agent.

When a member of the hostile audience asked the agent for advice on how to ship weapons overseas, Emerson relates that the G-man said, matter-of-factly, that he “hoped any such efforts would be done in conformance with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms guidelines.” Apparently, the FBI official had attended the radical conference under the mistaken impression that it was “some kind of Rotary Club.”

That anecdote demonstrates the ignorance and passivity shown by the government on the threat from Islamic extremists in the United States.

Investigator of terror

In 1993, the reporter left the cable network and struck out on his own as an investigator of terror networks in this country. Working with a small staff, he founded The Investigative Project, which has specialized in bringing to light the facts about the ways these dangerous extremists have used our open society as a staging ground for international terrorism.

His award-winning 1994 film, “Jihad in America,” broadcast over PBS, introduced the topic to a wide audience. Emerson amassed a vast library of vital information about the activities and ideology of these terror groups and became one of the country’s leading experts on the topic. But, as he tells the story in his new book, “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us,” the path he has trod has not exactly been smooth.

The broadcast of his film sparked death threats that the FBI took seriously. And the sizable number of domestic apologists and fellow travelers of these terror groups soon made Emerson the focus of their misinformation efforts.

Emerson was smeared as being anti-Muslim by some Islamic and Muslim groups. The mainstream press often treated the charges as true.

Emerson did stumble in 1995 when, responding to inquiries about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, he said the crime fit the profile of Islamic groups. When that was proved untrue, Emerson wound up with egg on his face.

That mistake proved to be what Emerson admits is “an albatross around my neck,” but it did not stop him from continuing his research and regularly appearing in The Wall Street Journal and as an expert witness for congressional committees. Long before most Americans had ever heard of Al Qaeda, Emerson warned that its members were planning attacks on the United States.

The FBI was barred by law from snooping on domestic groups hiding behind the facade of charitable organizations. But Emerson went where the government feared to tread.

This information made him invaluable, but it also gave him the air of a Cassandra. Though he was able to keep The Investigative Project going, his warnings were largely ignored.

Banned by NPR

In 1998, for example, critics who accused Emerson of being an anti-Muslim bigot were able to pressure National Public Radio (NPR) to ban him from its airwaves. An NPR producer promised an Arab group “he won’t be used again.”

After this outrage was exposed, NPR falsely claimed there had been no blacklisting of Emerson. But he has yet to be heard on NPR since.

The Sept. 11 attacks vindicated Emerson, but that hasn’t stopped the torrent of abuse directed his way. Although he has become something of a media celebrity in the last few months as a regular on the talking-head news shows (he’s become a paid consultant for NBC), for many in the Muslim world and on the American left, he remains a target.

On Nov. 14, The Washington Post published a profile of Emerson that rehashed every misleading attempt to discredit him. The Post’s John Mintz never questioned the credentials of some of Emerson’s critics, and took an “evenhanded” approach to their accusations that he was anti-Muslim. He also brought up ridiculous charges that Emerson works for the Mossad, although the only evidence for that seems to be that he is Jewish. No wonder the reporter does his best to play down his religion.

The trendy Webzine Salon.com also took up the cause of trying to discredit Emerson. In a disingenuous piece posted on Jan. 19, the site accused Emerson of ruining “an innocent professor’s life.” The case involved Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian professor of engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, whom Salon claimed was merely an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights.

In fact, Emerson’s book details Al-Arian’s leadership of the American wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad — a group that is responsible for the murder of scores of Israelis and Americans. He used his tenured position at the Tampa college to set up a nonprofit organization that became a clearinghouse for the group’s fundraising (including the “sponsoring of martyrs” — in reality, suicide bombers) and propaganda in this country.

Al-Arian, who is an American citizen, was able to evade prosecution, but subsequent exposés by The Tampa Tribune inspired by Emerson’s work led to the closing down of Islamic Jihad’s Tampa branch. And after his story was aired on Fox News and NBC’s “Dateline,” the university finally fired the professor.

Despite the slander, Emerson has persisted. And though his new book gives the impression of being something of a quickie post-Sept. 11 effort, the slim volume has a lot to offer for the general reader who wants an introduction to the topic of Islamic extremists on the loose in America.

In its discussions of Osama bin Laden’s American connections and the vast support networks set up here for the benefit of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Emerson provides a concise analysis of this phenomenon and the clear dangers it poses for our national security.

Emerson also spends a chapter talking about moderate American Muslims who oppose terror. That information is heartening, but it is tempered by the fact that these moderates themselves admit that extremists dedicated to jihad have taken over “80 percent” of American mosques and most American Muslim organizations.

He knows the war against terror is one that will go on for a long time without a clear-cut victory. More than 3,000 deaths testify to the truth of the picture that Emerson has painted for us of the danger from Islamic radicals. But in spite of threats and slanders, he continues to voice warnings about our vulnerability.

But even after Sept. 11, are we truly listening?

Your Letters


Peace Process Failure

I long for the day when the editor of any mainstream Palestinian or Islamic publication feels both the need and the license to chastise his readership as Rob Eshman did (“The Other Sides,” Aug. 3) by asserting, “It’s time for Jewish leaders and organizations to stop oversimplifying the complex equation that must eventually work itself out in the Middle East.” If and when such voices are heard, I am confident that Jewish “communal over-reaction” to mere newspaper articles will cease.

Jon Drucker, Los Angeles


Kudos to Rob Eshman for being level-headed and realizing that a blanket rejection to the more detailed descriptions of the Camp David summit is neither intellectually honest nor in Israel’s best interest.

The newly released information does not represent a whitewash of Yasser Arafat’s performance at Camp David. It does not represent a new analysis of Ehud Barak’s operating style. It does not represent an excuse for the outbreak of violence. To follow the line that the Palestinians are completely to blame is as wrong and dangerous as claiming that Israel is the only culprit.

Elaine Hoffman, Board Member, Americans for Peace Now


It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming ourselves and blaming Israel for the continuation of the violence. It’s easy to see the conflict through the myopic analysis of who has more weapons. The reality of the situation is much more complicated than this, and reveals a very different reality.

Instead of twisting the situation of the bypass roads around on Israel, ask why the IDF would need to maintain such roads. Without them, attacks could continue on cars of innocent families by terrorists which operate either unchecked or under the auspices of the Palestinian authority. These attacks occur now, staged in the territory where the Palestinian Authority has complete control.

To think this was the crux of the reasoning behind Arafat’s rejection is absurd. If this was the issue holding Arafat back, he would have at least made a counter-offer. Instead, he chose to begin a long series of attacks against Israel in hope of achieving through violence what he felt he could not diplomatically — the destruction of Israel.

Oren Lazar, North Hollywood


Hidden Israelis

As the tongue-in-cheek title of Shelly Teitelbuam’s article implies (“L.A.’s Hidden Battalions,” Aug. 10), Israelis are very well-hidden — to the point of being practically nonexistent. The 1997 Los Angeles Jewish population survey found 14,000 Jews whose country of birth was Israel — and an additional 12,000 Jewish persons who considered themselves Israelis but were not born in Israel — residing in Los Angeles. This falls about 124,000 short of the Israeli consulate’s estimate of 150,000 Israelis in Los Angeles.

Pini Herman, Phillips and Herman Demographic Research


Marlene Adler Marks

Marlene Adler Marks is a survivor, not a victim, and a wonderful example to us all (“Survivor,” Aug. 3).

It’s true that once you are past the idea that God is manipulating or causing your cancer, you are finally free to defend yourself. It sounds like Marks has arrived at that point, which is wonderful.

Marks’ message is vital for everyone out there who is fighting a battle to survive — whether it’s cancer, loss of a loved one, unexpected unemployment, etc.

I cherish and appreciate her openness and honesty. I’m glad she has the enthusiasm to beat the odds.

Patricia Nolan Stein, Burbank


I am deeply touched and filled with great admiration for Marlene Adler Marks’ courage in the face of battling a devastating disease.

Marks has written volumes of very important information, sharing with us her fears and her resolve. Keep on writing.

Margaret Novak, Beverly Hills